Dan Schlossberg / Salaries & Business
December 2023 - Orignally posted on, "Here's the Pitch."
By Dan Schlossberg
Shohei Ohtani’s new contract is great for him, good for the Dodgers, and bad for baseball.
The biggest problem is not the money, though it is truly excessive and in gross violation of “the best interests of baseball,” but that it became public knowledge.
Jealousy is a mean and untamed beast — especially in the workplace — and has destroyed tons of careers and turned decent people into snarling jackals.
Even though the two-time MVP has allowed the Dodgers to defer almost all of his $70 million annual average, the impact of the 10-year, $700 million contract came out of the stratosphere like an unexpected comet.
It is greater than the projected 2024 payrolls of eight whole teams: the Guardians, Marlins, Royals, Brewers, Pirates, Reds, Orioles, and Athletics.
It is greater than the combined payrolls of the five AL Central clubs ($638.8 million).
It is 1.64 times bigger than the contract of ex-Angels teammate Mike Trout, whose $426.5 million deal was the previous MLB record.
It is even 1.4 times greater the combined contracts of All-Star middle infielders Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, free agent signees who turned the Texas Rangers into world champions for the first time.
The obvious result of a savage bidding war, the Ohtani contract doesn’t even guarantee the Dodgers will be world champions of a 162-game season for the first ti,e since 1988. Even with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman batting in front of Ohtani, Los Angeles lacks lineup depth and has huge pitching problems — especially with Ohtani unable to join the rotation before 2025 after elbow surgery.
But the biggest problem, as stated at the outset, is jealousy. The price of every future free agent, including this year’s somewhat lackluster class, has just gone through the roof. And where does it leave Bryce Harper, who wants a contract extension from Philadelphia; Juan Soto, who’s virtually certain to become next winter’s top free agent; or Max Fried, the great left-handed starter of the Braves whose salary demands will price him right out of Atlanta?
The Dodgers apparently don’t remember Bobby Bonilla, an overrated free-agent slugger who came to the New York Mets on a megabucks deal back-rated with deferred money.
His deal promised annual payments of about $1.2 million for 25 years, from July 1, 2011, until July 1, 2035. As a result, every July 1, facetious Mets fans “celebrate” Bobby Bonilla Day.
Although Mookie, Freddie, and Shohei are far better ballplayers than Shohei, all three have deferred contracts designed to keep paying off long after they’re old and gray.
So the obvious questions are:
How can the Dodgers afford the other 23 players on their roster?
How can the 29 other clubs stay competitive?
Will the price of Dodger Dogs — not to mention tickets and parking — triple?
The Ohtani salary outrage will not only impact present and future free agents but also players eligible for salary arbitration. And what happens when the other unanimous MVP — Ronald Acuņa, Jr. of the Atlanta Braves — decides he’s as good as Ohtani even though his annual average salary is a paltry $12,500,000, part of his eight-year, $100,000,000 deal?
The Dodgers are lucky that their regional sports network media rights deal is worth more than $8 billion. Few teams are worth that much and no one else rakes in so much revenue from broadcasting — not only in English but also in Spanish and maybe even Japanese now.
While baseball attendance was up last season, thanks in part to new rules designed to speed pace of play, post-season play was disappointing in producing the third World Series without a true champion (wild card winners in 2002, 2014, and 2013). Anything that hurts the integrity of the showcase series hurts the game and anything that keeps the best teams out of the final round certainly qualifies.
Ohtani has never played for a winning team — the Angels rested below .500 for the entirety of his career — but there’s no guarantee he’ll be a world champion anytime soon. Yes, the Dodgers have four MVP awards, 22 All-Star selections, 12 Gold Gloves, 11 Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year, and an NLCS MVP.
Whether they can wrest on their laurels remains to be seen. And whether the growing list of have-not teams can survive the salary tsunami inspired by the Ohtani contract remains to be seen. More than a handful might just wave the white flag of surrender.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ writes baseball for forbes.com, Memories & Dreams, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and many other outlets. Watch for his Hank Aaron biography next spring. Email Dan at email@example.com.