Shohei Ohtani is taking his talents to Orange County. And just like that, the Los Angeles Angels are not only a lot more relevant, they're one of the most intriguing teams of 2018.
Ohtani, the Japanese two-way sensation, selected the Angels over six other finalists -- the Mariners, Padres, Dodgers, Giants, Rangers and Cubs. In L.A., he'll team up with Mike Trout and try to lead the Angels back to the postseason, a spot they've reached just once in Trout's six full seasons with the team. The franchise hasn't won a playoff game since 2009, but now you can argue the Angels have the best two players in the world -- although that's buying that Ohtani can be a star on both sides of the ball.
It's no surprise that Ohtani landed with a West Coast team and it shouldn't be a surprise that he chose an American League team. It's simply not a realistic scenario that Ohtani will play the outfield between starts. In Japan, he hasn't played the outfield since 2014 and hasn't played regularly there since 2013 -- and we don't even know if he will hit as well in the majors as he did in Japan, where he posted a 1.004 OPS in 2016 and .942 in 2017 (when he missed time with ankle and hamstring injuries and made just five starts while batting 231 times).
What we do know is that Ohtani, with his 100 mph fastball and plus off-speed stuff, could immediately become the best starter in the Angels' rotation. That group was riddled with injuries in 2017 and now includes Garrett Richards, J.C. Ramirez, Matt Shoemaker (expected to be ready after forearm surgery), Tyler Skaggs, Parker Bridwell and possibly Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano.
My first thought: The Angels should go to a six-man rotation. One reason Ohtani was able to go both ways in Japan is that starters only pitch once a week. That provides rest between outings and time to be the designated hitter. Ohtani's career highs in Japan are 24 starts and 160 innings, so asking him to make 30 starts and pitch 180-plus innings while also hitting on the side and adapting to a new culture is a monumental demand. Remember, even Babe Ruth gave up pitching and that was against a vastly inferior level of competition 100 years ago.
It's not like the Angels have a 200-inning workhorse in that group anyway, and giving injury-prone guys like Richards and Skaggs an extra day should be beneficial. They'll just have to adapt their routines to pitching once every six days. In doing so, Ohtani's schedule could look like this:
Day 1: Pitch
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: DH
Day 4: DH
Day 5: DH
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Pitch
When he DHs, they'll have to move Albert Pujols to first base, which is no guarantee given all his feet issues. He played just six games in the field last year, although he's reportedly working to drop some weight this offseason. Benching C.J. Cron is no big deal; he's not that good. Of course, neither is Pujols, at least based on his 2017 performance. Angels first basemen ranked 29th in the majors in wOBA; their DHs ranked 14th of the 15 AL teams. That's one reason they could promise DH at-bats to Ohtani: They don't have anything to lose.
Signing Ohtani does not make them instant contenders to the Astros, but it helps push them into the wild-card race. The Angels still have two glaring holes in the lineup, however, as their third basemen ranked 25th in the majors in wOBA and their second basemen ranked last. They should have room in the budget to make a bid for a major free agent. Maybe they bring Mike Moustakas back to Southern California, where he went to high school. With a farm system that Billy Eppler has turned around the past couple of seasons, they could also trade for Cesar Hernandez of the Phillies, a player reportedly on the block with Scott Kingery ready to take over at second.
How's this lineup look?
That doesn't make them as good as the Astros, but if they can get 50 starts from Ohtani and Richards, it could make them a 90-win team and push them into wild-card position.
The big loser here is the Mariners, who were even more desperate for a starting pitcher than the Angels. Jerry Dipoto had made two deals this week to acquire an extra $2 million in slot money to offer Ohtani. He had said they would play Nelson Cruz in the outfield when Ohtani DHs. They have a large Japanese population in the Seattle area. It wasn't enough.
Now Dipoto has to go back to the board to patch his rotation and that may entail spending big money to lure Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb or -- unlikely, given what he'll cost -- even Yu Darvish to the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners have the longest playoff drought in the majors and the window of contention in the Robinson Cano/Cruz/Felix Hernandez era is drawing short.
Aside from the Angels, the big winner is all of us. I don't think Ohtani going to the Dodgers or Cubs would have been good for the game, just a case of the rich getting richer. The more interesting teams we have the better. While 2017 had some remarkable individual seasons and the postseason was fantastic, the pennant races were mostly duds. It's better for the game if the talent is spread around and the division winners less predictable. Of course, the Angels are a big-market franchise and their lack of success in recent seasons wasn't from a failure to spend money.
Still, it's going to be exciting to see if Ohtani can deliver on the hype as he pairs up with Trout. I think the odds of him succeeding as a two-way player are less than 50 percent -- there's a reason nobody has been able to do it -- but here's hoping it works. I know I'll be up late watching a lot of West Coast baseball in 2018.