Major League Baseball's offseason has officially crossed the halfway point. All but five of our top 50 free agents are off the board. The trade market is still open, of course, but the biggest story on that front this offseason has concerned who hasn't been moved rather than who has.
Coming into the offseason, the expectation was that the Los Angeles Angels would at least weigh trading two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani, after all, is eligible for free agency next winter. Beginning with Opening Day, when an acquiring team would be restricted from making him a qualifying offer and fetching draft-pick compensation in return, he'll lose trade value every time the sun sets during the regular season. The Angels, then, had two paths to take this winter: trade him at the highest his value will be between now and next deadline, or keep him and hope that they can compete for a playoff berth in 2023.
Angels general manager Perry Minasian chose the latter route, announcing that he would not entertain trading Ohtani in early November. That decision was likely inspired by outgoing owner Arte Moreno, who was viewed by rival executives at last summer's deadline as the biggest impediment to an Ohtani trade. (Moreno is expected to sell the franchise over the coming months, but it's unclear if or how that transaction will impact Ohtani's availability.) The byproduct of Minasian's declaration is that everyone has taken their Ohtani speculation and analysis and placed it on ice, preserving it until sometime next summer or winter when it becomes applicable again.
If 2023 is going to be the Year of Ohtani, then guess what, folks? The arrival of the new year makes for a good time to break out some of that content. Take today's piece, for example, where we highlight the four teams who we believe can be described as the favorites to employ Ohtani come 2024. As always, bear in mind that this exercise is far more of an art than a science.
With our usual disclaimers out of the way, let's get to the meaty part.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Of course, right? The Dodgers pursued Ohtani as an amateur, and their offseason seems shaped around going after him as hard as they have any player in memory. That might entail trading for Ohtani at the deadline and then extending him, like what they did with Mookie Betts, or it might mean an all-out effort when the free agent period begins. Whatever the case, the Dodgers have the financial might to compete with any other team; they have a nearly unmatched track record of winning games and developing players; and they most certainly have the desire to make Ohtani a Dodger. That doesn't guarantee anything, but we think it does make them the current favorites.
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2. New York Mets
The Mets have much working in their favor. They have an owner in Steve Cohen who seems inoculated against fiscal restraint and indifferent to financial penalties. They have a roster that, as constructed, could compete for a World Series crown. And they even play in a major media market, if that matters at all to Ohtani. (It can't hurt.) We rank them below the Dodgers at this point only because you figure even Cohen might have a limit on how large of a luxury-tax bill he's willing to foot. Then again, this is someone who upped his bid for a painting after it was damaged. The truth is that there might not be anything that can keep Cohen from getting what he wants. That's a welcomed development given how many current owners have shown more commitment to one another than to their fan bases or organizations.
3. San Francisco Giants
We've been waiting for the Giants to spring on an elite free agent for several winters. They chased Aaron Judge only to fall short, and then they appeared to close the deal with Carlos Correa until that fell apart. The Giants have a trifling amount of money committed beyond next season (about $30 million combined in 2025), meaning that they remain well-positioned to play in the deep end of the pool for the foreseeable future. Landing a player of Ohtani's magnitude would give them a new legitimate face of the franchise and, oh yeah, greatly enhance their odds of returning to relevancy in the National League West. Obviously it's hard to envision any team leapfrogging the Dodgers or the Mets in the Ohtani sweepstakes, but maybe while those two duke it out the Giants can serve as the top suitor for some other star.
4. Los Angeles Angels
Inertia is a powerful force, so we feel compelled to include the Angels at No. 4. Let's be clear: we'd rank their actual chances of retaining Ohtani much lower. He's often expressed his desire to win a World Series, making it unlikely that he would remain with a franchise that has yet to even make the postseason while employing him. (Not to mention that Mike Trout guy.) You might raise the point that the Angels might offer him the richest deal as the new owner attempts to win over and energize the fan base. That's fair, but remember: Ohtani took less money to join Major League Baseball when he did. He's already shown that money isn't his main motivator. Besides, do you really, truly think he won't receive competitive offers from better teams? Shy of the Angels winning the World Series, we don't think there's a compelling case to be made for taking the Angels over the field.