Shohei Ohtani, called Japan’s Babe Ruth, made his selection today … and it wasn’t the Seattle Mariners.
He’s going to be playing for their American League West Division rival, the Los Angeles Angels.
“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,” said Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo in a statement on Twitter on Friday.
Ohtani — a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, left-handed hitter — met with each of the seven finalists for his services over Monday and Tuesday. The Mariners made their pitch to him on Tuesday afternoon,
“He read every page of every presentation and listened to every word in each meeting, and he was so impressed that it was not an easy choice,” continued Balelo, in the statement. “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.”
Here’s why Ohtani was this offseason’s most coveted major league acquisition: Babe Ruth is the only player in major league history to win 10 games as a pitcher and hit 10 home runs as a hitter in the same season. He did that in 1918 as a 23-year-old. Ohtani has done that twice in Japan, as a 19-year-old in 2014 and then as 21-year-old.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said they were going to bring their “A game” to acquire Ohtani, even collecting an extra $2 million in international bonus pool money the past two days via trades with the Twins and Marlins, which included picking up two-time All-Star Dee Gordon. They could have offered Ohtani the most lucrative signing bonus of the seven teams Ohtani narrowed his services down to.
Many had even pointed to the Mariners as the favorite, especially with their history of successful Japanese players, including Ichiro Suzuki. Though, other reports indicated Ohtani didn’t want to play for a club that already had Japanese players (the Mariners have Hisashi Iwakuma) because he didn’t want to take attention away from his fellow countrymen.
And he didn’t want to go to a place that previously had a Japanese star because he wanted to avoid comparisons.
Ohtani was the 2016 Pacific League MVP and was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA this year for the Fighters, limited because of thigh and ankle injuries. He hit .332 in 65 games with 16 doubles, eight homers and 31 RBI.
A right-hander, Ohtani has a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings over five seasons, and a .286 batting average with 48 homers and 166 RBI.
Ohtani choosing the Angels also had ripple effects in Las Vegas. The Angels went from 50-1 to 30-1 to win the World Series at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
The Mariners collected $3.557 million in bonus pool money and have until June 15 to use that to sign international players.