Mega-moves by Dodgers, Yankees crank up Hot Stove

December 10th, 2023

The Yankees just traded for Juan Soto, who they saw as the best player out there for them. The Dodgers just signed Shohei Ohtani, the best player, period. The Yankees paid a lot, in terms of pitching and prospects, for Soto, who is heading into the final year of his current contract, and will eventually have to pay a lot more to keep Soto in pinstripes past this season.

The Dodgers? They just agreed to pay more for Ohtani -- $700 million over 10 years -- than any player in baseball history and any athlete in American sports history has ever been paid, a half-century after George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees from CBS for $10 million.

So, this was the week when our two largest cities and two teams as famous as there are in any American sport made huge news by acquiring star players like this, and in the span of a few days. In the process, the Yankees and Dodgers provided their sport and their fans with a great, big shot of glamour, especially with Ohtani, who is the kind of two-way star as a hitter and pitcher that baseball hasn’t seen since before Babe Ruth became a Yankee.

Four months from Opening Day, it was baseball dominating the sports headlines without a pitch being thrown or a ball being hit over the wall by either Ohtani or Soto. Soto moved across the country from San Diego to New York. Ohtani moved up the freeway from Anaheim to Dodger Stadium. And, really, this was just the beginning of the baseball winter, as everyone in the sport waits to see where another Japanese sensation, pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, might land and what kind of salary he might command.

“The future is always now,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said after the Soto-to-Yankees deal was finalized and he met with the media.

The future is very much now, and right now, for his team and for the Dodgers after they took swings like these. The Dodgers have had more success than the Yankees have had lately, playing in three World Series over the past seven years, winning one, and also winning what felt like a million or so regular-season games along the way. But they just got swept by the D-backs in their Division Series matchup after finishing 16 games ahead of Arizona in the National League West.

The Yankees? They’ve made it as far as the American League Championship Series three times over this same span, losing to the Astros all three times (2017, 2019, 2022). But they haven’t played in a World Series since 2009, which cranky Yankee fans are starting to think about the way Red Sox fans used to think about 1918, the last time the Sox won the Fall Classic with Ruth. This past season the Yankees didn’t make the postseason at all, nearly finishing under .500 for the first time since 1992.

The Yankees badly needed a left-handed power bat and needed offense and they get all of that with the 25-year old Soto, who hit 35 homers for the Padres last season and walked 132 times and, after a season when the Yankees couldn’t keep sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton on the field because of injuries (they combined to miss 117 games), Soto comes off a season when he played all 162 for the Padres.

The Yankees get all that, at least for the upcoming season. The Dodgers break the bank for Ohtani, who won’t pitch for them until 2025 because of elbow surgery, and bring his star power to a star place like L.A., where LeBron James is still doing all manner of LeBron-type things for the Lakers as he approaches his 39th birthday. Ohtani won’t turn 30 until next July.

Even in a season shortened by injuries to 135 games, Ohtani hit 44 home runs and had an OPS of 1.066. As a pitcher, he made 23 starts for the Angels, had a 10-5 record and a 3.14 ERA and struck out 167 batters in 132 innings for the Angels. Oh, and he won his second AL MVP.

Now, for 2024, Ohtani joins a Dodgers batting order that already includes two other former MVPs, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. He hits with them the way Soto will likely hit ahead of Aaron Judge at Yankee Stadium.

Does this guarantee that we’re going to get another Yankees-Dodgers World Series next season, one that would make it an even dozen Fall Classic matchups for those two teams going back to when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn? It doesn’t mean that at all, even with the payrolls the two teams will take into the season with them. (And even if they don’t both make it to the World Series, they are set to square off next June 7-9 in the Bronx, in what is already shaping up as a highlight of the 2024 regular season.)

In the past 10 seasons, the team with the biggest payroll in baseball has won the World Series just twice: the Red Sox in 2018 and the Dodgers themselves in 2020. The Rangers, who just won it all, finished the season with the fourth-highest payroll in 2023. The year before, the champion Astros were eighth, and the year before that, the Braves were 10th.

But after disappointing endings for both the Yankees and the Dodgers, they both just rocked the baseball world, and rocked the sports world at the same time.

Before Soto and Ohtani step to the plate for their new teams, their new owners just did the exact same thing. Big cities, big deals, big stars. Big week in baseball from coast to coast.