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How much might MLB superstar Shohei Ohtani be worth after his stunning season?

Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels is seen at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, on July 12, 2021. (Mainichi/Hojin Fukunaga)

TOKYO -- Following a breakthrough season drawing comparisons with Major League Baseball legend Babe Ruth and sparking MVP talk, how much is the Los Angeles Angels' two-way player Shohei Ohtani, 27, worth? The Mainichi Shimbun asked Meijo University associate professor Yusuke Suzumura, author of a book on how MLB values Japanese players.


    There's a very big difference in the way annual pay is thought about in Japan and the majors. In Japan there's a sense of it being a reward for past performance, whereas in the U.S. it is paid based on what's expected of you in the future, and what your anticipated worth might be.

    Ohtani's teammate Mike Trout, 30, signed a huge 12-year contract in 2019 for a total of $426.5 million (worth about 473 million yen at the time). It was the biggest contract in league history, and while the amount might be shocking, it seems that the team calculated that Trout will continue playing well for those 12 years.

    In MLB, a hitter is recognized as a power hitter once they hit 40 home runs or more. Ohtani has struck 45 (as of Sept. 25. He finished the season with 46), meaning he's passed that threshold. This alone means he could earn about 1 billion yen (about $9 million) to 1.5 billion yen (some $13.5 million) annually. As a pitcher he has logged over 100 innings, recorded over 100 strikeouts and has nine wins. These are the results of a top-three starter on any team. If you add his results as a pitcher and as a hitter, you get a market value of about 1.5 billion yen to 2 billion yen (about $18 million) annually.

    Associate professor Yusuke Suzumura, who authored a book on how Major League Baseball values Japanese players, is seen in this image provided by him.

    In February this year, Ohtani signed a two-year contract extension for $8.5 million (about 890 million yen at the time). This season he was paid $3 million, and is set to get $5.5 million for 2022. But he could re-sign with the Angels for higher pay.

    What is difficult about evaluating a true two-way player -- someone who both pitches and is a fixture in the starting lineup -- is that this is not necessarily considered a good thing. It's difficult to see how a player taking on the physical demands of both roles can stay on the field for the long haul. When it comes to annual pay and records, it seems there's merit in deciding which discipline you want to focus on.

    But nothing like Ohtani's achievement has been seen in the major leagues since Babe Ruth won 13 games and hit 11 home runs for the 1918 Boston Red Sox, and that cannot be measured just in dollars.

    The majors are, compared to other professional leagues, often said to be behind when it comes to racial and other forms of diversity. It is promoting Ohtani's feats, as a player from Asia. Ohtani is often discussed on the U.S. West Coast, where many people of Asian descent live, and if that is taken as showing that MLB has become a place open to on-field racial diversity, that will have value beyond money.

    Also, it's possible that Ohtani's play will shed light on previous records long buried in the shadows. Last year MLB announced it would treat the Negro leagues for Black players that ran from 1920-1948 as part of the majors. Negro leagues players' records will also be officially recognized. Among them is the double-digit wins and home runs racked up in 1922 by Bullet Rogan for the Kansas City Monarchs.

    Although there appears to be debate in the U.S. on treating results from different leagues as equivalent, if these forgotten records are revived and encourage interest in Black league players, then Ohtani's play will further increase in value.

    (Interview by Akira Matsumoto, Sports News Department)

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