Shohei Ohtani’s singular quest for history, one man’s attempt to rewrite the world’s understanding of what is possible in baseball, reached another pinnacle Saturday when he agreed to the largest contract in the annals of major North American team sports, a 10-year, $700 million contract. contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his agency CAA announced.
Ohtani announced his decision on Instagram. The deal ends years of feverish speculation about Ohtani’s future. Ohtani, a 29-year-old two-way sensation, has captivated the industry since he left Japan for Major League Baseball ahead of the 2018 season. He has done things that seemed impossible in the modern era, feats reminiscent of Babe Ruth. As he traveled the country with the Los Angeles Angels last summer, fans serenaded him with recruiting pitches. When he entered free agency, a dozen teams lined up, curious to see if they could meet his eye.
Only one team could guarantee Ohtani’s services. Now he will be rewarded for both his immense talent and his unparalleled star power. His contract eclipsed the $360 million free agent record set last winter by New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and also surpassed his former teammate’s record $426.5 million extension by Ohtani in the Angels, Mike Trout. His accomplishments have surpassed those outside of baseball, surpassing the $450 million contract signed by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Ohtani also surpassed soccer star Lionel Messi’s $674 million contract, signed in 2017 when he was with FC Barcelona.
His individual brilliance wasn’t enough to get the Angels into the postseason. With the Dodgers, Ohtani will now have the opportunity to add collective hardware to his trophy case. The Dodgers have won the National League West in 10 of the last 11 seasons, have 100 wins in five of the last six full seasons and won the World Series in 2020. Ohtani has never played a postseason game in his career in the majors league.
“My feeling is he wants to be the best ever,” said St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar, who played with Ohtani last spring in the World Baseball Classic, “but I don’t think he would ever say that publicly.” .
The deferrals effectively lower the average annual value of Ohtani’s contract, giving the Dodgers more flexibility as they try to navigate Major League Baseball’s luxury tax system, which includes fines for teams that exceed certain thresholds.
A team’s luxury tax payroll is calculated based on players’ average annual values and discounted by deferrals. Mookie Betts, for example, has $115 million deferred on his 12-year, $365 million contract with the Dodgers. According to the league’s calculations, the deferrals lower their average annual value from $30.4 million to $25.5 million.
Dodgers officials declined to comment when asked whether Ohtani had undergone a medical, the final step before a deal could become official.
Significant questions remain about Ohtani’s future. He will not pitch in 2024 as he recovers from a September operation to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Neither Ohtani, who hasn’t asked reporters questions since August, nor his agent, Nez Balelo, nor the Angels have disclosed the exact nature of the second surgery, but reported on Los Angeles Times was a second Tommy John procedure.
Balelo stressed that Ohtani remains committed to both pitching and hitting in the future. “Shohei loves to throw,” Balelo told reporters in September. Ohtani will attempt to return to the mound in 2025. His team has not disclosed at what point Ohtani would consider giving up his dual career and focusing on learning a different position. Since he was a teenager, Ohtani has ignored suggestions to focus on just one activity.
Ohtani demonstrated his potential as the American League Rookie of the Year in 2018, but his two-way hopes were delayed after his first elbow surgery. Only in 2021 did the full flower of his abilities blossom. He has won American League MVP in two of the last three seasons; The following season, he led all American League pitchers in strikeouts, hitting 34 home runs with an .875 OPS. To create a comparison for him requires inventions that seem bizarre. “It’s like Judge went out and won 20 games too,” former teammate Kole Calhoun said.
Ohtani is committed to becoming a starting pitcher. If he can’t stay healthy enough for that role, he could help his new team as a replacement. He closed out the final game of the World Baseball Classic, securing the crown for Japan by eliminating Trout. His four-seam fastball averaged nearly 97 mph in 2023; speed of tone digits improves in short bursts.
Even if Ohtani never pitches again, his value as a hitter is immense. In 1920, his first season exclusively as a hitter, Ruth led the American League in homers, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. In 2023, while making 23 starts with a 3.14 ERA, Ohtani led the American League in the same three categories as Ruth. He crushed 44 homers with a career-best 1.066 OPS. He did so while starting and dealing with a torn ligament in his elbow.
Ohtani has only one stage left. He has never played a postseason game in the majors. With the founding of the Angels in recent years, Ohtani has become more vocal about his desire to play for a winner. He now has the chance to write a different kind of story.
(Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)