Yes, you read the headline correctly. The Boston Red Sox should not look to sign Shohei Ohtani in free agency this offseason. My reasoning behind this has very little to do with his baseball abilities and more to do with what the implications of his contract mean for a team at the stage the Red Sox are at in their "retooling" process.
Ohtani is the best player in the modern era of baseball and there is a legitimate argument for him being the greatest baseball player of all time based purely on his talent. Never before has there been someone with plus speed and a 40+ home run bat, who is also is capable of racking up 200+ strikeouts in a single season. Unfortunately, with this never-before-seen talent, the price tag is steep. Ohtani is his own market. Teams know how to pay elite hitters, and they know how to pay elite pitchers. But what happens when one player encapsulates both? That is to be determined but I don't want the Red Sox to find out
Shohei Ohtani would hurt the Red Sox championship aspirations more than he could help them
It appears that Ohtani will be looking to sign a long-term contract and many projections have it being worth $500M+ which would easily shatter the AAV and total value records for a contract. Tim Britton from The Athletic projects Ohtani to make $520 million over 12 years. Based on his resume he is 100% worth that money at the current time, if not more. He is a $300 million hitter and a $200 million pitcher.
But being a two-way player leads to wear and tear on the body -- and a lot of it. Each day, Ohtani must get scouting reports on the pitcher he's facing, take time in the cages and the tees, get tissue work done, and do hitter-focused lifting. Every fifth day, he must do his pregame pitcher prep, which involves more scouting, lifting, and throwing. As a result of this strain upon the body, which will naturally happen as a two-way player, Shohei is getting the second Tommy John surgery of his career. This will prevent him from pitching in 2024 and perhaps even beyond that.
A contract for Shohei would not be a bet on the talent alone, but instead a bet on talent longevity and his health. Let's say Shohei's arm is just not the same post-TJ, and he pitches but there are multiple ticks down on his fastball and he's going every 10th day. The elite hitter remains but now he's a league-average pitcher. And if that keeps up then, in order to preserve his career, he may give up on pitching entirely. Then the team who signed him is committed to paying $40M per year to a hitter, a great hitter at that, but it far too high of a price to pay
There is a scenario where Ohtani recovers perfectly fine from his Tommy John and is an effective pitcher for years to come. But I feel the first scenario is more likely. The body breaks down naturally and playing 162 games a year in the best case can only make the situation worse.
Spending Ohtani money elsewhere
I would prefer if the Red Sox instead opted to spend that money elsewhere on three to four different players instead of one. Going off of Tim Britton's projections (mentinoed earlier), the Red Sox signing Cody Bellinger, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Jordan Montgomery would cost the Sox $470 million, which is still $50 million less than what they would be paying for Shohei. Ohtani WAR: 8.5, combined: 8.3
If we go based upon Fangraphs WAR, in 2023 Bellinger and Montgomery combined for 8.3 WAR and Ohtani had 8.5. The NPB does not track war but we can assume a pitcher whose ERA was sub-two since 2020 would account for at least 4 WAR. WAR is a great way to get a big-picture look at the value an individual player can provide a team, and not only will Bellinger, Montgomery, and Yamamoto be cheaper than just Shohei but they also will provide more wins while also filling positions of dire need.
The Red Sox are not in a contending window that allows them to be one elite piece away from a championship. They need to fill out the roster with multiple pieces that will allow them to contend. We have seen the Los Angeles Angels as a perfect example of how Shohei Ohtani does not have the ability to drag a team into the playoffs, as they have yet to make an appearance since 2014, much less finish above .500 since 2015. The Red Sox are better served distributing their assets elsewhere.