For D-backs, a competitive division 'makes us better'

December 14th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Steve Gilbert’s D-backs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Dodgers’ signing of free agent Shohei Ohtani to a record 10-year, $700 million contract left some D-backs fans discouraged, but it doesn’t seem to have fazed those in Arizona's front office.

Los Angeles won 100 games last season, 16 more than the D-backs, but as Arizona showed with last year’s run to the Fall Classic, you don’t have to win your division or finish with the best record to get to -- or win -- a World Series.

For general manager Mike Hazen, having to play a tough division opponent like the Dodgers a bunch during the regular season can be an advantage come October.

“This is one of the most competitive, toughest divisions in baseball,” Hazen said. “We’re happy to compete in it. I think it makes us better, frankly, that we have a division that for 162 [games] we get pushed. I think it helped us in the playoffs this year that you get beat up in this division quite a bit, and then you walk into the playoffs and you’re kind of used to it.”

Ohtani’s contract calls for him to make $2 million a year for 10 years, with $680 million deferred until after that.

D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick spoke with reporters following the news conference to introduce the newly signed Eduardo Rodriguez and cleared up what he thinks has been a misconception by people.

Yes, the Dodgers will only owe Ohtani $2 million a year in salary, but by rule, they will need to fund the deferred money in an escrow account. Multiple reports have listed that figure as over $40 million per year.

“They’re playing by the rules,” Kendrick said. “They got a great player, who is going to be an addition that makes them more competitive. But the economics are not so tilted in a way that puts them at an incredible advantage over the rest of us. That money has to be sequestered in an account and held on behalf of the player.”

After years of looking up at the Dodgers in the division as well as being swept by them in the National League Division Series in 2017, the D-backs turned the tables on them in 2023. Arizona swept Los Angeles in the NLDS, winning the first two games at Dodger Stadium, a place that had been a house of horrors for the D-backs in recent years.

“I think it's good for us that we get to compete against [Ohtani],” Kendrick said. “Last I looked, he's one of nine. And the last I also looked, he's a designated hitter. He's a great player. Is he the second coming? I would suggest not. Would you like to have a player of that talent on your team? Of course, everyone would. And we'll have fun competing against them. We already did have fun competing against them, at least the last time we played.”