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Shohei Ohtani Joins Mike Trout in Perfect Spot to Maximize 2-Way MLB Stardom

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistDecember 8, 2017

Japan's Shohei Ohtani follows a double in the seventh inning during the international friendly baseball match between Japan and the Netherlands at the Tokyo Dome on November 13, 2016. / AFP / KAZUHIRO NOGI        (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images

It's a long way from Tokyo Disneyland to the Disneyland in Anaheim, but it's going to be an incredibly short distance now from Shohei Ohtani to Mike Trout in the Los Angeles Angels lineup.

Just when you thought maybe things seemed a little Goofy in the Ohtani Sweepstakes, what with all of the cloak-and-dagger silence and the big, bad, New York Yankees being bounced from the talks last Sunday, here came the Angels swooping in on Friday to close the deal with the highest-profile Japanese player since Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui.

And given Ohtani's two-way ability to provide a middle-of-the-order bat and produce a fastball reading of up to 102 mph on the radar gun, there is every reason to believe that Ohtani could become the highest-profile MLB player from Japan ever.

The news, which was announced by Ohtani's American agency, Creative Artists Agency, a little after 11 a.m. PT on Friday, came as an absolute shock around the game.

The Angels, who must pay Ohtani's Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, a $20 million posting fee, had no known ties to Ohtani and are a distant second to the Dodgers in Los Angeles Q rating. Seattle has had a Japanese player on its roster in every season since 1998 and is part-owned by Nintendo. San Diego had a working relationship with Hokkaido and employs executives who wooed him years ago when they were working for the Dodgers (Logan White and Acey Kohrogi) and a director of applied sports science who once worked with Ohtani in Japan (Seiichiro Nakagaki). Texas lured Ohtani's baseball hero, Yu Darvish, from Japan back in 2012.

Yet, the Angels.

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"What mattered to him most wasn't market size, time zone or league but that he felt a true bond with the Angels," Nez Balelo, Ohtani's agent at CAA, said in a statement. "He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals."

Koji Sasahara/Associated Press

Both Seattle ($3.557 million) and Texas ($3.535 million) had more international pool money to offer Ohtani than did the Angels ($2.315). But Ohtani's actions never were about money, otherwise he would have waited two more years to leave Japan for MLB, when he turned 25 and would have been a true free agent able to command millions.

Instead, the 23-year-old dreamer, who initially wanted to go straight from his Japanese high school to MLB before the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters lured him in 2013 by agreeing to make him a two-way player, decided within the last year that now would be the time to chase his goals in the majors.

How the Angels set up their team to allow Ohtani to pitch and hit will be fascinating. For one thing, the rapidly aging Albert Pujols absorbed most of the designated hitter at-bats last summer, with 611 of his plate appearances coming as a DH and just 25 as a first baseman. Reports this winter are that he's dropped a few pounds and is in good shape, but he still turns 38 on Jan. 16. That hasn't changed.

If Pujols, who has had feet and leg problems in recent years, is healthy enough to play more games at first base, that would help make Ohtani's transition easier. He could DH in the days between starts, which would be less wear-and-tear on his legs. Still unanswered is the question of whether he would play a position on the day before he starts or whether he would take that day to prepare for his pitching assignment. With Hokkaido, Ohtani did not hit on the day he pitched, nor did he hit on the day before and day after pitching.

In Japan, starting pitchers work once every seven days, and teams have Mondays off. Aside from the change in cultures, on the field, that is the biggest challenge that pitchers face coming over from Japan. MLB teams play more games and travel more, so the grind of a season can result in serious fatigue during the stretch run and can be a real issue that clubs must manage. Across town, the Dodgers' Kenta Maeda was on fumes two Septembers ago.

However the Angels work it, and some of how they deploy Ohtani likely will have to be improvised as they go depending on how he is performing and how he feels, his pairing with Trout will make the Angels must-see every day of the season. One day, those two bats could put a hurt on their opponent. The next, perhaps Trout will make a game-saving leap over the fence to preserve an Ohtani victory.

In 543 innings pitched in Japan, the right-handed Ohtani produced a 2.52 ERA with 624 strikeouts. At the plate, the left-handed Ohtani batted .286 with an .859 OPS and 48 home runs in 1,170 plate appearances.

The possibilities, and creativity, seem limitless.

How unusual is this?

While the Angels finished 80-82 last summer and second to Houston in the AL West, 21 games back, they will have outfielder Justin Upton for a full season this summer along with Trout and right fielder Kole Calhoun. Ohtani has not played the outfield since 2014.

On the mound, despite a rotation decimated by injuries last season, Angels starters ranked sixth in the AL with a 4.38 ERA. Ohtani, a right-hander, should add needed depth to a front three of Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker (expected to be ready this spring following forearm surgery) and Tyler Skaggs.

And for now, Ohtani will come cheap. Beyond the signing bonus, his likely salary will be the $545,000 major league minimum next season. Of course, in a market like Los Angeles and given his already high profile, Ohtani should be able to rake in plenty of extra money through endorsements as well.

"Teams clearly put in a lot of work, and we are grateful for that," Balelo said in the statement. "The past few weeks also further demonstrated Shohei's incredible thoughtfulness, attention to detail and determination to make an informed decision. He read every page of every presentation and listened to every word in each meeting, and he was so impressed that it was not an easy choice."

He took meetings last week with seven clubs: the Angels, Dodgers, Seattle, Texas, San Francisco, San Diego and the Chicago Cubs.

Padres owner Ron Fowler characterized Ohtani to Bleacher Report as "a great young man. I'm sorry we didn't get him. Our guys made a presentation that was just unbelievable, as close as we could come to hitting it out of the park."

Among other things, general manager A.J. Preller opened San Diego's presentation by speaking to Ohtani in Japanese for several minutes.

But in the end, it was the Angels who spoke the loudest to Ohtani.

Koji Sasahara/Associated Press

"If you become a professional baseball player, you're either a hitter or a pitcher," Takashi Ofuchi, Hokkaido's amateur scout group leader and a key figure in luring Ohtani to the Fighters in 2013, told Bleacher Report last winter. "But if a person has the possibility to do everything, we need to look at that person and his talent and bring his skills along all at the same time. It's like Michelangelo and Einstein. They could do art and science, everything."

Indeed, why put fences around genius and creativity?

"As a scout, I have to look at the person and his abilities," Ofuchi continued. "Ohtani is the player who changed my way of thinking."

Now, it is up to Ohtani and the Angels to change the thinking throughout MLB. And while they do, who better to have in place to lend an assist than Superman Trout?

Suddenly, summer seems just around the corner.

          

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball. 

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