After weeks of speculation, we finally have some clarity as to Shohei Ohtani’s future: The Angels — for a couple more weeks, at least — two-way star underwent elbow surgery on Tuesday morning, and he reportedly plans to hit during the 2024 season and return to the mound in 2025.
Shohei Ohtani had surgery this morning. Here’s a statement from his agent, Nez Balelo … pic.twitter.com/ES2RSp1rOJ— Alden González (@Alden_Gonzalez) September 19, 2023
It’s still unclear exactly what kind of operation Ohtani underwent, but from the wording of his agent’s statement it’s clear that it was not Tommy John surgery. That’s significant: While Ohtani was certainly not going to pitch at any point in 2024 regardless, a less substantial procedure leaves open the possibility that he could return to the mound in time for Opening Day 2025 — a timeline that would’ve been very aggressive if he were rehabbing from Tommy John, which typically carries a timeline for return of 15-18 months.
Ohtani hasn’t pitched for L.A. since imaging revealed a partial tear of his UCL late last month. He initially remained in the Angels lineup as a DH, but an oblique injury in early September shut him down for the remainder of the season — and likely ended his time with the team, as he’s set to enter one of the most anticipated free agencies in baseball history this winter. The presumptive AL MVP hit .304/.412/.654 with 44 homers (still tops in the AL) and 20 steals, while posting a 3.14 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings on the mound this season.
As for said free agency, it remains to be seen how this decision will affect Ohtani’s market in a couple of months. On the one hand, elbow surgery is never something to take lightly, Tommy John or otherwise, and this will be Ohtani’s second major procedure after he underwent TJ back in September of 2018. Even though he plans to miss only one season of pitching, he’ll be officially on the wrong side of 30 by the time the 2025 season rolls around, and it’ll be hard for teams to count on him to deliver 150 innings in their rotation.
On the other hand, making this decision now — and getting the surgery out of the way — provides some much-needed clarity before he begins negotiations. Teams now know what Ohtani’s timeline looks like and have a much better idea of what they can expect from him in 2024 and beyond. Even if his arm remains a red flag, he’s still arguably the best pure hitter in all of baseball, and he’s proven in the past (and even in the past few weeks) that he has no problem producing at the plate even when he’s unable to take the mound. Even a conservative outlook on Ohtani’s future — say, a full season of plate appearances while being limited to a multi-inning relief role as a pitcher — is a hugely valuable player, one that we don’t really have historical context for. That player is still worth backing up the Brinks truck for in a market where one-way stars like Aaron Judge (a year older than Ohtani in his first foray into free agency) merited $360 million.