Among those goals is the opportunity to be not just a starting pitcher but a regular presence in the lineup on the days he is not pitching.
Ohtani was able to do both in Japan — and do them well — for the Nippon Ham Fighters. And the Angels, by coincidence, are the team that has had one of the few players in the last century to play a lineup position and pitch, at least at a modest level. In 1964, the backup outfielder Willie Smith dabbled on the mound, tossing 31⅔ innings, including one start.
But in terms of regular playing time as both a hitter and a pitcher, Ruth is a better comparison — at least to what Ohtani accomplished in Japan, and presumably hopes to do here.
Ohtani averaged 234 plate appearances and 108 innings pitched over his five years in Japan’s professional league. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ruth was the last major league player to reach both of those thresholds in one season. In 1919, Ruth, in his last season with the Boston Red Sox, played 111 games in the outfield and pitched 133⅓ innings, hitting 29 home runs and going 9-5 with a 2.97 earned run average on the mound.
In 2016, Ohtani’s last full season, he hit .322 with 22 home runs from the left side and went 10-4 with a 1.86 E.R.A. and 174 strikeouts as a right-handed pitcher. Those numbers were good enough for him to be named to the Best 9 — Japan’s version of an all-league team — at two positions.
Credit Associated Press
Although he can throw over 100 miles per hour, Ohtani also loves to hit and the chance to do both in the United States was a criteria for any team that wanted to sign him.
The Angels were expected to use Ohtani as a starting pitcher and also afford him the opportunity to get at-bats as a designated hitter. It had not yet been determined if the Angels will let him play the outfield, which he has done in Japan, but the club was expected to introduce Ohtani at a news conference in Anaheim, perhaps as soon as Saturday, and the question will certainly be posed at that point.
In a statement on its Twitter account Friday, the Angels said: “We are honored that Shoehei Ohtani has decided to join the Angels’ organization. We felt a unique connectivity with him throughout the process and are excited he will become an Angel.’’
Ohtani will join a team whose two best-known players are Mike Trout, who has won two Most Valuable Player awards in the American League, and Albert Pujols, who will turn 38 next month and is not the intimidating slugger he once was. Pujols started 142 games at D.H. for the Angels last year and six at first base.
In picking the Angels, Ohtani is also joining a team that finished under .500 each of the last two seasons and has made it to the postseason only once in the last eight years.
The Yankees, who nearly made it to the World Series this year, for sure offered more possibilities for Ohtani than the Angels, and for a while they were considered the favorites to land him.
But Ohtani, it turned out, had other priorities.
The Seattle Mariners, with a rich history of Japanese players, including Ichiro Suzuki, who starred for the Mariners when Ohtani was a schoolboy, were also thought to be a favorite. And in recent days they pulled off a series of trades to bolster the bonus-pool money they could offer Ohtani to a little over $3.5 million, more than the Angels had available. But that didn’t do the trick, either.
Had he waited two more years before coming to the United States, Ohtani would have been an unrestricted free agent and could have commanded an unlimited contract here, perhaps in excess of the $155 million the Yankees gave to Masahiro Tanaka in January 2014.
But that did not seem to matter to Ohtani. And in any case, he will almost certainly make a lot of money in commercial endorsements now that he is in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Angels will now have control over Ohtani for six years, when he can become a free agent under American rules. And in Anaheim, Ohtani will play in a hybrid market — close to Los Angeles but without the buzz of being inside the city.
Balelo, Ohtani’s agent, maintained that his client had taken the bidding process seriously.
“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,” he said in his statement.
But now the choice has been made and it will be up to Ohtani to prove that he can indeed be a little bit like Babe Ruth. And if he succeeds, he could influence other teams to start looking for other players who can do the same. Baseball is rethinking many things in the age of analytics, and perhaps Ohtani will open up another frontier.