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Ohtani injury sure to shape MLB off-season

Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles Angels Shohei Ohtani - The Canadian Press

Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani’s upcoming free agency took a major hit on Wednesday when he came out of the first game of a doubleheader with soreness in his pitching elbow.

Ohtani has been slowly deteriorating physically since his July 27 start against the Detroit Tigers. It was 95 degrees that day, and Ohtani left everything on the mound in throwing a complete game one-hit shutout. The club had just announced it wasn’t going to trade Ohtani, and intended to be buyers at the deadline.

Unfortunately, that was also the first game of a doubleheader. The two-way star was the Angels’ designated hitter in the second game, homering twice in his first two at-bats. But Ohtani began cramping in his side after hitting the second homer. It was the beginning of the end.

Ohtani started having issues with cramping all over his body in the following weeks, including in the fingers of his pitching hand. He had blisters and cracked nails. He experienced arm fatigue in his next few starts, coming out of games early as his velocity dropped. He skipped starts, but nothing helped. His body was giving out on him.

Finally, on Wednesday he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. It’s the same elbow he had Tommy John surgery on in 2018. It’s unclear if he has a full or partial tear this time. Ohtani is getting a second opinion, but he will not pitch again this season.

Prior to the injury, Ohtani would have likely signed a deal for around 10 years and $600 million this off-season as the biggest free agent in baseball. But not now.

The assumption is that Ohtani will need Tommy John surgery again. He likely lost $200 million in guaranteed money because of the injury. I can now see Ohtani the hitter getting a 10-year contract for $400 million guaranteed. Any offer will include performance bonuses to earn another $200 million based upon his ability to pitch in the future.

Plus, Ohtani will want an opt-out in the contract after the second and third years of the deal.  He likely won’t pitch in 2024 because of his recovery from surgery. He will prove that he is healthy enough to pitch in 2025 and then want to opt out of his deal and turn the performance bonuses into guaranteed money.

A second Tommy John surgery means clubs will want to see him back on the mound before guaranteeing the extra $200 million. Ohtani will also want an opt-out after the third year of the deal to protect himself against the possibility that it takes him a bit longer to return to top form.

It will take a very creative contract to sign Ohtani this off-season. He will still be a rich man, but we will not see the first $500-million deal. There will likely be more teams interested as the deal is likely to take a different, less pricey form. Plus, it will likely only be a two-year deal because of the opt-out clause. 


Strasburg retires

Stephen Strasburg Washington Nationals

It feels like forever since the Washington Nationals won the World Series in 2019. They were led by ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who went 2-0 with a 2.51 ERA in two starts against the Houston Astros in the Series.

The No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft was a pending free agent at the time, and he turned huge regular and postseason performances in to a seven-year, $245 million contract extension.

But Strasburg’s body gave out on him. He has only made eight starts since 2020 for a total of 31.1 innings pitched. His numerous injuries have led to serious nerve damage in his neck and shoulder. He just can’t do it anymore.

Strasburg is set to announce his retirement on Sept. 9. It’s unclear if he has made a deal with the Nationals for the $105 million remaining on the deal from 2024-26. I can’t imagine he is just walking away from all of the money, even considering he has earned close to $250 million to this point in his career.

This contract is an example of why there are no victims among players in Major League Baseball. The Nationals have gotten close to nothing for their $245 million commitment. Guaranteed contracts significantly favour the players as teams can be crippled by a big contract that goes badly. 

Remember this when the next collective bargaining agreement comes around and players complain about how unfair the system can be for them. So many long-term mega-deals have been regrettable for teams.

I feel badly for the lanky right-hander. He would clearly rather be healthy and pitching than suffering physically now and in the future.

Strasburg was a phenom as a draft pick and rookie breaking into the major leagues. He had many a memorable day along the way. His career is coming to an end anticlimactically, but he has been at the centre of many great moments in Nationals’ franchise history.


Jays must take full advantage of soft schedule

Jordan Hicks Whit Merrifield Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have their work cut out for them to make the playoffs. Effectively, they need to pass one of three AL West teams: the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros or Seattle Mariners.

The Rangers sit atop the West, a game and a half ahead of both Houston and Seattle, while Toronto is a game behind the Astros and Mariners in the wild-card race.

The Jays have more home games remaining than the other three teams and have the easiest strength of schedule remaining of the four clubs. The Jays can do it.  But all three of the other clubs are good as well.

Toronto can’t rely upon one of the other teams faltering. They need to take care of their own business. The Jays have 33 games remaining. They need to get hotter than they have been at any point this season. It’s time for their run. Each of the other clubs in the race has had their hot streaks. The Jays really haven’t. 

It is likely that 92 wins will get the Jays into the playoffs. They have to go 22-11 to get there.  Toronto’s next 15 games are all against teams that are sub-.500. They need to dominate the Guardians, Nationals, Rockies, Athletics and Royals. They can’t play down to the level of the competition. This is where the veteran leaders need to make sure the intensity level and focus remain consistent for the last five weeks of the season. 


Bronx Bombers in the basement of the AL East

Aaron Judge New York Yankees

The Jays also have six games remaining against the struggling New York Yankees, who are in the cellar in the AL East.

The Yanks are headed for their first season under .500 since 1992. They Bronx Bombers are a mess and the fans in New York are getting restless.

Many fans are calling for manager Aaron Boone to be fired, while others have targeted general manager Brian Cashman. It seems unlikely Cashman is going anywhere as this is likely the first season in his tenure that his team finishes with fewer than 84 wins. Boone needs to keep his team from a freefall in order to survive. The Jays will have a say in his fate. 

It is not often the Yankees (and Red Sox) are in fourth and fifth place.  This is a year for the Jays to take advantage of the opportunity.