The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for those who get good presents)

It’s the time of year when usual greetings are followed by variations on the same question: ‘have you got all your Christmas shopping done yet?.

Presents are on the mind right now, whether ones you are buying for others or ones you hope to receive.

Fans of the LA Angels and New York Yankees must feel like Christmas has come early this week after they both received the best type of present, a surprise one.

Oh, Shohei Ohtani

(Which is what Angels fans should be singing, to the tune of Seven Nation Army, if they have any sense whatsoever)

Ohtani choosing the Angels was a surprise, but not so much based on his destination and more that, as became apparent as the process played out, this was a completely unique situation.  There were plenty of rumours and second-guessing, yet the decision was a personal choice for Ohtani and no one outside his close confidants really knew what would sway him.

The tough part of Christmas is not receiving a present you hoped for and several teams are feeling that more than most with Ohtani.  The San Diego Padres briefly became the rumoured frontrunner and Padres fans haven’t had much going their way of late.  The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers also looked favourites at one time or another and have the added pain of seeing up-close what they have missed out on in the AL West over the seasons ahead.

“Stanton …

(… deliver, your fastball or your life”. Not sure if the Adam and the Ants 80’s classic is quite so well known in New York to be the basis of a chant, though)

The first team to be publicly shunned by Ohtani was the New York Yankees, a slight that prompted two typical responses.  Firstly, the New York press buried him for ‘not having the guts’ to play in New York.  Then the Yankees went and traded for Giancarlo Stanton instead.

Much as with Ohtani, Stanton’s choice – a product of his wisely negotiated no-trade clause – came at the cost of other teams who thought he would be wearing their uniform instead.  For all the progress they made with the Marlins, it never quite felt like the St Louis Cardinals would end up with Stanton, yet the Giants appeared to have a decent chance.  Both will need to turn their attention elsewhere now that Stanton is heading to the Bronx to team up with Aaron Judge in a two-man wrecking crew to strike fear in every opposing pitcher’s heart.

Meanwhile, new Yankee manager Aaron Boone must be expecting to get a stocking full of coal this Christmas to even things out.

Enjoying the presents

The Yankees now have some work to do in terms of roster decisions and potentially trading another regular to accommodate Stanton’s pay whilst meeting their target of staying below the $197m luxury tax threshold.  The whole point for the Yankees though is that they can happily find solutions to those ‘problems’ when it allows them to acquire such an outstanding proven talent as Stanton.

The deal has created plenty of funny tales of ‘Agent Jeter’ helping out the Yankees.  Many are coming from annoyed Boston Red Sox fans who are stoking the ‘Evil Empire’ fires once again.

In any case, what Jeter and his colleagues have done here makes complete sense given the situation they are in.  It was madness – well, more accurately short-term egotistical idiocy by former owner Jeffrey Loria – for the Marlins to give one player, however great, such a vast contract and they had little choice but to trade Stanton despite having a relatively weak negotiating position.

It creates yet more significant sympathy for long-suffering Marlins, but none whatsoever for Jeter and his ownership colleagues.  As the NY Post story linked to above notes, the Marlins are $400m in debt and losing money fielding an uncompetitive team, so major work is needed.  That’s a difficult position to be in, however, those were the same facts on the table when they agreed to pay $1.2bn for the team. It doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence in the new regime being shrewd negotiators, does it?

Mike Trout’s new best friend

(Other than his wife, that is)

As for the Angels, Ohtani’s decision to join them is a huge coup and one that will help them to respond to the justified accusation that they are failing to capitalise on having one of the best players the game has seen in many years.

Mike Trout has played in six-and-a-bit seasons so far and in only one of those, 2014, has the team reached the play-offs, which simply resulted in an ignominious 3-0 ALDS sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals. There is a good core of players there alongside Trout in Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun, Garrett Richards and others.  Adding Ohtani to it doesn’t obviously put them ahead of the Houston Astros in the AL West, but it definitely increases their Wild Card prospects.

The most exciting part of Ohtani’s arrival is how he and the Angels plan to help him become a two-way player and to get regular at-bats.  Losing the DH on his pitching days is the obvious starting point, but it seems like they will also be giving him DH opportunities on non-pitching days too (playing him in the field isn’t likely in his debut year, based on initial reports).

The reports suggest Ohtani is a legitimate hitting talent, not just a pitcher who can run into one every now and then, but he’s no different to any other hitting talent in needing regular at-bats and time to develop his craft in the Major Leagues.  Whether he will have the opportunity to do that over the next couple of years – for example, a few dodgy pitching performances in a row will quickly start comments on him being better off focusing on his pitching – will probably determine how well it goes.

Regardless, it’s going to be fascinating to watch how he gets on and if he does just end up as a home-run threat on days he pitches then that’s still going to be fun.

Unless it’s against your team, of course.  With my A’s hat on I naturally hope Ohtani doesn’t turn out as well as planned, just as I’d be more than happy if Judge-Stanton becomes a dud duo rather than a dynamic one when our pitching staff is facing them.

Such petty bias outstanding, the arrival of Ohtani to MLB and Stanton joining the Yankees are undoubtedly incredibly exciting developments that only add to the anticipation of the MLB season starting up again in the new year.

Whatever presents you do or don’t get this Christmas, the 2018 MLB season is sure to be a present well worth waiting for.

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