Shohei Ohtani is well on his way toward winning the 2021 American League MVP award. By just about any statistical measure, the Los Angeles Angels star has been MLB’s best player because of his prowess as both a pitcher and a hitter.

Even though Ohtani leads the majors in home runs, extra-base hits and WAR (wins above replacement) — in addition to being an All-Star-caliber pitcher — his value away from the diamond might match what he’s done on the field.

Ohtani is attracting more fans to baseball than any other player, and doing so as MLB’s biggest bargain. With a salary of $3 million, Ohtani is being paid less than 303 players for the 2021 MLB season, according to Spotrac.

The Japanese two-way superstar is in the first season of a two-year, $8.5 million contract with the Angels. He will be eligible for arbitration in 2023 and allowed to enter free agency before the 2024 season.

Because Ohtani joined the Angels before his 25th birthday, MLB rules put him under the team’s control for six years, the first three of which he would be paid a league-minimum salary. Had Ohtani waited two more years to leave Japan, there would’ve been no limit to the size of his potential contract.

When Ohtani came to MLB in 2017, it was estimated that he could’ve landed a $200 million contract in free agency. Instead, he received a $2.3 million signing bonus and $1.454 million in total salary from 2018-2020.

Angels outfielder Mike Trout leads all position players with a $37.1 million salary. Third baseman Anthony Rendon is in the second season of a seven-year, $245 million contract with L.A. Ohtani has played more games this year than both Trout and Rendon combined, keeping the Angels competitive amid bad-injury luck and a poorly constructed roster.

Los Angeles has MLB’s seventh-highest payroll at $180.6 million, according to Spotrac. If Ohtani’s salary was equivalent to his production, the Angels would be paying their players more than any other AL team.

It isn’t just Los Angeles that is reaping the financial benefits of Ohtani’s superstardom. The 27-year-old appears to singlehandedly increase the number of fans watching Angels games by a significant margin.

Shortly after the All-Star break, Baseball Prospectus calculated that games with Ohtani as the starting pitcher had an average of 3,800 more fans in attendance than other Angels games. When looking at the attendance figures of Ohtani’s most recent road starts, it’s clear that baseball fans across the country are more likely to go to the ballpark when the Japanese superstar is on the mound.

Ohtani led the Angels to a 2-1 win over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, Aug. 4 in front of 27,360 fans. None of the three other games in that series topped an attendance of 21,670.

Nearly 15,000 fans came out to see Ohtani pitch at the Oakland Coliseum on Monday, July 19. Attendance dropped to 9,154 in Oakland the following night.

The New York Yankees didn’t draw more than 25,000 fans when they hosted the Angels on the final Monday and Tuesday in June, but 30,714 people showed up to watch Ohtani take the bump that Wednesday night.

Ohtani was the No. 1 story of All-Star Week in Colorado. The 2021 All-Star Game saw an increase in ratings with him as the starting pitcher. Ohtani participated in the Home Run Derby, which drew its best viewership in four years and peaked with 8.685 million viewers when Ohtani was at the plate. 

On July 21, an autographed 2021 Ohtani All-Star jersey became the highest-priced item ever on MLB Auctions when it sold for $130,210. That broke the previous record of $121,800, which was set when an Ohtani game-worn Angels jersey was auctioned three days earlier.

Ohtani’s growing popularity has enabled him to earn more money off the field than he does from the Angels. Fanatics signed a multiyear partnership with Ohtani to be the exclusive distributor of his autographs, collectables and memorabilia. Ohtani’s merchandise accounted for 28% of all 2021 All-Star Game sales, according to ESPN, and he immediately became Fanatics’ top-selling baseball star.

Shortly before the deal with Fanatics was announced, Forbes estimated that Ohtani had an endorsement portfolio worth at least $6 million annually, putting him ahead of every other MLB player. Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper ranks second in the league with $5 million in endorsements. Trout is fourth at $3 million.

It’s important for Ohtani to cash-in on his superstardom while he can. The AL MVP favorite might sign a record-setting contract if he were a free agent this winter, but there’s no guarantee such a deal will be available in a few years.

At the conclusion of his current deal, Ohtani will be entering his age-30 season. MLB teams are wary of paying big money to players deep into their 30s. 

Ohtani could also represent more of an injury-risk than other stars because he both pitches and hits. Tommy John Surgery has already cost Ohtani parts of two seasons and limited him to two total pitching appearances from 2019-2020.

Barring another serious injury, Ohtani is in line for a major raise. Even if he can’t land a 12- or 13-year deal like Trout and Harper, Ohtani is on track to become one of MLB’s highest-paid players on a yearly basis. There are 14 players currently signed to contracts with an average annual value of at least $30 million.

The Angels have two more years to offer Ohtani an extension before the rest of the league can bid for his services and finally pay him what he’s worth.

Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles Angels Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels watches as the ball clears the wall on a two-run home run in the fifth inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 20, 2021 in Anaheim, California. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images