Oddsmakers who shunned Ohtani will reverse their bias

It was history in Major League Baseball, and indeed in sports around the world. When Shohei Ohtani, 30, signed a mega-contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers last December, the contract included a shocking sum that exceeded everyone’s expectations. It was a whopping $700 million.

Ohtani made Major League Baseball history when he signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This dwarfed the previous highest contract ever, a 12-year, $426 million deal for former teammate Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels). No athlete in the history of North American sports, or indeed sports worldwide, has ever earned $700 million in a single contract. It’s also a deal that symbolizes Ortini’s status as a modern-day sports icon.

After breaking new ground in modern baseball with his two-hit performance, Ohtani was already expected to make a fortune heading into free agency. There were speculations that he would surpass his rookie record and break the $500 million barrier that no one else in the major leagues had ever reached. The downside was that he re-injured his elbow ligaments at the end of the 2023 season, which put him on the shelf and prevented him from pitching in 2024, but the market didn’t care.

As soon as free agency opened, many Major League Baseball columnists and sources expected Ohtani to sign a contract in excess of $500 million. I didn’t think it would send shockwaves as much as the market was already expecting $500 million or more. But passing $600 million and hitting $700 million was something no one saw coming. Some see it as a record that won’t be broken for at least the next decade.

Of course, there is a deferred payment clause. Ohtani will receive $2 million per year for a total of $20 million over 10 years, with the remaining $680 million to be split after 10 years. With interest rates and inflation, some estimates put the current value at mid-$400 million to $500 million. However, Ohtani doesn’t want his ransom to be an immediate cash cow for the Dodgers, and the Dodgers can reinvest the $680 million they won’t have to pay Ohtani for 10 years, which is a great deal.

However, oddsmakers aren’t expecting the man who made the record-breaking $700 million to be the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) anytime soon. This is evident in the oddsmakers’ 2024 National League MVP odds. Ohtani is not the favorite with any of them. Rather, the odds are all in favor of Ronald Acuña Jr. (Atlanta).

All of the oddsmakers have the lowest odds on Acuña Jr. Low odds mean that he has the greatest chance of winning the MVP. That’s not to say that Ohtani isn’t a solid second-place finisher. Teammates Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman are battling for second through fourth place. According to an analysis of odds from five books compiled by Vegas Insider, Acuña Jr. is first, Betts is second, and Ohtani is either second, third, or fourth.

Ohtani has already won the American League MVP in 2021 and 2023. He’s still 30 years old, and his best days may be behind him. So why did this turn out the way it did? It’s the aftermath of the elbow surgery. Few expect Ohtani’s elbow surgery to affect his hitting. But it won’t affect his pitching. Ohtani has been able to lead the MVP race so far because he’s been so good with both his pitching and hitting. But in 2024, he’ll have one less wing to carry the ballot.

That means he’ll have to rely on his bat alone to challenge for MVP, which Las Vegas oddsmakers don’t think will be easy. Ohtani led the American League in home runs last year as a hitter, but there are better hitters than him based on pure power alone. In particular, last year’s National League MVP, Acuña Jr. was a better offensive producer than Ohtani. In 159 games last season, he hit .337 with 41 home runs, 106 RBI, 73 doubles, and a 1.012 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

Betts and Freeman also had careers that could be compared to Ohtani’s in terms of pure hitting performance. Add to that the fact that Ohtani is likely to play exclusively as a designated hitter, and he loses out on defensive contributions. Betts, Freeman, and Acuña Jr. are all excellent defensive players, so they get points for that.

However, Ohtani has a chance to prove that he can be a number one hitter as well. That would be major league parity, and it would be a successful start to the contract for the Dodgers, as it would prove that he can contribute for a long time as a hitter amid skepticism that he can’t spend another decade in his prime as a pitcher. Of course, heading into the 2025 season, a return to the top of the odds seems very likely.

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