Shohei Ohtani is staying in Los Angeles. The Japanese baseball superstar has chosen the Dodgers as his next team in what has been the bombshell signing of sports in the United States. Ohtani, a unique profile who can play the pitching positions and be a powerful hitter at the same time, has accepted a contract of 650 million euros for the next 10 years with the Los Angeles franchise. "I want to fight not only for the Dodgers, but for the entire baseball world," the 29-year-old wrote on Instagram, where he announced his decision after days of negotiations with several teams.
Nez Balelo, Ohtani's agent, has described the signing as "unique". "This is a historic contract for a legendary player," he said in a statement. The deal was announced on Saturday after four frantic days of intensifying negotiations to sign the free agent. He listened to serious offers with Toronto, San Francisco and the Chicago Cubs.
The contract is 64% higher than the previous record set in 2019 by center fielder Mike Trout, who earned $426 million over 12 years with the Los Angeles Angels. Ohtani has played in the United States since 2018. He then landed on that same team, which plays in the city of Anaheim, southeast of Los Angeles. His annual salary there is almost 40 million euros.
The pitcher will now receive €65 million per year. The figure pulverizes other big contracts signed by star pitchers in MLB, the baseball league. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander agreed in 2021 to receive about $40 million annually for wearing the jersey of the New York Mets, a franchise he invested aggressively in hopes of winning a title. However, they failed.
Ohtani's contract even transcends baseball boundaries. It also surpasses deals signed by other U.S. sports stars. It surpasses the 420 million euros of Patrick Mahomes, winner of two Super Bowls, with the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL. It also overshadows Lionel Messi's contract with Inter Miami, which is estimated to be around €20 million per year. The Argentine earned 138 million euros a year at Barcelona. In 2021, he decided to cut his salary in half for four seasons.
Ohtani, who has never played a playoff game in the U.S., comes to the Dodgers with the pressure of a championship. The team, with one of the largest payrolls in professional baseball, has not been able to win new titles since 2020, when they won the World Series in the middle of the pandemic. It's the only title in 35 years despite one of the National League's dominant forces. They lost back-to-back finals in 2017 and 2018 to the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, respectively.
Ohtani's help, however, will have to be focused on the batter's box for the time being. He underwent surgery on the ligament in his right elbow, his pitching arm, in September. His agent had announced at the time that the player will not pitch for the entire 2024 season, although he will be able to hit. His return to the mound is scheduled for 2025. He underwent the surgery when he was leading the American League with 44 home runs and 95 RBIs. As a pitcher, he had a record of 10 wins and 5 losses in 23 starts.
The Japanese star will then have to boost the team, which has been hampered by pitching problems. Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw is in the twilight of his career. Mexico's Julio Urías, another outstanding starter, was removed from the team due to a scandal of male violence. Dodgers coach Dave Roberts revealed last week that signing Ohtani "was the top priority" for the team. Roberts' words were the only ones in the entire winter market that made public the negotiations of a franchise with the Japanese.
The player's inner circle has been silent about Ohtani's surgery, performed to reduce pain and regain mobility in the pitch. It is the second such operation he has undergone since 2018. Balelo said in a statement at the time that his client's commitment was to remain a dual player. This has been questioned by some analysts in the United States, who believe that it will be difficult for the Japanese to maintain the incredible performance it has shown since 2021 in the long term.
Ohtani is a unique phenomenon in the league. He has been voted the MVP, the most valuable player of the American League, in 2021 and 2023 (he came in second place last year). This year, he led Japan to the Baseball Classic, the World Cup of the sport, held in the United States. Ohtani led his team against the hosts and clinched the third international title for the Asians by striking out Angels teammate Mike Trout as the closer on the final play. With the Dodgers, Ohtani is set to play in the Finals.
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