The number will follow Shohei Ohtani until it is over. No, not Ohtani’s home runs or strikeouts or any of his magnificent numbers from the field. Nothing like that.
It’s all about how much. As in how much will his next contract be worth.
Ohtani is among several players going into their final seasons before they are eligible for free agency. There is still time for signatures and press conferences before opening day, but history shows a new contract becomes less likely once the real games begin.
There is no real precedent for placing a value on Ohtani’s remarkable skills, especially after baseball’s epic offseason spending spree. And that doesn’t factor in the potential business opportunities that go along with the majors’ only truly global star.
Ohtani hit .273 with 34 homers and 95 RBIs last season in his fifth year with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2021 AL MVP also went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts on the mound.
He prepared for this season by leading Japan to the World Baseball Classic championship, striking out fellow Angels star Mike Trout for the final out in a 3-2 victory over the United States in the final.
Ohtani, who turns 29 in July, could set multiple records with his next contract, likely in the neighborhood of a $45 million average annual value and quite possibly reaching $500 million in total.
If the Angels drop out of contention in the rough-and-tumble AL West, Ohtani likely becomes the top name on the trade market this summer. If the Angels are in the mix for the playoffs, the pressure builds on the team to get something done before possibly losing Ohtani in free agency for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick.
So yeah, definitely high stakes with Ohtani and the Angels.
Here is a closer look at five more players eligible for free agency after this season:
RHP AARON NOLA, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Nola, who turns 30 in June, went 11-13 with a 3.25 ERA in 32 starts for Philadelphia last year. He also had a career-best 235 strikeouts in 205 innings for the NL champions.
Nola was selected by the Phillies with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft. There were extension talks during spring training, but it didn’t work out.
“We are very open-minded to trying to sign him at the end of the season,” President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll remain a Phillie for a long time.”
3B MATT CHAPMAN, TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Chapman hit 36 homers and drove in 91 runs for Oakland in 2019. He hasn’t been able to duplicate that production, but the three-time Gold Glover finished with 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 155 games last year in his first season with Toronto.
Chapman turns 30 on April 28. Long one of the game’s top fielding third basemen, he is represented by Scott Boras, who generally takes his clients to free agency.
TEOSCAR HERNÁNDEZ, SEATTLE MARINERS
Hernández was acquired in a November trade with Toronto. He hit .267 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs in his final year with the Blue Jays. He was terrific in 2021, batting .296 with 32 homers, 116 RBIs and a .870 OPS.
The change of scenery could help the 30-year-old Hernández set himself up for a big payday. He is a .357 hitter with three homers and seven RBIs in 16 games at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.
OF IAN HAPP, CHICAGO CUBS
The switch-hitting Happ is coming off perhaps his best big league season, setting career highs with a .271 batting average, 72 RBIs and 42 doubles in 158 games. He also won his first Gold Glove and made the NL All-Star team for the first time.
Chicago had struggled to re-sign its own players in recent years, but it agreed to a $35 million, three-year contract with infielder Nico Hoerner on Monday. The 28-year-old Happ, a first-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, is on the executive subcommittee for the players’ union.
LHP JULIO URÍAS, LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Urías, who turns 27 in August, likely will have plenty of suitors if he reaches free agency. He went 17-7 with an NL-low 2.16 ERA in 31 starts for the NL West champions in 2022, finishing third in NL Cy Young Award balloting. That’s after he went 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA in the previous season.
Urías also is a Boras client, but the Dodgers have one of the majors’ biggest payrolls. Los Angeles also could make a run at Ohtani, which could factor into its discussions with Urías’ camp.
Guardians close to long-term deal with 2B Andrés Giménez
A person familiar with the negotiations tells the Associated Press that the Cleveland Guardians are close to signing a long-term contract with All-Star second baseman Andrés Giménez.
The 24-year-old batted .297 and won a Gold Glove for the AL Central champions last season. He could sign the deal within days, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced any agreement.
The person says the Guardians also nearing a deal with reliever Trevor Stephan.
Giménez has quickly developed into one of the league’s best all-around middle infielders. He came to Cleveland in 2021 as part of the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets.
ESPN reported that Giménez has agreed to a seven-year, $106.5 million package that includes a club option for an eighth year. It’s the largest pre-arbitration deal ever given to a second baseman.
Gimenez signed a one-year deal worth $739,400 earlier this month.
Sergio Romo, 40, hangs ‘em up after one last inning with the Giants
Sergio Romo retired as a San Francisco Giant just the way he wanted, pitching one final time for the team he helped to win three World Series championships and then calling it a career Monday night.
In a moment more special than he could have possibly imagined, the entertaining right-hander faced three Oakland batters in the seventh inning at Oracle Park in the exhibition finale for both clubs.
“Very fitting to find some closure in what literally is for me was a storybook career,” he told reporters, pausing to catch his breath after the Athletics’ 12-6 win.
The Giants reached out a few weeks back seeing whether Romo might consider tossing an inning — he looked at his arm and asked if it could give it one last hurrah. He had already taken up golf.
“I understand how special this opportunity was,” he said.
So, Bay Area baseball fans were treated to a last listen of Romo’s long-time signature “El Mechon” walk-up tune, too, and he basked in the cheers.
But ahead of unleashing his nasty slider, Romo got a dose of what he’ll be missing in the new, modern baseball world — he was immediately called for two clock violations by the plate umpire, resulting in a pair of automatic balls.
The first was for taking too long to finish his warmup tosses. The second was for taking too long to throw his first pitch.
Going against one of his former teams, and starting with a 2-0 count, Romo quickly walked his first batter. He threw a wild pitch and surrendered two singles that scored a run before former teammate Hunter Pence walked out to make a pitching change.
The 40-year-old Romo soaked it all in as he made his way to the dugout, tipped his cap and hugged Giants manager Gabe Kapler and others in a sensational sendoff.
Romo got a curtain call and fought tears as he went back into the dugout.
Saluted with a rousing ovation when he strolled to the bullpen to begin his warmup tosses, Romo received more cheers when he came into the spring training game. The A’s players watched and clapped from their dugout rail and the Giants grinned witnessing the emotional goodbye to baseball.
Ever popular with the home fans, Romo wore a special hat. All during spring training, every time a kid asked for an autograph, he’d have them sign his cap.
“If this is was the last hat I was going to wear in the big leagues ... I figured it would be nice to not go in there alone,” he said.
Romo played 15 seasons for eight different organizations, including the Athletics, spending his initial nine years with the Giants. The reliever shared a goodbye note Monday to San Francisco on The Players’ Tribune.
Changes to speed up game set to be unveiled
A season of seismic changes for baseball gets underway Thursday highlighted by significant new rules designed to speed up the pace of play and create more action on the field.
Major League Baseball also hopes fans noticed more transparency around replay reviews and efforts to boost marketing of players.
Improved replay technology and a refreshed marketing strategy designed to focus on players were among the notable changes unveiled at MLB’s Innovation and Fan Engagement Showcase on Tuesday.
The sprawling replay facility resembles a television production truck and features workstations with umpires assigned to two games simultaneously with a replay operator, who required about four to five weeks of training.
Once a close play is spotted, they notify another group watching the isolated angles from television feeds.
“Us having access to all the angles at the ballpark is what leads us to be faster and faster every year,” said Jim Sensale, director of replay operations. “We’re hoping to have the call before they even come to headset.”
In terms of feedback from current umpires, Sensale said the feedback is positive
“They love it now,” Sensale said. “They don’t want to be in the papers for getting the call wrong. They know they have this backup system and we’re going to get the call right in here and help them out on the field.”
The new feel of the replay room was unveiled about two weeks after MLB reached a deal with Zoom Video Communications Inc. allowing on-field umpires to watch the replay operations center evaluating contested calls.
Another new feature of the replay room includes limited number of telecasts getting access to the Zoom videos being seen by umpires on Apple TV+ and MLB Network Showcase telecasts. New technology may also become available for postseason broadcasts, and ballpark videos will have access to the Zoom views on telecasts.
The new quicker pace of replay decisions is in conjunction with new initiatives cut down the average time of game. The average time of a spring training game dropped about 26 minutes this season, to 2 hours, 35 minutes.
The reduced time occurs after respondents to MLB’s fan research said they wanted to see games lasting less than three hours and more events such as doubles, triples, stolen bases and defensive plays.
“Two pretty self-evident themes emerged from that research,” said Morgan Sword, MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. “The first was that fans want a pretty crisper pace of play. They want shorter games, pace to be improved.
“And when you asked them an open-ended question, how long do you want a baseball game to be, the immediate answer is two hours and 30 minutes.”
According to Sword, last year the average time between seeing a ball put in play was nearly four minutes and stolen bases were up by nearly 50 percent during spring training.
“Players that have the ability to steal bases are exciting, athletic players who we want to see more of on rosters and fans want to me of in the game,” Sword said.
MLB also unveiled several new ads highlighting the rule changes, including one where actor Bryan Cranston says “Shift This” in an ad focused on the outlawing of infield shifts. Another features Mets designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach contemplating stealing a base because of decreased distances between bases.