The answer to the $700 million question was staring us in the face all along.
Despite Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec taking everyone on a wild-goose chase Friday as his private jet soared from Orange County to Toronto — to be fair to the Canadian mogul, he was an unwitting accomplice — was it ever truly a mystery where Shohei Ohtani would wind up?
The Dodgers’ all-out push for the planet’s best baseball player, a once-in-a-lifetime two-way star, was always there, hiding in plain sight, and Ohtani’s intentions hardly were a secret.
In July at the All-Star Game, where fans at T-Mobile Park chanted “Come to Seattle,” Ohtani publicly stated his desire to play for a contender and finally get a shot at October, something denied him for six years with the Angels.
“It [stinks] to lose,” Ohtani said then. “I want to win.”
In that respect, there’s no surer bet than the Dodgers, who have made the playoffs the past 11 years — earning 10 division titles — but won the World Series only once during this stretch, at the end of the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
Others surely made a case for themselves. But the Dodgers had the extra benefit of the two wealthy New York teams seemingly being content to sit this one out, passing on the current DH-only version of Ohtani while aiming their wallets at Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto instead.
Plus, the Dodgers already knew Ohtani was comfortable in SoCal — even with his frustration over losing right down the road in Anaheim — and spent this past year investing in an Ohtani fund by limiting their financial commitment to the 2024 payroll. Before signing Ohtani to this record-smashing 10-year, $700 million contract, L.A. had only $157 million on the books for next season. And even with Ohtani’s $70 million AAV now factored in, the Dodgers still rank only fourth in MLB, according to FanGraphs, behind the Yankees ($279M), Mets ($278M) and Phillies ($237M).
Ohtani’s contract reportedly comes with a lot of deferred money, a move done to defray his immediate cost and help the Dodgers be more competitive during his stay at Chavez Ravine. Regardless, this is a mind-blowing stack of cash and obliterates anything that came before it.
His former Angels teammate, Mike Trout, who previously held the title of Earth’s greatest baseball player, now owns the sport’s second-richest contract at $426.5 million spread over a dozen years.
Remember last December, when Aaron Judge’s nine-year, $360 million deal was the largest ever awarded to a free agent? Ohtani nearly doubled that total a year later.
No wonder Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, had zero problem posting the contract terms in an email blast to the media. You get someone $700 million, you’re shouting that from the social media rooftops.
“This is a unique, historic contract,” Balelo said in a statement, “for a unique, historic player.”
Balelo’s agency firing off that email on his behalf was ironic after how fiercely he protected Ohtani’s secrecy during the recruitment process. And with zero leaks from the Ohtani spigot — he warned suitors against spilling the tea, too — that led to Friday’s madcap media speculation on X (the site formerly known as Twitter).
“We know fans, media and the entire industry had a high degree of interest in this process,” Balelo said. “And we want to express our appreciation for their passion and their consideration as it played out.”
Now everyone’s focus turns to an entirely different question: Can Ohtani possibly live up to a $700 million deal, one that surpasses the top three guaranteed contracts of the NFL, NBA and NHL — combined? That’s complicated.
For starters, Ohtani is expected to be merely a one-way player for the 2024 season, and a DH at that after his September elbow repair, the second such procedure since coming to the States (he had Tommy John surgery in 2018). Nobody knows for sure how that will impact his ability to be a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher over the life of this contract — or how many years it makes sense to continue on the mound if pitching-related health issues jeopardize his availability to hit.
That said, the two-time MVP is one of the most lethal bats in the game, and at 29, Ohtani should remain that dangerous for a while. His true value, however, far exceeds what he does on the field. He’s a baseball rock star, the sport’s top must-see attraction, and from a marketing standpoint, Ohtani will be a cash generator way beyond anyone who’s ever worn a Dodgers uniform — or played in the majors. The TV ratings, the advertising revenue, all multiplied by his unmatched popularity in Japan.
You can’t find that data on FanGraphs. But for a Dodgers franchise that already leads MLB in attendance every year, Ohtani represents exponential financial growth across the board. That’s virtually guaranteed.
Winning the World Series, however, is not. The Angels had a .461 winning percentage during Ohtani’s six-year stay, never finishing higher than third or closer than 10 games out of first place. That wasn’t his fault, of course. And the Dodgers are a far superior franchise in every way.
But Ohtani is only one player. The Dodgers got him to Chavez Ravine with this $700 million deal. The question now is to see what that price tag delivers.