Los Angeles Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani is, without a doubt, one of the most dynamic and entertaining players that Major League Baseball has to offer. Ohtani, who will likely win the American League Most Valuable Player Award this fall, is doing more than capturing the attention of the baseball world. He's doing more, too, than causing teams across the league to reconsider the viability of two-way players.
Why, Ohtani is doing what teammate Mike Trout has done for years: inspiring viral tweets about how his historic talent hasn't catapulted the Angels to postseason (or heck, even, regular season) glory, and prompting non-Angels fans to ask: when is this guy a free agent, anyway?
For the answer to that question, plus two others relevant to the topic, we direct you below.
1. When is Ohtani a free agent?
The short answer: soon-ish.
The longer answer: Ohtani, 27, will hit the open market at the conclusion of the 2023 season. MLB requires players to accumulate six years of big-league service time before they qualify for free agency. Ohtani is nearing the end of his fourth full season, putting him just two years away.
At that point, Ohtani will be 29 years old.
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2. What's special about Ohtani's circumstances?
It's worth remembering that Ohtani's arrival in MLB wasn't a foregone conclusion -- at least not when it happened. Rather, he had to choose between maximizing his earnings and arriving in the United States as quickly as he did.
That's because of MLB's rules pertaining to international free agents and who gets classified being an "amateur." Players who are older than 25 years old and who have played six-plus seasons in a foreign league are allowed to sign for as much as they want -- like a standard free agent. Players who don't meet those requirements are limited in their earning potential to whatever teams can offer from their international free-agent bonus pool.
Ohtani, who didn't meet either requirement, signed with the Angels for a $2.3 million signing bonus. (For reference, the 30th pick in this year's draft had a slot value of $2.37 million.) That mark is well below what Ohtani should've received, and what he would've received had he waited until he was considered a non-amateur free agent.
The kicker is that Ohtani's old team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, received $20 million as part of their agreement to post him. Go figure.
MLB teams were prohibited from circumventing the rules by, say, signing Ohtani to a long-term extension during his rookie season. The Angels have since paid him more than the league minimum (albeit not by much) in two of his three pre-arbitration seasons. The two sides also agreed to a two-year contract in February that bought out two of Ohtani's three arbitration seasons in exchange for $8.5 million. Ohtani is receiving a $3 million salary this season with a bump to $5.5 million next year. Here's a look at the remainder of his Angels contract:
- 2021: $3,000,000
- 2022: $5,500,000
- 2023: Arbitration eligible
- 2024: Free agent
To state the obvious: the majority of Ohtani's MLB earnings is going to stem from his next free-agent contract.
3. Can the Angels afford to keep Ohtani?
This is a tough question to answer given that we're more than two years out from Ohtani's free agency. Plus, we don't even know what the next collective bargaining agreement is going to entail. Even so, it could become interesting if things mostly stay the same.
The Angels already have more than $70 million committed annually to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon for the foreseeable future. The expiring contracts of Albert Pujols (this winter) and Justin Upton (next) will help free up space on the ledger.
Yet if Ohtani stays healthy and productive, he should be in line for a massive payday. Would the Angels, a franchise with an Opening Day payroll of $182 million this season, be willing to stomach having 60 percent of its payroll spent on three players? If the answer turns out to be no, then another interesting question comes into play: would the Angels trade Ohtani?
Again, it's too early to know how things are going to work out. The clock is ticking, though, and it seems like only a matter of time before Ohtani's salary is reflective of his ability.