Shohei Ohtani’s singular pursuit of history, one man’s quest to rewrite the baseball world’s understanding of what is possible, reached another summit on Saturday when he agreed to the largest contract in the annals of major North American team sports, a 10-year, $700 million 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 he left Japan for Major League Baseball heading into the 2018 season. He has done things that appeared impossible in the modern era, feats that harkened back to Babe Ruth. As he traveled the country with the Los Angeles Angels this past summer, fans serenaded him with recruiting pitches. When he entered free agency, a dozen teams lined up, curious to see if they could meet his eye.
Only one team could secure Ohtani’s services. He will now be compensated for both his immense talent and his unparalleled star power. His contract eclipsed the $360 million record for free agents set last winter by New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and also surpassed the record-setting $426.5 million extension from Ohtani’s former Angels teammate Mike Trout. His achievement exceeded even those outside of baseball, topping the $450 million contract inked by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Ohtani has outpaced even soccer star Lionel Messi’s $674 million contract — signed in 2021 when he was with FC Barcelona.
His individual brilliance was not enough to lift the Angels into the postseason. With the Dodgers, Ohtani will now have an opportunity to add collective hardware to his trophy case. The Dodgers have won the National League West in 10 of the past 11 seasons, topped 100 victories 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 sense is that he wants to be the best ever,” 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 publicly say that.”
Significant questions linger about Ohtani’s future. He will not pitch in 2024 as he recovers from a September operation to repair his right elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Neither Ohtani, who has not taken questions from reporters since August, nor his agent, Nez Balelo, nor the Angels have disclosed the exact nature of the second surgery, but the Los Angeles Times has reported 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 at what point Ohtani would consider giving up his dual career and focusing on learning a different position. Since he was a teenager, Ohtani has ignored suggestions that he focus on only one pursuit.
Ohtani demonstrated his potential as the American League Rookie of the Year in 2018, but his two-way hopes were delayed after his first elbow surgery. It was not until 2021 that the full flower of his ability bloomed. He has won the American League MVP in two of the past three seasons; in the intervening season, he led all American League pitchers in strikeout rate while hitting 34 home runs with an .875 OPS. To create a comparison for him involves inventions that sound freakish. “It’s like if Judge went out and was a 20-game winner as well,” former teammate Kole Calhoun said.
Ohtani is committed to being a starting pitcher. If he cannot stay healthy enough for that role, he could aid his new team as a reliever. He closed the final game of the World Baseball Classic, securing the crown for Japan by striking out Trout. His four-seam fastball averaged nearly 97 mph in 2023; the velocity of the pitch figures 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 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 swatted 44 homers with a career-best 1.066 OPS. He did this while making starts and dealing with a torn ligament in his elbow.
Only one stage remains for Ohtani. He has never played a postseason game in the majors. As the Angels foundered in recent years, Ohtani became more vocal about his desire to play for a winner. Now he has the chance to make a different kind of history.
(Photo: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)