Is Shohei Ohtani Going to Get a $500 Million Contract?
The 28-year-old is now the undisputed king of the baseball world
After Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout to win the World Baseball Classic last night, earning Samurai Japan their third first-place finish in the tournament, and himself his first WBC MVP Award, a former WBC MVP took to Twitter to say what we were all thinking: “Give Ohtani a billion dollars,” Marcus Stroman wrote. “Mythical unicorn god on the baseball field!”
All tournament (and all throughout the last two years, really) the sports world has been running out of words to describe what the 28-year-old is capable of doing on a baseball field. Seriously — at one point during the championship broadcast John Smoltz sighed and announced he didn’t know how else to contextualize Ohtani’s talent anymore. The man hits 450-foot moonshots, runs out infield singles like an impala, tosses 102-MPH gassers from the hill and squats 500 pounds in the weight room. Going forward, “mythical unicorn god” might make for a nice shorthand.
Still, in a game known for its gargantuan contracts, a dollar sum might be the only other way to fully understand what Ohtani means to a team. What, after all, is this sort of ballplayer worth? Surely not one-billion dollars, as Stroman half-jokingly suggested. But not too far off that, right? Does Ohtani — set to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2023 season — deserve to be paid like two superstars, instead of one?
Last summer, Buster Olney tweeted out a calculation from Fangraphs, which found that Ohtani’s production value over the last season-and-a-half was equal to $98 million. And that data only reflected his performance through July of the 2022 campaign — but Ohtani kept his output up all season long, finishing with ace-level numbers on the mound (2.33 ERA over 166 innings pitched), and middle-of-the-order figures at the plate (34 homers, 95 RBI, .875 OPS).
Relatively speaking, those batting numbers signaled a slight “power down” season for Ohtani (who swatted 46 home runs the year before, with a slugging percentage right around .600), but he was still one of the most feared hitters in the league in 2022. He also improved his batting average, in a year when contact hitting was at an all-time low. Meanwhile, his pitching was stupendous across the board — the stats put him up there with studs like Carlos Rodón, Sandy Alcantara, Max Fried and Alek Manoah.
Any team in Major League Baseball would be lucky (and would pay handsomely) to have either Hitter Ohtani or Pitcher Ohtani. But his dual talents are a package deal, and if they want him next winter, they’ll likely have to pay a sum that reflects that fact. The stat Olney tweeted would suggest that over a 162-game cadence, Ohtani is worth somewhere in the realm of $62 million.
Ohtani will be a free agent at the age of 29. Considering how common decade-plus pacts have become in baseball (the likes of Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Julio Rodriguez and Mookie Betts have all signed between 10- to 13-year commitments with their clubs), there’s a great chance he’ll go somewhere he can play through his 40th birthday. (Which, sidebar, will probably not be the Angels. This man belongs in the postseason!) If that franchise, whichever it is, takes into account the full productive value of his talent, there’s a good chance his contract will soar past the half-billion mark…if not past the $600 million mark.
What’s standing in the way of that? The prospect of injury, or an underwhelming 2023 season, or a potential wish to finish his thirties in Japan…in which case, perhaps he might prefer a short-term deal with a higher AAV. Which seems the best bet here: it’s a virtual guarantee that Ohtani will set a new record for highest-annual salary (New York Mets starters Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander currently share the mark at $43 million a year.)
As for the largest contract any athlete in any sport has ever seen…don’t count it out. He’s too good at doing too many things, and MLB franchises have shown a clear willingness to spend over the last two free-agent cycles. You could hem and haw about clearing that much salary for one player, but he isn’t one player, is he? He’s Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole. And after seeing what he means to so many people — it’s possible that over 75 million fans watched him close that game last night — you can be sure he’ll pay any team back in kind.
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