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Shohei Ohtani Is More Affordable Than You Probably Think

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Contrary to conventional wisdom surrounding the Ohtani posting, most clubs will be able to afford what he will likely merit for his second contract. Dave Cameron summarized the argument well (without, in my view, making the same mistake): Ohtani isn’t going to pick a team based on his signing bonus. It will be about who can offer him the most valuable extension in year two, three, or four of his six-year Uniform Player Contract. I disagree. The evidence indicates that the second contract will be something most teams with a shot at landing him can afford, if it’s signed before free agency.

As Cameron accurately notes, that second contract is going to be analyzed and accepted by the Commissioner’s Office based on precedent: Has anyone else signed a comparably-valued deal? Ohtani is the rarest of creatures: a ten-tool player. That means the question is whether the deal is on the same scale as others rather than whether the specifics align. Cameron uses two good benchmarks: the Andrelton Simmons extension and Francisco Lindor’s rejected Indians extension. Both are expensive but extraordinarily good values for the team compared to the market rate for the type of player. I find these examples interesting, but let’s go to the extreme; we’re talking about the Japanese Bambino, after all. What if Shohei Ohtani is Mike Trout?

Mike Trout signed a six-year, $144.5 million extension in 2014. At the time, he was coming off the two best single seasons by a twenty and twenty-one-year-old in baseball, ever. It is hardly possible to embellish his achievements. For his efforts, and to buy out two free agency years, he got almost ten million dollars less than Jacoby Ellsbury did in the same offseason. That deal would be more expensive after three or four years of service, but any team looking to extend Ohtani is likely to make the attempt as soon as feasible.

At this point, my end game is clear. Any team could offer Ohtani non-monetary sweeteners: opt-outs, flexibility. Money still won’t differentiate: given the ruler the Commissioner’s Office would use in evaluating an Ohtani extension, any team in the upper half of MLB payrolls can likely afford the second contract. This is doubly true when you consider the amount of revenue a piscine Ohtani could generate for his club. Cameron regularly—and I believe accurately—insists that there is no team in baseball that would not pay Mike Trout $40 million for a single season of his services. Baseball players like that are worth so much more than what they’re paid before they hit free agency.

The other possibilities here are that he’s not Mike Trout (he won’t be Mike Trout!) or that he hits free agency. Both strengthen my central proposition. He is more affordable, in scenario one, or the team he picks first does not affect his second contract, in scenario two. In any case, though, the idea that the second contract matters more than the first doesn’t appear likely to affect the number of teams that can afford Ohtani.