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Mariners, Angels acquire more international slot money in pursuit of Shohei Ohtani

Twins acquire minor leaguers from both teams in trades.

The pursuit of Shohei Ohtani isn’t really about money, though maybe it is, at least in a relative sense. Both the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels acquired $1 million in international bonus slot space from the Minnesota Twins, presumably to add to the amount they can offer as a signing bonus to the Japanese star.

Minnesota in separate trades on Thursday acquired catcher David Banuelos from Seattle and outfielder Jacob Pearson from the Angels, both 2017 draft picks.

The Mariners and Angels are two of seven finalists for Ohtani’s services, trying to land the 23-year-old who was posted Friday by the Nippon Ham Fighters. Because Ohtani is under 25 he is subject to international spending limits, which severely limits his earning power on the free market.

The Texas Rangers have the most in bonus money they could use to sign Ohtani, at $3.535 million, with the Mariners and Angels inching closer with these trades. The other four finalists — the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants — are restricted during this international signing period to no more than $300,000 in any individual signing bonus.

The Angels also acquired $1.21 million in international bonus space last week in a trade with the Atlanta Braves for Jim Johnson.

“The money acquired in this deal was with an eye toward Shohei Ohtani and the pursuit of him as a player for us,” Angels GM Billy Eppler told Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register after the Johnson trade. “It makes us stand out a little bit more in the crowd and puts us in the upper tier of clubs and the bonus they could pay.”

With both the Mariners and Angels making these trades, both appear confident they are close enough to landing Ohtani that adding an extra $1 million to his signing bonus might sway his decision. One might be right, though one or both will also be wrong.

For the Twins, they were informed on Sunday that they were not a finalist for Ohtani’s services, so they decided to cash in a large chunk of their remaining bonus slot money — Minnesota had $3.245 million to spend, per the Associated Press — they had earmarked for Ohtani to acquire a pair of prospects.

Pearson was a third-round pick in 2017 by the Angels out of high school in Louisiana, and in his professional debut hit .226/.302/.284 in 40 games in the Arizona Rookie League. Pearson turns 20 next June.

Banuelos was drafted in the fifth round out of Long Beach State. The catcher, who turned 21 in October, hit .236/.331/.394 with four home runs and eight doubles in 36 games for Class-A Everett in the Northwest League.

Ohtani has until 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 22 to sign with a major league team.