Saturday, December 9 2023

NEW YORK — On the surface, one might surmise Shohei Ohtani’s Tommy John surgery, leaving uncertain the pitching side of his dynamic, is going to cost him millions of dollars and render him far less than the future highest paid player in baseball history.

But will it?

It’s been speculated — and nobody’s disputed this — that Ohtani, a baseball phenomenon and the greatest two-way player since Babe Ruth, is set to become the game’s first $50 million-a-year player and that a 10-year, $500 million contract would be the benchmark. But now, he has undergone Tommy John surgery — his second such surgery — and he will not be able to resume pitching until 2025. Next year, he will essentially be a DH only and with the typical nine-month Tommy John recovery period just for hitters that probably won’t be until at least June. At $50 million? (Although seemingly minor, another red flag on Ohtani, who turns 30 next July, was the oblique injury he suffered in early September that shut his season down for good.)

So it is fair to wonder — and given the fact that these whopping 10-year contracts almost never work out — whether clubs will still be willing to tie up $50 million-a-year of payroll on one player amid the uncertainty of how much pitching he has left in him and how effective he will be after the second surgery. I asked this question to a number of baseball executives and was, quite frankly, surprised to hear that, in the particular case of Ohtani, it’s still game on.

Doesn’t matter if he can only DH next year, they said, the success of Tommy John surgery over the years, even second Tommy John surgeries, make the investment in Ohtani worth the risk. There has never been a gate attraction like him. The marketing, TV and advertisement revenues alone will pay the bulk of his contract. All that said, however, I couldn’t help but think of the exhilaration in the Yankee front office in 2017 after they’d acquired the premier slugger in the game, Giancarlo Stanton, from Derek Jeter’s Marlins.

Ohtani already has amazed us with his two-way feats, and who are we now to doubt there’s a lot more to come from him? But with Stanton, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, to name three, vivid proof that even the best hitters in the game have significant declines in production in their mid ‘30s and not worth nearly the salaries of their long-term contracts, it exemplifies the risk factor of going 10 years with Ohtani. And that’s just as a hitter.

Folks who know Ohtani insist there are only a small number of teams he will sign with. He doesn’t like big cities, doesn’t want to go to the east coast, and prefers a low key environment (like the one he’s already in) where he doesn’t have to deal with the media. He also wants assurances from the team he signs with that they will make every effort to win. In that respect, I’m putting my odds on the Padres, Mariners and a return to the Angels — in that order — as Ohtani’s most likely landing spots. All three of them need credibility and don’t care about what kind of player he’s going to be five years from now.

Meanwhile, the oblique injury ending Ohtani’s season has cast a whole new light on the American League Most Valuable Player award and will undoubtedly renew the debate over “most valuable player” and “player of the year.” As it is, Ohtani will still lead the league in homers (44), OBP (.412), slugging (.654), OPS (1.066) and total bases (325), along with a 10-5 mark, 3.14 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings as a pitcher.

All of those stats would make him the unquestioned player of the year but in terms of “most valuable” it’s hard to quantify “value” for a player who missed the whole month of September and who played on a fifth-place team that was under .500 from Aug. 12. To paraphrase the late great Branch Rickey: They could’ve finished fifth without him. At the same time, you have a half dozen very worthy candidates — the Orioles Adley Rutschman, the Rangers’ Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, the AstrosKyle Tucker, the Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez and the Rays’ Yandy Diaz — who have exuded value for winning teams, and there is where the MVP debate should really be.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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