Dodgers gave a unique contractual promise to Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani worked unique language into his contract to guarantee the Los Angeles Dodgers' commitment to winning.

Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts
Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Shohei Ohtani to the most lucrative sports contract ever — 10 years, $700 million. That's more than Barcelona paid Lionel Messi, and it's way more than Mike Trout's previous MLB record-breaking contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

From all appearances, this deal came together in the 11th hour as the Dodgers upped the price and fended off a concentrated effort from the underdog Toronto Blue Jays. Ohtani will now join the MLB's most talented team on paper, playing alongside National League MVP runners-up Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

On the surface, the Dodgers paid a rather extreme amount of money for the 29-year-old, who won't even pitch in 2024 after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his throwing elbow. There's no hard salary cap in the MLB and owners should be encouraged to spend money to contend. But, paying Ohtani $70 million in his age-39 season could age poorly, right?

Nope. Because Ohtani, ever the trail blazer, negotiated quite the unique contract. Almost all of his money will be deferred to 2034 and beyond, rather than paid up front. Ohtani is set to make $2 million per season over the next 10 years, instead leaning on $50 million annually in endorsement deals to maintain his current lifestyle.

The Dodgers will be attributed $46.06 million annually for MLB taxpaying purposes, not $70 million, per Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic. That will help the Dodgers continue to field a competitive roster around Ohtani, both short and long-term.

Evidently, that's exactly what Ohtani wants, and now requires. The superstar's contract includes specific language citing the Dodgers' commitment to building a contender around Ohtani for the duration of his contract, per Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. That is unheard of, and a testament to how highly coveted the pitcher-DH was.

"To assure the Dodgers honor his gesture of unselfishness, Ohtani asked for language in his contract that assures the club will make good on its promise to use the savings he created to build a competitive team around him, according to one source familiar with those negotiations. Balelo would not discuss any such specific language in the contract."

Shohei Ohtani asks Dodgers to commit to winning during his tenure

It's a serious and somewhat ambiguous commitment from the Dodgers. There's no concrete reporting on how exactly the MLB can gauge the Dodgers' competitive intentions. Does Ohtani demand a certain payroll every season? A certain volume of All-Stars on the roster? How does one quantify "contention"?

In the end, however, the Dodgers were always going to aim for the stars with Ohtani on the roster. Maybe that could change toward the back half of Ohtani's contract if he experiences a sharp decline, but now there is ink on paper to confirm Los Angeles' competitive drive.

Even with grave concerns about his long-term health and success on the mound, Ohtani's bat should provide a significant boost to the Dodgers' already-elite offense. Los Angeles is going to open games with Betts, Freeman, and Ohtani — easily the most intimidating 1-2-3 punch in baseball... maybe ever? At the very least, we haven't seen anything quite so terrifying in recent memory.

Ohtani slashed .304/.412/.654 with 44 home runs and 95 RBIs in 497 ABs last season. He also went 10-5 on the mound with a 3.14 ERA and 1.061 WHIP, posting 167 strikeouts in 132.0 innings pitched. One would think it's difficult to lose with that type of player, but the Angels are living proof that it's possible. Now, the Dodgers simply have to avoid the same pitfalls.

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