Why 2023 will be the year of Shohei Ohtani

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Why 2023 will be the year of Shohei Ohtani

Why 2023 will be the year of Shohei Ohtani
Why 2023 will be the year of Shohei OhtaniReuters
Since his arrival in MLB, no player has had more articles written about him, no more minutes of airtime on TV and radio than the two-way superstar, Shohei Ohtani (28). The Japanese player bats as well as he pitches and at the end of the 2023 season, he is likely to be a free agent, which could make this season all about Ohtani on and off the diamond.

Ohtani moved to the Los Angeles Angels back in 2018 having spent four years with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan where he was a two-way player, pitching and playing as a position player.

Before making his debut at a teenager, there was major interest from the States, but he opted to stay in his home nation to continue working on both facets of his game - something top MLB teams were not prepared to do.

The rarity of Ohtani’s skill to have perfected both parts of baseball cannot be understated. The only player to hit 20 home runs and pitch 50 innings is Babe Ruth, and he wasn’t known as a bad player. It’s no surprise then that Ohtani has been a two-time all-star in 2021 and 2022 as well as the American League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) - he is a star attraction around the league.

Surprisingly though, Ohtani’s wages do not reflect his skillset. His teammate Mike Trout (31) - widely considered to be one of the best hitters in the league - was paid around $35million for his services in 2022.

That was part of a contract signed in 2019 last 13 years that could net Trout more than $400mllion and that is just his base salary. In 2022, Ohtani made ‘just’ $8.5million, a number that gets him nowhere near the league’s highest earners.

In 2023, the Angels have brought that number up to $30million, but the biggest question for fans across the country is where will he be in 2024?

The likeliest option is the most mundane - the LA Angels. His current team has allowed him flexibility to play and rest as well as create a brand around him that is incredibly lucrative. The club is currently up for sale with owner Arturo Moreno looking for around $2billion to part ways for a team he bought for $184million back in 2003.

The details of any sale are under lock and key, but any deal for the ball club will have huge bearings on the location of Ohtani’s next side. 

The other matter for the Angels will be results on the pitch. In the last two seasons where Ohtani has been most successful, they have failed to reach the postseason on both occasions. This, for a player, with a drive to win in the game, is just as important as any mega contract. If their slide shows no sign of abating then departure seems the likeliest outcome. 

So, where else could he go? For most clubs, their finances dictate that any move for the superstar is off limits. There is very little chance he will be signing for the likes of the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Kansas City Royals anytime soon.

He could stay in LA though. The Dodgers have been known to throw their weight around financially and it would be to a winning team that regularly reaches the play-offs. He would fill a spot as their designated hitter in an already stacked line-up and join a pitching rotation that will need some new arms come 2024.

The most left-field option is a move to New York. The Mets’ owner Steve Cohen has not been afraid of splashing the cash this offseason, signing Justin Verlander (39) to a two-year $86.7million deal that, if Ohtani were to move to New York, would see the two team up in a rotation to be feared.

Cohen has spent an obscene amount of cash this winter, with Carlos Correa (28) joining on a 13-year deal worth around $30million a year as well as their star closer Edwin Diaz (28) to a new five-year deal worth $102million. 

They could go after Ohtani, but it would cost them around $40-50million a year and given that Ohtani still has yet to reach his peak in baseball, it could be a lengthy contract too.

Whatever happens, Ohtani will be focused on his work with the bat and on the mound first. The next thing he will be playing for is the World Baseball Classic in March, where he will represent two-time champions Japan in a team looking to win their first title since 2009. They will face stiff competition from the USA, whose players all play in the big leagues.

A title there would set up the two-way player for a perfect tilt at success with the Angels. He will be watched closer than ever in 2023, but perhaps more camera flashes will be on him come free agency in a year’s time.

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