The regular baseball season in the United States is coming to an end. In addition to the usual debate about which team will win the World Series title in October, there is another much more attractive one: where will Shohei Ohtani, the league’s phenomenon, go? The Japanese star arrived in 2018 and in six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels he has become the biggest star in decades. The press has called him “the Babe Ruth of the 21st Century,” but experts say that Ohtani has far surpassed the so-called Great Bambino. The 29-year-old pitcher will become a free agent in six weeks, sparking a bidding war that promises to break records for a baseball signing. The most surprising of all is that this fight will be for a player who is injured and has months of recovery ahead of him after tearing the ligament in his right elbow, his throwing arm.
An empty locker appears to have marked the end of Ohtani’s era with the Angels. The team removed all of the star’s personal items in the locker room on the night of Friday, September 15. The news caused alarm in the sports world, which has been talking for months about Ohtani’s future outside of a team that has not played in the playoffs in nine years. The Angels offered an explanation the next day: the pitcher was permanently out for the season due to the injury, which had forced him to miss eleven consecutive games. Ohtani underwent successful surgery on September 19. For the 2024 season he will hit again. And to launch in 2025.
It is in this duality where the strength of Ohtani, originally from Oshu, lies. He will become the most sought after during the winter because the team that signs him will essentially get two players. In 2022 he became the only player in the history of Major League Baseball (MLB) to have more than ten victories as a pitcher and score more than 30 home runs in one season. In the same year he became the only one in modern history to have recorded a dozen wins as a pitcher and to have stolen more than ten bases as a runner. He came in second in the voting for the best player in the league, surpassed only by Aaron Judge of the Yankees. Who replaced him on the throne: in 2021 he was the MVP of the American League: he hit 46 home runs.
The injury to his elbow has derailed a season in which Ohtani was hitting new marks. The player had hit 44 home runs, two less than in his historic 2021 season. He was in fourth place among hitters in the league, which allowed him to continue in the hunt for the triple crown, one of the most difficult statistics in baseball. , where the same player must lead in batting average, home runs and runs batted in (RBI) in either the American or National League. It is something that has not been achieved since 2012 and Ohtani, a pitcher, was among those who could achieve it.
Despite the statistics achieved since his arrival in the United States, experts believe that it is possible that fans have not seen the best of Ohtani. “All professional players invest in his future, but he takes it to another level,” says Trevor Ray, a baseball specialist who lives in Japan. “I am 100% sure that he will come back stronger as a pitcher. Whenever he has faced a problem like this, he has triumphed and exceeded expectations, dispelling doubts about his ability to continue as a dual player,” adds the analyst.
The injury has somewhat deflated the value that Ohtani will have in the transfer market. “That and the fact that he will not be able to pitch yet during the next course will have a cost in his next contract, I estimate that over 100 million dollars,” says Shane Barclay, president of Japan Baseball, an organization focused on sports in the Asian country. . Several teams are tightening their budget in hopes of fighting for the free agent. The betting houses favor the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will probably see this postseason the last season on the mound of their star, Clayton Kershaw. The Yankees, the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres are also in search of the star. “Shohei has made it clear that he wants to be part of a winning organization, and the Angels are not that,” Barclay argues.
Before the injury, executives from several franchises considered that his price tag would be over $500 million. Others say it could reach 600 million. Only one player in MLB history has signed a contract over 400 million, Ohtani’s still teammate, Mike Trout, who signed an extension in 2019 to wear the Angels jersey until 2030.
Ohtani has become a legend in his country, where he played five years for Nippon-Ham. Japan has been a baseball-loving country since the Americans brought the sport to the island at the end of the 19th century. Some 67 Japanese have played in the major leagues, but only three have become iconic players. The first was Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo (active from 1995 to 2005). The second was Ichiro Suzuki, who had an unforgettable decade as a hitter in Seattle between 2001 and 2011. The third is Ohtani, who combines the qualities of the previous two and who has elevated his image as a winner after winning for Japan last March the title in the World Baseball Classic, considered the World Cup of baseball.
“It’s Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson rolled into one,” Ray notes. “It does things that it seems a human is not capable of. But even above that he maintains a neat image, he is a committed professional, he would be president of his class, an honors student and the teacher’s favorite. Which American athlete fits that description? “I’m not sure,” concludes the specialist.
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