Baseball: Ohtani mentor Kuriyama sees more landmarks for new Dodger

New Los Angeles Dodger Shohei Ohtani still has plenty more to achieve in his already unparalleled career, his first professional manager and former national team skipper Hideki Kuriyama said Monday.

The Japanese two-way star has agreed to a $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers, confirmed Saturday, that will make him the highest-paid athlete in history, eclipsing Argentine football icon Lionel Messi's $673 million deal at his former club Barcelona.

"(Ohtani) is a player who can show his ability the bigger the pressure gets," said 62-year-old Kuriyama, who gave Ohtani the chance to launch his career in 2013 in an unconventional two-way role at the Nippon Ham Fighters.

"(The Dodgers) provide an environment that will bring the best out of his natural self. I'm hoping he will surprise Japan and the world even more."

Ohtani began 2023 by winning the World Baseball Classic with Japan under his old Fighters manager before another stellar individual season for the Los Angeles Angels. He became the first Japanese player to lead a U.S. major league in home runs, with 44, and earned his second American League MVP after going 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA as a pitcher.

The first two-time unanimous MVP suffered an elbow injury in late August that required surgery, and while he is expected to solely bat as a designated hitter in 2024, Kuriyama believes the 29-year-old Ohtani will show his true colors once he is back pitching in 2025.

"Two-way is Ohtani's essence," Kuriyama said. "I think for him, to keep doing difficult things is part of him continuing to evolve."

ESPN, citing sources, reported Ohtani's contract does not include any opt-outs, with the "majority" of his salary to be deferred in order to mitigate the Dodgers' competitive balance payroll tax liabilities, which are calculated on a yearly basis.

The deferrals were Ohtani's idea to give the Dodgers more freedom to add players during his time at the club, the report added.

His new home ballpark, Dodger Stadium, is one of the strong candidates to host the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics as baseball makes its return to the summer games. Ohtani, or other MLB-based players for Japan, did not play at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 when the host nation won the gold medal.

© Kyodo News