Shohei Ohtani joining Dodgers on 10-year, $700M contract

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Sunday, December 10, 2023

The most unique player in baseball history has joined one of the most storied franchises in the world -- for more money than anyone could have possibly imagined.

Shohei Ohtani, the transcendent two-way talent who spent the past three years redefining what was possible at his sport's highest level, agreed to a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday, announcing his decision on his Instagram page.

"To all the fans and everyone involved in the baseball world, I apologize for taking so long to come to a decision," Ohtani wrote. "I have decided to choose the Dodgers as my next team."

Ohtani's contract is the largest in baseball history by more than $250 million, topping the 12-year, $426.5 million extension given in 2019 to Mike Trout, his now-former teammate with the Los Angeles Angels. It also easily topped the $450 million deal signed byKansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomesto become the largest in North American professional sports history. The $70 million average annual salary eclipses the previous Major League Baseball record of $43.3 million for Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and is more than the 2023 Opening Day payrolls of the Baltimore Orioles ($60.9 million) and Oakland Athletics ($56.9 million).

The deal -- still not announced by the Dodgers, who must create room for Ohtani on their 40-man roster and have other formalities to work through -- does not include any opt-outs, a source told ESPN. Another source said the "majority" of Ohtani's salary will be deferred in order to mitigate what the Dodgers are charged toward their competitive balance tax payroll on a yearly basis, giving them more freedom to add players over the life of Ohtani's contract. Those deferrals, according to the source, were Ohtani's idea.

"This is a unique, historic contract for a unique, historic player," Nez Balelo, Ohtani's agent at CAA, said in a statement, adding: "Shohei is thrilled to be a part of the Dodgers organization. He is excited to begin this partnership, and he structured his contract to reflect a true commitment from both sides to long-term success."

Ohtani, 29, is the first player in baseball history to be named unanimous MVP on multiple occasions, an honor bestowed upon him twice over the past three years. During that stretch, he defied conventionality by excelling as both a pitcher and a hitter, becoming MLB's first two-way player since Babe Ruth dabbled in both roles more than a century ago.

Only a tender elbow could stop him.

Ohtani learned of a new tear in his ulnar collateral ligament -- his second such injury in five years -- on Aug. 23, near the tail end of a third consecutive standout season for the Angels. Nearly four weeks later, he underwent what was vaguely described as some hybrid version of Tommy John surgery. The man who performed it, Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, wrote in a statement that Ohtani would be ready to hit "without any restrictions come opening day of 2024" and resume his role as a two-way player by 2025, but details of his procedure were elusive.

Ohtani's highly anticipated run at free agency also played out in secrecy, with little publicly known about his preferences beyond a desire to continue his two-way aspirations.

The intrigue reached a fever pitch through social media Friday, when it was believed that Ohtani might be joining the Toronto Blue Jays. A private jet was found leaving Southern California and bound for Toronto, prompting speculation that Ohtani would be aboard. It was followed by what turned out to be a false report on Dodgers Nation, a Dodgers fan site, saying Ohtani had decided to join the Blue Jays, followed by another false report, from MLB Network, that Ohtani was indeed traveling to Toronto. The man on board that flight was actually Canadian entrepreneur and "Shark Tank" judge Robert Herjavec.

The Blue Jays were among the finalists for Ohtani, along with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and his former team, the Angels -- but the Dodgers had always been seen as the favorite.

"I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone involved with the Angels organization and the fans who have supported me over the past six years, as well as to everyone involved with each team that was part of this negotiation process," Ohtani wrote. "Especially to the Angels fans who supported me through all the ups and downs, your guys' support and cheer meant the world to me. The six years I spent with the Angels will remain etched in my heart forever.

"And to all Dodgers fans, I pledge to always do what's best for the team and always continue to give it my all to be the best version of myself. Until the last day of my playing career, I want to continue to strive forward not only for the Dodgers but for the baseball world."

The Dodgers improved from +800 to +550 to win the World Series at ESPN BET following Ohtani's announcement and are now the consensus favorite ahead of the Atlanta Braves at sportsbooks throughout the nation.

Over these past handful of years, the Dodgers have been defined as much by their regular-season prowess as they have for their postseason disappointments.

The Dodgers have won the National League West 10 out of the past 11 years and have accumulated at least 100 wins four out of the past five years. The only exception was the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, which ended in the franchise's first championship since 1988. The past two years were especially disappointing, however, ending in NL Division Series exits at the hands of the division-rival San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively.

Ohtani, who will be the Dodgers' designated hitter in 2024, joins a lineup headlined by Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. The Dodgers are in desperate need of starting pitching but are expected to be aggressive for top-end arms in the trade market and might still make a run for Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Their hope, though, is that Ohtani will be their starting pitcher on Opening Day in 2025.

Ohtani's regular-season debut with the Dodgers will come in a two-game series against the Padres on March 20-21. Ohtani is slated to face the Angels twice next season, at home on June 21-22 and at Angel Stadium for two games on Sept. 3-4.

In 2017, Ohtani left Japan early -- and thus qualified as an international free agent, significantly hindering his earning potential on the open market -- with a two-way pursuit in mind.

All of MLB practically lined up to sign him, but Ohtani, to the surprise of many, chose the Angels and the comfort they might provide him. He struggled to adapt throughout his first spring training but flourished as a pitcher and hitter during the first two months of his rookie season in 2018. A Grade 2 UCL sprain discovered in early June 2018 forced him to shut it down as a pitcher -- and eventually prompted his first Tommy John surgery, after non-invasive treatment failed -- but did not prevent him from winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Ohtani navigated the 2018 and 2019 seasons primarily as a designated hitter, with an .884 OPS and 40 home runs in 210 games.

He then struggled mightily as both a pitcher and a hitter during the shortened 2020 season. Those struggles triggered a transformative offseason. Ohtani spent the ensuing winter refining his diet, studying his biomechanics on the mound and seeing an array of live pitching in the batter's box then watched it translate into a mesmerizing display in spring training of 2021.

Under general manager Perry Minasian and then-manager Joe Maddon, the Angels eliminated prior restrictions that prevented Ohtani from hitting around his starting pitching days and essentially gave him full autonomy over his playing time.

It helped unlock one of the most impressive three-year runs ever.

From 2021 to 2023, Ohtani slashed .277/.379/.585 while accumulating 124 home runs, 22 triples and 57 stolen bases as a hitter. As a pitcher, he won 34 games and posted a 2.84 ERA in 74 starts, striking out 542 batters in 428 innings. By weighted runs created plus, he was more productive than Juan Soto, Bryce Harper and Freeman. By fielding independent pitching, he was better than Scherzer, Blake Snell and Dylan Cease. Only Aaron Judge's AL-record-breaking 62-homer season in 2022 prevented Ohtani from three consecutive MVPs.

This offseason, teams lined up for the chance to sign a relatively young free agent who boasts an unprecedented skill set -- prodigious power, plus speed, elite arm strength and the ability to spin devastating breaking pitches -- and unique marketability. Many were intimidated by the immense price tag and concerned about his ability to bounce back as a pitcher, but many also put that aside for the opportunity to land the most unique free agent in baseball history.

Ultimately, the Dodgers won out.

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