Everyone in the baseball world is watching Shohei Ohtani this offseason. On Thursday, they watched him win his second American League MVP award.
The two-way, free-agent phenom beat out fellow finalists Corey Seager and Marcus Semien of the Texas Rangers for the AL's top award despite missing most of the last month of the 2023 season due to a torn UCL. Ohtani has now won MVP twice in the past three years, after finishing second in 2022.
Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña was named NL MVP.
The voting was unanimous for Ohtani among the 30 BBWAA voters, making him the first player in history to twice win the award in such fashion, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. Seager finished second, while Semien was third.
Ohtani accepted the award with the help of a very good dog.
The MVP and Shohei Ohtani 🐶 pic.twitter.com/MZIVBCKOd9
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) November 16, 2023
All things considered, 2023 was the best season in Ohtani's career, which had already seen unprecedented success as a two-way player. As a hitter, he led the AL in home runs (44), on-base percentage (.412), slugging percentage (.654) and total bases (325). As a pitcher, he held a 3.14 ERA, an 11.4 K/9 and a .183 batting average against that led the AL among pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched.
Ohtani finished the season with 10.0 WAR, as calculated by Baseball Reference, but could have had so much more. He tore his UCL in August, ending his season on the mound. He stopped hitting in early September while looking into his medical options, eventually undergoing an unspecified surgery later in the month.
Ohtani was so overwhelmingly dominant in the first five months of the season, it was already too late for any other player to mount a late-season MVP campaign. In the end, the torn UCL didn't prevent Ohtani from winning MVP, it just prevented him from posting one of the best individual seasons in baseball history.
The injury looms even bigger for the rest of Ohtani's offseason, in which teams will be deliberating on whether to give him the biggest contract MLB has ever seen.
Where will Shohei Ohtani go in free agency this offseason?
It has been clear for a few years now that Ohtani would see unprecedented demand once he sees the free market. That is still true, even if his UCL surgery means he will not pitch this upcoming season.
There really isn't a team in MLB that couldn't use the 29-year-old Ohtani, who would be fielding nine-figure offers right now even if he were never able to pitch again.
The consensus favorite appears to be the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yahoo Sports' Zach Crizer ranked them as the top contender by virtue of their winning track record, enormous financial resources and wide-open holes at DH and in the long-term rotation. An MLB.com poll of executives last week saw 10 of 14 say they expected Ohtani to land in Chavez Ravine.
However, there doesn't appear to be a consensus on how much signing Ohtani will cost, mostly thanks to that surgery, per MLB.com:
“I truly don't know,” another NL exec said. “I had my own opinion before he got hurt and I truly have no idea where he’s going or what the contract will look like considering the injury. You could tell me he’s going to get $300 million or $800 million and I would say, ‘OK, I could see that.’ It's going to be fascinating.”
“He’s such a unique talent that nothing would surprise me,” an AL executive said.
In addition to the Dodgers, the Angels, San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs are all reportedly expected to be top contenders, while the New York Yankees apparently face an uphill battle.
Winning MVP will not affect what teams offer Ohtani in the coming months, but the award underscores what's at stake this winter: a player good enough to blow away the MVP field despite not even playing a full season.