Column: Shohei Ohtani’s unique deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers turns baseball on its head

posted in: News | 0

Along with being the greatest baseball player of all time, we can now attach the label “smartest of all time” to Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani.

According to reports, agent Nez Balelo said it was Ohtani himself who came up with the idea of annually deferring $68 million per year of his 10-year, $700 million deal and paying out the bulk of the money between 2034-43 to ensure the Dodgers had enough money left to spend on other free agents who can help them win championships.

What a swell guy.

Ohtani hasn’t spoken to the media, so for now we can only speculate on how he became so fluent in contract construction, and why he’s so willing to put his team ahead of his own financial interests.

Everyone was aghast when the news leaked about the deferrals. Many on social media thought it was unfair to the other billionaires who can’t keep up with the Dodgers’ owners. But as it turned out, any player can defer as much money as he wants, and any team can offer to do so.

It’s seldom done because the value of money decreases over time, so why would anyone willingly take less now knowing the rest of the contract won’t be worth as much 10 years later? Ohtani’s deal will work out to about $46 million per year instead of $70 million, and though $460 million is nothing to sneeze at, it doesn’t sound nearly as cool as $700 million.

But Ohtani makes so much off the field — perhaps $50 million according to some estimates — that he doesn’t need another $70 million a year to pay his bills. He reportedly lives in a relatively modest home in Newport Beach, Calif., and doesn’t splurge on sports cars like Yoán Moncada, so he’ll be able to get by fine until the deferrals kick in 10 years from now.

The Dodgers are now well situated to make the postseason annually, just as they were before the signing. But as we saw this year when the Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles all won 100 or more games and failed to make it to their League Championship Series, the postseason is a crapshoot that renders the regular season meaningless.

The Dodgers started Lance Lynn in a playoff loss last October and watched him give up four home runs in an inning. Having money to spend doesn’t make you a genius.

The overreaction to Ohtani’s signing was to be expected, with Los Angeles Angels fans crying, Toronto Blue Jays fans angry and everyone else just shaking their heads over the massive figure.

The Athletic sent a reporter to Angels Stadium when the news was revealed Saturday on Ohtani’s Instagram account. Someone placed flowers on an Ohtani marker as though he was dead, not moving to Dodger Stadium.

“I haven’t eaten breakfast yet, I haven’t drank anything,” one fan said. “I woke up, saw Ohtani to the Dodgers and had a good cry in my shower.”

The fan reportedly was in his early 20s, not a child. The report noted that the “speed of his voice” increased and “he appeared to be holding back more tears.”

Oh, the pain. The agony of watching a professional athlete move across town for many, many millions of dollars is apparently life-shattering. Or maybe Southern California just has a higher share of drama queens rooting for its teams?

Who knows?

Meanwhile, ESPN reported an increase in betting on the Blue Jays on Friday after false reports of Ohtani’s destination surfaced on the internet, including a tweet about a flight that supposedly was taking him to Toronto.

“With rumors of Ohtani’s interest in Toronto swirling, the Blue Jays’ World Series odds improved from 15-1 to as short as 8-1, behind only the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers,” the ESPN report said, adding that “nearly 85%” of the money wagered on the World Series was laid on Toronto.

Las Vegas book manager Randy Blum told ESPN the media reports, including MLB Network, made him lower the odds on Toronto.

“These were from legitimate baseball guys, not random people on Twitter throwing things out there. … We had to respect it,” Blum said. “When it turned out not to be true, we cleaned it up.”

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi retracted his report that Ohtani was en route to Toronto after other reports confirmed the unicorn was still in California. Morosi, a respected reporter, later apologized on social media for his “inaccurate” reporting. But on an MLB Network program Monday in which inaccurate reporting on Ohtani was being discussed with a Blue Jays writer, no mention was made by the host that one of those reports was its own.

This, remember, is a network owned by MLB that let national reporter Ken Rosenthal leave last year because he was sometimes critical of Commissioner Rob Manfred and the league. Remember when we wondered whether MLB could own a network and let its reporters be objective about the league? At least that question finally has been answered.

The other false report, which said Ohtani was signing with the Blue Jays, came from Dodgers Nation, an aggregating blog that doesn’t carry the same weight as MLB Network. But it still had enough notoriety that its report quickly spread.

The site issued a classic non-apology apology afterward which began with a bizarre analogy comparing the reporting of the Ohtani falsehood to a tree growing in the Biosphere.

“We want to report the news, not just aggregate it,” the site said in an unsigned post from its editorial team. “That necessarily invites risks, like getting a story wrong the first time. We accept criticism when that happens. It can only help us grow.”

Good luck with that.

For those who put their money on the Blue Jays to win it all after reading Dodgers Nation or Morosi’s tweet, we can only offer our deepest condolences.

Cubs fans have dealt with the disappointment rather well. They reportedly were among the seven finalists for Ohtani in 2017 and might have moved into the top three or four in the 2023 sweepstakes. That’s progress, I suppose.

Only the most optimistic fans had confidence Ohtani would end up on the North Side. Bryce Harper’s friendship with Kris Bryant was supposed to be the impetus for a Harper signing in 2017. He also had a dog, like Ohtani, and named it Wrigley. But that never happened either.

The money the Cubs saved by not signing Ohtani can now go to other free agents, though we’ll have to wait to see whether that happens. President Jed Hoyer said last week he doesn’t “feel any big need to justify” making a splash after signing Craig Counsell as manager for a record $40 million over five years.

“Certainly I have no doubt over the next few years we’ll be aggressive,” he said. “If that’s this year, great. If that’s in future years … I don’t feel like we have to because of that.”

Once the calendar turns to January, free-agent prices generally come down a bit as players scramble to get a deal before spring training. The Cubs can still make a big move or two.

There apparently is no expiration date on this Hot Stove season.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.