As his impending free agency approaches, the future of Shohei Ohtani figures to be a primary topic in the sports debate world.
Baseball fans, however, might be rethinking how much coverage they want the Ohtani sweepstakes to get after Stephen A. Smith discussed the current Los Angeles Angels star on ESPN’s First Take on Wednesday morning.
Discussing the impact that Ohtani’s elbow surgery, which will prevent him from being able to pitch until at least 2025, will have on his upcoming free agency, Smith took the stance against signing the designated hitter/pitcher to a half-billion dollar contract. And while there are certainly valid arguments against paying Ohtani — or any player — that much money, Smith opted for points that are easily refutable.
Stephen A. Smith hating on Shohei Ohtani for no reason is my new favorite bit. I fell for it last summer, but now I can appreciate it as a great bit. pic.twitter.com/6r0PTNzrdp
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) September 20, 2023
“I don’t want to hear any discussions anymore about him getting a half-a-billion dollars,” Smith told Chris “Mad Dog” Russo. “The fact is that he can’t pitch until 2025, alright? Secondly, you’re going to be compromised in terms of what you’re able to do in the field. Number three — **** it, the Angels don’t win. When you look at the Dodgers, when you look at the Braves, when you look at various other teams, they ain’t got nobody on there making half a billion dollars.”
While Smith is correct that no contender — or any other team for that matter, including the Angels — has a player worth $500,000,000, the idea that the Angels’ record is relevant to Ohtani’s value doesn’t hold up. According to Fangraphs, Ohtani’s wins above replacement (WAR), which measures a player’s value relative to a replacement-level player, is the highest in baseball at 8.9 games. Even taking away his pitching WAR of 2.4, his 6.6 batting WAR ranks as the fourth-best in all of baseball.
Only Smith didn’t stop there.
Stephen A. Smith says Shohei Ohtani doesn't deserve a $500 million contract because the Angels didn't win or fill seats when he was on the team pic.twitter.com/3Jbq3OmYEY
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) September 20, 2023
“There’s a bunch of empty seats that I see when Shohei Ohtani’s pitching, let alone hitting, when the Angels come to town,” Smith said. “You’re not filling anything. You’re not winning. I’m not giving up that kind of money to him.”
While it’s unclear what relevance it has to his future contract, the idea that Ohtani isn’t a draw on the road is flatly wrong. As of Wednesday, the Angels lay claim to the fourth-best road attendance in all of baseball, trailing three teams with national fanbases in the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs. Comparatively, the last season the Angels didn’t have Ohtani on their roster (2017), their road attendance ranked 27th.
This isn’t the first time Smith has made waves talking about Ohtani. During the designated hitter/pitcher’s American League MVP-winning season in 2021, Smith famously stated that the Japan native isn’t the ideal face of baseball because he doesn’t speak English — a comment he later apologized for. Russo — an MLB Network analyst and noted baseball historian — had his own controversial Ohtani take earlier this year, when he criticized the otherwise universally praised at-bat featuring Ohtani facing his Angels teammate Mike Trout in the ninth inning of the championship game of the World Baseball Classic.