Shohei Ohtani, the surprise Angel, returned with much fanfare Monday to his native Japan. Once a work visa is in his possession, the Angels expect their new two-way player to return to Southern California sometime in January and arrive at spring training in Tempe, Ariz., ahead of the Feb. 13 report date for pitchers and catchers.
Before then, the Angels should have worked out a host of necessary details surrounding his landing. They have already begun gathering resumes for the job of Ohtani’s interpreter, a job general manager Billy Eppler characterized as particularly crucial.
Eppler spoke Monday afternoon on the first day of Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings, this year held at a resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Eppler said the Angels will decide before spring training whether they will use a six-man rotation, an alignment unseen in the major leagues for many years but common in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.
If the Angels do go that route, it will be to accommodate the 23-year-old Ohtani, who has always pitched once a week. It would involve a seven-man bullpen and, thus, require a limited three-man bench.
Ohtani’s potential to pitch in offensively lessens the severity of such a predicament, but Eppler acknowledged the importance of locating position players who can fill multiple roles.
“The utility of that is a little bit more evident right now,” Eppler said.
As currently constructed, the Angels appear to need to acquire a backup shortstop who can also play third base against left-handed pitching. And their reserve outfielder will need to be capable of handling center field.
Those are issues of lesser importance compared to arranging Ohtani’s assimilation. That starts with his interpreter, for which the player will be presented with finalists. Eppler said his experience working for the New York Yankees when they signed Masahiro Tanaka will guide him in filling that job.
“From my history of being around players from Japan and New York, it’s very important,” Eppler said. “Comfort is everything.”
Eppler said the Angels have pledged to continue to develop Ohtani “physically, tactically, emotionally.” That began with their wooing process. When Ohtani’s representatives at Creative Artists Agency sent out a questionnaire to every major league club, Eppler and staffers stayed up late into the night answering the five included questions and executing revisions. They then sent their presentation across the Pacific Ocean to Yoichi Terada, their longtime massage therapist who happens to be a native Japanese speaker.
Back home in Japan, Terada translated it, then returned to Los Angeles to attend the Angels’ 7 p.m. meeting with Ohtani on Dec. 4 at CAA’s offices. For that occasion, the Angels contracted a Phoenix-based video production company to produce a subtitled video.
After expressing interest in learning more, Ohtani underwent a physical examination by an Angels doctor Thursday at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, seven miles from CAA. He then traveled down to Angel Stadium for his final visit. The next morning, his choice was final. The Angels signed what many executives estimate would be a $200-million player for a total outlay of $22.315 million.
Eppler said he made no promises to the player or his representative, and said he did not expect any Major League Baseball inquiries into the agreement. He said he could not guarantee that Ohtani will be on the opening-day roster, or that Ohtani will always be a two-way player. Eppler said he could only assure the player he would have a say.
“I think he felt that he was always going to be empowered in the discussion, involved in the discussion,” Eppler said. “I can just tell you that right now we’re gonna bring him in and he’s gonna do both. Let’s see where it goes.
“He knows our commitment to his development. We know he’s not a finished product.”