Shohei Ohtani‘s upcoming free agency is the most anticipated in MLB history, and the dollar amount of his next contract is sure to set records for baseball — and possibly all North American professional sports. The 28-year-old Los Angeles Angels two-way star is the most dynamic player in the game, leading baseball in WAR over the past three seasons by placing in the top 10 among pitchers and top 30 among position players, and he has shown no signs of slowing down early in his contract year.
How much will Ohtani get? What records will he aim for in his new deal? And which teams have the best chance of signing him? We polled 26 MLB executives, agents and insiders to find out.
How much could Ohtani get?
Here are the 26 responses from our panel, grouped into tiers by total dollars.
Less than $500 million (6): 4 years/$240 million; 8 years/$400 million; 8 years/$420 million; 9 years/$427.5 million; 13 years/$475 million; 12 years/$492 million
$500 million to $549 million (14): 9 years/$500 million; 10 years/$500 million; 10 years/$510 million; 10 years/$512 million; 12 years/$512 million; 11 years/$515 million; 11 years/$515 million; 12 years/$517 million; 10 years/$520 million; 11 years/$520 million, 11 years/$525 million; 12 years/$525 million; 11 years/$526 million; 12 years/$528 million
$550 million or more (6): 10 years/$550 million; 10 years/$550 million; 11 years/$550 million; 12 years/$580 million; 12 years/600 million; 11 years/$605 million
The 26 predictions ranged from as short as four years, in an attempt to maximize average annual value, to as long as 13 years, with the total payout ranging from $240 million over those four years to a whopping $605 million.
Since the three shorter AAV-friendly deals are really a different type of contract that skews the results a bit, let’s focus first on the 23 answers that were nine years or longer. These are the averages from that group:
Total guarantee: $524.3 million
AAV: $47.5 million
On the high end, two deals guaranteed Ohtani both $600 million total and an average annual value of $50 million: 11 years, $605 million ($55M AAV); and 12 years, $600 million ($50M AAV).
Three of the 23 were for less than $500 million, but only one came in under $475 million, and the longest deal (13 years, $475 million) was a bit of an outlier at just $36.5 million in annual value.
Of course, these types of megadeals are more complicated than simply totaling up dollars and years. Some respondents said they would include escalators, vesting options and bonuses as a way to allow teams afraid of such a large guarantee to pay only if Ohtani’s performance continues. Since this will unquestionably be a record-setting deal, I’d also expect some creativity to maximize the final number, and there’s always the possibility of an opt-out so Ohtani can potentially capitalize on another shot at free agency if he keeps this up.
$60 million per year vs. $600 million total — a dilemma only Ohtani could face
In one of the shorter-term deals, a front-office member offered a structure with a creative path Ohtani could take this offseason if his goal was to maximize career earnings while maintaining flexibility.
The exec who proposed the eight-year, $400 million deal suggested guaranteeing five years at a $60 million AAV followed by a series of player options at a lower value, $33 million in this case. Those option years serve to boost the total top-line dollars but also offer a backstop for the team if the player falls off in ability or gets injured, which in Ohtani’s case could be even more important for a team that is in a sense taking on two free agents in one.
From Ohtani’s perspective, accepting such a deal would give him flexibility to hit the market again if he keeps performing at an MVP level and/or leaguewide salaries continue to escalate — similar to how Manny Machado turned the opt-out four years into his original 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres into a new 11-year, $300 million deal this spring.
Ideally for Ohtani, he gets an enormous guaranteed total at a record-setting AAV from a team that he wants to stay with for a long time — but we’re talking about a rarefied area where he might not get all of those things from a preferred club, so I could see front offices trying to get creative given the unique risks and qualities that he offers.
Why Ohtani’s free agency is unique
To understand what makes Ohtani so difficult to value, you need to understand how front offices go about valuing free agents. Most megadeals are slight variations on each other, in that performance, age, position, projected aging curve and athleticism, among other factors, are all tweaked slightly for each player before the whims of the evolving market round values up or down a bit. As a result, most deals end up looking similar to ones that came before.
But there has never been another player like Ohtani in free agency to use for a comparison. To quote one exec from our panel, he is “two different $35 million-a-year players,” so a team is getting elite talent in two areas and saving a roster spot.
Ohtani is also the rare player who will substantively change ticket sales, rights deals and sponsorships, so the team that signs him will be getting a guaranteed return on investment on top of what he does on the field.
There are some potential downsides for teams to consider, though, as the impact of an injury to a two-way player is greater, and projecting the likelihood of an injury is more complicated since there is no one else in baseball with a comparable workload. Whatever risk model a team is currently using is essentially worthless given all the elements at play.
This results in a bit of an inherent discount from his combined output as a pitcher and hitter, as no one thinks Ohtani will get a $70 million AAV — even if some believe he could approach it.
Who are Ohtani’s potential suitors?
The high end of the free agent market has escalated the past two winters, with most top-of-the-market deals beating offseason projections, and now Ohtani enters as the ultimate prize. That rise has been powered partially by two extremely motivated spenders in the New York Mets and Padres, who will undoubtedly be interested in Ohtani. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are also sure to be suitors. And a return to the Angels cannot be ruled out, though their lack of on-the-field success during his time there hasn’t helped.
Ohtani’s historic free agency should draw more than just the usual suspects, as his on-the-field exploits and off-the-field marketing value can only broaden his appeal. He seems to specifically suit the Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs because of some combination of location, market size and team-building philosophy for each.
While it was too early in the process for some of our panel to give an expected destination, six of the 26 responses came with a thought on the landing spot. Two insiders said the Dodgers, one said either the Dodgers or Mets, another said either the Dodgers or Yankees, the fifth said either the Dodgers, Padres or Mariners, and the final one chose the Giants.
One of the answers predicting the Dodgers laid out a very specific scenario: “I think he uses the Padres and Mets to run up the price, but he wants to and will go with the Dodgers.”
That response fits a popular belief, based on industry conversations, that Ohtani would prefer to stay on the West Coast and that the Dodgers represent a first-class franchise that could pay Ohtani handsomely to be part of a perennial contender while allowing him to stay in the part of the country he’s believed to prefer.
If that does drive Ohtani’s decision-making process, the real question becomes how much more a team other than the Dodgers, and especially one away from the West Coast, would have to offer to get him to sign.
How market forces could drive Ohtani’s numbers
That wide, motivated group of teams with recent spending history brings us into the zone where we could try to use some recent comparable elements of contracts, rounding up because of the market conditions — and rounding up even more because of a potential bidding war. Ohtani’s unique ability, combined with the timing of his free agency in a year without another true superstar available, makes this the ultimate case of there being no consolation prize or pivot for teams who miss out.
There are some notable contract figures that the Ohtani camp could be aiming to beat, starting with a record held by a current teammate. Mike Trout‘s 12-year, $430 million deal signed in 2019 is the biggest guarantee in North American professional sports, and a number most of our respondents believe Ohtani can easily pass. Patrick Mahomes signed a 10-year, $450 million contract in 2020 that has a record potential total value of $503 million after bonuses, though less than half of that megadeal was fully guaranteed at signing.
While Trout’s deal guarantees the most total dollars of any MLB megadeal, there are other ways that contracts are measured — and with them, more records that could be within Ohtani’s reach. Max Scherzer‘s three-year, $130 million deal with the Mets signed during the 2021-22 offseason holds the highest AAV in MLB history at $43.3 million. According to our insiders, there’s a good chance Ohtani smashes that mark with a much longer-term deal. The longest contract in baseball history is Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 14-year extension with the Padres, which he signed at age 22 before the 2021 season, while Bryce Harper‘s 13-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019 is the longest free agent deal. Only one of our panelists had Ohtani matching Harper’s contract length, but considering that we had eight responses of 12 years, it’s fair to say that is also a possibility.
Whether it’s total dollars, AAV or contract length, the numbers are eye-popping, with the vast majority of our insiders using the biggest guaranteed deal in MLB history as their starting point for Ohtani’s contract. In fact, if you take the largest element that currently exists for each type of deal (Tatis’ 14 years and Scherzer’s $43.3 million AAV), you would get $606 million — a total that fits with the upper range of our predictions.
Ohtani has so broken the concept of what’s possible on a baseball field that even the most seasoned experts in MLB contracts are mostly grasping at whatever precedents exist, and then projecting he’ll match or beat them.