Shohei Ohtani Signs with the Angels

With the Winter Meetings in Orlando just three days away from getting underway, it seemed as though we would have to wait to find out which of the seven finalists would win the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.

Christmas arrived early in Anaheim.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times was the first to report the news at 11:03 am Orange County time.

The addition of Ohtani caps a huge week for the Halos, who landed Kevin Maitan as a big boost to their farm system after he was deemed a free agent by MLB as part of the punishment handed down by the league to the Braves for violations in the international free agent market under former general manager John Coppolella.

Over time, we’ll likely get the stories about how exactly the Angels pulled it off, whether it was the connection Ohtani had with key executives, the opportunity to compare himself to the best player on the planet on a day-to-day basis, some combination of those factors, or other reasons entirely.

There are still many details that need to be ironed out regarding his role, and with the Angels, it will be interesting to see just how much he’s used as a DH since Albert Pujols appeared in just six games at first base in 2017.

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A six-man rotation could be possible, however, as the Angels have a slew of pitchers with arm injuries in their recent history, so managing innings for the entire group, while maintaining a schedule for Ohtani that is more similar to what he’s accustomed to in Japan is at least a possibility.

While a six-man rotation would cap Ohtani at a maximum of 27 starts, it’s hard to expect more than that even if the team opts to stick with a traditional five-man rotation. From 2014-2016, Ohtani averaged 152 innings per season. An ankle injury limited him to just 25.1 innings in 2017. Considering his age and previous workloads, it’s very difficult to project more than 160 innings, and plenty of smart people and projection systems will churn out a lower total.

The arsenal is excellent — a big fastball that tops out at 102 mph, cutter, slider, changeup — and high-end Year 1 expectations may not be far off from what we once expected from Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg’s early-career UCL tear put him on the shelf for most of 2011, and his first “full” season post Tommy John surgery at age-23 in 2012 brought 159.1 innings over 28 starts. He struck out 197 batters that year (11.9 K/9), walked 48 (2.7 BB/9), and finished with strong ratios (3.16 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). If Ohtani did exactly that, and relatively little with the bat, the Angels would likely be thrilled.

More details regarding the organization’s plans for him as a hitter are likely forthcoming. With a six-man rotation, Ohtani would have five days off between starts. It’s reasonable to think that he would get a day off following each start, and a day off immediately before each start, leaving a maximum of three possible games for him to hit — likely as a DH — each time through the order. That seems like a best-case scenario, given the assumption of a six-man rotation and no injuries. Plus, it assumes that the Angels are comfortable using Pujols more at first base, which they may not be, given their overall emphasis on defense.

If we elect to give Ohtani two games as the DH out of every six, he would max out closer to 50 games as a hitter, likely giving him something in the neighborhood of 200 plate appearances.

We’ll spend more time considering the merits of Ohtani’s fantasy value with the bat later this winter, but the actual value generated might be underwhelming with respect to the overall hype.

As far as the pitching projection goes, my colleague Jeff Erickson has him with 171 IP, 175 K, 11 wins, a 2.89 ERA, and a 1.12 WHIP. I am erring on the side of 15-20 fewer innings, but a similar strikeout total predicated on a higher K/9, but within the system of projections that are now posted on the site, Ohtani checks in the 16th-ranked starting pitcher.

Check out our preliminary 2018 projections and rankings here.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper

Bonus Podcast

With the Ohtani signing Friday, Dee Gordon’s trade to Seattle on Thursday, and the Cubs’ addition of Tyler Chatwood, Todd Zola and I recorded a bonus episode of the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Podcast. You can listen below, and subscribe (free) on your preferred podcast platform using the links in the embedded player.