Shohei Ohtani’s singular pursuit of history, one man’s quest to rewrite the baseball world’s understanding of the possible, reached another pinnacle on Saturday when he signed a 10-year, $700 million annual contract with a major North American sports team. A deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his agency CAA announced.
Ohtani announced his decision on Instagram. The deal ends years of speculation over Ohtani’s future. Ohtani, 29, has captivated the industry since leaving Japan for Major League Baseball’s 2018 season. He has accomplished things that seem impossible in the modern age, back to Babe Ruth. As he traveled the country with the Los Angeles Angels last summer, fans peppered him with recruiting pitches. When he entered free agency, a dozen teams lined up, eager to see if they could meet his eye.
Only one team can secure Ohtani’s services. Now he will be compensated for both his immense talent and his unparalleled star power. His contract broke the $360 million free-agent record set by New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge last winter and surpassed Ohtani’s former Angels teammate Mike Trout’s record-setting $426.5 million extension. His accomplishments extend beyond baseball to 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 brilliance alone wasn’t enough to lift the Angels into 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 last 11 seasons, topped 100 wins in five of the last six full seasons and have won the World Series in 2020. Ohtani has never played in the postseason in his big league career.
“My feeling is that he always wants to be the best,” said St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Knudbar, who played with Ohtani in the World Baseball Classic last spring, “but I don’t think he’ll ever say that publicly.”
Significant questions remain about Ohtani’s future. He will not play in 2024 as he recovers from September surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Neither Ohtani nor his agent, Ness Paley, nor the Angels, who have not taken questions from reporters since August, have disclosed the exact nature of the second surgery, but the Los Angeles Times did. The second is the Tommy John procedure.
Paleo insisted that Ohtani is committed to both pitching and hitting in the future. “Shoehe loves the pitch,” Paleo told reporters in September. Ohtani will try to return to the mound in 2025. Ohtani’s camp has not revealed when he will leave his dual career behind to focus on learning another position. Since he was a teenager, Ohtani ignored suggestions that he should focus on just one goal.
Ohtani flashed his potential as the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year, but his two-way hopes were delayed after his first elbow surgery. It was not until 2021 that the full flower of his talent blossomed. He has won the American League MVP in two of the last three seasons; In the offseason, he led all American League pitchers in strikeout rate while hitting 34 home runs with an .875 OPS. Making a comparison for him involves strange discoveries. “It’s like if Judge went out and was a 20-game winner,” former teammate Cole Calhoun said.
Ohtani is determined to be the opener. If he can’t stay healthy enough for that role, he could help his new team as a reliever. He pitched the final game of the World Baseball Classic, striking out Trout and securing the crown for Japan. His four-seam fastball was nearly 97 mph in 2023; Speed of pitch stats to improve in short bursts.
Although Ohtani never pitched again, his value as a hitter was 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 hit 44 homers with a career-best 1.066 OPS. He did this while starting and dealing with a torn ligament in his elbow.
Ohtani has only one more position left. He never played a postseason game in the majors. As the Angels have established in recent years, Ohtani has been more vocal about his desire to play for a winner. Now he has got a chance to make a different kind of history.
(Photo: Stacey Revere/Getty Images)