Angels Look To Reverse Franchise's Fortunes With Big-Time Signing Of Shohei Ohtani
The Angels "practically knocked over the rest of baseball Friday when they stunningly won the race" to sign Japanese P/DH Shohei Ohtani, according to Jeff Miller of the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. The franchise, "in a way like never before," is "standing taller than all of baseball." Angels GM Billy Eppler said, "I was just stunned. It was a pretty remarkable moment." For now, the Angels are "committed to using him as both a pitcher and a designated hitter." Eppler confirmed that the club is "'very open-minded' to employing a six-man rotation to afford Ohtani more rest." That is how "serious the Angels are about this epic, international experiment" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/10). In L.A., Dylan Hernandez wrote the "courteous evasiveness" practiced by Ohtani at his introductory presser on Saturday was a "reminder of how natural environments like this are to him." This is someone who was a "national celebrity in Japan." His entire adult life has been "spent under a spotlight." He "looks like a superstar." He "smiles like a superstar and talks like a superstar" (L.A. TIMES, 12/10).
NOT ABOUT THE MONEY: In California, Jeff Fletcher noted the recruitment of Ohtani was "unique in modern baseball because of a perfect storm of talent and the collective bargaining agreement." There have been other "extremely talented players to come to the majors from international leagues, but in most cases they have been unrestricted free agents." The bidding wars were "so fierce that many small-market teams couldn’t even participate with the big-money clubs." Ohtani, however, "decided to come to the majors as a 23-year-old about a year after baseball rules were changed to place any international player under 25 within the limits of international spending pools." So winning the Ohtani lottery was "essentially about wooing him with factors other than money" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/10). In N.Y., Ben Shpigel notes coming to MLB at age 23 restricted Ohtani to a bonus of "no more than" $3.55M, and of the seven teams that were finalists, the Angels "could offer him the third-largest bonus" at $2.315M. Under club control for the next six years, Ohtani "will earn the league minimum of $545,000 next season" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/10).
STEP UP TO THE MIKE: SI.com's Ben Reiter wrote suddenly, a club that "appeared stuck at a dead end has found an escape route, as if by magic." A club that had "virtually no prospects to speak of now has by far the best one there is." The Angels "already had the best player in the world" in CF Mike Trout and now might "have the two best" (SI.com, 12/8). The REGISTER's Fletcher wrote for the past couple seasons, "many around the game have lamented" Trout’s absence from the playoffs. While the Ohtani agreement "certainly doesn’t put the Angels in the playoffs," it at least "puts to rest the suggestion that the Angels are hopeless." The idea that the Angels’ best path back to contention "starts with trading Trout for a boatload of prospects is out the window" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/9). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner noted the Angels are "still trying to win its first playoff game of Trout’s breathtaking career." Trout has "never publicly pressured the Angels to build more aggressively around him, yet their window is shrinking to capitalize on his prime." The franchise "took an important step on Friday" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/9). In L.A., Bill Shaikin wrote '20 "could define the history" of the Angels, because it is the last year on Trout's contract. The Angels "need to take advantage of the Ohtani surprise." The margin for error is "not large, but the opportunity to revitalize a franchise and its franchise player might never be better" (L.A. TIMES, 12/9). The L.A. TIMES' Hernandez wrote Trout's presence will also "spare Ohtani from having to be the face of the franchise" (L.A. TIMES, 12/9).
IN THE ARMS OF THE ANGELS: THE RINGER's Zach Kram wrote the Angels should be "ecstatic with their early holiday present," and so, too, "should baseball fans more broadly." Ohtani transforms the Angels from a team in the "morass of AL clubs likely to compete for a wild card into a favorite for a playoff spot." Ohtani "fills the Angels roster with a hearty dose of fun and the mind with a similar surfeit of imagination" (THERINGER.com, 12/8). SPORTS ON EARTH's Will Leitch wrote Ohtani is a "steal of a deal, a lottery ticket rewarded and an absolute thunderclap of excitement" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 12/8).
GIVING FANS A LOOK: In L.A., Tom Hoffarth noted for the last two seasons, Angels' games have "ranked near the bottom of the MLB rankings" in terms of local TV +ratings. FS West Ticket Senior VP & GM Lindsay Amstutz, whose RSN airs Angels games, said, "Today is a great day for Angels fans and sports fans across Southern California." Meanwhile, Now comes the "interesting part for the Angels: Accommodating all the extra Japanese media." The Angels’ small main press box is "located far down the right field line and may not currently hold more than a few dozen reporters." An even smaller booth is "behind home plate for a half-dozen reporters" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 12/9). The N.Y. TIMES' Kepner tweeted he is "hoping the networks will actually pick the Angels to show on national television sometimes" (TWITTER.com, 12/8). The Angels have seen local ratings in L.A. decline each of the past three seasons. The RSN's high mark over the last decade was a 1.68 local rating in '14. Last season, FS West averaged a 0.94 local rating for Angels games (THE DAILY).
FEEDING THE FRENZY: The DAILY NEWS' Hoffarth wrote now comes the "interesting part for the Angels: Accommodating all the extra Japanese media." The Angels’ small main press box is "located far down the right field line and may not currently hold more than a few dozen reporters." An even smaller booth is "behind home plate for a half-dozen reporters" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 12/9). ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick noted A's manager Bob Melvin, who managed Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, saw "enough to know that the presence of a Japanese superstar might necessitate some extra planning on the part of the media relations department and add to the manager's workload -- not to mention tax his patience and creativity on occasion." Melvin: "There's a contingent that's just reporting on one guy, so you have to be patient and answer all the questions and understand every question they have is going to be about that guy. There's a press (briefing) before the game, and then another half of one that you know is just gonna be about that player. And they have to write something every game. The guy goes 0-for-4 and nothing happens, and they still have a story to do. From the manager's standpoint, there's quite a bit more that goes into it" (ESPN.com, 12/8). In California, Tomoya Shimura wrote under the header, "For Japanese Residents in Southern California, A Palpable Excitement About Ohtani's Decision To Play For Angels" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/9).
CLOSE CALLS: In Dallas, Evan Grant wrote the Rangers "weren't just interested" in Ohtani -- they were "deeply invested." They had been "stalking him, scouting him and cultivating relationships around him for six years." It was a "gut punch that left club officials doubled-over and admittedly 'disappointed'" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 12/9). YAHOO SPORTS' Mark Townsend wrote losing out on Ohtani is "going to sting the Rangers for awhile" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/8). In S.F., Shea & Schulman wrote on a "crushing day for a last-place team that’s trying to contend" in '18, the Giants "lost out" on Ohtani and announced they were not going to get RF Giancarlo Stanton. Giants Senior VP & GM Bobby Evans said, "We went into it with our eyes open. We knew both would be challenging additions" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/10). In San Diego, Dennis Lin noted the Padres have "fallen short in another high-stakes pursuit." The Padres, like the other six finalists, "went to great lengths to scout and recruit Ohtani." Padres co-Owner Peter Seidler said, "I know that our presentation was exceptional" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 12/9).