Shohei Ohtani is often referred to as “the Japanese Babe Ruth.” But truthfully, the comparison should be reversed. From now on, we should all refer to Babe Ruth as “the American Shohei Ohtani” because Ohtani is… without a doubt… the greatest baseball player of all time.
No player in history has put up the kind of stats Ohtani has delivered in the last three seasons. He is currently the best hitter in baseball. He leads the league in home runs (44) and slugging percentage (.664). He’s in the top 10 in both RBIs and batting average. Incomprehensibly, he is ALSO one of the league’s best pitchers. This season he became the first player in history to be selected as an All-Star as both a pitcher and a hitter.
In his first four seasons in the majors, 2018-2022, Ohtani earned a total of $9.7 million in salary from the Angels. Ahead of the 2023 season, he signed a 1-year, $30 million contract with the Angels.
Most importantly, Shohei Ohtani will be a free agent at the end of this season. That means he will be an open market asset up for the highest bidder. Unfortunately, a bit of tragedy struck in Cincinnati last night.
Largest Contract In Baseball History
Prior to last night’s double-header against the Cincinnati Reds, the general understanding was that at the conclusion of this season, Shohei Ohtani would sign an absolute monster of a contract with some lucky team. The contract was expected to be a minimum of $500 million, baseball’s first half-billion-dollar contract. The general consensus would be that he would sign a 11-year, $600-700 million contract. On a per-season basis, that would work out to $56 – $63 million per year in base salary.
For context, the current record for the largest contract by total in baseball history belongs to Shohei’s teammate, Mike Trout. In August 2019 Mike signed a 12-year $426.5 million extension with the Angels. That works out to $35 million per year in base salary.
Last night Ohtani left the first game in a double-header against the Reds with one out in the second inning. The initial reason given was “shoulder fatigue.” A few hours later, the explanation was expanded. In fact, Ohtani tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). The UCL is a ligament on the inner side of the elbow that keeps the joint stable as it is flexed.
If he opts to have surgery to repair the tear, he will not play any baseball at all for perhaps an entire season. For example, Ohtani missed the entire 2019 season while he recovered from Tommy John surgery on the exact same elbow.
He could opt to just never pitch again and likely just miss the remainder of the current season, which will be over in a few weeks. And perhaps as a preview of where his mind is at, after leaving the first game of last night’s double-header, Ohtani RETURNED FOR THE SECOND GAME.
$200 Million Injury?
Whichever route Ohtani decides to take, last night’s injury almost certainly cost him $100 million. And one could easily argue that if he chooses to have surgery and sit out for a year, it may actually end up costing him closer to $200 million.
Let’s use Aaron Judge as a comp. Ohtani is currently 30 years old. Late last year, Aaron Judge was a free agent coming off a season in which he set the American league home run record. He was 31 years old and ended up signing a 9-year $360 million contract with the Yankees.
If Ohtani takes a year off to recover from surgery, he’ll be exactly the same age as Judge. He’ll also be in the two-time surgery club. At that point would he be worth more than $360 million over 9 years? Aaron Judge is not also an incredible pitcher, so the answer is arguably YES. But how much more? Certainly not $500 million. Maybe $400 million? Mike Trout was 28 when he signed his record-setting 12-year, $426 million deal.
If Ohtani does not have surgery and instead decides to never pitch again, he’ll likely have an amazing career as a hitter/fielder. But he’s not the same X-Factor that he was as the best hitter/pitcher that ever existed. And that won’t be worth $600 million. At most, he’ll probably be looking at $450-500 million. Still an absolutely stunning amount of money, and still very likely to be the largest contract in baseball history.
The Biggest Losers
The Angels are the biggest losers here. The Angels had the opportunity to trade Ohtani anytime before August 1, at a point when he was absolutely setting the world on fire. Why would they have traded him? Because some team out there probably would have offered some incredible trades to get Ohtani on their team for the last push towards the post season. A post season the Angels have NO SHOT of making. They currently sit in fourth place in the AL West.
So not only did the Angels not get anything for Ohtani when they had the chance, but now they may not even have him on the field to help sell tickets for the last few weeks of the season.
It gets worse.
Mike Trout? Ohtani’s Angels teammate with the largest contract in baseball history?
Back in July Mike fractured a bone in his wrist. He spent seven weeks on the injured list. He was reactivated for Tuesday’s game against the Reds (the night before Wednesday’s double-header). After Tuesday’s game Mike was put right back on the injured list.