It’s been more than a month since the Astros won their first World Series title, but it’s been a slow start to player signings and trades in the offseason. Part of that is probably teams and players waiting to see where the winter’s two biggest available names — Japanese sensation Shohei Otani and reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton — would land. They have now both found new homes in the last two days, which means the hot stove should start to heat up, especially with the Winter Meetings now upon us.
Ohtani was the first domino of the two to fall, signing with the Angels on Friday. Earlier in the week, his camp announced that he had narrowed his choice to seven teams, and the Mariners were thought by many to be the frontrunners of that group. The 23-year-old, who comes to Major League Baseball from Japan’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, signed a six-year deal with the AL West runners-up that will pay him just $2.3 million (with a $20 million posting fee paid to his former team) due to the way MLB’s international free agency rules work.
Ohtani has been referred to as the Babe Ruth of Japan for his ability to both pitch and hit. Joining an American League team gives him the chance to hit as a DH on some days when he isn’t the starting pitcher. He was hampered by injuries last season, but Ohtani was named the MVP of Japan’s Pacific League in 2016. That season, he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA on the mound and at the plate he hit .322 with 22 home runs and a 1.004 OPS. Joining an Angels rotation that includes SPs Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, Ohtani is expected to serve as the No. 1 guy in the rotation. Offensively, he’s joining former MVPs Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Pujols has served as the team’s DH in the majority of the games he’s played over the last two years, but if Ohtani is in that role a couple games a week, that will force Pujols to play first base more often, which could hurt the team defensively as he will be 38 years old by Opening Day on March 29.
The other coveted player who was expected to be on the move this winter was Stanton. News came out Saturday morning that the Marlins reached an agreement in principle, pending physicals, to send the right fielder and approximately $30 million to the Yankees in exchange for 2B Starlin Castro and minor leaguers Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. Stanton had a full no-trade clause so could choose where he wanted to go. He would not waive his no-trade clause to the Giants or Cardinals. His first choice was reportedly to go to the Dodgers, but they couldn’t agree to terms of a deal with the Marlins. The Yankees were reported to be second on Stanton’s wish list, and they were able to reach a deal with the Marlins’ new co-owner Derek Jeter.
Stanton hit .289 last season with a MLB-best 59 home runs and 132 RBI on the way to earning the first NL MVP honors of his eight-year career. Over that time, he is a .268 hitter with 267 home runs and 672 RBI. He does have a history of missing time with injuries, however. He played in 159 games last season, the first time he surpassed 150 games played in his career; he played 119 in 2016 and just 74 in 2015. Going to the AL could help his durability as it gives him a chance to take a break from playing the field and settle in at DH some days, but the Yankees have other players who split time in that role.
Stanton joins a Yankees lineup that includes OF Aaron Judge, who hit 52 home runs in his rookie season in 2017, and C Gary Sanchez, who launched 33 homers in 122 games last season. There’s no question that the Yankees have power hitters in their lineup but also some guys who strike out a lot — including Judge who led the majors in that category last season.
Other transactions that have been made since the conclusion of the World Series include the Diamondbacks trading for RP Brad Boxberger, the Mariners acquiring 1B Ryon Healy in a trade with the A’s, the Rangers signing Ps Doug Fister and Mike Minor, the Tigers signing P Mike Fiers and OF Leonys Martin and the Cubs inking P Tyler Chatwood. The Mariners also traded for 2B Dee Gordon and international signing money from the Marlins in a deal that was thought to help them land Ohtani, which of course didn’t come to pass.
The Winter Meetings, which is traditionally when a lot of signings and trades happen, begin in Orlando on Sunday and last through Thursday. Notable free agents still on the market include pitchers Yu Darvish, Wade Davis, Jake Arrieta, Greg Holland, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Brandon Morrow, CC Sabathia, Jaime Garcia and position players J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jay Bruce, Lorenzo Cain, Carlos Gonzalez, Jonathan Lucroy and Mitch Moreland.