Shohei Ohtani’s singular pursuit of history, one man’s quest to rewrite the baseball world’s understanding of what is possible, reached another peak Saturday when he agreed to the largest contract in the annals of major baseball sports. North American team, 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 leaving Japan for Major League Baseball ahead of the 2018 season. He has done things that seemed impossible in the modern era, feats that date back to Babe Ruth. As he traveled the country with the Los Angeles Angels last summer, fans serenaded him with recruiting pitches. When he hit free agency, a dozen teams lined up, curious to see if they could look him in the eye.
Only one team could acquire Ohtani’s services. He will now be compensated for both his immense talent and his incomparable star power. His deal eclipsed the $360 million free agent record set last winter by New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and also surpassed the record $426.5 million extension of Ohtani’s former teammate in the Angels, Mike Trout. His achievement surpassed even those earned outside of baseball, surpassing the $450 million contract signed by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Ohtani has even surpassed soccer star Lionel Messi’s $674 million contract, signed in 2017 when he was with FC Barcelona.
His individual brilliance was not enough to carry the Angels to 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, surpassed 100 wins in five of the last six full seasons and won the World Series in 2020. Ohtani has never played in a postseason game in his major league career. .
“My feeling is that he wants to be the greatest of all time,” 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.”
Major questions remain about Ohtani’s future. He will not pitch in 2024 as he recovers from surgery in September to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Neither Ohtani, who has not answered questions from reporters since August, nor his agent, Nez Balelo, nor the Angels have revealed the exact nature of the second surgery, but the Los Angeles Times reported that It was a second Tommy John procedure.
Balelo has stressed that Ohtani remains committed to both pitching and hitting in the future. “Shohei loves to pitch,” Balelo told reporters in September. Ohtani will attempt to return to the mound in 2025. His camp has not revealed when Ohtani would consider abandoning his dual career and focus on learning a different position. Since he was a teenager, Ohtani has ignored suggestions that he focus on a single activity.
Ohtani showed his American League Rookie of the Year potential in 2018, but his two-way hopes were delayed after his first elbow surgery. It wasn’t until 2021 that his full ability blossomed. He has won the American League MVP in two of the last three seasons; In the intervening season, he led all American League pitchers in strikeout rate and hit 34 home runs with an .875 OPS. Creating a comparison for him involves strange-sounding inventions. “It’s like Judge went out and won 20 games too,” said former teammate Kole Calhoun.
Ohtani is committed to being a starting pitcher. If he can’t stay healthy enough for that role, he could help his new team as a reliever. He closed out the final game of the World Baseball Classic, clinching the crown for Japan by striking out Trout. His four-seam fastball averaged nearly 97 mph in 2023; Throw speed seems to improve 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 home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In 2023, although he still made 23 starts with a 3.14 ERA, Ohtani led the American League in the same three categories as Ruth. He hit 44 home runs with a career-best 1.066 OPS. He did it while making flyes and dealing with a torn ligament in his elbow.
Ohtani only has one stage left. He has never played in a postseason game in the majors. As the Angels came together in recent years, Ohtani became more vocal about his desire to play for a winner. He now has the opportunity to make a different story.
(Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)