Japanese baseball star signs what may be the largest contract in sports history, topping highs believed to be set by footballers Messi and Mbappe.
Shohei Ohtani has set a financial record to go along with his singular on-field performance, getting $700m to make a 48km (30-mile) move up Interstate 5 to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
His agent, Nez Balelo, issued a news release on Saturday announcing the 10-year contract, ending months of speculation that began even before Ohtani became a free agent on November 2.
In recent days, media and fans have tracked private plane movements and alleged sightings like detectives in attempts to discern the intentions of the two-time AL MVP with the Los Angeles Angels.
“This is a unique, historic contract for a unique, historic player,” Balelo said. “He is excited to begin this partnership, and he structured his contract to reflect a true commitment from both sides to long-term success.”
Ohtani’s total was 64 percent higher than baseball’s previous record, a $426.5m, 12-year deal for Angels outfielder Mike Trout that began in 2019.
His $70m average salary is 62 percent above the previous high of $43.3m, shared by pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander with deals they struck with the New York Mets.
Ohtani’s average salary nearly doubles the roughly $42.3m he earned with the Angels. It also exceeds the entire payrolls of Baltimore and Oakland this year.
His agreement includes unprecedented deferred money that will lower the amount it counts towards the Dodgers’ luxury tax payroll, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press news agency. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the details were not announced.
“He structured his contract to reflect a true commitment from both sides to long-term success,” Balelo said. “Shohei and I want to thank all the organisations that reached out to us for their interest and respect, especially the wonderful people we got to know even better as this process unfolded.”
This is perhaps the largest contract in sports history, topping highs believed to be set by football stars Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.
“I apologise for taking so long to come to a decision,” Ohtani said in an English-language statement on Instagram. “I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone involved with the Angels organisation and the fans who have supported me over the past six years, as well as to everyone involved with each team that was part of this negotiation process.”
“And to all Dodgers fans, I pledge to always do what’s best for the team and always continue to give it my all to be the best version of myself,” he continued. “Until the last day of my playing career, I want to continue to strive forward not only for the Dodgers but for the baseball world.”
Ohtani joins a lineup that also includes 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts and 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman. The Dodgers won the NL West this year for the 10th time in 11 seasons before they were swept by Arizona in the Division Series in October.
Los Angeles begins the 2024 season in Seoul, South Korea, against San Diego on March 20-21.
Ohtani’s decision came six years and one day after he first agreed to his deal with Angels.
The Japanese star has redefined modern baseball since he chose the Angels as his first major league team. Nobody has come close to matching his achievements at the plate and on the mound, becoming one of the majors’ elite players in both roles when healthy. Along the way, he has become one of the most marketable athletes in the world, a force when it comes to ticket sales, TV ratings and sponsorship revenue.
He was a unanimous AL MVP in 2021 and 2023 – he finished second in 2022 – winning this year despite injuring his elbow in late August and an oblique muscle in early September.
Ohtani, who turns 30 on July 5, has a .274 average with 171 homers, 437 RBIs and 86 stolen bases along with a 39-19 record with a 3.01 ERA and 608 strikeouts in 481 2/3 innings. He has 34.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), per Baseball Reference.
Ohtani won his second AL MVP award this past season when he batted .304 with an AL-leading 44 homers with 95 RBIs in 135 games with the Los Angeles Angels. He led the AL with a .412 on-base percentage and led the majors with a .654 slugging percentage.
As a pitcher, Ohtani went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA and recorded 167 strikeouts over 132 innings (23 starts). He limited opposing batters to a .184 average.
Ohtani’s pitching efforts ended after he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on August 23. The three-time All-Star continued playing as a batter until sustaining an oblique injury on September 3.
Ohtani underwent elbow surgery in mid-September for the second time and is not expected to pitch in 2024. He also had the procedure in 2018.
The Angels will receive a draft pick following the second round of the 2024 draft as compensation for Ohtani turning down their qualifying offer.