The Angels announced a two-year, $8.5M contract extension with pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. The deal will keep the two sides from an arbitration hearing after they failed to reach an agreement on Ohtani’s 2021 salary prior to the arb deadline. Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (Twitter link) reports that Ohtani will earn $3M in 2021 and $5.5M in 2022.
The agreement wraps up the Angels’ final outstanding arbitration-eligible case for the 2020-21 offseason. It also sidesteps what may have been one of the more unusual arb hearings of all time. Ohtani and his camp were looking for $3.3M in his first trip through the arbitration process, while Los Angeles countered with a $2.5M figure. Given Ohtani’s unique two-way status, the injuries that have limited him on the mound over the last two seasons and his down year the plate in 2020, an arbiter would have had plenty to weigh in determining Ohtani’s salary considering the lack of precedent.
Teams using the “file and trial” approach to arbitration cases usually don’t negotiate past the initial deadline unless a multi-year deal is being discussed. The two-year contract will give the Angels some cost certainty while also giving Ohtani $8M in guaranteed money and an opportunity at another arbitration raise for his third and final year of arb eligibility in 2023. (That assumes, of course, that Ohtani and the Angels don’t work out a longer-term deal before then that would extend the Halos’ team control over his services.)
After arriving in Major League Baseball with great fanfare during the 2017-18 offseason, Ohtani is still something of a question mark through three seasons, but he has also shown signs of why he was such a sought-after player. He captured AL Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers over 367 plate appearances while also posting a 3.31 ERA and an outstanding 29.9 strikeout percentage and 19.4K-BB% over 51 2/3 innings on the mound.
Since that incredible debut, however, Ohtani has pitched only 1 2/3 MLB innings. The right-hander didn’t pitch at all in 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, and then a flexor strain shut down his pitching endeavors after just two outings that saw Ohtani crushed for seven runs over those 1 2/3 frames. Ohtani was still able to serve as a DH in 2019 and hit a very solid .286/.343/.505 over 425 PA, but he then struggled to a .190/.291/.366 slash line in 175 PA this past season.
Ohtani made no excuses for his 2020 performance, describing it as “pathetic” during a Kyodo News interview back in November. He is expected to be healthy for spring training, however, and Ohtani is intent on re-establishing himself as a two-way threat. Help on either front would be eagerly welcomed by an Angels team that has designs on finally getting back into contention in 2021, but a rebound from Ohtani as a pitcher would be particularly helpful considering how Anaheim has long looked for a front-of-the-rotation ace. The Halos acquired Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb this offseason to help beef up a six-man pitching staff, as Ohtani is again expected to pitch only one per week.