Shohei Ohtani’s historic season, a jaw-dropping display of two-way talent and endurance, encountered mortality Wednesday.
Ohtani, it turns out, is not a machine after all. The ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow is torn. He won’t pitch for the immediate future. How long he stays in the Angels’ lineup as a hitter remains unclear.
The universal reaction to the stunning twist was a brief sense of sorrow followed by a cold assessment. Yes, this is horrible for Ohtani, the baseball player and the human being. And, man, he just lost a whole bunch of money, didn’t he?
The topic swept through the baseball industry Thursday. Speculation galore. For six months, since Ohtani reported for spring training, until Wednesday, the question was how high the bidding for his services would go once he hit free agency this winter. What started at $500 million grew to $600 million by May and to $700 million in some corners by the middle of the summer.
His future was a constant talking point hovering in the backdrop. It still is, just through a different lens. The question now: How much of that imaginary money did he lose?
The Times received knee-jerk assessments of the situation from five front-office executives and agents Thursday. All commented on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. All five came to one consensus: Ohtani, 29, surely will be offered less money than previously expected, but his market will be as robust as any in history.
“It should affect his overall [money],” one executive said, “[but it’s] hard to see it affect the sweepstakes.”
Another executive explained any evaluation will depend on the extent of the injury and Othani’s prognosis for the intermediate term. Ohtani undergoing Tommy John surgery for the second time in five years, for example, would change the parameters. For now, he’ll remain in the Angels’ lineup while he decides whether to avoid surgery.
“Obviously, it dings the value a good bit as pitching [is] more in question,” the executive said. “ I assume [it] will make an early opt-out a much more important factor for Ohtani’s camp.”
Another mystery clouding Ohtani's appraisal is his value as a marketing asset. Does this injury affect Ohtani’s marketability? Could owners decide he’s worth the risk simply for the revenue streams he could generate from Japan? This is, after all, a business.
One agent said he assumes Ohtani will have multiple opt-outs and high performance bonuses on the pitching side if he chooses to sign a long-term contract. He said Ohtani also could decide to sign a two-year contract — he speculated for $100 million — to reestablish his value before reaching free agency again after the 2025 season.
"He'll be fine," the agent said. "I don't think this is catastrophic for his value."
A third executive predicted Ohtani will sign an eight-year, $400-million deal with possible opt-outs, incentives and bonuses on top.
“Everyone’s still going to be involved,” the executive said. “He still leads the league in homers and [on-base-plus-slugging percentage]. He’s still really valuable.”
Another agent wondered if a team would have Ohtani return as a closer to avoid compromising his bat while playing outfield when he’s not on the mound. That, he said, would shed some of Ohtani’s value and could cost him more than $100 million.
Even subtracting $100 million, Ohtani's contract could mean a record-breaking windfall. The answer should arrive this winter. The possibilities range wide. The entire industry eagerly awaits.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.