One of the most highly sought after free agents in some time was two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who was posted earlier this month by his Japanese team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters.
While all 30 Major League teams were in some form of contention to sign the 23-year-old, who was bound to the international signing bonus pool guidelines, Ohtani pared the field down to seven teams. The group was comprised of the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.
In a stunning decision, he opted to sign with the Angels, who in recent days acquired additional bonus pool money to increase the amount they could offer as a signing bonus.
Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, provided some reasoning behind the decision to join the Angels, via Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal:
“This morning, after a thorough, detailed process, Shohei Ohtani has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. Shohei is humbled and flattered by all the time and effort that so many teams put into their presentations and sincerely thanks them for their professionalism. In the end, he felt a strong connection with the Angels and believes they can best help him reach his goals in Major League Baseball.
“I want to thank the clubs and everyone else for respecting our intent to make this very important process as private as possible. We were resolved to having a fair, methodical process. Teams clearly put in a lot of work, and we are grateful for that. The past few weeks also further demonstrated Shohei’s incredible thoughtfulness, attention to detail and determination to make an informed decision. While there has been much speculation about what would drive Shohei’s decision, what mattered to him most wasn’t market size, time zone or league but that he felt a true bond with the Angels. He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals. More than ever, I believe this is not only a special talent but a man of special character, and like everyone else I’m excited to see him in Major League Baseball.”
In addition to the Angels, the Mariners were aggressive this week in acquiring additional bonus pool money. Anaheim, Seattle and Texas each were left in position to offer Ohtani a signing bonus at least worth $2.3 million.
But it was never believed that the financial aspect played much of a factor for Ohtani. Instead, his focus was thought to be on comfortability and fit with an organization. And in the case of the Angels, they reportedly were the only finalist that agreed to allow him pitch and hit every day.
The Angels of course have the luxury of the designated hitter, which the National League teams do not, so they can pitch him once a week and use Ohtani as a DH or in the field on other days.
While it is unclear how it will ultimately work out, Ohtani is attempting to do something that hasn’t been done in the sport for quite some time, so it should be fun for baseball fans to see how it all unfolds.