- The Rangers were open to moving right-handed prospect Jack Leiter at the trade deadline this summer in the right deal for pitching, according to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. The second-overall pick of the 2021 draft was initially expected to be a fast-rising arm who could impact the big league club shortly after being drafted, but the righty has struggled to this point in his professional career. While Grant notes that Leiter made some strides last season, he’s not yet ready to contribute in the majors and could be part of the return for a front-of-the-rotation arm, should Texas look to the trade market in their search for rotation upgrades this winter. While Leiter has a career 5.37 ERA across two minor league seasons, the 23-year-old ended the 2023 campaign on a relative high note with a 3.31 ERA and a 39.7% strikeout rate in his final four starts at the Double-A level.
Rumors about the state of Shohei Ohtani’s market in free agency have been decidedly and deliberately scarce. Ohtani is said to prefer things to be kept quiet and close to the vest, and teams involved in the bidding surely don’t want to jeopardize their chances by being too forthcoming in terms of leaking information to the media. ESPN’s Jeff Passan pulls back the curtain a bit this morning, however, writing that at least three teams — the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox — have turned their attention to other players at this stage of the process. While each of the three were among Ohtani’s original group of suitors, it seems the trio has become pessimistic about their chances of closing a deal.
The Rangers’ ostensible exit from the Ohtani bidding dovetails with recent comments from general manager Chris Young, who just yesterday told reporters that he does not anticipate spending to the same extent he did in the past two offseasons. Texas dropped more than $500MM in the 2021-22 offseason when signing Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray. The Rangers spent more than $200MM last winter when adding Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney. Whether the expectation for lesser spending is because they feel they’re out of the Ohtani bidding or vice versa, the end result seems to be an expectation and concession that the two-time AL MVP and longtime Rangers division rival will sign elsewhere.
As for the Mets, there was never any question whether they have the funds to pay Ohtani a contract that’s widely expected to eclipse $500MM by a comfortable margin. Owner Steve Cohen is the sport’s wealthiest and most aggressive owner. But there have long been questions about Ohtani’s desire to play in the New York spotlight and deal with the inherent media frenzy associated with that market. It should come as no surprise that the Mets (and likely the Yankees) nevertheless tried, but Passan’s report suggests those efforts have come up short. To that end, SNY’s Andy Martino reports that Ohtani’s countryman, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, is currently the Mets’ primary focus.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are known to be seeking top-of-the-rotation help for the 2024 season, which doesn’t apply to Ohtani while he mends from elbow surgery. (Though he’d clearly be a factor in their 2025 rotation and beyond.) Prior reports have suggested that Boston’s focus, thus far, has been more on the trade market than on free agency. That doesn’t definitively mean that the Sox aren’t willing to spend lavishly on free agents this winter, but if their pursuit of immediate rotation help eventually leads them to free agency, it’d make for a particularly expensive offseason to pursue both Ohtani and one of the remaining top-end starters (e.g. Yamamoto, Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery).
While those three clubs are out of the mix, Ohtani’s market does still include the likes of the Dodgers, Cubs, Blue Jays and Angels, per Passan. That’s not intended to be a comprehensive list of the remaining suitors, however. It stands to reason that other clubs could yet be in play. The Giants have long been linked to Ohtani, as have the Mariners — although Daniel Kramer of MLB.com reported a couple weeks ago suggested that the Mariners were unlikely to ultimately land him.
The Rangers have made plenty of headlines in each of the past two offseasons. After signing Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray during the 2021-22 winter, they added Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney a year ago.
It doesn’t appear Texas is planning to be so aggressive this time around. A few weeks removed from the franchise’s first World Series, general manager Chris Young hinted at a quieter offseason than the previous two.
“We expect to be active in free agency, but probably not spending at the level that we have spent in previous offseasons,” Young told reporters on Thursday afternoon (relayed by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News). The GM noted there’s “a great returning core group” and said the front office is “really looking for additions to kind of shore up the team.”
That’s a generally fair assessment of the roster. Texas is returning the vast majority of an elite batting order. Seager, Semien, Adolis García, Jonah Heim, Josh Jung, Nathaniel Lowe, Leody Taveras and Evan Carter will be back. Designated hitter/backup catcher Mitch Garver hit free agency after the Rangers opted against issuing a qualifying offer. He’s the biggest potential departure on the offensive side. Robbie Grossman and Travis Jankowski also hit the market after solid performances as depth outfielders.
Texas faces a few more impactful losses on the pitching side. Deadline acquisition Jordan Montgomery is one of the top free agent starters. Aroldis Chapman, Will Smith and Chris Stratton could depart the relief corps, while Martín Pérez played a swing role.
Garver and Montgomery are the most notable losses. Texas doesn’t has a perfect in-house replacement at designated hitter, although the likes of Ezequiel Durán and prospect Justin Foscue could take on larger roles. Wyatt Langford, selected out of Florida with the fourth overall pick last summer, briefly reached Triple-A at the end of his draft year. It’d be a surprise if he’s in the majors on Opening Day. He could hit his way to the big leagues at some point during the summer.
Of course, the headline-grabbing play at designated hitter would be a massive strike for Shohei Ohtani. Texas is reportedly in the mix for the defending AL MVP. Signing Ohtani would quite likely require the largest contract in MLB history. Young’s comments downplay that as a possibility, although perhaps ownership and the front office would pivot if there’s a realistic chance to land the sport’s best player.
Texas has also expressed interest in retaining Montgomery. That’d be a bit of a luxury strike. Effective as the southpaw was down the stretch, the Rangers could open next season with Max Scherzer, Eovaldi, Gray, Heaney and Dane Dunning as a strong rotation. deGrom could join the group in the second half as he rehabs from June’s Tommy John procedure.
Young made clear the Rangers aren’t planning to sit out free agency entirely. Yet adding a depth starter rather than meeting a nine-figure price for Montgomery could be more likely. Texas figures to bring in multiple relievers and will probably add to what presently projects as an inexperienced bench.
While the strength of the existing roster is one factor in projecting a relatively quiet offseason, it also seems the front office is working with more limited spending room than they’ve had in previous winters. Roster Resource projects the Rangers’ 2024 payroll around $203MM. That includes projected salaries for arbitration-eligible players but does not account for any additions they’ll make. That’s already above the approximate $196MM payroll which the team carried into this past season, which was itself a franchise high.
To be clear, Young didn’t forecast any kind of payroll cut. It seems all but assured they’ll go into 2024 at a franchise-record spending level. The championship run brought in extra revenue in the form of playoff gate receipts. Ownership and the front office are surely motivated to push for a repeat. The midseason acquisition of Scherzer (whom Texas will pay $12.5MM next season as part of the trade from the Mets) paired with arbitration raises for the likes of Lowe, García and Dunning organically raise the payroll in comparison to this year’s Opening Day mark.
The Rangers are also one of the teams facing short-term uncertainty about their local television rights. The organization’s deal with Diamond Sports Group for in-market broadcasting on the Bally Sports network is in jeopardy. The Athletic recently reported that Diamond was considering dropping its deals with the Rangers and Guardians before next season amidst its ongoing bankruptcy. Young pointed to the uncertainty about the rights fees, noting that the front office has “a responsibility to be financially prudent.”
That all hints at a less flashy offseason than Texas has had in the last two years. Grant suggests the team could try to stay below the luxury tax threshold during the offseason. While there’s not a clear mandate to avoid paying the tax, it seems ownership prefers to leave some flexibility for midseason acquisitions. A team’s CBT number isn’t finalized until the end of the year, so in-season pickups count against that figure.
Roster Resource pegs the Rangers’ 2024 tax projection (which is calculated using contracts’ average annual salaries and includes player benefits) around $219MM. That checks in $18MM below next year’s $237MM base threshold. If the organization truly prefers to stay under that during the winter, they’d be limited to complementary additions. Back-end starting pitchers Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson have signed for $11MM and $13MM, respectively, for reference.
The Rangers exceeded the tax threshold in 2023. If they surpass it next season, they’d be taxed at a heightened 30% rate as repeat payors on any spending between $237MM and $257MM (with heightened penalties if they surpass the $257MM mark).
Left-hander Jordan Montgomery figures to be among the most sought-after free agents on the starting pitching market this offseason. With righty Aaron Nola having already returned to the Phillies on a seven-year deal earlier this week, only recently-posted right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto and reigning NL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell compare rank ahead of Montgomery on MLBTR’s Top 50 free agents list in terms of starting pitching options for 2024. While the Yankees, Cardinals and Red Sox have both already been connected to the southpaw this offseason, Montgomery is also receiving interest from the team he just won the World Series with. Per Jon Heyman of the New York Post, the Rangers “hope” that they’ll be able to bring Montgomery back into the fold this offseason.
That’s hardly a surprise, given the excellent form he showed since being shipped to Texas by St. Louis over the summer. In 11 starts following that deadline deal, Montgomery posted a sterling 2.79 ERA that was 60% better than league average by measure of ERA+ with a FIP of 3.27. While his 2023 strikeout rate of 21.4% was more solid than elite, his already strong 6.2% walk rate this season improved to a phenomenal 4.9% figure during his time with the Rangers down the stretch. Montgomery paired his ability to limit the free pass with a 43.2% groundball rate that placed him just outside the top-20 by that metric among qualified starters this season. It was more of the same during Montgomery’s six postseason appearances for Texas this October, during which he posted a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings of work.
Montgomery’s strong 2023 caps off a trio of three seasons that have seen the southpaw establish himself as a quality front-end starter for a playoff-caliber team. In splitting his time between the Yankees, Cardinals, and Rangers from 2021-23, Montgomery has posted a 3.48 ERA and 3.62 FIP while making at least 30 starts in each of those seasons. Over the past three seasons, Montgomery is one of just 20 pitchers to record at least 500 innings of work, a feat that establishes him as one of the game’s premiere workhorses at this point in his career.
Given his recent performance and the number of teams known to be in the market for starting pitching this offseason, Montgomery is at least a plausible fit for plenty of clubs. The Rangers are certainly included in that. While the club’s Opening Day rotation can at least be plausibly filled with Max Scherzer, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, and Andrew Heaney, both Dunning and Heaney spent time in the bullpen for Texas in 2023 in addition to their time in the rotation. It’s also worth noting that each of Scherzer, Eovaldi, and Gray spent significant time on the injured list this past season, while Heaney has a lengthy injury history of his own.
While ace righty Jacob deGrom could return from Tommy John surgery sometime next season, deGrom wouldn’t exactly provide reliable innings coming off the second Tommy John surgery of his career and with just 186 2/3 innings of work over the past three seasons of his career. Given the substantial injury risk in the Rangers’ currently projected rotation, reuniting with Montgomery would be a sensible decision to add some stability to a front-of-the-rotation picture that otherwise features a pair of oft-injured veterans in Scherzer and Eovaldi and could add a third arm befitting of that description in deGrom later in the year.
Of course, a deal is hardly a slam-dunk even in spite of the clear fit and interest on Texas’s end of the equation. After all, Montgomery has already been linked to three other teams this offseason and plenty of clubs are in need of starting pitching help and could enter the market for his services as the offseason progresses. What’s more, the Rangers are expected to make improving the club’s bullpen a focus of their offseason after the club’s relief corps posted a brutal 4.77 ERA in 2023. Though the addition of Montgomery would allow the club to improve the bullpen by moving Heaney or Dunning into a multi-inning relief role, the club’s bullpen would likely benefit far more from the addition of a late-inning arm like Josh Hader or NPB lefty Yuki Matsui.
Such a signing wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Rangers from adding Montgomery, as they’ve hardly shied away from making multiple significant additions in recent offseasons. That being said, it’s fair to at least wonder how much the club plans on increasing its payroll (which already sits at $214MM for next year according to RosterResource) in light of recent reporting that Diamond Sports Group is considering dropping Rangers broadcasts ahead of the 2024 campaign. If Diamond were to do so, it would leave the Rangers without a distribution partner for local broadcasting, a reality that has already led the Twins toward cutting payroll this offseason.
The deadline to tender a contract to arbitration-eligible players is tonight at 7:00pm CT. Here’s a rundown of the players on American League teams that have been non-tendered today. This post will be updated as more decisions are revealed. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected salaries for all players eligible for arbitration last month. All players who are non-tendered before this evening’s deadline go directly into free agency, where they’re eligible to sign with any of MLB’s 30 clubs.
Onto the transactions…
- Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that the Rays non-tendered righty Cooper Criswell. He’d been designated for assignment on Tuesday.
- The Mariners announced this evening that the club has non-tendered first baseman Mike Ford. Ford hit well (.228/.323/.475) in 83 games with Seattle this season but had already been designated for assignment earlier this week.
- The Yankees announced this evening that the club has non-tendered right-handers Albert Abreu and Lou Trivino in addition to left-hander Anthony Misiewicz. Trivino didn’t pitch in the majors this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in May. Abreu pitched to a 4.73 ERA and 5.26 FIP across 59 innings of work while Misiewicz posted a 7.36 ERA across 11 innings of work for the Diamondbacks, Yankees, and Tigers.
- The Twins have non-tendered left-hander Jovani Moran and right-hander Ronny Henriquez, per Dan Hayes of The Athletic. Moran finished the season on the injured list and, per Hayes, will require Tommy John surgery this offseason. Henriquez did not appear in the majors this year and struggled to a 5.68 ERA in 37 appearances at the Triple-A level.
- The Angels announced this evening that they have non-tendered right-hander Jose Marte. Marte had gotten brief looks out of Anaheim’s bullpen across the past three seasons but struggled to a 8.14 ERA in 24 1/3 combined innings of work over those cups of coffee.
- The Red Sox have non-tendered right-hander Wyatt Mills, according to Chris Cotillo of MassLive. Mills, 28, did not appear in the big leagues this year and underwent Tommy John surgery over the summer.
- The Rangers announced this evening that they have non-tendered right-hander Matt Bush and left-hander Brett Martin. Bush, 37, struggled to a 9.58 ERA with the Brewers this year and did not make an appearance with Texas. Martin missed the entire 2023 campaign with shoulder issues.
- The Royals announced this evening that they have non-tendered outfielder Diego Hernandez, left-hander Austin Cox, catcher Logan Porter and right-hander Josh Staumont. All but Hernandez had already been designated for assignment by the club earlier this week. Hernandez has yet to appear in the majors during his career and slashed .245/.302/.291 in 60 games at the Double-A level this season.
- The Athletics announced today that they did not tender a contract to infielder Kevin Smith. Smith joined the club in the trade that sent Matt Chapman to Toronto and slashed just .182/.218/.314 in 297 trips to the plate with Oakland over the last two seasons.
- The Blue Jays are expected to non-tender right-hander Adam Cimber this evening, per Ari Alexander of Houston’s KPRC-2. A veteran of six MLB seasons, the 32-year-old Cimber struggled badly in 2023 with a 7.40 ERA in 22 appearances despite a strong 2.53 ERA in 149 appearances with Toronto between 2021 and 2022.
Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani has been voted the Most Valuable Player in the American League for 2023, per an announcement from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien of the Rangers were second and third in the voting, respectively.
The news hardly comes as a surprise, with Ohtani having delivered another two-way season for the Angels in which the only precedent was himself. He made 23 starts as a pitcher, tossing 132 innings with an earned run average of 3.14. His 10.4% walk rate was a bit on the high side but he struck out 31.5% of batters faced. Among pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched on the year, only Spencer Strider punched out opponents at a greater rate.
As a hitter, he launched 44 home runs and drew walks at a 15.2% clip. His .304/.412/.654 batting line translated to a wRC+ of 180, indicating he was 80% better overall than the average hitter. He accomplished all of these things despite having his season cut short by injury. Due to some finger issues and then a torn UCL, he only tossed 1 1/3 innings after August 9 and not at all after August 23. He continued hitting but he later suffered an oblique strain and his last game as either a hitter or pitcher was September 3.
That didn’t matter as Ohtani had already racked up enough accomplishments to take home the award for a second time, the first coming in 2021. If it weren’t for Aaron Judge’s record-breaking 62 home runs last year, Ohtani would have gotten a hat trick. The BBWAA notes that this is the first time a player has won a unanimous MVP twice. The most unique baseball player of all time is now the most unique free agent of all time and is surely in line to break another record, or records, when he finally puts pen to paper.
Seager and Semien each had fine seasons in their own right, but had little chance to catch Ohtani here, though they have World Series rings to soften the blow. Seager hit 33 home runs and had a wRC+ of 169 while those numbers were 29 and 124 for Semien.
Other players receiving votes were Julio Rodríguez, Kyle Tucker, Yandy Díaz, Bobby Witt Jr., Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, José Ramírez, Gerrit Cole, Luis Robert Jr., Yordan Alvarez, Adolis García, Judge, Bo Bichette, J.P. Crawford, Cal Raleigh, Rafael Devers, Isaac Paredes, Sonny Gray, Alex Bregman and Josh Naylor.
The ongoing Diamond Sports Group bankruptcy could soon affect another two franchises. Evan Drellich and Mike Vorkunov of the Athletic report that the broadcasting corporation is considering dropping its in-market TV deals with the Guardians and Rangers before the 2024 season.
Diamond, which operates the Bally Sports networks, already severed contracts with the Padres and Diamondbacks during the 2023 campaign. MLB stepped in to handle in-market broadcasting for those clubs. Diamond had sought to pay reduced rights fees to the Twins, Reds, Guardians and Rangers during the year as well. The bankruptcy court eventually awarded those teams their full rights fees.
If Diamond officially drops two more agreements, the Cleveland and Texas organizations will have to find alternate means of broadcasting within their local markets. MLB could step in to ensure those games aren’t blacked out, as it did for the Padres and D-Backs. Perhaps the franchises could line up an agreement with a new regional sports network during the offseason. In any event, it’s a suboptimal situation — albeit one which team executives were surely anticipating at this point.
“Our intention is to broadcast almost all of (our) Major League Baseball teams next year,” one of Diamond’s attorneys said in today’s bankruptcy proceedings (relayed by Drellich and Vorkunov). “There are a few, a very few, for which we do not have agreements in place. And that, frankly, at this point, are too expensive for us to broadcast without concessions. I am told that those discussions are taking place, there have been reach-outs to both of the teams involved.”
Diamond has local broadcasting deals with 11 teams. That figure was 14 at the beginning of the ’23 season. In addition to the lapsed deals with San Diego and Arizona, Bally’s contract with the Twins expired at the conclusion of the year. Dan Hayes of the Athletic wrote yesterday that a new short-term deal with Diamond to carry Minnesota’s 2024 broadcasts hasn’t been ruled out.
The Angels, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Marlins, Rays, Reds, Royals and Tigers also have existing contracts with Diamond. Jonathan Randles and Steven Church of Yahoo! Finance write that attorneys for both Diamond and Sinclair — the media conglomerate which had acquired Diamond in 2019 — indicated in today’s court proceedings that Diamond might be liquidated entirely at the end of the 2024 MLB season. (Sinclair and Diamond now operate independently after Diamond accused Sinclair of siphoning funds from the subsidiary.)
The uncertain TV rights picture could impact the spending habits for those franchises. The Twins are scaling back payroll this offseason. Only the franchise’s ownership and front office know precisely how much that’s a result of the TV picture, but Minnesota president of baseball operations Derek Falvey has called it a contributing factor.
While the Twins have run almost exactly average player payrolls, Cleveland and Texas have been on opposite ends. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Guardians ranked 25th in Opening Day payroll this year. The Rangers opened the season ninth and have the fifth-highest projected outlay for 2024 on the heels of their World Series win.
An offseason defined by Shohei Ohtani’s free agency hasn’t been especially active within the first couple weeks. For most of the game’s top spenders, the winter may well be defined by whether they land the two-way superstar.
Those clubs may not have to wait long to learn the answer. Jeff Passan of ESPN wrote this morning that teams involved in the Ohtani market believe the expected AL MVP might make his decision early, potentially before the Winter Meetings begin on December 4.
Despite that possibility, there haven’t been many teams substantively linked to Ohtani. That’s by design, as it seems his camp isn’t interested in spotlighting his free agent process. Passan writes that clubs pursuing the three-time All-Star believe that if word of a sit-down with Ohtani were made public, “it will be held against the team.”
Even in the absence of substantive reports of teams meeting with Ohtani, it’s not hard to identify the likelier suitors. The incumbent Angels have made no secret of their hope of keeping him around. Teams like the Padres and Cubs have been mentioned in more speculative fashion.
Passan unsurprisingly lists the Dodgers, Rangers and Red Sox as teams likely to be involved. Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto danced around an Ohtani question at last week’s GM Meetings but acknowledged the Seattle front office would “presumably” need to try to value a free agent who is without precedent. Dipoto subsequently indicated the team was open to bringing in a designated hitter, saying they’d “love to have a full-time DH, a banger who just goes out and bangs” (link via Daniel Kramer of MLB.com).
The Giants are clearly searching for a star player. Both New York franchises figure to be involved. Passan indicates that the Blue Jays, not as frequently speculated as an Ohtani landing spot because of geography, could look for a way to make a splash this offseason (although he doesn’t specifically link Toronto to Ohtani beyond what seems a loosely speculative tie). Other teams could kick around ways to get involved on a player this unique. It’d be a real surprise if he didn’t land with a club accustomed to running a player payroll in the upper third of MLB, though.
Ohtani officially rejected a qualifying offer from the Angels this afternoon. That doesn’t affect his chances of returning to Anaheim. He was never going to consider a $20.325MM salary. Having to relinquish a draft choice and potentially international signing bonus room isn’t much of a factor for a player of this magnitude. Organizations considering a record-shattering contract may know within the next few weeks whether they’ll get that opportunity.
The Rangers announced Tuesday that they’ve selected the contracts of infielder Justin Foscue, right-hander Marc Church, lefty Antoine Kelly and righty Jose Corniell to the 40-man roster. All are now protected from next month’s Rule 5 Draft.
Foscue, 24, is perhaps the most recognizable name for fans. The 14th overall pick back in 2020, he’s ranked among the organization’s top prospects since that time. He turned in a sound .266/.394/.468 slash in Triple-A Round Rock this year, adding 18 homers and 14 steals with more walks (15.1%) than strikeouts (12.4%). Foscue has worked primarily as a second baseman in the minors, though due to questions about his glovework, he’s also seen increased time at the infield corners.
Church was an 18th-round pick by Texas back in 2019. Now 22 years old, he split the 2023 season between Double-A and Triple-A, working to a combined 3.63 ERA with a combined 29.5% strikeout rate but 11.2% walk rate. All but two of Church’s appearances on the season came in a relief role, which is how he’ll likely be used on the big league roster if he makes his debut next year. Given that he already has 44 Triple-A frames under his belt and is now on the 40-man roster, there’s a decent chance of that happening.
Kelly, 24 next month, was the Brewers’ second-round pick in 2019. He landed in the Rangers organization as part of Texas’ return for reliever Matt Bush at the 2022 trade deadline. Kelly split the 2023 season between the bullpen for the Rangers’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, working to a combined 2.04 ERA with a gaudy 32.1% strikeout rate against a 9.3% walk rate. Like Church, he could be a bullpen option as soon as the 2024 season.
Corniell, 20, was the player to be named later the Rangers received in their 2020 trade sending Rafael Montero to the Mariners. He split the season between the Rangers’ two A-ball affiliates, working as a starter and posting a composite 2.92 ERA with a 29.8% strikeout rate, 7.8% walk rate and 39% ground-ball rate in 101 2/3 innings. He’s unlikely to emerge as a viable big league option next year, but the Rangers were high enough on his arm and the success he had against much more advanced competition that they’ll dedicate a 40-man roster spot to him anyhow.
The offseason kicked into gear this week with the General Manager Meetings taking place in Scottsdale, Arizona. Though the meetings were eventually ended early due to a virus circling the bases of the baseball world, there was still plenty of reporting about how markets are shaping up for various clubs and players. The big star of the winter is set to be Shohei Ohtani but only dribs and drabs of information have come out relating to him so far, with Jon Heyman of The New York Post and Bob Nightengale of USA Today rounding up some of the details.
Ohtani is the top free agent available, head and shoulders above the rest. The two-way superstar has been the best player in baseball of late, putting together a three-year run of excellence that is perhaps the greatest the sport has ever seen. He’s hit 124 home runs, stolen 57 bases and slashed .277/.379/.585 in that time for a wRC+ of 157. He’s also tossed 428 1/3 innings with a 2.84 earned run average. Elbow surgery will keep him from pitching in 2024 but he will still hit, and will presumably do all he can to return to the mound in 2025 and beyond.
There has never been a player like this or a free agent like this, which puts him center stage. It has been assumed by many that he is most likely to land with a traditional big spending club such as the Dodgers, but he’s such a massive superstar that it’s possible many dark horse teams get into the mix. Marketing opportunities, both in North America and around the world, should offset some of the money it takes to land him. Those factors, along with his unprecedented talents, could open the door to unlikely suitors. “No one knows where he’s going to end up,’’ Astros general manager Dana Brown said to Nightengale. “And I think that’s exciting for the game. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. I think there may be a wild card team out there that’s going to surface. These teams can just come out of nowhere.” Indeed, any club that is not interested in Ohtani would be more noteworthy than a club that is.
But little information was to be had at the meetings, as neither Ohtani nor his agent Nez Balelo were present. Many baseball decision makers hemmed and hawed when directly asked about their interest in Ohtani, many commenting on his immense talent while adding that any club would be happy to have him. Perhaps the most absurd instance of ducking the question came from Mariners’ president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, when speaking with Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. When asked about how he would value such a unique player, he said merely “I don’t know.” When asked if he would need to figure out an answer, “Presumably so” was the response.
With various smokescreens coming from different directions, there is little left to do but try to read the tea leaves. Heyman says the Dodgers are considered the favorite because of their payroll space, track record of on-field success and Ohtani’s reported fondness for Southern California. But he also adds that the Angels want a reunion and the Padres are interested as well. The latter club is reportedly trying to figure out whether to trade or extend Juan Soto, with Heyman adding that president of baseball operations A.J. Preller has little interest in a trade. However, if they can successfully sign Ohtani, that could change.
He adds that the Yankees and Mets will check in but believe Ohtani is reluctant to live in New York. Heyman admits that he’s basing that on Ohtani’s initial arrival in North America six years ago, when he was reportedly choosing between the Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, Giants, Mariners and Cubs, mostly West Coast teams and none in New York. At that time, he was subject to the amateur bonus pool system and wasn’t going to get more than a few million bucks regardless of where he signed, so having a geographical preference didn’t hurt him financially. Now it would be in his best interest to at least pretend he’s open to signing anywhere, in order to have more suitors and boost his bidding. Whether he privately has a strong geographic preference right now is unknown.
The Cubs were the primary exception to the Western preference last time around and it seems they are hoping that Ohtani still thinks of them fondly. Nightengale lists them as a serious contender for Ohtani and adds that “several GMs” are saying that the Cubs “may be” the most aggressive team on Ohtani. He also adds that the Rangers are considered a serious contender, which isn’t surprising after their World Series win that was fuelled by several notable free agent signings in recent years.
As mentioned, the Angels would like a reunion and shouldn’t be counted out. “I think this is a very desirable place to play,’’ Minasian said to Nightengale. “It’s in a great part of the country. We have an outstanding fan base. The players that have played here since I’ve been here, have been really, really positive with their experiences. So, with anybody on the market, I think we have a chance.”
Though the Angels haven’t had much success on the field lately, they have done plenty of big deals under owner Arte Moreno. That includes a $360MM extension for Mike Trout, while Albert Pujols and Anthony Rendon got $254MM and $245MM in free agency, respectively. Re-signing Ohtani will likely require them to go beyond that stratosphere and into the mesosphere, but there’s at least some precedent there. “I wouldn’t put anything past,’’ Minasian said. “I think it’s something that for the right opportunities, ownership is all about winning. …We’ll do what we can to make the team as good as we can.’’
John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote this week about the interest of the Giants, talking to president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. “We’ve got a good amount of payroll flexibility,” Zaidi said, “so anybody that we think can be an impact player for us, even on a long-term deal, we’re going to be looking at.” Daniel Kramer of MLB.com covered Ohtani from the Mariners’ perspective, highlighting that Dipoto was much more vocal in his interest back when Ohtani was first coming over in 2017. There are likely a dozen other clubs working on their overtures to Ohtani at this very moment.
How it will all play out and on what timeline remains to be seen. Ohtani will likely want to talk teams about things beyond just money, such as how long they are willing to let him try pitching, what they would do if/when he can no longer take the mound, etc. Those conversations may take a few weeks and it’s been speculated that he may be signed by the Winter Meetings in the first week of December, but there are still plenty of unknowns about perhaps the most fascinating free agent of all-time.