Life is unfair. The latest reminder is that Shohei Ohtani has a torn UCL in his pitching elbow ... again
Yes, the front-runner for AL MVP and impending free agent won't pitch again for the rest of this year, the Angels have already confirmed, and next year may be off the table as well if he's forced to undergo his second Tommy John surgery in five years.
Could this impact his future as a two-way player? It's a topic worth broaching. Tommy John surgery has a high success rate the first time around, but the second time gets a bit murkier. And Ohtani's case is unique in that he's also an MVP-caliber hitter. Time lost to pitching injuries ultimately impacts his availability as a hitter as well. Might the team that forks over the most cash for him this offseason decide it values the bat too much to risk further complications from the arm? It might. I'm not saying it's the most likely scenario, but it might.
For what it's worth, Angels GM Perry Minasian doesn't see it playing out that way. "I would never put any limitations on players in general, and especially him," Minasian said. "He's shown it's possible to do it and excel at it. I expect him to bounce back and do what he needs to do to get back to where he was."
That's all well and good, but if Ohtani departs via free agency this offseason, as expected, Minasian doesn't really get a say, does he?
And that's maybe the biggest complication to this tangled mess. We don't know how it impacts the kind of deal Ohtani will get this offseason -- the length, the dollar amount, the number of teams interested, etc. We can't look to any front office for clues into his future because we don't know what front office is ultimately responsible for him.
It also puts the Angels in a tricky spot -- and this is where we get into the most pertinent angle for the Fantasy Baseball world. Ohtani can still hit. He actually suffered the injury in Game 1 of a doubleheader Wednesday and then was back in the lineup for Game 2. We found out afterward that both he and the team knew about the UCL tear at that point. His agent couldn't have been too thrilled about that.
Ultimately, it's Ohtani's decision, and knowing what a gamer he is, he may well elect to finish out 2023 as a hitter. That's what he chose to do with his first UCL tear in September 2018, and he went on to hit .310 (27 for 87) with seven homers, four steals and a 1.003 OPS for the month. But he wasn't an impending free agent then, and the Angels are all but officially out of the playoff race now. His council will almost certainly advise him to pack in, and who could blame him for listening?
And then what? Is Tommy John surgery for sure the solution? If so, when does he elect to have it? The longer he waits, the more time he's likely to miss in 2024 -- as a hitter, I mean. Pitching is almost certainly off the table for next year, but what would be a realistic timetable for Ohtani to return as a hitter? Bryce Harper had Tommy John surgery around Thanksgiving last year and managed to make it back in early May, just six months later. He's only began to hit like himself again here in August, though.
So to sum it up purely from a Fantasy Baseball perspective:
- On platforms that split Ohtani into two players, you can safely drop the pitcher version.
- History suggests he'll remain a productive hitter for however long he chooses to keep playing.
- There's absolutely no telling if and when he decides to pack it in completely.
- He almost certainly isn't a first-round pick next year, given that any surgery would also complicate his hitting timetable.
- It's fair to wonder if his two-way status is in jeopardy.
All in all, just a crappy night.