Save the overreactions. Forget the financial fumbling and mental recalculations. Shohei Ohtani, the best hitter in Major League Baseball and potentially a top-10 pitcher going forward, too, will still command a king's ransom in free agency this winter.
The Dodgers may have built their offseason (and future) around paying Ohtani the hitter and Ohtani the pitcher near-equal sums, resulting in a ~$600 million commitment that fills two massive buckets, but don't expect Wednesday night's devastating news to open the door for the rest of MLB's free agency also rans.
Ohtani was diagnosed with a torn UCL following his removal from Wednesday's start with "arm fatigue." He underwent Tommy John surgery to correct a similar issue in 2018, and returned to the lineup on May 9, 2019. It remains unclear whether he will need the same corrective surgery a second time.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, though, it shouldn't much matter. If Ohtani never pitches again, he'll still be the game's most powerful left-handed hitter entering his prime years. And, besides the initial shock factor, where's the indication he won't pitch again? Any new deal he signs will need to include creative maneuvers, incentives and outs, but that would've been true regardless of Wednesday's bombshell, given the unprecedented nature of his dual careers. When the dust settles, Rosenthal still anticipates Ohtani being a $500 million player, which places him in rarefied air, even if he still has to earn some of that pie-in-the-sky money through future performance.
Dodgers should get creative with Shohei Ohtani's contract, but it should still be $500 million
As Rosenthal eloquently stated, why would anyone start betting against Ohtani now? That seems like a pretty obvious way to lose him.
"Even if Ohtani requires a second Tommy John surgery and cannot pitch in 2024, the best guess is he will return to the mound. In his six major-league seasons, he has defied every prediction, every expectation, repeatedly silenced his skeptics. The degree of difficulty returning from a second Tommy John is higher. But Ohtani will just view it as one more challenge."- Ken Rosenthal
The team that wins the bidding for Ohtani will be in the league's upper echelon and will have to push towards uncomfortable financial limits to secure his services. Contrary to online grumblings, the face of the league did not become a wild card DH overnight. He's still a megastar, and he hasn't abandoned the notion of being a two-way giant just because there's a newly-presented reason to fret about it.
Though the odds of success decrease significantly, All-Star pitchers have bounced back from having multiple Tommy John procedures. Nathan Eovaldi is living proof. The Dodgers certainly hope Walker Buehler will be soon, too. If it's possible ... then why wouldn't Ohtani, who's already pushed the limits of what's possible in so many ways, be able to do it, too?
The risk associated with Ohtani's next contract just increased, but don't expect a financial reprieve. Don't expect to be disappointed, either.