Shohei Ohtani UCL injury could be dagger to Dodgers' free agency plans, future

Dodgers may have to reevaluate everything after Wednesday night.
Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Angels - Game One
Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Angels - Game One / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

No pressure whatsoever on the integrity of Shohei Ohtani's elbow. All that rests on it is the future of his groundbreaking tenure as a two-way megastar, as well as a significant chunk of the Dodgers' future roster building.

Calling it an "open secret" that Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers had set aside money for Ohtani's $550+ million contract this offseason is disrespectful to both secrets and openness. Friedman and Co. had done everything short of tampering to make it obvious they intended to be among the highest bidders for the Angels' icon, saving Julio Urías' rotation spot and JD Martinez's place in the lineup for the biggest free agent in baseball history.

Thursday night's disastrous spiral might've shattered those two-year-old best-laid plans. Ohtani left Wednesday's start with what was initially declared to be "arm fatigue," but later in the night, following the Angels' completion of a doubleheader against the Reds, it was revealed thatOhtani had suffered a torn UCL.

In 2018, he had the same ligament repaired by a Tommy John procedure. This time around, it remains unclear if he will approach the issue surgically. Regardless, his ability to twirl 180+ outstanding innings annually, for the duration of his next monstrous contract, is very much in doubt.

Will Dodgers offer same Shohei Ohtani projected contract in 2023-24 free agency? Will anyone?

Just a few short weeks ago, accurate calculations of Ohtani's value pegged him as half Trea Turner, half Gerrit Cole, predicting his next contract could rise past the $600 million mark over a decade's worth of action. Now, with his future on the mound completely uncertain, it wouldn't feel too rash to slice that outlandish number in half.

Will that usher in more bidders for Ohtani's services? It was difficult to envision many teams joining the Dodgers' fray, besides the cash-flush Padres and Steve Cohen's Mets, at Ohtani's peak value. Will teams shy away from him as an offense-only player, or will additional clubs dive into the pool at the $300 million mark for a powerhouse DH? Will the number sink even lower, with extensive incentives baked in for any starts Ohtani happens to make on the mound.

This is a ghastly future for all parties involved. Ohtani's game-breaking talent has been muted overnight. He'll now have to cross his fingers and hope for the same career trajectory Masahiro Tanaka experienced in New York, tearing his UCL partially in 2014 and pitching through it for six more seasons.

The Dodgers weren't just a team scouting Ohtani and hoping. They'd staked their franchise's future on landing him as a rotational center piece, upgrading from Urías as Scott Boras boldly took the left-hander into free agency. Suddenly, their plan has been cut in half, and new competition has entered the fray.

The Dodgers can persevere (and always have). Ohtani is the real victim here. But it's irresponsible to pretend the calculus hasn't changed for Friedman and Co., who believed they'd gotten well ahead of a crucial offseason, and may now have to pivot (and find another $200 million ace).