Shohei Ohtani, the two-way phenom who has been far and away the most valuable player in baseball the past three seasons, reached a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he announced via Instagram on Saturday.
The deal is for 10 years and $700 million, shattering the MLB record for total value in a contract and average annual value in a contract. Ohtani's former teammate Mike Trout held the previous total record at $426.5 million, while Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer were tied for the AAV record at $43.3 million.
The deal also contains massive deferrals that include the majority of Ohtani's salary, at the player's request. Ohtani reportedly sought to mitigate the competitive balance tax and cash-flow burdens that his deal might cause.
There are also reportedly no opt-outs in the deal.
The 29-year-old Ohtani is expected to spend the first season of his tenure as a Dodger as a full-time designated hitter, after undergoing an unspecified elbow procedure to repair a torn UCL, before attempting a return to the mound in 2025.
Clearly, that surgery didn't prevent him from shattering every expectation in what was already the most anticipated free agency in recent MLB history.
The Dodgers get their guy
Twenty-four hours before Ohtani made his announcement, he seemed headed to the Toronto Blue Jays — literally, if you believed flight trackers, fan speculation and one Dodgers reporter.
Rumors swirled Friday that Ohtani was on a private plane from Anaheim to Toronto, with one reporter claiming that Ohtani was en route to Canada and another saying Ohtani had decided to sign with the Blue Jays. The first was refuted by several other reporters in a matter of hours, while the second ended up being refuted by Ohtani himself. In the end, all of those rumors might've just been an additional leverage play.
The Dodgers had long been seen as the front-runners for Ohtani's services. Not only did they have the financial might, but they also had ample reason to look for any way to take a leap after a decade of regular-season dominance and only one World Series title. They also appeared to approach last offseason conservatively, almost as if they were diverting resources in order to take an enormous swing for the new face of baseball.
There was, of course, some worry that they would miss. The noise that came from both inside and outside the Dodgers organization after manager Dave Roberts confirmed they had merely met with Ohtani and considered him a "top priority" showed the anxiety that they might've run afoul of Ohtani's privacy, something that was said to be important at the outset of his free agency. In the end, that didn't seem to be an issue.
In the immediate term, Ohtani will slot in as designated hitter, replacing All-Star free agent J.D. Martinez. After that, he will be set to join the Dodgers' rotation and see if he can deliver the value of a $35 million per year hitter and $35 million per year pitcher.
Shohei Ohtani's unprecedented career takes him out of Anaheim
Ohtani signed with the Angels on Dec. 8, 2017, after spending five seasons as a two-way player with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball. He arrived too late to take advantage of what used to be a highly lucrative posting system for young players, turning the Ohtani sweepstakes from a bidding war into something akin to baseball's version of "The Bachelor."
Teams made their pitches, showed him what they could offer and were slowly eliminated until Ohtani made the decision to head to Anaheim. Despite years of disappointing results, the Angels received a generational talent, with six years of team control, for a $2.3 million signing bonus.
The Angels paired Mike Trout, the best player of a generation, with Ohtani, arguably the most physically gifted player in the history of baseball, and they made the playoffs zero times, though that wasn't due to a lack of success by Ohtani.
From the start, Ohtani was as advertised and more, though it took a while for him to become a true crossover star. He won Rookie of the Year in 2018, though that season ended on the sourest of notes when he required Tommy John surgery. He played 2019 as a designated hitter only and struggled heavily on both sides of the ball when he returned to the mound in 2020, sending his career into its nadir.
Ohtani's 3-year run as 2-way superstar ended with elbow surgery
Ohtani entered 2021 healthy for the first time since his rookie season and proceeded to make history. He not only posted the best season of his career and won AL MVP but also surpassed anything Babe Ruth ever did as a two-way player. Ruth comparisons have been popular with Ohtani for obvious reasons, but Ruth was a two-way player for only about a season and a half in 1918 and 1919. Those campaigns were impressive, though Ruth's 2.97 ERA in 1919, the first year he recorded more than 400 plate appearances, was roughly league-average in the dead-ball era. Ohtani, for his part, outpaced the rest of the league in both areas in 2021.
Ohtani was arguably even better in 2022, though he missed out on consecutive MVP honors due to Aaron Judge's 62-homer campaign. Then came 2023, which was shaping up to be Ohtani's masterpiece — with him wowing the baseball world both at the plate and on the mound — until his UCL unraveled things for the second time in his career. Even so, Ohtani was a unanimous AL MVP for the second time in his three-year run as a two-way superstar.
As Ohtani's career now stands, it is clear that he is even more than a generational talent. When healthy, he is almost automatically the most valuable player in baseball. But what is less clear is whether his body will be able to keep up as he enters his 30s.
Now nearing 30 years old, Ohtani's career high in innings pitched is 166 in 2022, and his next-highest is 132 this past season. The exact nature of the surgery Ohtani underwent in September remains unknown, but multiple surgeries for the same torn ligament often result in brutal rehabs, with no guarantees that a pitcher will ever be the same.
Nonetheless, there is still faith that Ohtani will be a historically elite player after a second surgery. The Dodgers are certainly betting on it.