The Angels committed only $22.315 million to earn the rights to Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani for at least the next six seasons. Thanks to Major League Baseball rules limiting bonuses to international free agents who have not yet turned 25, they paid a deeply discounted price for baseball’s best prospect.
But all that money is an up-front cost, not spaced out as a traditional contract would entail. So, if the Angels are to improve as manager Mike Scioscia promised at Ohtani’s introductory rally Saturday, they must extend themselves beyond past comfort levels.
How far they go will be the focus of this week’s winter meetings, which begin Monday here at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resorts. The team sorely needs a second baseman, and several clubs could benefit from dealing theirs. A fit could materialize here, with cost an important consideration.
For the past two years, the Angels operated at an opening-day payroll around $165 million, about one-third of their overall revenue. Between the Ohtani outlay, their eight veterans under contract, 10 arbitration-eligible players, and minimum-salaried players to round out the roster, they have committed $165 million to next year.
Of course, the inclusion of Ohtani should increase the team’s revenue. Asked how the signing would impact his 2018 budget, general manager Billy Eppler implied that the effects could be minimized.
“It’s something that is an expenditure, but a very welcome one,” Eppler said. “It doesn’t appear to compromise it.”
Speaking vaguely about payroll freedom after the ceremony, owner Arte Moreno said the Angels would maintain the course they have followed.
“We were a little bit handcuffed the last few years, and then we had injuries on top of injuries,” Moreno said. “We have a plan, and we’re going to try to stick to that.”
The Angels do not necessarily need to pile on much more. In addition to an occasional left-handed power bat, Ohtani supplies top-end pitching to their rotation, which was the ultimate offseason goal.
Outside of second base, their roster is mostly set, although they would like to add a right-handed hitter to platoon with Luis Valbuena at third base. Bullpen help will be acquired, although probably not from the top end of a robust market.
So, it’s second base, and then everything else.
Detroit’s Ian Kinsler, Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison, and Philadelphia’s Cesar Hernandez are among the second basemen believed to be available this week. Kinsler, 35, is the most established but oldest of the three, with only one year remaining on his contract. Hernandez, 27, is the youngest, and can be controlled for three seasons. Free agent Neil Walker also can be had, though the 32-year-old is said to be seeking at least a three-year pact.
The Angels need not move now, either. Faced with the same hole a year ago, they acquired Danny Espinosa in a trade with Washington two days after the meetings concluded. Two months remain until pitchers and catchers arrive in Tempe, Ariz. to begin spring training.