Shohei Ohtani is latest athlete with hyped free agency saga

Shohei Ohtani signed a 10-year, $700 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the largest contract in MLB history. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Shohei Ohtani's free agency decision was one of the more closely watched in recent sports history.

The Los Angeles Angels' two-way star is coming off a unanimous AL MVP season. Ohtani had 44 home runs and 95 RBIs with a career-high .304 batting average. He also started 23 games on the mound with a 10-5 record and a 3.14 ERA, the second-lowest of his career.

The Ohtani chase ended with the largest contract in MLB history -- $700 million over 10 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Acquiring Ohtani to go along with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman elevates them in the conversation for World Series contenders. Ohtani announced his decision on Instagram.

Here are some of the most hyped free agency sagas since 2000 across MLB, the NBA, the WNBA and the NHL and since 1993 for the NFL (that's when the current form of free agency began).


LeBron James (2010)

One of the more influential NBA free agency decisions came in 2010 when James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.

James was coming off his second consecutive MVP season when he averaged 29.7 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game. He entertained several teams that included the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, LA Clippers, then-New Jersey Nets plus the Cavaliers and Heat.

It all culminated in a special on ESPN called "The Decision" where James announced he'd be signing with Miami, sending shockwaves through the sports world. By joining the Heat, through a sign-and-trade with the Cavaliers, James arguably began the player empowerment era of the NBA.

Kevin Durant (2016)

A free agent for the first time in his career, the 27-year-old Durant was the jewel of the 2016 class.

He averaged 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and five assists with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the previous season. Durant met with the Thunder before hosting five teams at the Hamptons in New York -- the Warriors, LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Heat.

Durant shared his decision on the Fourth of July, telling the Players Tribune that he'd be signing with the Warriors, who won 73 games and eliminated the Thunder in the previous season. The decision was heavily criticized, much like James' choice in 2010.

Kawhi Leonard (2019)

Alongside Durant, there wasn't a hotter name on the market in 2019 than Leonard, who was coming off a championship winning run with the Toronto Raptors.

The free agency buzz followed Leonard throughout the season, but reached new heights when he won his second title. The Raptors, Knicks, Clippers and Lakers were all in the mix. Leonard operated in secrecy similar to Ohtani, limiting leaks and providing minuscule details of his plans. He also didn't provide a concrete timetable for his decision.

The slightest of Leonard updates made headlines on social media. It all came to a resolution near midnight on July 5 when the Clippers acquired Paul George to make room to sign Leonard.


Peyton Manning (2012)

After spending his entire career to that point with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning finally hit the market in 2012. He missed the previous season due to a neck injury, but interest was still high for the four-time MVP.

At least 12 teams contacted Manning, but the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals were seen as the leaders. Manning signed with the Broncos in 2012, staying in the AFC, a conference he played in his entire career.

Reggie White (1993)

The first offseason of true NFL free agency was headlined by White, one of the best defensive ends in the league coming off a 14-sack season.

The attention around White's free agency reached Sports Illustrated, who put the former Defensive Player of the Year on their cover with the caption: "The Reggie Game, teams are scrambling to give Reggie White the shirts off their backs."

White spoke to many teams and visited facilities, no differently than highly-sought after free agents today. He ended up signing with the Green Bay Packers, who hadn't made the playoffs since 1983.

Deion Sanders (1995)

Deemed as the "Deion Sweepstakes," Sanders' free agency dominated the market after winning a Super Bowl and Defensive Player of the Year award with the San Francisco 49ers the previous season.

He prioritized his best shot at winning another ring and at least half a dozen teams were willing to pay him, according to the Los Angeles Times. In the end, Prime Time chose the Dallas Cowboys, signing a contract that made him the highest-paid defensive player at the time.


Breanna Stewart (2023)

Stewart's free agency was told through emoji, with the former Seattle Storm star posting cryptic tweets as fans awaited her decision -- and even luminaries like Kevin Durant weighing in on his desire for Stewart to come to New York. When she finally posted a Statue of Liberty emoji, it became clear that she and KD were on the same page, as she joined the New York Liberty.


Aaron Judge (2022-23)

There may not have been a better time for Judge to hit the market than after his 2022 season. Judge hit an American League record 62 home runs plus an MLB-leading 131 RBIs, earning him his first MVP award.

The Giants and San Diego Padres heavily pursued Judge, with the Padres even offering more than $400 million. Judge ended up staying with the New York Yankees, though, agreeing to a nine-year, $360 million contract.

Alex Rodriguez (2000-01)

At 25 years old, Rodriguez already had four All-Star appearances plus 189 home runs and 595 RBIs in seven seasons.

He joined the 40-40 club as a 23-year-old and, in his final season with the Seattle Mariners, became the first player with 100 RBIs, runs scored and walks in the same season. Eight teams were after the young shortstop, but only one came out victorious -- the Texas Rangers.

They signed Rodriguez to a lucrative deal on the final day of winter meetings. The 10-year, $252 million contract doubled the second-highest MLB contract ever at the time.

Barry Bonds (1992-93)

The reigning MVP winner with the Pittsburgh Pirates became a highly-sought-after free agent in 1992.

Bonds had 34 HRs and 103 RBIs and led the league in runs (109), walks (127) and on base percentage (.456). He entered free agency as arguably the best player in baseball, winning two MVPs in his first seven seasons.

The outfielder signed with the San Francisco Giants for a then-record $43.75 million deal.


Brad Richards (2011)

Entering the free agency period, Richards' agent told the New York Times that 27 teams were in the running to sign the center, making him a highly-coveted prize. He had career-highs in goals (28) and assists (49) in his previous season with the Dallas Stars.

The Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs made in-person pitches at the office of Richards' agent, something previously unheard of in the NHL. The Kings even tried to lure Richards with videos from Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant.

Richards ended up signing with the New York Rangers on a nine-year, $60 million deal.

Johnny Gaudreau (2022)

One of the more stunning NHL free agency decisions came after another strong season by Gaudreau. He had a career-high 115 points and 40 goals in his final season with the Calgary Flames, propelling him to the top of the free agency market.

The Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders were after the New Jersey native, but he chose a surprise team -- the Columbus Blue Jackets.

John Tavares (2018)

Arguably the biggest name to hit free agency in the NHL's salary cap era, Tavares served as the face of the Islanders since becoming the No. 1 pick in 2009. He earned five All-Star appearances in his tenure on Long Island, and had 37 goals and 47 assists the previous season.

Tavares met with six teams -- the Islanders, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, capitalizing on a similar strategy to what Richards did years prior during his free agency.

He ended up signing a seven-year deal with the Maple Leafs, who were his favorite team growing up in the greater Toronto area.