Shohei Ohtani’s season is over with oblique injury

An empty locker in the Los Angeles Angels’ clubhouse was all that remained of Shohei Ohtani’s season, and perhaps of his tenure with the team, by the time reporters arrived after another loss Friday night. The greatest two-way star in baseball history had cleared out his belongings, an appropriate ending to a season and possibly a six-year Angels tenure that always left him packing before October arrived.

On Saturday, the Angels made it official, announcing Ohtani was heading to the injured list with an oblique injury that will end his season. The pitching portion of his season ended when he tore his ulnar collateral ligament last month. On Saturday, General Manager Perry Minasian told reporters that Ohtani underwent an MRI exam on his oblique Friday that confirmed he needed to stop playing, per ESPN. Minasian said Ohtani started packing up when he got the news because he planned to undergo “a procedure” on his elbow soon, though he would not say what kind of procedure Ohtani planned to undergo.

If Ohtani opts for Tommy John surgery, it seems he would want to get it done soon to hasten his return. Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper returned to the lineup as a designated hitter less than six months after undergoing Tommy John. If Ohtani has his procedure in the coming days — and if he follows Harper’s rapid timeline — he could be back as a hitter as soon as the end of spring training.

But Ohtani does not want to return as a hitter only, so he might require more substantial rehabilitation. Additionally, he previously had Tommy John surgery in 2018. While Minasian has said the free agent-to-be’s current tear is in a different location than the one that surgery corrected, it isn’t clear what that means for a rehab timeline.

Whether Ohtani will return to the Angels’ lineup — or to another team’s — remains to be seen. But it feels worth noting that most franchise players who plan to stick around do not empty their lockers in mid-September.

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If Ohtani signs elsewhere, his Angels tenure will end without a trip to the postseason — though not for a recent lack of trying on the team’s part. Despite being outside the American League wild-card picture at the time, the Angels dealt several prospects for major league help at the trade deadline, then proceeded to endure the worst-case scenario.

In late August, outfielder Mike Trout tried to return from a broken bone in his hand but ended up back on the IL after playing just one game. With Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon sidelined, the Angels plummeted in the standings, saw Ohtani tear his UCL, then put almost everyone they acquired in the deadline push on waivers in a message of surrender — and an attempt to drop their payroll under the competitive balance tax threshold.

Meanwhile, Rendon dodged reporters for weeks, only to tell them Friday that he has had a broken leg the whole time. By Saturday, a few more weeks of baseball and a few more weeks to claim Ohtani as their own were all the Angels (68-80 entering the day) could look forward to.

Why Ohtani cleared out his locker when he did remains unclear. His post-2023 intentions are also difficult to parse. The 2021 AL MVP has not spoken to the media since he tore his UCL. At the time, Minasian spoke for him, explaining that Ohtani wanted to keep hitting and keep contributing to what, at the time, was a team on the outskirts of the playoff picture. Not long after that, he suffered the oblique injury, which has kept him out of the lineup since Sept. 3.

Even without playing much in September, Ohtani had one of the most productive seasons in history. He ends his year hitting .304 with 44 home runs, 95 RBI and a 1.066 OPS that ranks second in the majors — a remarkable season at the plate made all the more stunning by his 3.14 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings on the mound as one of the game’s best starters.

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For years, the baseball industry has tried to puzzle out how much Ohtani might make when he hits free agency. Executives wondered how they might construct a contract for a 29-year-old international superstar who brings elite value as a pitcher and a hitter. Even after the UCL injury put his pitching future in question, the consensus was that he would make more than anyone has before.

People around Ohtani insist he plans to pitch again — and do so well into the future. But how teams calculate the risk of counting on him to do so seemed likely to be the talk of the offseason. Nothing that happened Saturday should change that. Still, if the Angels were hoping for a happy ending that would send both sides into the offseason brimming with goodwill, they did not get it. Instead, Ohtani is gone from the clubhouse and the active roster, an inglorious denouement that seemed fitting amid an incessantly disappointing season.

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