Shohei Ohtani's time with the Los Angeles Angels may have reached its unofficial end in the last week. The team shut Ohtani down over the weekend with an oblique injury, and the two-way superstar announced that he had on Tuesday.
In about six weeks, Ohtani will hit the open market as a free agent. Unlike the last time he was a free agent, the winter of 2017-18, there will be no doubt about his mammoth talent or restrictions on his potential earnings. Ohtani will, in so many words, become the most anticipated and desired free agent in the sport's history.
In honor of the occasion, CBS Sports felt it would be worthwhile to put together a primer concerning Ohtani's free agency. Below, you'll find information on what makes him so special, what kind of contract he might land, how he might be impacted by his torn ulnar collateral ligament, who might sign him and more questions you might have.
Let's get to it.
1. What makes Ohtani special?
Put simply, Ohtani is an historic anomaly.
There have been two-way big-league players before, albeit in the distant past. For instance, everyone knows Babe Ruth both pitched and hit, but Ruth was essentially finished as a pitcher by the time he turned 25. (Ohtani turned 29 in July.) Not enough people know that the Negro Leagues housed several brilliant two-way talents, including Bullet Rogan, Martín Dihigo, and Leon Day.
It's common to see two-way players at the amateur level. The two-way player at the professional level was treated almost like a gimmick. Some players, like Brooks Kieschnick and Micah Owings, would get the spare pinch-hit or relief assignment here and there. Nothing like Ohtani pitching every five or six days while remaining in the lineup as a DH throughout. He's singlehandedly shifted the Overton window, altering what fans, players, and teams consider possible.
Perhaps the easiest way to sum up Ohtani's genius is to turn to statistics. Throughout the course of his MLB career, he's ranked seventh in OPS+ (min. 1,000 plate appearances) and eighth in ERA+ (min. 400 innings). That's like combining Freddie Freeman's bat with Gerrit Cole's arm. Is it any wonder why he was able to amass 10 Wins Above Replacement in 135 games?
2. How much will Ohtani demand?
CBS Sports polled executives over the summer about Ohtani's potential terms. Everyone predicted he would sign for at least $500 million. This was before Ohtani's UCL injury, but he could still clear that bar after surgery. Only one player in league history has signed a contract worth as much as $400 million, with that being current (and soon to be former) teammate Mike Trout, who inked a $426.5 million extension with the Angels that kicked in back in 2019.
3. Why hadn't Ohtani played in a while?
Ohtani had dealt with numerous physical issues throughout the summer, as CBS Sports detailed here in an exhaustive timeline. Unfortunately, he was struck by a pair of issues that have left him unable to pitch or play through.
On Aug. 23, the Angels announced Ohtani had torn his ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow for the second time in his career. That ligament is, perhaps obviously, most commonly associated with Tommy John surgery. Ohtani had continued to serve as the Angels' DH in the aftermath of his torn UCL, but he suffered a strained oblique that has sidelined him since Sept. 3.
The Angels cleared out Ohtani's locker last Friday before placing him on the IL on Saturday. He announced his surgery Tuesday.
4. How will torn UCL impact Ohtani's availability?
Ohtani's elbow surgery will keep him off the mound until 2025, his agent confirmed, but the baseball prodigy will "be ready to hit without any restrictions come Opening Day of 2024," his surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, said in a statement. By 2025, he'll "do both (hit and pitch)."
CBS Sports' Matt Snyder recently spoke to a doctor about why Ohtani can continue to hit while rehabbing his elbow as a pitcher. An easy comparison is Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper, who returned as a DH just 160 days after he underwent Tommy John surgery in November 2022.
Ohtani, of course, has not played the field since 2021 and has fewer than 10 career innings in the outfield; the Angels have deployed him almost exclusively as a DH on days he wasn't pitching.
5. Why was Ohtani's free agency different last time?
Ohtani was classified as an amateur free agent because of MLB's rules stipulating that international players must clear certain age and service-time requirements or otherwise be subject to signing bonus pool rules. Additionally, Ohtani was limited to making the big-league minimum despite clearly being one of the best players in the world with ample professional experience. He received just a $2.3 million signing bonus, at the time equivalent to a late first-round pick.
6. Who are the favorites to sign Ohtani?
The usual high rollers are expected to be involved with Ohtani. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who pursued him out of high school and again when he first came over, are believed to be the club likeliest to land him. The San Diego Padres are also expected to be aggressive as they attempt to course-correct after this year. It's to be seen if the New York Yankees and New York Mets seriously engage.