I am heartbroken, mad and upset for Shohei Ohtani and the game of baseball.
For the second time in his career, Ohtani has torn his ulnar collateral ligament, ending his time on the mound for the 2023 season as he waits to see if he’ll need to undergo a second Tommy John surgery.
Through the many signs that something was off, the Angels kept letting Shohei push — further and further, with caution thrown to the wind. He left his July 4 start early due to a blister on his pitching hand. Just over three weeks later, Ohtani left the second of a doubleheader due to cramps after he pitched a complete game early in the day. He started feeling fatigue in his pitching arm following his start on Aug. 9, keeping him off the mound for two weeks.
That all came to a head on Wednesday, when he left his start against the Reds after pitching 1 ⅓ innings due to arm fatigue, which turned out to be a torn UCL.
It turns out Ohtani’s body was falling apart right in front of us over the last couple of months and the Angeles were telling us it was just fatigue. Even if it was just fatigue, why the hell were you even throwing him out there every five or six days for over a month following his original injury? You had to give Ohtani time to recover as he gave you every ounce of what his body could do.
The greatest athletes ever need to be protected from themselves because they won’t do it. I’ve been watching “Quarterback,” the Netflix documentary series that detailed three NFL quarterbacks last season. One of the episodes featured the high-ankle sprain Patrick Mahomes suffered in the playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He pleaded with Andy Reid, the coaching staff and the medical team to stay in the game and not have to go in the X-ray room, repeatedly saying, “I’m fine.” Reid had to tell him that he wasn’t going to go back into the game, at least not until he got an X-ray and they had a better idea of the situation.
That’s what the Angles needed to do at some point with Ohtani this summer. Instead, they ignored it even after all of the warning signs were there as his body was screaming that something was off.
It’s clear why they ignored those signals, too, even when they had an obligation to keep Ohtani’s future in mind. They wanted to chase a playoff spot, even if their chances have dwindled with each passing day of the last two months. At some point, they should’ve come to the realization that it wasn’t worth pitching Ohtani anymore and should’ve told him that “your future is more important than us climbing from eight games out of a wild card spot to get in it.”
Shohei Ohtani’s torn UCL, Ohtani’s future, Angels’ oversight & more
But as Ohtani’s in a contract year, I just don’t think the Angels cared any longer about his long-term health. Maybe that’s harsh to say, and I could be wrong, but prove me wrong. The actions they took at the deadline suggested that they were going to ride this out for as long as they could, even with his body tearing up in front of all of our eyes.
This will complicate Ohtani’s impending free agency, though it was almost certainly going to be the most complicated contract situation ever as he’ll still probably receive the biggest contract in MLB history.
It sounded like he was going to get a contract somewhere between $600-to-$700 million in total value. I’m not sure he gets up there now, but I think he’ll still earn at least half a billion. We just saw Aaron Judge get a nine-year, $360 million contract last offseason and Ohtani should still be able to contribute offensively next year and be able to pitch again down the line.
And that’s just from an on-field standpoint. With a player like Ohtani, you’re getting his brand on top of his on-field performance. The value he’ll bring to your organization will astronomically climb. He’ll bring in jersey sales, fan engagement and potentially the whole nation of Japan as a fanbase.
How does the torn UCL affect Shohei Ohtani’s free agency?
If Ohtani finds out soon that he needs Tommy John surgery again, I’d advise him to go under the knife by the next day. I don’t care about the Angels’ playoff push at this point. Save yourself now, and maybe Ohtani can potentially pitch out of the bullpen next season for a team trying to make a run late in the year.
This also shouldn’t affect Ohtani’s chances of winning MVP if he opts to end his season today, too. There’s just not enough time left in the season for anyone to reach the historic ground Ohtani is already sitting at in 2023. He still has a league-leading 44 homers to go along with his .304 batting average and 1.069 OPS at the plate this season. He’s also 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA, and his 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings pitched is second in the AL. He’s produced 9.6 bWAR as of Thursday, nearly four full wins higher than the AL’s second-ranked player.
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This just sucks for Ohtani and I’m heartbroken for him. It also sucks for the game of baseball.
I’m still optimistic about his future though. In his six major-league seasons, Ohtani has defied all of the expectations and predictions for him. The degree of difficulty of returning from a second Tommy John surgery is much more difficult.
I promise you this: Ohtani will only view this as another challenge in his baseball journey. He’s succeeded in every single step to this point, and do not doubt the greatest player this game’s ever seen.
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