Shohei Ohtani Injury Dramatically Changes His Impending Free Agency

Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Angels - Game One
Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Angels - Game One / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

Shohei Ohtani's future was thrown into doubt on Wednesday when it was revealed he had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. It's the second time Ohtani has suffered the injury and he'll need a second Tommy John surgery. That injury comes just weeks before he is scheduled to hit free agency for the first time. It has thrown the entire MLB offseason into chaos.

Ohtani is the greatest player in baseball history. No one has ever played two ways and been as dominant as he is. He's an ace-level starting pitcher and might be the best hitter in the game at the moment. He was set to get a record contract this offseason. Speculation was that he'd get a deal somewhere in the $500 million to $600 million range over 15 years. With his future on the mound thrown into doubt, that's certainly going to change.

The money obviously won't be the same. Ohtani won't be on the mound at all in 2024 and the success rates from second Tommy John surgeries are not great. At this point it would make sense for teams to pay the 29-year-old strictly as a hitter, while possibly tacking on incentives for pitching. I think it's also reasonable to expect him to return to the Los Angeles Angels.

Teams like the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres had all expected to make big money offers for Ohtani this offseason. Their collective enthusiasm will be muted by this news. Returning to the Angels would make the most sense given the situation.

So far in 2023, Ohtani is leading baseball in home runs (44), slugging percentage (.664) and OPS (1.069). He's eighth in batting average (.304(, fourth in on-base percentage (.405) and fifth in RBI (91). On the pitching side, he's 10-5, with a 3.14 ERA (which ranks eighth), a 1.04 WHIP (fifth), and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings. His 11.4 K/9 rate ranks fourth in baseball, and he leads MLB in fWAR by nearly two full points at 8.6, and opposing hitters are hitting a league low .184 against him.

It's incredibly difficult to quantify Ohtani's value moving forward since we have no idea what he'll be able to do on the mound. Expect him to be paid handsomely as a hitter, with add-ons for his pitching ability and plenty of opt-outs if he returns to ace status on the mound. A deal in the $350 to $400 million range over 10-12 seasons with another $100 million in pitching incentives seems reasonable. He'll also likely be able to negotiate opt-outs after three seasons.

That's a guess, but it would seem to be the maximum teams would be willing to go for.