Although the Giants, Cubs, Mets, Red Sox, Rangers, Blue Jays and incumbent Angels are all expected to be involved in the Ohtani bidding, and the potential remains for teams such as the Yankees, Padres and Mariners to make a run at the two-way superstar, the Dodgers are the team many executives predict will ultimately come away with the top prize on the market.
Taking into account what has been reported so far, let’s look into our crystal ball and imagine what moves might follow if Ohtani does indeed land with the Dodgers.
More pressure on the Giants
If Ohtani signs with the Dodgers, he’d be the latest superstar to spurn the Giants in free agency, following Bryce Harper in 2019 and Aaron Judge last offseason. San Francisco did come close to signing Carlos Correa to a 13-year, $350 million contract after missing out on Judge, but the club backed out of the deal due to concerns raised during the shortstop’s physical.
Those nine players combined for just 5.3 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) in 2023 as San Francisco went 79-83, missing the postseason for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. Manager Gabe Kapler lost his job as a result, and the Giants entered this offseason once again in search of some star power.
They absolutely cannot afford to come up empty this time.
San Francisco has been linked to just about every top name on the free-agent market, and if the team is unable to sign Ohtani, we can expect it to do whatever it takes to avoid missing out on the player many consider to be the second-best option in this year’s free-agent class, Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
But the Giants can’t stop there, with their position-player group also lacking.
It’s hard to imagine San Francisco will be able to come away with both Yamamoto and Cody Bellinger, each of whom is in the running for a $200 million contract. (No team has signed multiple free agents to deals worth at least $200 million each in the same offseason.) However, a Yamamoto-Matt Chapman pairing might be doable.
The Giants are one of the frontrunners for the four-time Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman, who is familiar with new San Francisco manager Bob Melvin from their time together with the A’s.
Bellinger market heats up, with Yanks leading the charge
Yamamoto is reportedly one of the Yankees’ primary targets this offseason, but if the 25-year-old ends up signing with the Giants, it's not a given the Bronx Bombers would aggressively pursue one of the other top arms on the market.
Instead, we’d likely see New York go all out in its pursuit of Bellinger, who would fill two needs for the club: center fielder and left-handed bat.
The Cubs have also said they are interested in re-signing Bellinger, but ESPN’s Jesse Rogers recently expressed doubt that the team would be willing to get into a bidding war for the 28-year-old’s services. That could give New York the inside track in this race.
The Yankees have been linked to the Padres’ Juan Soto as well, but Bellinger is the more likely option. The Yanks would have to put together a significant trade package to pry Soto from San Diego and would only be guaranteed to have him for one season, because he's eligible for free agency after 2024.
Looking for big splash, Cubs turn focus to pitching
The Cubs' decision to dismiss manager David Ross and sign Craig Counsell to a five-year, $40 million deal hinted at their ambitious goals heading into 2024.
Chicago currently has a huge hole in its lineup left by Bellinger, who put up a .307 average, 26 homers, 97 RBIs, 20 steals and an .881 OPS after signing a one-year, $17.5 million deal with the club.
However, the free-agent options are dwindling on the offensive end in this hypothetical scenario, since we’ve already placed Ohtani with the Dodgers, Chapman with the Giants and Bellinger with the Yankees. If that were actually the case, we could see the Cubs focus more of their resources toward improving their pitching staff.
As for who they'd get to replace Bellinger, how about Rhys Hoskins? Having missed all of 2023 after tearing his left ACL during Spring Training, Hoskins is a buy-low candidate in the same vein as Bellinger last offseason.
Finding production at first base was an issue for the Cubs last season, when veteran additions Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini and youngster Matt Mervis all struggled. In addition to Bellinger, Chicago often turned to trade acquisition Jeimer Candelario to fill that void in the second half, but Candelario is now a free agent as well. The last time we saw Hoskins back in 2022, he hit 30 homers over 156 games for the Phillies. The 30-year-old owns a lifetime .846 OPS, which is actually a step up from Bellinger’s career .829 mark.
Rangers bring back Montgomery, sign Hader
Acquired in a Trade Deadline deal with the Cardinals, Jordan Montgomery posted a 2.79 ERA over 11 regular-season starts and a 2.90 ERA in the playoffs for Texas, improving his stock ahead of free agency.
Although both sides are reportedly interested in a reunion, Texas is likely in no hurry to act while Ohtani is still a possibility. Take Ohtani out of the picture, however, and the reigning World Series champions would be freed up to re-sign their top free agent.
Given their recent modus operandi in free agency, it's unlikely the Rangers would stop there.
After winning the World Series in spite of its bullpen, Texas has been connected to free-agent closer Josh Hader. We like the team's chances of landing the All-Star southpaw if they aren't able to get Ohtani.
Padres start shopping Soto more aggressively
The reasoning here is two-fold. For one, the Padres finished 18 games behind the Dodgers last season, and the gap between the two would only grow if Los Angeles gets Ohtani, perhaps causing the Friars to be more realistic about their short-term chances of competing in the National League West.
Ohtani being off the market could also create an increase in the number of Soto suitors, with some teams who were in on the two-way superstar pivoting to the Padres outfielder.
Dodgers look to trade market to address pitching needs
Ohtani underwent right elbow surgery to repair a tear in his UCL in September, which means he won’t take the mound in a big league game until 2025 at the earliest. So even if the Dodgers are able to land him, he wouldn't address their most pressing need: starting pitching.
Adding a starter (or two) is a must. However, while the Dodgers’ financial resources are substantial, they might not have the appetite to sign a pitcher to a nine-figure deal after inking Ohtani to what will presumably be the largest free-agent contract in baseball history.