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Shohei Ohtani is coming home.
The Los Angeles Angels star revealed Thursday that he plans to represent Japan in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, which is being held partially in Tokyo next March.
“I have officially informed Team Japan Manager Mr. Kuriyama that I would like to participate in next year’s WBC,” Ohtani said in a statement posted on Instagram. “Looking forward for the opportunity to face the best players around the world and to be able to play in front of the Japanese fans for the first time in over 5 years!!”
Ohtani was born and raised in Japan and played for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters before signing with the Angels before the 2018 season. He was previously on the roster for Japan’s 2017 World Baseball Classic team but missed the event with an ankle injury.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the WBC scheduled for March 2021. Ohtani was unable to compete for the gold medal-winning Japanese team at the 2020 Summer Olympics (which were held in the summer of 2021) because of the MLB season.
It’s unclear whether Ohtani will play both ways in the WBC. From a financial perspective, it’s hard to justify him potentially risking injury in what amounts to an exhibition tournament. Ohtani will make $30 million next season in the final year before he hits unrestricted free agency, at which time he will have one of the more curious contract negotiations in MLB history.
The 28-year-old is one of baseball’s best power pitchers and power hitters, a once-in-a-century talent who has finished top-two in AL MVP voting for two successive seasons. He has also dealt with significant injuries over the course of his career, including Tommy John surgery in 2018.
While there is always a risk any time a player takes the field, the additional toll of the WBC should be a factor players who are nearing free agency consider before deciding to play. Ohtani has apparently made that calculation for himself and decided representing his country is worth the risk.