Shohei Ohtani undergoes elbow surgery, won't pitch until 2025, agent says

Any MLB team that signs Shohei Ohtani this winter is officially going to have to wait until 2025 to see him pitch.

The Los Angeles Angels' two-way star underwent an unspecified elbow procedure Tuesday morning by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, announced. The statement includes comments from ElAttrache saying that he expects Ohtani to be ready as a hitter on Opening Day next year and as a pitcher in 2025.

"The ultimate plan after deliberation with Shohei, was to repair the issue at hand and to reinforce the healthy ligament in place while adding viable tissue for the longevity of the elbow.

"I expect full recovery and he'll be ready to hit without any restrictions come opening day of 2024 and do both (Hit & Pitch) come 2025."

Ohtani's Instagram account confirmed the news, saying the procedure "went very well."

The statement from Balelo did not specify whether Ohtani underwent Tommy John surgery, the well-known UCL reconstruction the star previously underwent in 2018. Ohtani was announced to have torn his UCL last month, leading to speculation that he would undergo a second Tommy John soon.

A second Tommy John surgery is notoriously more difficult to rehab and return from, with the most recent example being Los Angeles Dodgers star Walker Buehler forgoing a return this year after undergoing a second TJ last August.

FILE - Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani before a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023. Ohtani will miss the rest of the season because of an oblique injury, the team announced, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Shohei Ohtani will be a hitter only in 2024, like he was in 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

The procedure ElAttrache describes sounds a bit similar to what he did with New York Jets star Aaron Rodgers last week, placing an internal brace on the quarterback's ruptured Achilles tendon. Such surgeries are a relatively new development, with ElAttrache seeing a notable success in the 2021-22 NFL season when Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers needed only 5½ months to return from a torn Achilles.

How will Shohei Ohtani's surgery affect his free agency?

Ohtani cleared out his locker on Friday after being diagnosed with an oblique injury, ending his season and potentially his Angels tenure. He had been playing only as a hitter since tearing the UCL, like he did for the end of the 2018 season and all of the 2019 season.

With the 29-year-old Ohtani set to hit free agency, his future as a pitcher is a major question for any team considering whether it wants to give him what could be the richest contract in MLB history.

Ohtani has been the most valuable and most marketable player in the sport since his MVP ascension in 2021, but most pitchers would see a significant drop in their offers if they walked into free agency after undergoing surgery for a second UCL tear. Ohtani's talent as a hitter obviously mitigates that somewhat, and some might see any value they can get from him on the mound as a bonus now, rather than a central part of his value.

The exact nature of what ElAttrache did to Ohtani's elbow is therefore quite important, as each club's medical team figures to have a very loud say in whether their team should give him hundreds of millions of dollars.