In recent weeks, Major League Baseball's richest clubs have spent money on transfer-free Shohei Ohtani (29 years old). The Japanese, perhaps the best baseball player of all time, chose the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday, which paid him a record $700 million.
“This is a unique, historic contract for a unique, historic player,” his agent responded after Ohtani announced his selection on Instagram. The Japanese sign with the Dodgers for ten years. “I will do my best to be the best version of myself,” he told the club's fans.
His best version was seen in recent seasons with city rivals Los Angeles Angels, where he shined, but never got close to a championship. His talent was squandered by Angels management, who were never able to build a solid team around him. After six seasons, Ohtani had had enough.
About the author
Koen van der Velden describes De Volkskrant About sports in the United States. Lives in New York.
It was already clear that his new contract would break all records. Ohtani is often compared to a “unicorn”, a mythical creature isolated from its own kind. He's one of the best hitters, but he also excels as a pitcher. He regularly works double shifts during matches. He bats with his left hand and throws with his right.
Most valuable player
After last season, Ohtani was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) in his league, the American League, for the second time. As before, the voters' verdict was unanimous. In the spring he actually led Japan to the world title.
However, the $700 million was surprising, because it was a very large sum. As of Saturday, Ohtani's former teammate Mike Trout's contract was the largest in the American League. He had a 2019 426M and twelve season with the Los Angeles Angels.
No contract is close to other major American leagues either. Patrick Mahomes, the superstar of the famous American football, earns 450 million, spread over ten seasons. Ohtani's $700 million is far more than NBA star LeBron James has played basketball in two decades combined.
Ohtani was awarded the largest contract (overall) in the history of the sport. Lionel Messi's latest deal at Barcelona, said to be worth $674 million, is the closest. (Side note: The long duration of major league contracts adds up quickly.)
Ohtani's selection kept Baseball America in its grip for weeks. All the clubs that could afford him focused all their efforts on the Japanese. “He's our top priority,” Dodgers coach Dave Roberts was blunt recently. “That should be obvious.”
Media-shy, Ohtani kept his cards close to his chest, leaving clubs, fans and reporters in the dark for weeks. “I apologize for taking so long,” the baseball player wrote on Instagram on Saturday.
Speculation about his destination reached boiling point last Friday. Ohtani was reportedly on a special flight to Toronto to sign with the Blue Jays. The plane was closely monitored by thousands of baseball fans on radar sites.
According to some reports, the deal has been completed. The famous Canadian rapper Drake showed off Ohtani's arrival with a photo on Instagram of him wearing a baseball player's shirt. But Ohtani didn't come. It turns out he was at home in California.
So the unicorn stays in Los Angeles. At Ohtani's insistence, a significant portion of his salary will not be paid until after his retirement, meaning the Dodgers now have more cap room for other major contracts. After years of being on the major league fringes, Ohtani became primarily concerned with winning. Star players Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts are new teammates to the Dodgers.
It will take some time before the club's supporters are able to see Ohtani in all his glory. At the end of last season, he injured his elbow, which subsequently required surgery. As a result, he will not appear on the pitcher's mound next season. His doctor has confirmed that he can bat without restrictions, but Ohtani cannot resume his dual role until 2025 at the earliest.
Only his physical condition caused some concern. Ohtani also struggled with injuries earlier in his career. Pitching and hitting put a lot of pressure on him, and at 29 he's not the youngest anymore. But the Dodgers, like the other suitors, were happy to take the risk.
Besides being a baseball player, Ohtani has great value as a brand. The Angels did not achieve any sporting success, but the club benefited greatly from the star’s presence on a commercial level.
His biggest winners were also the dozens of Japanese journalists who report daily on Ohtani, who is a hero to his compatriots, especially after winning the world championship. Reporters don't have to move to Canada, San Francisco or New York, but can simply stay in Los Angeles. Ohtani will be admired there for the next 10 years.
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