Shohei Ohtani’s unique quest for history, one man’s quest to rewrite the baseball world’s understanding of what is possible, reached another peak on Saturday when he agreed to the largest contract in the history of North American major team sports, a 10-year contract worth $700 million. His agency CAA announced his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ohtani announced his decision on Instagram. The deal ends years of feverish speculation about Ohtani’s future. Ohtani, 29, has captured the industry’s attention since he left Japan for Major League Baseball before the 2018 season. He’s done things that would seem 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 on the recruiting grounds. When he entered free agency, dozens of teams lined up, curious to see if they could see what he saw.
Only one team can secure Ohtani’s services. He will now be compensated for his immense talent and unparalleled star power. His contract surpasses the record $360 million for free agents set by New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge last winter, and also surpasses the record $426.5 million from Ohtani’s former Angels teammate Mike Trout. His accomplishment has surpassed even those outside baseball, surpassing the $450 million contract signed by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Ohtani even beat soccer star Lionel Messi’s $674 million contract, which was signed in 2017 when he was with FC Barcelona.
His individual brilliance was not enough to lift the Angels to the postseason. With the Dodgers, Ohtani will now have a chance to add collegiate hardware to his trophy case. The Dodgers have won the National League West in 10 of the past 11 seasons, notched 100 wins in five of the past six full seasons and won the World Series in 2020. Ohtani has never played a postseason game in his big-league career.
“My feeling is he wants to be the best ever, but I don’t think he would ever say that publicly,” said St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Notebaar, who played with Ohtani last spring in the World Series Baseball Classic.
There are still important questions about Ohtani’s future. He will not play in 2024 as he recovers from surgery in September to repair the collateral ligament in his right elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Neither Ohtani, who has not taken questions from reporters since August, nor his agent Nez Balillo, nor the Angels revealed the exact nature of the second surgery, but the Los Angeles Times reported it was. Tommy John II procedure.
Balilo stressed that Ohtani remains committed to pitching and hitting in the future. “Shuhi loves to throw,” Balilo told reporters in September. Ohtani will attempt to return to the mound in 2025. His camp has not revealed the point at which Ohtani might consider abandoning his dual career career and focus on learning a different position. Since he was a teenager, Ohtani has ignored suggestions that he focuses on just one task.
Ohtani showed potential as the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year, but his two-way hopes were delayed after his first elbow surgery. It wasn’t until 2021 that the full flower of his ability blossomed. He has won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in two of the past three seasons. In the playoff season, he led all American League pitchers in batting average while hitting 34 home runs for an 0.875 OPS. To make a comparison to him involves inventions that seem strange. “It’s like Judge came out and was a 20-game winner, too,” said former teammate Coley Calhoun.
Ohtani is committed to being a starter. If he can’t stay healthy enough for that role, he could help his new team as an assistant. He finished the final game of the World Baseball Classic, clinching the crown for Japan by striking out Trout. His four-seam fastball averaged about 97 mph in 2023; Pitch numbers improve in short bursts.
Even if Ohtani never pitches again, his value as a hitter is enormous. 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 still 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 out and dealing with a torn ligament in his elbow.
There is only one stage left for Ohtani. He never played a postseason game in the major leagues. As the Angels have faltered in recent years, Ohtani has become more vocal about his desire to play to win. Now he has the opportunity to make a different kind of history.
(Photo: Stacey Revere/Getty Images)
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