Baseball: Pitcher, slugger Shohei Ohtani signs world's biggest sporting contract to join Los Angeles Dodgers

Two-way baseball star Shohei Ohtani has decided to sign with Los Angeles Dodgers.

According to reports, he has received a 10-year, US$700 million deal from the Dodgers - the contract is the largest in baseball history, eclipsing footballer Lionel Messi (US674m over four years) as the world's highest-paid athlete.

Japanese-born Ohtani is a two-time unanimous American League Most Valuable Player.

"To all the fans and everyone involved in the baseball world, I apologise for taking so long to come to a decision," he wrote on Instagram. "I have decided to choose the Dodgers as my next team.

"First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone involved with the Angels organisation and the fans who have supported me over the past six years, as well as to everyone involved with each team that was part of this negotiation process.

Shohei Ohtani in action for Los Angeles Angels.
Shohei Ohtani in action for Los Angeles Angels. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Especially to the Angels fans, who supported me through all the ups and downs, your guys' support and cheer meant the world to me. The six years I spent with the Angels will remain etched in my heart forever.

"And to all Dodgers fans, I pledge to always do what's best for the team and always continue to give it my all to be the best version of myself. Until the last day of my playing career, I want to continue to strive forward, not only for the Dodgers, but for the baseball world.

"There are some things that cannot be conveyed in writing, so I would like to talk more about this again at a later press conference. Thank you very much."

Ohtani's deal tops the previous record of US$426 million over 12 years that former Angels teammate Mike Trout received in March 2019.

"This is a unique, historic contract for a unique, historic player," said agent Nez Balelo of CAA Sports. "Shohei is thrilled to be a part of the Dodgers organisation.

"He is excited to begin this partnership and he structured his contract to reflect a true commitment from both sides to long-term success. Shohei and I want to thank all the organisations that reached out to us for their interest and respect, especially the wonderful people we got to know even better, as this process unfolded.

"We know fans, media and the entire industry had a high degree of interest in this process, and we want to express our appreciation for their passion and their consideration as it played out."

Toronto Blue Jays were one of the teams that aggressively pursued Ohtani. San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs also were reportedly interested.

Ohtani, 29, won his second AL MVP award this past season, when he batted .304 with an AL-leading 44 homers and 95 RBIs in 135 games with the Angels. He led the AL with a .412 on-base percentage and led the majors with a .654 slugging percentage.

Shohei Ohtani in action for Los Angeles Angels.
Shohei Ohtani in action for Los Angeles Angels. Photo credit: Getty Images

As a pitcher, Ohtani went 10-5, with a 3.14 earned run average, and recorded 167 strikeouts over 132 innings and 23 starts. He limited opposing batters to a .184 average.

Typically, baseball pitchers aren't also great batters. Teams have the option of replacing pitchers with a specialist batter in their line-ups, but Ohtani's skillset has forced Major League Baseball to a rule allowing pitchers to remain in the batting order, even after they've been replaced on the mound.

His pitching efforts ended, after he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in August. The three-time All-Star continued playing as a batter, until sustaining an oblique injury in September.

Ohtani underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-September for the second time and isn't expected to pitch in 2024. He also had the procedure in the fall of 2018.

Despite smacking 171 homers and going 38-19 with a 3.01 ERA as a pitcher, Ohtani didn't play in a single playoff game during his six seasons at Anaheim.

The Angels will receive a pick after the second round of the 2024 draft, as compensation for Ohtani turning down their qualifying offer.