Shohei Ohtani was the true prize of the offseason, and everybody knew it. His eventual destination was a primary driver in the curious lack of movement in November and early December. Everyone in baseball wanted him, and once he became available, teams made their case to get him, completely in the dark as to his desires and true intentions.
The wait is now over: Ohtani joins Mike Trout in Anaheim to become a member of the Los Angeles Angels. The greatest young player the game has ever seen is now paired with the guy who might change the face of baseball forever. This is, shall we say, insane.
How much does this affect the Angels in the short term? Does Ohtani automatically make them a contender, or is he merely a garnish on top of a too-tough steak?
The latter might appear more likely. The Angels haven’t made the playoffs in three years, and have never won a postseason game with Trout on the roster. The farm system is in shambles. Albert Pujols was arguably the worst player in baseball last year, and doesn’t stand to get any better, leaving his mammoth contract swimming deep underwater.
The Angels weren’t very good last year, but they weren’t all that bad, either. Andrelton Simmons suddenly started hitting, and given his defensive wizardry, pushed a league-average bat into five- or seven-win territory, depending on which WAR model you looked at. The Justin Upton trade worked, and they locked him in for the next five years. Resurgent performances from Blake Parker and Yusmeiro Petit made the Angels’ bullpen the fourth-best in baseball by Deserved Run Average. J.C. Ramirez looked like the genuine article at times. Trout and Kole Calhoun did their things. Martin Maldonado was the best defensive catcher in the American League. This was a team with pieces in place.
Indeed, early projections agree. Steamer and Fangraphs peg the Angels to win 84 games next year, and that’s before we factor in Ohtani. That puts them squarely in the wild card hunt. Given the state of the farm system–and of the Houston Astros–it’s probably too early to demand big win-now trades, but the junior club from Los Angeles is in excellent shape to go on a playoff run.
Ohtani automatically makes that a stronger reality. For one thing, his addition affects neither the payroll nor the farm system. His fastball averaged 98 miles per hour and topped out at 102 with above-average spin. His splitter and slider are both nasty. His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives sits in the mid-90s, akin to the elite power hitters of the major leagues. He even drilled a ball 111 miles per hour. He also runs like Dee Gordon, just for funsies.
We don’t yet know how the Angels will use Ohtani. Will he be a full-time starter/DH as he was in Japan? Will he be more of a DH/relief ace? Perhaps a starter/first-off-the-bench pinch hitter? It’s unclear. It’s what makes comparing him to other players so difficult. He could be Alex Reyes or Luis Severino if he were just a pitcher; maybe Yoenis Cespedes or George Springer if he were just a hitter. Could he be a combination of both? Will he sacrifice talent in one area at the expense of the other? He could become a legend; he could also flame out once exposed to the best opposition in the world. With Ohtani, nobody knows anything.
What we do know is that Ohtani will have the chance to try being an elite hitter and an elite pitcher. He will be paid nothing for his labor, a crime for which both Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association are responsible. He has the raw talent to be great. Now, he is paired with the greatest player in the world on the team poised to surprise baseball without him. The Angels’ World Series odds have followed accordingly.
The Ohtani effect: the Angels odds to win the World Series improve from 50-1 to 30-1 (via @LVSuperBook).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 8, 2017
With him, the sky is quite literally the limit. In an instant, the Angels just became the most fun team in baseball.