Skip to main content

Five thoughts on the landmark, $700 million deal between Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers

Shohei Ohtani reacts after hitting a double.
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball’s international nightmare has ended. Shohei Ohtani has landed, without ever getting on a plane to Toronto.

Ohtani, MLB’s biggest star, announced on Instagram on Saturdaay afternoon that he has chosen to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to ESPN, it’s a 10-year contract worth $700 million. According to The Athletic, there are significant deferrals in the deal that allow the Dodgers to effectively structure their current roster and payroll, and there are no opt-outs in the decade-long contract.

According to me, here are five thoughts about the mind-blowing Ohtani-Dodgers deal:

Shohei Otani’s $700 million contract is ridiculous

Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

I do not blame Ohtani or his agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, for negotiating and signing this incredible deal. It’s a landmark contract – the wealthiest in the history of the four primary North American team sports – and it’s for a generational player. Wonderful for them.

But $700 million? Come on. That’s straight-up ridiculousness; the projected $500 million for Ohtani seemed ridiculous, but at least that’s in line with the previous trajectory of booming salaries.

Before this pact, Ohtani’s former Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout owned MLB’s maximum-valued deal at $426.5 million. New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge’s $360 million was the largest for a baseball free agent and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes previously owned the most lucrative contract for any player in the four major sports at $450 million.

Ohtani’s $70 million average annual value – not including deferrals – is more than the active payrolls of the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles to begin the 2023 season and just less than the Tampa Bay Rays’ and Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2023 payrolls on Opening Day

We all understand this is a tremendous economic time for professional athletes and professional sports franchises, but it’s just difficult for me to fathom how this is a good overall decision by the Dodgers.

It is one, however, that surely will have rippling effects on pay structure throughout pro sports. Salary records tend to be broken relatively quickly. A billion-dollar contract is looming in the future.

This deal likely won’t end well

Given his remarkable ability to pitch and hit, it seems foolish to put any future limitations on the two-way superstar. However, he is 29, has already had two elbow surgeries and will not be able to pitch in 2024.

Given Ohtani’s injury history and the typical decline of players’ abilities into their 30s, the idea of a $70 million AAV – even with major deferrals – for an eventual 39-year-old is cringe-worthy.

The Dodgers, of course, aren’t looking at 2033 here. They have the best player in baseball to pair with two more in the conversation: Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

The organization surely figures that what Ohtani in his prime can bring to the Dodgers organization in media attention, advertising dollars and fan purchases will be well worth it for the first few years of the deal. After that, it’s just sunk costs that hopefully will be absorbed by the windfall from the first few years of the deal.

That’s really the primary difference between haves and have-nots in baseball. Given the valuation of franchises these days, most teams can afford to give out exorbitant contracts; but only a few can absorb them fully without consequences if the performance of the highly paid players tanks.

Shohei Ohtani smells like a rose

Throughout his big-league career, Ohtani has done everything right. He has shown respect for the game and its players, and he has been a tremendous ambassador for the game with his unparalleled abilities and work ethic. Somehow, he still emerges from this crazy week as a humble and appreciative soldier in this game.

His Instagram announcement included a thank you to the Angels and their fans and a promise to the Dodgers organization that he will “be the best version of myself” throughout the length of the contract.

Additionally, Balelo issued a statement that stressed the structuring of the contract – heavy deferrals so that the Dodgers aren’t burdened with $70 million per year to start – was Ohtani’s idea.

In other words, Ohtani wants to make sure his astronomical salary will not get in the way of the Dodgers being able to spend competitively on players who can help him win.

Ohtani went to the highest bidder – obviously – and yet it comes off as he selected the best chance for him to make the playoffs, something he hasn’t accomplished as a big leaguer but something the Dodgers have done each of the last 11 seasons.

Thank goodness this doesn’t fall on Dave Roberts

Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Balelo and his people wanted to keep leaks at a minimum so there was a veiled threat that any public information about negotiations would negatively affect a club’s chances of landing Ohtani.

Therefore, when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted publicly his team had met with Ohtani and his camp for a few hours, speculation ran rampant that Roberts had hurt his club by, well, answering questions honestly.

Balelo’s charge here was to get the best deal for his client in a spot his client would be most comfortable. It seemed like the Dodgers were the frontrunners all along because they were such a good fit, and Balelo wasn’t jeopardizing that because Roberts admitted that Ohtani was the Dodgers’ top priority.

I’m glad cooler heads prevailed. Frankly, if anyone looks bad through all of this it’s my section of the industry. Reporters were so frenzied to break the news that poor judgment triumphed in certain instances, which led to erroneous reports.

Now that Shohei Ohtani is off the board, let the signings begin

Now that the Ohtani hammer has dropped, the free-agent market should pick up pace.

Some big-dollar clubs were waiting to see where Ohtani would land before making their full pitches to other top free agents.

I’d expect that changes now and players such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Josh Hader, Blake Snell and others begin inching toward deals.

Yamamoto, the 25-year-old pitcher from Japan, is probably the next media fascination. He’s going to break the record for the largest contract for an international free agent. Bring it on.

More About: