Shohei Ohtani’s free agency already was going to change MLB as we know it — now it’s even trickier

Shohei Ohtani wasn’t slated to pitch this weekend during a three-game series against the Mets, but the alarming question concerning the Greatest Sho on Earth suddenly — and sadly — has become when the Angels’ two-way superstar will again ascend a big-league mound.

There are so many unknowns after it was revealed Ohtani has a tear in the UCL in his right elbow — first and foremost whether he will need a second Tommy John surgery in five years and how that impacts what was expected to be the craziest and richest free-agency experience in baseball history this winter.

Angels GM Perry Minasian said late Wednesday night that Ohtani will receive a second opinion before that determination is made, but we know the 29-year-old Japanese wonder will not pitch again this season and perhaps not in 2024 if surgery is required after coming out of the opener of a doubleheader with the injury in the second inning Wednesday against the Reds.

Of course, only adding to the folklore surrounding his one-of-a-kind career — since Babe Ruth, anyway — Ohtani incredibly remained in the Angels lineup as the designated hitter for the second game. He ripped a double in five at-bats after already belting his league-leading 44th home run before departing Game 1.

Cincinnati wunderkind Elly De La Cruz even jokingly poked Ohtani with his finger at second base after the double to make sure Ohtani is real.

Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) looks on with Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz (44) during the MLB game 2 of a doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on August 23, 2023 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Anaheim, CA.
Reds phenom Elly De La Cruz could only smile at watching Shohei Ohtani’s exploits.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unfortunately, what is unmistakably real — due to the sudden uncertainty over his two-way future — will be the legitimate questions surrounding Ohtani’s unprecedented free agency and how much less he will command on a potentially muted open market if he is unable to pitch next season or beyond.

Ohtani was poised to become the highest-paid player in the game — perhaps making more than $50 million per year with as much as $600 million in total outlays — akin to jointly signing an All-Star hurler and slugger who assuredly will win his second MVP in three years even without throwing another pitch in 2023.

(Remember, the only reason he didn’t cop that award last season, too, was because of Aaron Judge’s American League record 62 home runs.)

Ohtani’s 9.6 WAR this year absolutely dwarfs the nearest competitors in the AL. Texas middle infielders Marcus Semien (5.7) and Corey Seager (5.6) rank second and third.

Though done early, the pitching portion of Ohtani’s season also was impressive: a 10-5 record, a 3.14 ERA, an MLB-best .184 opponents’ batting average and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings.

Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws to the plate during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif.
A torn ligament in his pitching elbow will keep Ohtani off the pitching mound until 2024 — or 2025, if he undergoes surgery.

Considering he reportedly plans to remain in the lineup — despite the reality that the faded Angels are once again out of the playoff race and three-time MVP Mike Trout went back on the injured list this week — Ohtani could continue adding to his offensive numbers. He still will likely lead the majors in OPS (currently 1.069) and eclipse Troy Glaus’ franchise record of 47 home runs, set in 2000.

Depending on the severity of the UCL tear, other pitchers have avoided the knife. Ohtani’s countryman Masahiro Tanaka continued pitching for several seasons for the Yankees with a partial tear, for instance.

Bryce Harper and Trevor Story also have shown the possibility of making a quick return from an UCL tear as offensive players.

Ohtani didn’t pitch in 2019 after undergoing his first Tommy John reconstruction in September of his rookie season with the Angels, but he appeared in 106 games that season as a designated hitter, finishing with 18 homers and 62 RBIs in 384 at-bats.

“He performed multiple years doing what he’s done,’’ Minasian said Wednesday night. “Injuries happen. I’ve seen pitchers with a lot less workload have these injuries. When you throw with the velo he does, injuries occur. …

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels hits a two-run home run against the Cincinnati Reds in the first inning during game one of a doubleheader at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 23, 2023 in Anaheim, California.
Shohei Ohtani watches his 44th home run go over the fence in Game 1 of a doubleheader on the same day he was diagnosed with an elbow ligament tear.
Getty Images

“I believe he’ll be back, and he’ll be able to do both again, at a very high level.’’

Perhaps. But maybe not.

What already figured to be the most fascinating free-agent pursuit of all time has suddenly become even more intriguing.

Today’s back page

The back cover of the New York Post on Aug. 25, 2023
New York Post

Read more:

⚾ Yankees’ shameful series streak continues with loss to Nationals

⚾ Mets will retire numbers of Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden in 2024

🏈 Giants trade for Cardinals hybrid linebacker Isaiah Simmons

🏈 COSTELLO: Jets’ Joe Douglas may like low profile — but his work is about to take center stage

🏀 Liberty, down 4 in final seconds, pull out wild win over Sun

Messi time

Hopefully, it will be Messi, and not messy, when soccer legend Lionel Messi makes his first area MLS appearance when Inter Miami visits the Red Bulls on Saturday night in Harrison, N.J. (7:30 p.m., Apple TV).

The 36-year-old international superstar recorded two assists and buried his attempt in the penalty-kick shootout as Miami advanced to the U.S. Open Cup finals with a win Wednesday night over FC Cincinnati.

Lionel Messi #10 of Inter Miami CF against FC Cincinnati in the semi-finals of the 2023 U.S. Open Cup at TQL Stadium on August 23, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Soccer fans in New Jersey may have to wait a bit to see Lionel Messi if he comes off the bench on Saturday against the Red Bulls, as Inter Miami manager Tata Martino has hinted.
Getty Images

Miami manager Tata Martino said this week, though, that Messi may not start Saturday’s match, which certainly would be disappointing to New York-area fans, especially with the get-in price on StubHub still hovering around $400 per ticket.

“Leo and many other players are reaching an important physical limit, and from today we will start to evaluate this — how do I face at least the next three games?” Martino said after Wednesday’s win. “You also have to take into account the large number of games that we played in 45, 50 days.”

Messi has appeared in eight games — all victories — since his transfer to David Beckham’s club after departing Paris Saint-Germain earlier this summer. He already has amassed 10 goals and three assists while also helping Inter Miami earn the first trophy in franchise history with a Leagues Cup title.

Lionel Messi #10 of Inter Miami hoist the trophy with his teammates after defeating the Nashville SC to win the Leagues Cup 2023 final match between Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC at GEODIS Park on August 19, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Messi has helped guide what was a floundering Inter Miami side to eight straight wins and the Leagues Cup trophy since his MLS arrival.
Getty Images

The match against the Red Bulls will be the first of 12 remaining fixtures in MLS play for Miami, which is looking to climb out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference.

At 5-14-3, they are 14 points out of the playoffs, but they can make up ground quickly if they remain unbeaten or close to it, especially with Messi in the lineup.

Rodger that

Messi won’t be the only all-time great making a “football” debut in the Garden State on Saturday night.

Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers also will be making his first NFL preseason appearance since 2018 about eight miles away in the annual Jets-Giants exhibition game at MetLife Stadium (6 p.m., NBC, NFL Network).

Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) throws a pass during practice at training camp in Florham Park, NJ.
Jets fans should tune in early if they want to catch Aaron Rodgers’ first preseason game action since 2018 when he starts Saturday versus the Giants.
Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

I covered practice in Florham Park on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Rodgers said he believes it will be important for him to play — even if briefly — in the game to help his timing and communication with his receivers and his retooled offensive linewith former first-round pick Mekhi Becton named the starter at right tackle.

Jets coach Robert Saleh said he expects the 39-year-old Rodgers to play multiple series in order to be able to make adjustments within the game, but you still can expect to see backup QBs Zach Wilson and Tim Boyle to get the majority of the minutes in the final tuneup before the Sept. 11 season opener against the Bills.

Elsewhere, Corey Davis’ sudden retirement this week also has created an opportunity for one or two back-end receivers to earn available roster spots behind Garrett Wilson and imported veterans Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman Jr. and Randall Cobb.

Among the group to keep an eye on Saturday night are Jason Brownlee, Xavier Gipson, Malik Taylor and Irv Charles.

Deja un comentario