Ranking the teams that need Ohtani most

November 22nd, 2023

It’s the biggest question of the winter. It might be the only question of the winter: Where will Shohei Ohtani sign? Whichever team he chooses will bestow a record-setting contract upon maybe the most talented player who ever lived, and in doing so, they’ll reap the benefits of not only what he does on the field but what he means off it, too. In so many ways, Ohtani isn’t just an athlete. He’s going to be a marketing icon, wearing the uniform of his next club in ways visible around the globe.

Yet for all the talk about visibility and transcending the sport, Ohtani is still a baseball player. So while there’s going to be plenty of well-deserved discussion about what signing Ohtani means, there’s also the important if not quite as glitzy conversation of what he does to help his next club on the field. You know: Baseball stuff.

So: who does he help the most, just for 2024? Remember, for this upcoming season, he’s not a pitcher, since his elbow surgery will knock him off the mound until 2025. He’s a designated hitter, and while that may sound somewhat disappointing given how much hype there’s been over his two-way heroics, realize that he also just hit .304/.412/.654 with 44 home runs. If that’s “all” he is, then that’s an incredibly valuable player, one who was worth 6.6 WAR just as a hitter, by FanGraphs’ calculations.

Anyone who signs Ohtani is thinking of the long term. We’re not. Of the likely landing spots for 2024, which clubs will get the largest on-field boost for the next season? We’ll take Mark Feinsand’s list of the eight most likely destinations, add on three more of our favorites based on current rumors, and there are our 11. From least impactful – if that’s even possible – to most, with some amount of subjectivity, we start with …

11. Angels

We’re sorry. We know it will be a franchise-shattering moment if and when he leaves, and we actually believe there’s still a tiny chance he returns, as improbable as that seems to everyone else in the industry. It’s just that they’ve had him for parts of six seasons now, and not one of those seasons ended up with a winning year, much less a postseason berth. It goes without saying that just about none of that is Ohtani’s fault, and losing him would certainly make their path forward even more difficult. But it’s not like this is a playoff team losing its biggest star, either. It hasn’t worked with him; it might not work much worse without him.

10. Dodgers

You’re surprised too, right? This is the franchise seen as the most likely to land Ohtani, and yet we’ve got them all the way down here in 10th. The thing is, the Dodgers just won 100 games. Most of their problems are in their tattered starting rotation, which Ohtani wouldn’t be able to help in 2024, and as great a hitter as he is, they did just get 33 homers and an .893 OPS out of J.D. Martinez, who was their primary DH in 2023. Is Ohtani better than Martinez? Yes, certainly, particularly since Martinez is now a free agent. Is he that much better? Maybe not in a way that would move the needle by as much as you'd think. If he does land there, much of the 2024 impact would be about the off-field aspects, with the hope he could also help the rotation in 2025 and beyond. When you've just won 100 games, you have only so much of a ceiling to improve.

9. Red Sox

Boston has a ton of needs for new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow to fill, and it’s possible that DH isn’t among them, even with Justin Turner off to free agency. It’s exceedingly clear that they need a great deal of help on the mound, and there are also questions to answer at second base and behind the plate. There’s also the question of whether the defense, which was a massive concern last season, is better off with Masataka Yoshida moving from left field to designated hitter. Not, of course, that this prevents you from adding Ohtani if you can; you absolutely live with Yoshida’s defense in that case. But compared to some of the other clubs on this list, Boston is lower than you might think.

8. Padres

Stop us if you’ve heard this one already: San Diego is a team that needs pitching far, far more than it needs hitting, because Blake Snell, Josh Hader, Nick Martinez, Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo are all free agents. There are questions at first base and catcher; there’s the ongoing saga of whether to trade Juan Soto or not. It’s safe to say that Matt Carpenter and the newly retired Nelson Cruz won’t be collecting nearly as many DH starts, a position at which the Padres were 17th-best. There’s a good fit here, just plenty of complications before it can happen.

7. Rangers

The defending World Series champs aren’t likely to just sit still, and they've been rumored to have interest in adding Ohtani, as was the case more than a decade ago. Of course, the Rangers did just score the third-most runs in 2023, and somewhat similar to the Dodgers and Padres, much of their right-now issues are on the mound. It’s fair to point out that Mitch Garver and Robbie Grossman, their primary designated hitters last year, are both free agents, and that importing a bat isn’t a bad idea – though they’ll benefit from a full season of Evan Carter, with top prospect Wyatt Langford on the way. Again, it’s not more urgent than pitching, but the Rangers have been full of high-impact Hot Stove moves over the last few years, haven’t they?

6. Cubs

Chicago made a big splash with the signing of manager Craig Counsell, but their new skipper takes over a roster that didn’t make the playoffs last year and is currently without free agents Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman. Retaining Bellinger is the Cubs' top priority, but if he doesn’t return, a good-not-great offense will be without its top bat and without a real internal replacement. Sure, corner infielders like Matt Chapman or Rhys Hoskins could fit here. But they’re not Ohtani, are they? Last year’s primary DH, Christopher Morel, is already a hot name on the trade market, meaning that adding Ohtani would also bring the benefit of whatever Morel might be swapped for. Right now, the roster probably isn’t good enough to be a serious contender. We know one great way to change that.

5. Yankees

The Yankees are desperate for offense, having scored the sixth-fewest runs with the ninth-weakest slugging. They’re desperate for left-handed offense, because their lefties were better than only those of the Royals, A’s and White Sox. Even setting aside the need for a positive breath of fresh air after last season’s bad vibes, the on-field impact here is obvious. The clear issue here is one of roster fit, in that Giancarlo Stanton is the primary DH, and as much as you’d like to say he could just play a corner-outfield spot, nothing about his recent health history indicates that’s a possibility. Again: If you can get Ohtani, you don’t let that stop you. You trade Stanton, or you just get as much outfield time as you can from him as long as he’s able. But it’s pretty messy, too. In fact, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand noted recently that the Yankees aren't expected to be involved in the Ohtani sweepstakes.

4. Mets

Much of what we said about the Yankees applies to the Mets, too, except without the roadblock at DH. (The recently non-tendered Daniel Vogelbach was somewhat unfairly seen as the personification of many of the club’s 2023 issues, but it’s also fair to point out he wasn’t really the solution, either.) Like the Yankees, the team’s offense was a terrible disappointment; like the Yankees, the Mets are a high-payroll team that sees winning the back pages of the local papers to be valuable; unlike the Yankees, it’s not a messy fit at all. Ohtani’s bat would be a game-changer on the 2024 Mets, even if he can’t help them on the mound until after next season. But like many of the other clubs here, the need on the mound is far more urgent.

3. Blue Jays

A possible dark horse in the mix, the Jays need to replace at least three bats (Matt Chapman, Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Belt are each free agents), and their somewhat confounding 2023 showed that unlike some other clubs, they have solid depth and just really need another star. (Or, at least, for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to start playing like one again.) They can’t expect their excellent rotation to last forever, and Guerrero and Bo Bichette are each coming up on free agency. It seems clear that the Jays will add a DH type to replace Belt. Everyone wants that to be Joey Votto, one of the greatest Canadian players ever. What if it’s Ohtani, instead?

2. Mariners

Seattle generally doesn’t end up with contracts at the level of Ohtani’s expected deal, but then again, no ever ever has, and there’s been a connection between player and city. One of the very few teams that might have surplus starting pitching, as opposed to a lack of it, the Mariners desperately need to add some pop to a lineup that can depend on Julio Rodríguez, J.P. Crawford, Cal Raleigh and maybe not much else. Only one team struck out more than the 2023 Mariners, yet their slugging was merely average. Would you believe Mike Ford made more than twice as many DH starts as any other Mariner, and his reward for that was being designated for assignment? A team badly in need of offense couldn't do better than this, but alas, it seems as though Ohtani may not be part of the Mariners' plans.

1. Giants

This is it. This is the team. The Giants weren’t bad in 2023, not really. Instead -- maybe worse -- they lacked a fascinating player, a true draw. It’s clear that a roster that had a lot of moving parts and little actual star power was missing the big-ticket item, and we know that because they tried to add both Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa last offseason. Meanwhile, their .383 slugging percentage was the lowest in the National League. Their primary DH from last year, Joc Pederson, is a free agent. There are no roadblocks. There’s a dire need, on the field and off. They need slugging, they need star power. They need Ohtani. There’s no team he helps more.