Shohei Ohtani was in the midst of the best baseball season ever. Even if the Angels’ two-way superstar returns this season, his 2023 campaign will be one of the most memorable in MLB history. But the news that Ohtani has suffered another UCL tear and won’t play again this year rocked the sports world since Wednesday evening.
That prompted a series of questions, particularly about his future as a pitcher and in free agency.
FOX Sports’ MLB experts, including Ben Verlander, Deisha Tozer, Rowan Kavner and Jordan Shusterman, offered their initial thoughts on Ohtani’s injury and its potential wide-ranging implications.
How big a blow is this to the game of baseball?
Ben Verlander: It’s mind boggling. We’re currently looking at the best yet, and the news is heartbreaking. I feel for him. I feel for baseball fans. I feel for everyone involved.
Rowan Kavner: The biggest. A brutal reminder that even the baseball gods are human. What MVP does with the bat is worth the price of admission alone, but his two-way ability inspires awe. If a second Tommy John surgery becomes necessary, losing it for a year or more, with no guarantee of what it will look like, is a total gut punch.
Ohtani made us reconsider the limits of the human body and then showed the breaking point. His determined efforts to elevate an underperforming Angels club will now prevent him from realizing his full value. And the greatest player the game has ever seen will end his six years in Anaheim without playing a meaningful game in October. Everything stinks.
How much does this injury affect his chances of continuing to play both ways?
Verlander: I’m not worried about his future as a two-way player. He has experienced this once, faced the same questions we are about to ask, and answered them all well upon his return. If the UCL needs to be re-operated, he can recover from this.
Jordan Shusterman: While I don’t doubt Ohtani’s intentions after returning from a second possible Tommy John surgery, I do wonder how he’ll bounce back at age 31 and when he’ll compare to a two-way workload. He’s the first to fully go both ways since surgery at age 26 in 2021 — not to mention entering his mid-30s as part of a long-term commitment. But even in the short term, I wonder how teams will rate him as a strictly offensive player in 2024, especially if he undergoes surgery.
Ohtani was so good in 2019 as a DH coming off Tommy John surgery, and I believe he’s improved significantly as a hitter overall, I wonder if we should lower his offensive ceiling a bit for 2024. If he actually rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. Bryce Harper took months to fully regain his power stroke this year, so I’ll be interested to see how quickly Ohtani’s elite home run production returns next summer, especially if he signs a short-term deal. Should be a significant contributor in 2024.
If Ohtani needs a second Tommy John surgery, what can we expect from the pitcher?
Verlander: Returning from two TJs is unheard of. Walker Buehler is poised to bounce back from his second-place finish. Hyun-jin Ryu recently returned from a second and looks great so far. There are few other starters who have done that.
Can: This is not an ideal location and requires a long layoff, but it has been proven possible in many cases. Justin Doba helps the Mariners’ bullpen. Caleb Ferguson is back in the Dodgers bullpen and is now throwing even harder. We’ll see how Walker Buehler handles it. The best example is Nathan Ewaldi, who won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2018 after his second Tommy John surgery in 2016, earned All-Star recognition in 2021 and looked like an early Cy Young Award contender in Texas this year. . However, Evaldi underwent a second operation when he was 26 years old.
Ohtani is 29 years old, close to Chris Capuano, another two-time TJ success story who returned after age 30 for seven more major league seasons. But not everyone is the same. After Ohtani’s first TJ in 2018, it took him three years to find his MVP form. He had a 121 OPS+ as a full-time DH in 2019 and struggled both ways in the shortened 2020 season. There are no guarantees after one TJ, let alone two.
Should the Angels maintain a six-man rotation?
Verlander: My frustration with the Angels is at an all-time high. For months now, the man has been removed from the games due to “fatigue”. And we were told over and over again, “It’s just tiredness, it’s just tiredness.” It is his body that speaks, but the angels do not listen. Before last week, they consistently threw him in every fifth start. At some point, someone has to step in and say, “Your future is very important.” I’m not sure the Angels organization felt that way.
Shusterman: Ohtani has been on his own project for years. Nor is Ohtani to blame for where we are now; This is the nature of a player who has pushed the physical limits of what any of us thought was possible over many seasons. There’s never been a road map for a player like Ohtani, which is why the organization ultimately relies on him to guide him; To think there is a “right” way to avoid this happening is to overestimate our ability to predict or prepare for elbow injuries in particular. Heck, Ohtani threw *harder* than he had all season in his August 3 outing against Seattle. All of his pitches’ velocities fell across the board in his last two starts.
The strain in recent weeks has certainly been a concern, but the Angels and Ohtani would not have continued Wednesday’s start if they believed he was already compromised. I think it’s a very unfortunate injury, and not entirely shocking given the overall physical toll Ohtani’s body has taken of its own volition over the past three seasons. I’m sad that he’s injured, but I appreciate and admire how far he’s pushed himself to allow us to witness some of the greatest individual seasons of all time.
Ohtani is the favorite to win the AL MVP. But how effectively can he continue to serve as a designated hitter this year?
Verlander: If Ohtani doesn’t play another game this year, he’ll be the AL MVP. We may still see DH, but it will mostly depend on second opinions and whether he decides to get Tommy John. If he needs it, I think he should get it right away. No further credit to this organization.
Disha Dosar: Ohtani is Ohtani, and the man loves to hit. He learned of his torn UCL in the middle of the doubleheader, asked to hit in game two, and went 1-for-5 with a double. Whether or not Ohtani can hit will largely depend on the severity of his tear, whether he can avoid surgery, and whether he can put off surgery until the season.
When he needed Tommy John in 2018, Ohtani found out in September and waited until October for the procedure. With his free agency two months away, it’s in Ohtani’s best interests to keep hitting and trying to capture the home run title as long as his health doesn’t take a toll. He currently leads MLB with 44 homers. But a delay in surgery could further question his future as a pitcher.
Shohei Ohtani hits MLB-leading 44th in HR Angels Lead Vs. Presented by the Reds
How will this injury affect the 29-year-old pitcher/slugger’s free agency?
Verlander: His free agency became attractive. This season has been an unprecedented negotiation. Speculation ran as high as $600 million, but no one In fact He knows what kind of deal he’ll get. Now, we have even less idea. I still think he’ll get $500 million dollars if it’s a long term deal. But we can now see a two-year contract as a placeholder until it becomes clear how he recovers from this.
Dosar: $600 million, 700, 800. Whatever the final number is, it should be astronomical. This UCL tear, however severe, means Ohtani is coming off a slight discount this winter. Perhaps even to the extent of making Angels a landing spot again. Depending on his recovery and how difficult and extensive the return trip will be, Ohtani will likely want to go to a place where he can rehab comfortably.
For now, executives and evaluators must consider whether Ohtani’s UCL tear puts his future in jeopardy. While Ohtani was slated to enter the market as a two-way player, Ohtani’s price tag would be astronomical. Now, it’s unclear how much he’ll pitch — and how effectively — that will affect the contract he gets in free agency. Even the DH-only version of Ohtani offers great value, tops his class, and is sure to get paid. But the meteoric deals we expected could win.
Can: It takes some serious shine off the most anticipated free agency in the game. It depends on the course of the next move, but you have to think it will be hundreds of millions in shares. Both could be great winners And All in one package for a pitcher on the market, he’s sure to sign the most lucrative contract in baseball history. That is what is at stake now.
He’ll get a huge contract for what he can do with his bat, but if he can’t pitch again by age 30 — how confident will a team be in paying him more than $500 million? received? We are about to find out.
Does this situation actually increase the Angels’ chances of keeping Ohtani?
Verlander: I don’t think it makes the Angels any more likely to re-sign him. I think it hurts them. He gave them every ounce he had.
This story was compiled by:
Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander)
Disha Dosar (@Deesha Dosar)
Rowan Kavner (@Rowan Kavner)
Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman (@CespedesBBQ)
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