Everything has been trending toward Shohei Ohtani landing the largest contract in baseball history, but it’s possible he’s not targeting a record for total dollars. According to a report from ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, “people familiar with Ohtani’s thinking believe he might be open to a short-term deal with an exceedingly high average annual value.” That thinking has merit on the surface because it could get more teams involved in the bidding, which would give Ohtani more options to choose from.
It might also appeal to the unicorn’s desire to, as Jon Morosi put it on Monday, do things that have never been done before. While Morosi was talking specifically about a triple crown pursuit as a one-way player, perhaps Ohtani thinks it’d be cool to get the game’s first $50 million annual salary. That would top Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, both of whom got $43.3 million from the Mets before moving on to less-dysfunctional pastures.
But wait, couldn’t Ohtani set a record for annual value while still getting a long-term guarantee? Yes, which is why a shorter deal would likely have to be for a stratospheric AAV, maybe like $66 million or even higher. That could make sense if the goal was to sign for just two years in order to re-enter the market again after returning to the mound for the 2025 season. Undergoing his second elbow surgery doesn’t seem to be scaring teams off though, so there’s decidedly more risk in such a gambit.
Even so, I keep coming back to the idea that Ohtani is less concerned about the money as he is breaking new ground. He was so adamant about coming to MLB when he did that he subjected himself to strict international bonus regulations that severely hampered his earning power. While some may think he’s trying to make up for that lost income now, I believe the money itself is less important than what his next deal signifies about him as an athlete.
Ohtani plays unlike anyone else, now he can be paid unlike anyone else. I’m not sure how well that idea is coming across, so I’ll just say precedent is probably more important to him than wealth. In that same vein, I truly believe location is far less relevant to him than comfort with his next organization’s commitment to building a winner around him.
So yeah, I guess it’s possible that Ohtani really is open to something different than the long-term monster deal we’ve all been expecting. In the end, I think any such talk is a matter of chumming the waters and giving him that many more options from which to choose.