SHOHEI OHTANI’S FINAL 4 FREE AGENCY SUITORS, RANKED, PLUS 1 SURPRISE TEAM

MLB’s Winter Meetings are set to get underway this Sunday in Nashville, and there is one headline story.

Shohei Ohtani.

The Los Angeles Angels two-way star is now a free agent, and there is no shortage of teams that would love to have him in their lineup for the 2024 season. While Ohtani’s elbow injury will sideline him as a pitcher for next season, adding his bat to any lineup would provide a huge boost in production.

Ahead of those meetings, one MLB insider has outlined the final four teams left standing in the Ohtani sweepstakes. According to longtime baseball scribe Jeff Passan, the last four left in the game are the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Angels.

Passan reports that some other suitors — the Boston Red Sox, the Texas Rangers, and the New York Mets — are moving on to other options.

While things can certainly change, it does seem like those are the last four bidders remaining. So with that as a framework, let’s rank those four teams by the likelihood of signing Ohtani.

5. Los Angeles Angels

Between Ohtani and Mike Trout, the Angels can claim that they have two of baseball’s best players on their roster. The two have combined for five MVP awards during their tenure in Los Angeles, making them perhaps the most formidable 1-2 punch in the majors.

However, they have also combined for zero playoff games.

The last time the Angels made the postseason Ohtani was playing in Japan for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, and Los Angeles was getting swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS.

If winning is a priority for Ohtani — and every report indicates that it is — then he might feel better moving on.

Plus, reports indicate that Ohtani is looking for a contract in the $500 million range. With Trout signed to a deal worth $426.5 million contract, that ties up almost $1 billion in just two players.

Would Los Angeles be willing to go that far, given they have yet to taste the playoffs with both in town?

4. Toronto Blue Jays

In recent weeks a surprising contender has emerged in Ohtani sweepstakes.

The Toronto Blue Jays.

Toronto has made some big free agency moves in the past, but nothing would compare to adding Ohtani. As noted above, the lefty slugger would be restricted to hitting-only duties in 2024, but would be a huge addition to Toronto’s lineup. Last season Brandon Belt saw the bulk of at-bats as Toronto’s DH, and posted a .254/.369/.490 slash line along with 19 home runs.

For comparison, Ohtani’s slash line was .304/.412/.654, along with 44 HRs.

There are also two factors that could entice Ohtani to play for Toronto. First, he has enjoyed success playing at the Rogers Centre. For his career, Ohtani has a slash line of .326/.466/.674 when playing there, with 3 home runs over 13 games.

Second, it is believed that Ohtani wants more of a low-key atmosphere, similar to the one he enjoyed in Los Angeles with the Angels. When Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported on Toronto’s surprising entry into the Ohtani sweepstakes, he noted this: “...one rival said he could see him liking the relatively low-key environment.”

There is, of course a catch.

Money.

Specifically, the exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar, and the Canadian Dollar. If Ohtani truly is looking for a contract in the neighborhood of $500 million, then the Blue Jays are going to have one eye on the slugger, and another on the exchange rate. Right now a contract worth that amount of money would balloon to around $675 million in Canadian Dollars.

That ... could make for quite the sticking point.

3. San Francisco Giants

As we have discussed earlier, the Giants could have an advantage given location. It has long been reported that Ohtani prefers to stay on the West Coast, and that would help the Giants’ case.

Some, like FOX Sports MLB Analyst Jordan Shusterman, have made the Giants their pick.

Others are not so sure.

“I don’t think the San Francisco Giants will be the serious players that many, myself included at points, have thought,” wrote Ben Verlander recently. “It comes down to whether the Giants are an Ohtani away from being World Series champions. I don’t think they are, and I doubt Ohtani would either. The Giants have been speculated about a ton as a potential Ohtani destination, and they have the money to pull this off. I just don’t think they will.”

The Giants have not seen the postseason since 2021, have made just two trips to the playoffs in the last nine years, and are a long way removed from the organization that won a World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. The location might help, but there is a team with a brighter outlook on the same coast.

And in the same division.

2. Chicago Cubs

Could Ohtani wind up in the Windy City?

Heyman believes he might.

“Cubs are in there. It would be a great fit,” Heyman said on a livestream earlier this week.

Like the Blue Jays, the Cubs have a massive need for Ohtani for next year, and beyond. This need goes beyond what Ohtani can bring to the field, but what he might mean from a business perspective. For any team, adding one of the game’s biggest stars — and a global phenomenon — would be a massive lift.

But for Chicago in particular, it could be huge. As Ken Rosenthal noted in a recent piece for The Athletic, there are business concerns for the Cubs that Ohtani can certainly help solve. Not only would he be, as Rosenthal writes, the team’s biggest star since Sammy Sosa, but there is also this:

“Ohtani’s impact as a television presence cannot be understated, for the Cubs and every other team interested in him. The Cubs hold an ownership stake in Marquee Sports Network. Marquee last summer introduced a direct-to-consumer subscription product giving in-market fans a new option to stream live games and programming. Such plans are the wave of the future. Who better to sell subscriptions than Ohtani?”

As for the baseball part of things, similar to Toronto, Ohtani could slide into the DH spot in Chicago and provide a big boost to their offense. Christopher Morel got the bulk of the at-bats in that spot for the Cubs last season, posting a 247./313/.508 slash line with 26 home runs.

Good numbers, but not what we are used to seeing from Ohtani.

One thing that could work against Chicago? Location. It has long been reported that Ohtani prefers a West Coast destination.

That leads us to what seems to be the top option.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

This does seem like the likely destination, right?

The Dodgers certainly have the deep pockets to make this work. In addition, it is a West Coast destination, and keeps Ohtani in familiar surroundings.

Throughout the offseason, the Dodgers have been the favorites to land Ohtani, and those above points are big reasons why. Plus, the Dodgers have shown over the years an ability to win, and make some deep playoff runs. If Ohtani wants to enjoy his first MLB post-season experience, the Dodgers could be his best route.

As Ben Verlander wrote at the start of November:

It just makes the most sense. In this scenario, Ohtani stays in Southern California, where he is extremely comfortable. But he also goes to a team that actually competes for the postseason year in and year out and is constantly good enough to win 100 games in the regular season.

It’s very fair to nitpick the Dodgers’ postseason woes, but Ohtani is coming from an Angels team that failed to even seriously contend for the playoffs in six years of having both him and fellow superstar Mike Trout.

Other options, like Chicago and Toronto, might be more fun. Sure, it might also be great to see Ohtani decide to stay with the Angels and try and get them to the postseason. Of course, a surprise team — the Baltimore Orioles, as some of us have been clamoring for for a while now — could upend things.

However, if this is the state of play, the Dodgers do seem like the favorites. For a reason.

2023-12-01T17:29:27Z dg43tfdfdgfd