Every detail we learn about Shohei Ohtani’s record contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers makes it even more unbelievable.
In addition to having 97% of his money deferred a decade, Ohtani’s contract reportedly contains a clause that lets him terminate the deal if either Dodgers controlling owner Mark Walter or president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman are no longer with the team, according to The Associated Press.
The AP also reports that the deal is still in the form of a letter of agreement between the Dodgers and Ohtani’s camp, with the formal contract and all its quirks awaiting submission to the MLB league office.
Walter is the leader of the Guggenheim group, which purchased the Dodgers for $2.15 billion in 2012 and has kept the team in the top 5 of MLB payroll in every year since. Friedman was hired in 2014 and has led the team to an unprecedented run of success, with a 100-win season or World Series appearance in every season since 2016.
The Dodgers’ spending and leadership clearly made the crew attractive to Ohtani, who apparently had other takers for his unusual deal but chose L.A.
The clause could also be a sign of just how much Ohtani chafed while starring for the Los Angeles Angels, who failed to conclude above .500 any year he was with the team.
The Dodgers have been arguably the most aggressive team in baseball in pursuing elite talent by trade or free agency since Friedman took over, as evidenced by the presences of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman alongside Ohtani. A change in ownership or head of baseball operations would potentially change that, so Ohtani built himself an escape hatch rather than risk being stuck on a drowning team.
It’s difficult to think of another player contract that has contained such a clause with any member of team personnel, but that was the leverage Ohtani had. However, this isn’t the first time such a clause has been made involving Friedman, as former Rays manager Joe Maddon used such a clause to follow the executive on the way out of Tampa Bay in 2014.
This also creates some bizarre power dynamics within the Dodgers going forward, as Friedman suddenly seems able to ask for much more money than your average large-market team executive. And if he should leave, Ohtani would basically have the power to name Friedman’s successor if the team still values him. It is not publicly known how long the Dodgers have Friedman under contract.
That leverage should fade a bit as Ohtani ages. The Dodgers would almost certainly have preferred to sign the 29-year-old to a five-year, $350 million contract, and that’s what the team would get if the player were able to leave after Year 5. On the other side of the coin, Ohtani probably won’t leave if he doesn’t think he will see similar money elsewhere.