The Dodgers Have Signed Shohei Ohtani. What Does It All Mean?

John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports

Shohei Ohtani is not on a plane to Toronto. He’s not hiding in your linen closet or lurking off the coast of Jamaica in a submarine. After years of intrigue, weeks of speculation, and days of looking for signs in flight plans and sushi restaurants, it’s over. After a free agent courtship to fit the player — in other words, unique — Ohtani will be a Los Angeles Dodger.

This is hardly the most interesting outcome. There will be no reset to the competitive order, no validation of an underdog’s creative sales pitch or intriguing roster construction. The Dodgers were already one of the best and most heavily scrutinized teams in baseball, and if Ohtani doesn’t mind a bit of a commute, he won’t even have to move. But if the destination is a bit of an anticlimax, the contract is dramatic enough to pick up the slack.

Ten years, $700 million. Seven. Hundred. Million. Dollars.

Obviously, it’s the biggest contract in the history of sports. It’s within a Bryan Reynolds of being as big as the second- and third-richest contracts in baseball put together. It’s enough to make a person want to stop using hyperbole, because when Mike Trout’s $426.5 million deal is an “incomprehensible” amount of money, what does the mind do when confronted with an additional $273.5 million, over a shorter term?

So yeah, Ohtani doesn’t have to move, because on that salary he could commute to Dodger Stadium by rocket ship if he wanted to.

Apart from the dollar figure — and if your ears are still ringing from “$700 million,” by all means, take a moment to collect yourself before you read on — there are two interesting components to this contract.

The first is the fact that it has no options or opt-outs. Over the past five years, Bryce Harper has perfected the art of spinning a no-opt-out contract into a sign of commitment to and faith in the organization; no doubt Ohtani will learn from his example. More than that, it means we won’t have to do this whole rigmarole again in four or five years.

The second is that more than half of the deal is in deferred salary, apparently at Ohtani’s insistence, in order to mitigate the massive financial impact of the deal on the Dodgers and help the team spend to remain competitive. The Dodgers are no stranger to contracts with big sticker values and lots of deferred money. Mookie Betts deferred $115 million of the $365 million contract he signed in 2020, to be paid in installments, without interest, over the 12 years after the contract ends.

Having to wait to get paid reduces the practical value of the contract; this is why you should take the lump sum and not the annuity if you win the lottery. As a result, on contracts with deferred money the MLBPA calculates the amount by which deferrals lessen the contract’s value — in Betts’ case, by about $5 million a year. That number is used to determine the contract’s value for competitive balance tax purposes.

Until the details of Ohtani’s contract are made public, our Jon Becker estimated what deferring most of Ohtani’s contract might look like financially. This estimate assumes $40 million in deferred salary per year, to be paid out in four-year increments after the contract ends.

The Dodgers could be deferring more salary, or paying it out over fewer years, but this estimate brings the AAV of the deal down to a hair under $43 million a year. If the real deferral ends up being anything like this number it’s a huge bargain. Aaron Judge, who was a year older at the time he signed and also, you know, doesn’t pitch, got $40 million a year from the Yankees last year. Even if the MLBPA number lands closer to $50 million, this contract is a hometown discount. Particularly because Ohtani can create value for his employer the way no other player can.

Ohtani has always jealously guarded the details of his private life and is the most meticulously noncontroversial player in the game. He makes Trout look like Dennis Rodman. Either in spite of or because of his approach to fame, Ohtani is the most marketable baseball player of the 21st century. The Dodgers are going to make a huge chunk of this contract back just in promotions and merchandising, maybe as much as half of Othani’s salary. They’re going to sell more no. 17 jerseys than Fanatics is able to print. (Savvy consumers will note that this was also true when Miguel Vargas and Joe Kelly wore no. 17. But you get the point.)

Then there’s the on-field impact. The Dodgers are one of the blessed few teams that understands how to make money by putting out a winning product, rather than just slashing expenses. Ohtani’s on-field contributions help the Dodgers sell tickets and advance in the playoffs, which should also fatten up their coffers.

What are those contributions? It’s a bit perverse that the most important part of the Ohtani signing is the least interesting, but if you’re reading or even aware of FanGraphs, you probably already know what Ohtani is about.

It’s fair to be concerned that a torn UCL will keep Ohtani off the mound for all of 2024, but even if Ohtani vowed never to throw a baseball again, he would’ve been the highest-paid free agent of this class. This past season, Ohtani hit .304/.412/.654 with 44 home runs and 20 stolen bases. His wRC+ of 180 was the highest in baseball by 10 points and the highest of any qualified hitter in this class by 46 points. On Friday, I wrote about the enormous collection of runs Juan Soto might score hitting in front Aaron Judge. Betts could score even more hitting in front of Ohtani and Freddie Freeman.

Even as a DH who only played 135 games, Ohtani was fifth in position player WAR in 2023. And that’s ignoring the contributions he can make as a pitcher once his elbow recovers.

It remains to be seen how much Ohtani will be able to pitch in the long term. He’s qualified for the ERA title once in his career, and has made more than 10 starts just three times. The 2024 season will be Ohtani’s seventh in the majors, and of those, he will have pitched basically three full seasons. But when he’s on the mound, Ohtani can be dominant. The one season he qualified for the ERA title, he struck out 219 batters in 166 innings and posted a 2.33 ERA. His pitching alone was worth 5.6 WAR.

Ironically, the Dodgers probably need Ohtani more as a pitcher than a hitter right now. After Ryan Pepiot, things get a little dark, and when listing off their starters, you get to “after Ryan Pepiot” about two rotation slots sooner than would be ideal.

But the nice thing about a 10-year contract is it gives Ohtani plenty of time to heal. And when he does, well, he’s the answer to a question that’s troubled humanity for decades: What would it be like if Spencer Strider were growing out of Corey Seager’s torso like Kuato from Total Recall? It turns out such a player is worth $70 million a year, minus some deferred money.

If you want further evidence of how special Ohtani is, and why he’s worth this much money, consider the conditions under which his free agency played out. Ohtani made it known up front that he did not want to be courted via the public rumor mill, and his suitors obliged by refusing to discuss him even on background.

Ironically, the resulting information vacuum generated league-wide hysteria all on its own. On Monday, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins skipped the first day of Winter Meetings, reportedly to meet with Ohtani at the team’s spring training facility in Florida; when asked about his whereabouts on Zoom, Atkins obfuscated, as if he was on the run from Interpol.

When Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters that his team had met with Ohtani, speculation swirled that even acknowledging the meeting constituted an unforgivable breach of the omerta, and that Ohtani might choose to sign elsewhere as a result. Farcical elements of the story continued into Friday, when a private jet purportedly carrying Ohtani to Toronto for a physical turned out to contain only the guy from Shark Tank (no, not Mark Cuban, the other one) and his family.

With Ohtani still at large, the teams that were still in on him did not want to commit big money elsewhere. And with a few exceptions (Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray, who signed with teams that were never serious candidates for Ohtani), the other potential top free agents decided to wait the market out until the Ohtani runners-up were flush and desperate. The result was two and a half extremely slow days in Nashville, until the Juan Soto trade chatter heated up, and some mild blowback as a premier offseason news opportunity turned into a non-event. (I had the two best helpings of grits I’ve had in my life on Monday and Tuesday, so everything turned out fine.)

Ohtani’s nonexistent relationship with the media has the potential to cause some problems downstream, but that’s an issue for another time. He’s entitled to conduct his free agency however he pleases; while it was inconvenient that the rest of the league was waiting around to see what he would do, that’s not really his problem. Besides, it’s not every offseason that one player can hold the entire market hostage like this, and we got plenty of wild stories out of it anyway.

Or let’s put it this way: Any list of the most special players in the league, the ones who are most difficult to replicate or replace, would have Ohtani at the top. But Soto would be close behind, maybe no. 2. Soto got traded this week, to the New York Yankees, in a deal that signals the potential dismantlement of a major contender and nationwide hipster favorite team. And it held the top spot in the news cycle for maybe 36 hours.

Ohtani is such a titanic figure that he can knock Juan Soto and the Yankees off the front page by not getting on an airplane and not attending Yusei Kikuchi’s fancy dinner party in Toronto. When Ohtani went off the radar, the entire sport stopped in place. That’s just another thing only Ohtani can do. He’s unique, and he’s getting paid like it.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece contained an incorrect estimate of the AAV of Ohtani’s deal once deferrals were accounted for; an updated estimate is now included. FanGraphs regrets the error.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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roob
4 months ago

He’s being paid like he’s the greatest baseball player that ever lived.

MikeSmember
4 months ago
Reply to  roob

He might not be the greatest, but he is probably the most unique.

roob
4 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

He is the greatest. Clearly. That was a joke.

viceroymember
4 months ago
Reply to  roob

He is being paid for being the most talented baseball player ever

Kennymember
4 months ago
Reply to  roob

…which he is.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
4 months ago
Reply to  Kenny

Imagine what Ohtani would do if he spent a season playing against a collection of MLB’s 749 best white lads.

kylesch87
4 months ago
Reply to  Kenny

Lol, no he is not. Not even close.

Shohei Ohtani has 31.7 WAR across 6 seasons; even if we called it 5 seasons and just throw out 2020 entirely he’s averaging just over 6 WAR per season. Through his own age 28 season the only two years in which Mike Trout did not put up at least 6.3 WAR were 2020 (he had 2.5 WAR in the pandemic-shortened season, which prorates to 6.75), and 2011 (he played in 40 games and was 19 years old). Barring something truly ridiculous like Ohtani putting up multiple 10+ WAR seasons in his 30s after having none in his 20s, he wont ever belong in the same conversation as Mike Trout.

dl80
4 months ago
Reply to  kylesch87

He’s accumulated 26 WAR over the past 3 seasons, which comes out to an 8.7 average. Trout hasn’t been worth 26 WAR over 3 seasons since 2014-16, 8 years ago.

I’d also argue that while Trout’s prime has undoubtedly been better than Ohtani’s prime so far, Ohtani’s ceiling is actually higher. His best hitting season was 5.6 WAR and his best pitching season has been 6.6 WAR. So he at least theoretically could put up a 12+ win season at some point. I’m not sure that’s likely, but it’s possible.

kylesch87
4 months ago
Reply to  dl80

“He’s accumulated 26 WAR over the past 3 seasons, which comes out to an 8.7 average.”

Prime Mike Trout ate 8.7 WAR seasons for breakfast. Mike Trout had an 8 season stretch in which he averaged 8.8 WAR. Ohtani would need to be as good from age 29 (a season in which he wont pitch) to age 33 as he was from ages 26-28 in order for his prime to be equal to Trout. Thanks for proving that Ohtani has no realistic chance of having a career anywhere near as good as Mike Trout.

“Trout hasn’t been worth 26 WAR over 3 seasons since 2014-16, 8 years ago.”

That’s because Mike Trout is no longer in his prime. Did you not know that? Why even bring this up?

“I’d also argue that while Trout’s prime has undoubtedly been better than Ohtani’s prime so far, Ohtani’s ceiling is actually higher.”

Yes, I agree, Mike Trout is no longer in his prime. But this was a discussion about best player ever, not best player currently playing. Feel free to reread roob’s post if you don’t believe me.

“So he at least theoretically could put up a 12+ win season at some point. I’m not sure that’s likely, but it’s possible.”

It was also possible after Mike Trout’s age 21 season that he would at some point put up a 12+ win season. It was far more likely at that point than it is that Shohei Ohtani ever will. The highest single-season WAR projection ZiPS has for the rest of Ohtani’s career is 6.6. He would need to almost double that to put up a 12+ WAR season.

dodgerbleu
4 months ago
Reply to  kylesch87

Dismissing the results of a player after the age 25 because he’s no longer in his prime – even a player as great as Mike Trout, who was 25 in 2016 – pretty much disqualifies that player from greatest player ever.

Hank Aaron, from 1956 through 1969, a 15-year stretch, was worth over 7.5 wins/year per FG, and was never worth less than 6.8. Even better if you use Baseball Reference – worth over 8 wins/year, never worth less than 6.8 wins a year.

While an all-time great and inner-circle HOFer, I never hear Hank mentioned as the greatest of all time. And that’s because of ceiling. Per FG, he was never worth more than 8.9 wins, per BR 9.4. He was exceedingly consistent. Consistently great, but ceiling is important, as is longevity when it comes to greatest player ever.

So you can always play this longer than game. What’s better, 8 years of 8.8, or 15 years of 7.5 to 8.0?

Not acknowledging that Ohtani is redefining the game, redefining what we know is possible and baseball players are capable of at the highest level seems – I don’t want to say dishonest – but a little biased at least. There’s also the matter of the saved roster spot, and being able to roster another player that presumably adds more than zero value to the roster and a unique roster flexibility advantage that all of one team in baseball gets; the team with Ohtani.

We don’t know Ohtani’s ceiling, and we don’t know how he’d do as either a hitter-only or a pitcher-only, but presumably, it’d be some amount of better than he does while splitting duties. And he’d almost surely be a RF that provides value with the glove in that instance.

Odd that you’d dig in using the ZIPS projection of 6.6 on a year where Ohtani literally just put up 9 wins. It’s reasonable to say that projection systems will have trouble with Ohtani, because there has never ever been another player like him. That doesn’t mean they’re to be ignored, but it does mean that they’re going to be less accurate with him, because how can they not be?

And then there is also the matter of the fielding. Fielding is the least reliable metric included in WAR, the most debated and varied, and the one that’s possibly wrong – up or down – but likely on the high end. Or at least, the penalty for DH is too severe, and that’s pretty broadly agreed upon, though certainly not universally so. Still, what is nearly universally agreed upon would be that Ohtani’s WAR figure is more reliable than Trout’s, and unlikely to ever have a future adjustment due to a better way to calculate defense being accepted.

None of this is to throw salt on Trout, I was one of the people believing we were watching the early career of quite possibly the greatest baseball player that ever lived. And he is great. But not the greatest.

We got to see Mickey Mantle, live. Now we get to see Babe Ruth, live. He’s a better pitcher than Babe, who was a damn good pitcher and would’ve made the HOF had he never taken up hitting but kept pitching another 12 or 15 years. And we don’t know how the adjustment with hitting goes, certainly Babe was the most dominant hitter relative to his league the world will ever see this side of Bonds, but doing it in today’s day and age is far more impressive simply because of how good pitchers are today, and how quickly the game pushes itself to new heights.

Who cares to argue the details of how long these things are true? The point is they are true, right now, and we get to witness it. That’s special. The fact that I’d guess 90%, 95% of FG readers would take the over on that 6.6 WAR estimate is telling. And the other fact is FG is the most pro-Mike Trout forum there is, no one here is insulting him in any way, shape, or form. He’s only used as a measuring stick because it’s universally accepted here that he had one of, if not the greatest start to a career of any player ever, and certainly in the modern, post WW2 era.

kylesch87
4 months ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

“Dismissing the results of a player after the age 25 because he’s no longer in his prime – even a player as great as Mike Trout, who was 25 in 2016 – pretty much disqualifies that player from greatest player ever.”

I never did this. If the best you can do is lie about what I said then don’t bother saying anything at all.

“Hank Aaron, from 1956 through 1969, a 15-year stretch, was worth over 7.5 wins/year per FG, and was never worth less than 6.8. Even better if you use Baseball Reference – worth over 8 wins/year, never worth less than 6.8 wins a year.
While an all-time great and inner-circle HOFer, I never hear Hank mentioned as the greatest of all time. And that’s because of ceiling. Per FG, he was never worth more than 8.9 wins, per BR 9.4. He was exceedingly consistent. Consistently great, but ceiling is important, as is longevity when it comes to greatest player ever.”

No, you never hear Hank Aaron being argued as the greatest of all time because you don’t listen when other people talk. People call him one of the best players in baseball history all the time. Again, if your entire argument relies on lies just don’t make it.

“Not acknowledging that Ohtani is redefining the game, redefining what we know is possible and baseball players are capable of at the highest level seems – I don’t want to say dishonest – but a little biased at least.”

Wow. After nothing but lies so far it is very restrained of you to not call me dishonest. And on something totally meaningless and irrelevant, too. Mike Trout hits and plays center field. Shohei Ohtani hits and pitches. There values as baseball players is equal to their values as baseball players, not some magic formula that gets a boost if their defensive position is pitcher.

“There’s also the matter of the saved roster spot, and being able to roster another player that presumably adds more than zero value to the roster and a unique roster flexibility advantage that all of one team in baseball gets; the team with Ohtani.”

A free roster spot? That’s what you think tips the scales in Ohtani’s favor? The ability to sign a 0.2 WAR utility infielder? If Ohtani’s value hinges on an extra scrub hanging out on the end of the bench then he is the most overrated player of all time. I don’t believe that is true, which is why I didn’t bring up the nearly worthless value of an extra roster spot.

“We don’t know Ohtani’s ceiling, and we don’t know how he’d do as either a hitter-only or a pitcher-only, but presumably, it’d be some amount of better than he does while splitting duties. And he’d almost surely be a RF that provides value with the glove in that instance.”

Wait, are you saying Ohtani’s hitting and pitching is a DISADVANTAGE now? So why did you just lie for multiple paragraphs and say his hitting and pitching is a huge advantage and should overcome a massive WAR deficit?

“Odd that you’d dig in using the ZIPS projection of 6.6 on a year where Ohtani literally just put up 9 wins.”

Odd that you don’t think baseball players . . . can have a season in which they produce less WAR than the previous season I guess? If a player puts up a career high in WAR their projection will almost always be for less WAR the next year. I’m happy to take some of your money if you don’t believe me and want to bet on it.

“It’s reasonable to say that projection systems will have trouble with Ohtani, because there has never ever been another player like him. That doesn’t mean they’re to be ignored, but it does mean that they’re going to be less accurate with him, because how can they not be?”

And yet you magically know they are not only wrong on him, but specifically underestimating him? What if, and I know you will have trouble imagining this possibility, but what if they might actually be overestimating him? That would make him worse than you think, and mean the 6.6 WAR projection is actually too high, not too low. Do you have some reason to assume Ohtani will outperform projections, or are you just wishcasting?

“And then there is also the matter of the fielding. Fielding is the least reliable metric included in WAR, the most debated and varied, and the one that’s possibly wrong – up or down – but likely on the high end.”

Likely on the high end? Just automatically all fielders are overrated by fielding WAR? What?

“Or at least, the penalty for DH is too severe, and that’s pretty broadly agreed upon, though certainly not universally so.”

As long as the DH penalty is being accounted for (which Fangraph’s does), I don’t see any reason to think that. If you want to try to demonstrate it you’re free to, but I don’t think you will.

“Still, what is nearly universally agreed upon would be that Ohtani’s WAR figure is more reliable than Trout’s, and unlikely to ever have a future adjustment due to a better way to calculate defense being accepted.”

Again, you just seem to magically know that these adjustments would be in Ohtani’s favor and not Trout’s. This is either because you have some kind of evidence that Trout’s defense is currently overrated, or because you have no evidence and just hope it is true. Which is it?

“None of this is to throw salt on Trout, I was one of the people believing we were watching the early career of quite possibly the greatest baseball player that ever lived. And he is great. But not the greatest.”

I agree; Mays is my pick for best player ever. I don’t buy into the idea that today’s players are so far ahead of past players that we can’t cross-compare across eras. But Trout is so far ahead of any reasonable expectation for Ohtani that it is laughable.

“And the other fact is FG is the most pro-Mike Trout forum there is, no one here is insulting him in any way, shape, or form. He’s only used as a measuring stick because it’s universally accepted here that he had one of, if not the greatest start to a career of any player ever, and certainly in the modern, post WW2 era.”

I know why I say what I say. You don’t have to try to explain my own comparisons to me. The reason I brought up Trout to compare against Ohtani is because there is absolutely no possible argument for any reasonable projection of Ohtani that puts him anywhere near Trout’s projected career value, and because their careers overlapping mean Trout can’t be dismissed the way past-era players could be.

I did not use Trout as the comparison because the start of his career was so special. I brought up Trout as a comparison because by the end of both of their careers Trout is overwhelmingly likely to have significantly more WAR. The shape of their careers is irrelevant to that fact.

User79
4 months ago
Reply to  kylesch87

I’m going to wade into this discussion.

First, I agree Shohei will have a difficult time surpassing Trout’s career WAR. Now, going forward, does Shohei’s abilities justify this new contract? I think that’s a different question, and Trout’s early performance in MLB is less relevant here.

I believe the previous poster’s use of the last 3 years of Shohei’s performance is a better metric for this contract. Trout was worth a shade less in his 3 years before signing in 2019. It is something like 26 WAR versus 25 WAR, so very close.

I think something people aren’t mentioning, is how well Ohtani’s skillset will age. Trout relied on playing very good defense at a premium position (CF) that requires speed. Speed is one of the first things to go as you age. CF is prone to injuries.

In contrast, Shohei doesn’t have to play in the field, much less a running position. And pitchers regularly pitch into their late 30s. Granted, pitchers also blow out early as well.

There are reports that Toronto submitted a competitive offer. So somehow, teams do value Ohtani beyond the on field numbers. I’m not sure how that all works out… but it sure does seem like Ohtani creates a lot more attention than Trout ever did even in his prime.

Last edited 4 months ago by User79
kick me in the GO NATSmember
4 months ago
Reply to  kylesch87

Ohtani is a slightly better hitter now than peak Trout. You forget that Trout got a ton of value from his glove and the fact he leadoff early in his career. Nearly All of Ohtani’s hitting value comes as a Dh which has the biggest positional adjustment, even though it is clear the guy is capable of being a very good defensive OF.

Jon
4 months ago

You are a lunatic.

Trout: 11 straight seasons of wRC+ of 167 or higher.
Ohtani: 1

Trout’s top 3: 189, 188, 180
Ohtani: 180, 150, 149

Thatguy47
4 months ago
Reply to  dl80

Putting up 8 WAR in 650 PAs and 150 IPs isn’t the same as putting up 8 WAR in 650 PAs. Ohtani also has negative roster value because he forces teams to use a 6th starter. He’s still great obviously and I’m not putting him down, but comparing his WAR totals to other players without any adjustments is overstating his value.

hglmanmember
4 months ago
Reply to  kylesch87

You can’t just combine Pitching and Batting WAR. They have significantly different distributions. 6.6 pitching WAR is much rarer than 6.6 batting war. Being that good at both sides of the game is not the same as batting a bit better.