While there are a lot of interesting players on the market this offseason, make no mistake about it, this is the Shohei Ohtani year of free agency.
No decision is going to change the landscape of Major League Baseball more greatly for the next decade than Ohtani deciding where he is going to take his once-and-a-lifetime talents.
The two-way element of Ohtani set aside, this guy was the best hitter in the sport this past season and feels primed for a long run of being able to be just that. Add in the fact that he could still return to ace-form in 2025 and this is a free agency we may never see again.
What could be a spectacle, though, is coming out as a whisper, as nobody has any idea what Ohtani is thinking or where he is going to end up.
Common sense would say that the Los Angeles Dodgers are the perfect home for Ohtani, but until he puts pen to paper, being called the “favorites” doesn’t mean much of anything.
Let’s look at what makes the Dodgers and Ohtani such a perfect match on paper and how their entire offseason is hinging on what decision he ultimately makes.
The Dodgers Have Been Waiting for This Moment
When Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) in 2018, the thought was that he was the missing piece to make the team relevant again. At the time, the Angels had not been the postseason since winning the AL West in 2014.
We are now coming up on the 2024 season, and 2014 is still the last time the Angels have played in the postseason.
Due to a number of things — front office dysfunction, injuries, etc. — the Angels were never really in the hunt, either, during Ohtani’s tenure despite him winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2018 and AL MVP in 2021 and 2023.
Because of all of those things, the league, and of course the Dodgers, had a strong suspicion Ohtani, who is on record as saying winning is what he values most, would not re-sign with the Angels.
Despite having some of the deepest pockets in the sport, the Dodgers have prioritized maintaining long-term payroll flexibility, even if that meant losing top-end talent and team staples to free agency to put themselves in the best position possible to land Ohtani.
It is almost as though the organization has been carefully crafting its moves over the past few offseasons to cater to whatever dollar amount Ohtani would command once he hit free agency.
Let’s paint the picture.
The Dodgers were players in the Corey Seager, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer sweepstakes, but each of those players ultimately walked and signed elsewhere for more money and more contract stability.
The team was also interested in keeping guys like Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen, but on one-year deals. They both opted to sign elsewhere for more contact stability.
The Dodgers have, for the most part, opted to sign free agents or retain their free agents by way of short-term and minor league deals.
This includes Clayton Kershaw on two separate one-year deals, David Peralta on a one-year deal, J.D. Martinez on a one-year deal with a club option, and Jason Heyward on a minor league deal. Now again on another one-year pact.
There, of course, is no way to prove that each of these moves were about setting themselves up to successfully land Ohtani, but it does seem like pursuing him in 2024 was the end goal.
The only players signed to guaranteed deals past 2024 are Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy and Chris Taylor. Past 2025, it’s just Betts and Freeman.
Despite the regular season success, the Dodgers have struggled to get over the hump in October — something fans are starting to get really stale on.
Nothing like signing Shohei Ohtani to ignite a fan base.
Why Shohei Ohtani Needs the Dodgers
There has been no bigger fish out on the open market than Ohtani in recent memory — maybe ever. Aaron Judge may have something to say about that, but was anyone really that surprised he wound up back in the Bronx?
There are a few teams, the Angels included, that have a real shot at landing the two-way superstar, but the Dodgers are in a better position than any other, and they are hinging their entire offseason plans on landing him.
The Dodgers were on Ohtani’s short list in 2018 when he came to the States, and they are on his short list again this offseason.
The Dodgers, frankly, need Ohtani, but make no mistake about it, Ohtani needs the Dodgers, too.
Jeff Passan reported the Red Sox, Mets and Rangers to be “out” of the Ohtani sweepstakes, so the argument could be made that the Dodgers give the two-way superstar the best immediate chance to win.
As previously mentioned, Ohtani has never once played in the postseason. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have been to the postseason every year that Ohtani has been in Major League Baseball. They have won the NL West title 10 out of the last 11 years, and won 100 games five times during that stretch.
If the Dodgers do land Ohtani, an offense featuring him, Betts, Freeman, Muncy, Will Smith, etc., etc., etc., could be historic.
It really feels as though baseball and its fans have been robbed of something great having not seen Ohtani play in October. Despite the postseason shortcomings, if Ohtani heads to the north side of Los Angeles, the Dodgers might just be World Series favorites in 2024.
Everyone saw how much winning the World Baseball Classic meant to Ohtani. The guy clearly wants to win. Playing with the Dodgers for the next decade would likely give him the best chance to do just that, with annual trips to the postseason where he can only add to his legacy.
What Happens if Ohtani Does Not Sign?
When the Dodgers signed Martinez on the deal that they did last offseason, for many, it came with the thought that Ohtani would become available the next offseason.
Basically, if the Dodgers couldn’t land Ohtani, they could pivot to signing Martinez again at DH.
When the Dodgers did not extend the qualifying offer to Martinez, that plan became clear. Realistically, $20.35 million for what Martinez does at the plate is a bargain.
For the Dodgers though, they could not risk Martinez accepting this qualifying offer, only to sign Ohtani and have two DH-only bats for one spot in the lineup. All of sudden, Martinez would be forced to play a position.
But that does not mean the Dodgers won’t want Martinez at a similar price tag if they can’t sign Ohtani. In fact, if Ohtani goes elsewhere, re-signing Martinez for $20 million or more would probably be their ideal course of action.
He put together a 2.2 WAR season as a DH in just 113 games by slashing .271/.321/.572 with 33 home runs, 103 RBI and an .893 OPS.
Martinez would slide back in the lineup just fine and, at 36, he is a bit contractually limited, so the Dodgers could continue to utilize their approach of short-term contracts.
Pitching wise, the Dodgers definitely have work to do and won’t get to utilize Ohtani’s services on the mound until 2025 due to the UCL tear, but he would be a veteran front line starter on a rotation that could use the consistency when he does come back.
Come 2025, a rotation headlined by Ohtani, Walker Buehler (provided the Dodgers ink him long-term, and they likely will), and anyone else they sign/trade for this offseason is something special to think about.
Ultimately, everything for the Dodgers hinges on Ohtani’s decision. This isn’t a franchise that typically likes to put all its eggs in one basket, but this is certainly a special case.
Everything the Dodgers’ front office has done the last few offseasons has been about putting themselves in the best position possible to land Ohtani.
Now, it’s just about sealing the deal, and with the Winter Meetings right around the corner, the Dodgers may just have their answer soon.