Everything Shohei Ohtani has accomplished this summer is unprecedented: the high-end pitching and high-impact hitting, the takeover of the two days of All-Star events, the marketability. With a season résumé that looks like none other, he'll win the American League's Most Valuable Player Award, having fully stretched the imagination of the Los Angeles Angels' staff -- and managers' and executives' with other teams, for that matter -- about his future capabilities.
Ohtani, 27, has demonstrated he can be the most productive player in baseball regularly performing as a starting pitcher and a position player. If there comes a day when Ohtani wants to dial back on his innings as a pitcher, one rival talent evaluator opined, he could become his generation's John Smoltz, shifting from the rotation to the role of closer. "He could warm up in the eighth inning, take his fifth plate appearance, and then go out and get the save," the evaluator said.
He could eventually make the same transition that Babe Ruth made, from a two-way player to a full-time outfielder. "That would be tempting," said one AL manager, grinning at the notion of Ohtani devoting all of his acumen and athleticism to run production. "Can you imagine what he could do?" If Ohtani had 700 plate appearances at his 2021 home run rate, he'd hit 60 homers -- and it seems very possible he would have more efficiency as a hitter if that were his only responsibility. He's proved to everyone this year: You cannot underestimate Shohei Ohtani.
With an unprecedented range of skills, Ohtani may well be headed toward an unprecedented financial high ground that will be more than challenging for the Angels, given their existing big-money obligations to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. For now, Ohtani is in line to play 2022 under the terms of the original deal he signed with the Angels, before becoming eligible for arbitration in the winter of 2022-23 and free agency in the fall of 2023. He could be 29 years old when he hits the open market.
"He'll get as many years as he wants," mused an evaluator. "Let's say he gets five years [at] $50 million a year."
Five years, $250 million?
"At least," another long-time evaluator said.
Unprecedented in his performance, and quite possibly, unprecedented in Ohtani's earning power. "I mean -- what would that arbitration case be like?" a longtime agent said with wonderment. "Nothing we've ever seen before."
The next collective bargaining agreement needs to be negotiated in the winter ahead, and it's possible the financial structure will look very different than it is now. But under the current rules, the Angels are in a difficult position to pay Ohtani and field the sort of well-rounded competitive team they have been trying to build since Trout broke into the big leagues.