The Dodgers have agreed to a deal with Shohei Ohtani, as the two-way superstar revealed himself on his Instagram page. Ohtani will receive an astounding $700MM over the next 10 years, as revealed by his CAA agent Nez Balelo. It is a straight ten-year pact, as ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez reports that that contract doesn’t contain any opt-outs.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan (X link), “most of” Ohtani’s salary will be deferred, as suggested by Ohtani himself. The intent is so that the Dodgers can continue to spend and add talent while somewhat lowering the luxury tax hit. Regardless of how the $700MM is eventually parceled out over the coming years or decades, the 29-year-old Ohtani will be bringing in the single largest contract ever given to a professional athlete, topping the $674MM deal that soccer legend Lionel Messi signed with FC Barcelona for the 2017-21 La Liga seasons.
“First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone involved with the Angels organization and the fans who have supported me over the past six years, as well as to everyone involved with each team that was part of this negotiation process,” Ohtani said in his Instagram message. “Especially to the Angels fans who supported me through all the ups and downs, your guys’ support and cheer meant the world to me. The six years I spent with the Angels will remain etched in my heart forever. And to all Dodgers fans, I pledge to always do what’s best for the team and always continue to give it my all to be the best version of myself. Until the last day of my playing career, I want to continue to strive forward not only for the Dodgers but for the baseball world.”
Balelo’s statement: “Shohei is thrilled to be a part of the Dodgers organization. He is excited to begin this partnership, and he structured his contract to reflect a true commitment from both sides to long-term success. Shohei and I want to thank all the organizations that reached out to us for their interest and respect, especially the wonderful people we got to know even better as this process unfolded. We know fans, media and the entire industry had a high degree of interest in this process, and we want to express our appreciation for their passion and their consideration as it played out.”
Aaron Judge’s ten-year, $360MM deal with the Yankees last winter was the largest free agent deal in baseball history, while Mookie Betts landing $365MM in new money in his 2020 extension with the Dodgers was technically the largest deal overall. Mike Trout’s ten-year, $360MM extension with the Angels was considered by the team as a 12-year, $426.5MM pact due to its inclusion of previously owed money in Trout’s previous deal, so that has been considered by some to hold the “biggest contract ever” title, yet needless to say, Ohtani’s contact now ends all debate.
While it was widely expected that Ohtani would set a new standard for baseball contracts this winter, nearly doubling the Betts/Judge totals is an incredible new benchmark. It speaks to both Ohtani’s generational talent as a two-way superstar, the amount of revenue Ohtani can personally generate in terms of additional endorsements and media interest from Japan, the number of big-money offers made by the other known suitors in the race, and simply the Dodgers’ determination to land a player who has been on their radar for years.
If the National League had had the designated hitter in 2018, it is quite possible Ohtani would’ve signed with the Dodgers when he initially came to MLB from Nippon Professional Baseball during the 2017-18 offseason. The Dodgers (along with the Cubs, Rangers, Padres, Mariners, and Giants) were the finalists behind the Angels, whose willingness to give Ohtani free reign as both a pitcher and a hitter allowed the Anaheim club to seal the deal, and set the stage for one of the most remarkable stretches baseball has ever seen.
The impact was immediately, as Ohtani hit and pitched at such as high level in 2018 that he was an easy choice as AL Rookie Of The Year. He had to undergo a Tommy John surgery that kept him off the mound in 2019, though he was still able to hit as a DH and posted some impressive numbers. However, an injury-marred 2020 campaign saw Ohtani deliver poor numbers at the plate and only 1 2/3 total innings on the mound, creating doubt as to whether he could truly live up to the hype.
The doubts were erased from 2021-23. Ohtani posted a 2.84 ERA, 31.4% strikeout rate, and 8.3% walk rate over 428 1/3 innings on the mound, while also hitting .277/.379/.585 with 124 home runs over 1904 plate appearances. Not even Babe Ruth amassed such levels of performance while both hitting and pitching at the same time, earning Ohtani the unofficial nickname of “the Unicorn.” Ohtani won AL MVP honors in both 2021 and 2023, and finished second to Judge in 2022 in the aftermath of Judge’s AL-record 62 home runs.
As stunning as Ohtani’s contract is, it seems possible that he might’ve landed even more if he’d been fully healthy. Ohtani suffered a tear in his UCL that required surgery in September, and though it isn’t clear whether or not his surgery was another Tommy John procedure or a brace procedure, he isn’t expected to pitch during the 2024 season. It seems likely that Ohtani will miss some time at the start of next season to recover well enough to operate as a DH, and after his TJ surgery in 2018, he was able to get onto the field by May 7, 2019.
More details should become available as we get closer to Spring Training, though that perhaps isn’t a sure bet given Ohtani and Balelo’s penchant for keeping quiet on specifics. Ohtani’s last few months have been marked by a somewhat unprecedented level of secrecy about not just his health, but any hints about his free agent market. It was made clear by Balelo that if any team in the chase leaked details, it would be held against them, and thus most clubs played ball with the Ohtani camp’s requests.
The lack of information led to no end of speculation about what exactly Ohtani was looking for in his next team. It was known that Ohtani was eager to win, which perhaps isn’t surprising considering that the Angels were never able to deliver even a .500 season with both Ohtani and Trout on the roster. Ohtani’s initial venture to MLB prioritized West Coast teams, yet that didn’t appear to be a true determining factor in this case. The reported finalists for Ohtani’s services included three West Coast teams (the Dodgers, Angels, and Giants), as well as the Cubs, and a new suitor altogether in the Blue Jays.
Two reports yesterday suggested that Ohtani was signing with the Jays and was en route to Toronto, leading to a social media flurry that included everything from flight-tracking at Toronto’s Pearson Airport to queries about a large reservation allegedly booked by Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi at a downtown sushi restaurant. In the end, the Blue Jays fell short in their attempt to sign the two-way star, though for all of the suitors, it could be that Dodgers’ final offer simply blew every other bid out of the water.
Ohtani’s free agency in some ways held up the rest of the market entirely, as several top talents were waiting for Ohtani’s situation to be resolved so they could have a clearer picture of what teams might be bidding on their own services. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Cody Bellinger, Jordan Montgomery, Matt Chapman, and others might now see their markets kick into higher gear with Ohtani off the board. The trickle-down effect bled into the trade market as well, as numerous teams with players available can now shop for offers from clubs who missed out on Ohtani — and might be even more pressed to make a big addition.
The Giants, for instance, are still feeling the heat to add a superstar after also falling short on Judge and Carlos Correa last offseason. The Blue Jays still have a lot of holes to fill in their lineup after an almost team-wide underwhelming year at the plate. The Cubs were perhaps seen as less likely to spend to quite the same level as other suitors, though president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer firmly denied a report from earlier this week suggesting that Chicago was out of the hunt. The Mets, Red Sox, and Rangers did seemingly pull back prior to the start of the Winter Meetings, whereas speculative candidates like the Yankees, Braves, Phillies, or Mariners never seemed involved to any great extent.
The Angels have the toughest pill to swallow in seeing Ohtani not just leave, but head across town to the other Los Angeles team. Because the Halos were just barely able to maneuver themselves under the luxury tax threshold, the Angels will maximize their compensatory return for Ohtani, who naturally rejected a qualifying offer. Anaheim will now get a compensatory pick after the second round of the 2024 draft, which is admittedly small consolation for losing one of the singular talents that the game has ever seen. There hasn’t been any sense what the Angels are planning to rebuild or take a step back now that Ohtani is gone, as the team has reportedly still been trying to add top-end talent to finally get back into contention.
As for the Dodgers, they got their man, cost be damned. Ohtani now joins Betts and Freddie Freeman in one of the more fearsome top-of-the-order trios in recent memory, and solidifies at least the DH spot in Chavez Ravine for the next decade. There have been some whispers that Ohtani might try his hand at playing the outfield should he ever opt to stop pitching, and while he did make some brief appearances as an outfielder during his time with the Halos, the question of a future position probably isn’t being raised for at least a few years down the road, or until Ohtani has exhausted all options as a pitcher.
Ohtani’s arm injury was particularly troublesome for the Dodgers in the short term, as the club is still in need of pitching help heading into 2024. Walker Buehler is returning after missing all of 2023 due to his own TJ surgery, and swingman Ryan Yarbrough is probably penciled into one rotation spot for at least the start of the season, and Bobby Miller has all but officially won himself a spot after an impressive rookie year. That leaves a collection of other young arms (Ryan Pepiot, Emmet Sheehan, Michael Grove and Gavin Stone) battling for other rotation spots, and Dustin May could be a factor by midseason once recovered from a flexor tendon surgery. Longtime ace Clayton Kershaw is a free agent and will miss a big chunk of the 2024 campaign due to shoulder surgery, though it would seem that if Kershaw decides to keep playing, it will be either with the Dodgers or with his hometown Rangers.
Yamamoto is known to be another target on the Dodgers’ wishlist, while Dylan Cease and Tyler Glasnow are two of the undoubtedly many more experienced pitchers L.A. has discussed in trade talks. The Dodgers could perhaps trade from their deep farm system to facilitate some pitching trades, or make yet another big signing. Even after adding Ohtani to the books, the Dodgers had created enough space on the books that they’re only slightly over the $237MM luxury tax threshold — as per Roster Resource, the club’s projected tax number is just over $244MM. Since Los Angeles hasn’t been reluctant to pay a tax bill in the past, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman can continue to be aggressive as the team enters the Ohtani era.
Despite 11 straight playoff appearances and NL West titles in 10 of those seasons, the Dodgers have captured “only” one World Series title within this fantastic run of success. All those postseason near-misses have left something of an underwhelming feeling amongst Dodger fans, and the team has won only a single playoff game over its last two trips to October. It always felt as though the Dodgers were going to be pushing to sign Ohtani no matter their recent results, yet his addition perhaps acts as some kind of turning point in translating a few more of those playoff visits into championship rings.
Claiming that the Dodgers will become even more of a high-profile franchise is a little difficult to claim, since obviously the club’s long line of past Japanese stars has made them a household name overseas. Still, adding the biggest star of all in Ohtani will only enhance the Dodgers as a worldwide brand. The added marketing, merchandising, and broadcasting revenues that come with signing Ohtani won’t exactly cover $700MM, yet it isn’t a stretch to say that the Dodgers will enjoy some unprecedented economic benefits in addition to what Ohtani delivers on the field.
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