Shohei Ohtani Signs with the Dodgers
Twenty-four hours ago the inevitable felt impossible.
It’s hard to even know where to begin, but I guess we’ll start here: After weeks (years!!!) of speculation and rumors that literally jumped the shark (tank), Shohei Ohtani announced on his Instagram at 12:05 PM PT today that he’s signing a free-agent contract with the Dodgers.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported two minutes later that the deal is for 10 years and worth $700 million.
There are reportedly no opt-outs. So, unless the Dodgers tire of the best baseball player who has maybe ever lived, Ohtani will play out the next decade of his career in Los Angeles.
His contract is the largest in American sports history by $274.5 million—besting the previous record, which was held by his former Angels’ teammate Mike Trout (12-year, $426.5 million).
It’s a staggering number that somehow even shatters the lofty $600 million price tag he was estimated to cost.
The Dodgers were long seen as the favorites to land the Japanese superstar in free agency, though it became painfully clear as this saga reached it’s nadir this week that absolutely no American reporters knew anything.
A nation of sports journalists fumbling in the dark and tripping over their own Twitter fingers was by design. Ohtani’s agent told the press that any team that leaked information about his free agency process would be punished by death in the sweepstakes for his services, which scared teams s—-less.
On Tuesday, even Dodger management was furious when team skipper Dave Roberts admitted to the media that the club had even *met* with Ohtani, a ridiculous turn of events made totally reasonable by the fact that Ohtani has been their white whale for a decade, that ownership wanted him badly, and that they were all terrified about (even the remote!) possibility Ohtani would hold Roberts’ captain obvious remarks against them and sign elsewhere.
On one hand, what Roberts said was an absolute nothingburger that didn’t betray any information on the money Ohtani had been offered, the other finalists or anything the player said to indicate his thinking. On the other, Roberts had one rule at the winter meetings, and it was to not talk about Fight Club.
I was going to write about the Great Roberts Debacle on Wednesday morning, but it made me feel too insane. So meticulous is Shohei Ohtani in his life planning that he created this goal matrix when he was just a sophomore in high school:
If a human being this organized had his heart set on the Dodgers because they’ve been scouting him since around the time he made this matrix, they make the playoffs every year, and he wouldn’t even have to move from his home in Newport Beach to play for them, would he REALLY rip up a $700 million contract because Roberts made the grave mistake of mentioning how much the Dodgers wanted him?
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Today, we got our answer when Ohtani broke the news of his signing with the Dodgers himself on his own social media account, which was probably his intention all along.
Ohtani listed “don’t make waves” as one of his goals on the above goal sheet, but the nature of his talent and his celebrity made that aim impossible. Before Ohtani came to MLB in 2018, nobody thought it was physically possible for one man to be an impact hitter and an impact pitcher at the same time, let alone dominant doing both. Ohtani proved everyone wrong, and has either won the American League MVP award or finished second in each of the last three seasons.
But more than that, Ohtani is his own economy, like the Japanese Taylor Swift. Mike DiGiovanna of The Los Angeles Times reported that “[The]Angels netted $10 million to $20 million a year in Ohtani-related advertising, promotions and marketing revenue. One high-ranking MLB exec estimated the Dodgers, who lead the league in attendance and are a more global brand, could double that amount.”
In other words, Ohtani got $700 million because the Dodgers believe he’ll be worth $400 million in brand deals to the team alone over life of his contract.
He just had his second elbow surgery this fall, and bouncing back from such a predicament is not a given for mere mortals. He will not throw a pitch in 2024, and may not be ready to hit on Opening Day. But I’m done trying to assess his capabilities with any existing measuring sticks. He is Mozart in baseball spikes, and the contract he was just awarded reflects his worth. The money is mind-boggling, but so is he.
Dave Roberts must be the second-happiest man on Earth today, after Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, who just earned $35 million in commission on this deal if he takes the 5% that top agents carve out for their services.
The Roberts drama feels quaint now, and doesn’t even crack the top five list of crazy B plots surrounding Ohtani’s signing this week. The Dodgers were thought to be in the lead for Ohtani, but then the vibes shifted hard to the Blue Jays early Friday morning.
Things kicked into overdrive when an opera singer named Clarence Frazer cited an unnamed source that Blue Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi rented out a Japanese restaurant near the Rodgers Center in Toronto on Friday night, which could have been for an Ohtani signing victory party.
Then, rumors began to spread that the reason Ohtani refused to tell media the name of his dog was because the dog is named after the team he was going to sign with. (Dodger? Scully? Cubbie? Tim Horton?)
Then, the internet started stalking a private jet on its route from Santa Ana to Toronto, wondering if Ohtani was aboard.
Photographers staked out Pearson International Airport, and were disappointed when Shark Tank judge Robert Herjavec disembarked instead.
Like many of you, I spent all of yesterday cycling between being exasperated and wildly entertained. I started to write a newsletter entitled “Ohtani to USA: Drop Dead” before giving up and logging off.
I do not believe the Dodgers knew he was signing with them yesterday afternoon. I hope one day we will learn the tick-tock of Ohtani’s final decision, but I’m guessing we never will.
I cannot pretend to know what it’s like to be a Blue Jay fan today. Christ, even Drake left his house in an Ohtani jersey yesterday. (And probably cursed their chances). Maybe it’s consolation that the teams owners aren’t morons, and made a serious push to sign the star. But my God, he was a Blue Jay for a good 12 hours yesterday, until it turned out he was never a Blue Jay at all.
As for the Dodgers, they will now feature a lineup with Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Ohtani at the top. With Ohtani finally playing relevant games for one of the league’s marquee franchises, expect the Dodgers to be on national television as often as the networks can get away with scheduling it without a complete national revolt. They still, uh, need starting pitching to feel good about their chances to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs next fall, but Los Angeles is now unquestionably the most hated/envied team of the sport, non-Astros division.
I wrote in my book that when the Guggenheim Group bought the Dodgers out of bankruptcy from Frank McCourt in 2012, it wasn’t enough for them to win. Their aim was to load the Dodgers with superstars and turn going to Dodger Stadium into a celeb-filled event, like Laker games on grass.
Today, they accomplished that goal.