It’s been over two decades since the player deemed Best In The World reached free agency. Shohei Ohtani, the unanimous American League MVP and the undisputed greatest in the game right now, is available for all 30 teams in Major League Baseball to acquire.
When Álex Rodríguez posted 10.4 bWAR — the 22nd best single-season in baseball history, according to Baseball Reference — to wrap up another Hall of Fame caliber season in 2000, he smashed the record for largest contract in the sport’s history by a whopping $63 million. At age 25, he signed a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers. (That contract is equivalent to $444.4 million in 2023, a total of $111.1 million more than the previous record in today’s money.)
Every club is salivating at having Ohtani on their roster, even with his ability to pitch in 2024 in question following surgery in September to repair a torn UCL. His price tag of $500 million will separate some teams from the negotiation. For those expected to watch others battle for the services of the best two-way player since Babe Ruth over 100 years ago, there are still consolation prizes.
A soft salary cap with three tiers of surcharges should prevent clubs from spending wildly. In the case of the two most egregious over-spenders in 2023 — New York Mets and San Diego Padres, who combined to spend somewhere near $600 million — the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction. Both clubs are preparing to reduce payroll for the 2024 roster.
By adding Ohtani at $50 million annually, most teams may need to shave player costs elsewhere. It’s at that point the pilot fish of MLB will come swimming up to the bloated shark and conduct some symbiotic business.
Here’s five destinations Ohtani could end up that might benefit the Colorado Rockies:
Teams With Pitching Depth
Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Trade: 2023 – Colorado acquired LHP Justin Bruihl for cash considerations
The City of Angels remains the odds-on favorite for becoming Ohtani’s home for the remainder of his playing career, same as it’s been for his first six big league seasons. (Alright, so Anaheim isn’t exactly Los Angeles, nor is it even in Los Angeles County. But you get the idea.)
If the inevitable does come to fruition, there will be one less spot in the rotation as soon as the 2025 season. That rotation, however, looks mighty untenable at the moment. Clayton Kershaw is a free agent and though a return to the Dodgers is a strong possibility, it won’t be until next summer following his offseason shoulder surgery. Julio Urías, who ended his final season of club control in 2023 on administrative leave while being investigated for domestic violence, is also gone.
Walker Buehler will be back after missing all of 2023 rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, but his innings may be monitored. Dustin May won’t return from flexor tendon surgery until the summer. Tony Gonsolin will miss all of 2024 after late-season TJ surgery. Doesn’t that mean Los Angeles has the same gaps in the rotation as Colorado? Not exactly.
A trio of young starters debuted in 2023 just in time to provide the Dodgers with depth. Top pitching prospect Bobby Miller was promoted in late May and performed impressively. He pitched to a 3.74 ERA, making 22 starts and throwing 124.1 innings, both second-most on the roster behind Kershaw. Emmett Sheehan was serviceable in 11 starts while no. 5 prospect Gavin Stone got his first taste of the Majors.
Once second-year pitchers Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove are included in the rotation mix, the Dodgers feature a healthy competition for the final three spots in the rotation. If President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman wants to trade from this depth, Rockies’ GM Bill Schmidt should regularly be peppering him with phone calls.
The real problem with this scenario ever coming to fruition is that these teams don’t exactly interact with one another. (The Dodgers actually play well with most teams; it’s typically the Rockies sitting by themself in the corner.) Before this summer’s trade deadline day that sent a player (Justin Bruihl) who had been designated for assignment to Denver for cash considerations, the previous deal between the two NL West foes was in 2014 when Juan Nicasio was traded for Noel Cuevas.
There have been other dry spells, too. After the Luke Allen for Jason Romano deal in 2003 — we all remember that seismic swap — it was another seven years until Octavio Dotel added Colorado as his 10th franchise en route to 13 over his 15-year career. Five years after an Expansion Draft deal in 1992, these teams finally connected on the Pedro Astacio for Eric Young Jr. deal that was mostly a win-win transaction favoring the pitching-desperate Rockies.
Last trade: 2017 – Colorado acquired LHP Zac Rosscup for RHP Matt Carasiti
A dark horse in the Ohtani sweepstakes, Chicago should be taken seriously after seeing them operate in the shadows following the Craig Counsell hire. Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki has already engage in some good-natured joking about playing on the North Side with his good friend.
Even if Kyle Hendricks doesn’t stick around on a few perennial one-year deals in a fashion similar to the arrangement between Kershaw and the Dodgers, the Cubs rotation will have more options than they need. Their underrated staff would be one of the deepest in the game with the addition of Ohtani.
Justin Steele, fifth in the 2023 NL Cy Young Award voting, has emerged as a young ace during his first All-Star season. Jameson Taillon, signed for three more years, had a 5.71 ERA in his first 21 starts, but finished strong with a 3.04 ERA over his final nine outings. Then there’s Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad chomping at the bit to follow in Steele’s homegrown footsteps.
Chicago also has Hayden Wesneski, a former top 10 prospect with the Yankees that was shipped to Illinois from New York in a one-for-one deal involving Scott Effross. Though Wesneski has found more success out of the bullpen than as a starter, the 25-year-old is precisely the kind of upside pitcher Colorado should covet for the rotation at the right price.
If the Rockies don’t mind acquiring a starting pitcher with virtually no track record at the big league level, then Ben Brown or Caleb Killian could be had at a much lower price. (Acquiring Kilian would be particularly interesting considering he was one of two players traded for Kris Bryant at the 2021 trade deadline.)
Last trade: 2013 – Colorado acquired RHP Steven Hensley (minors) for LHP Aaron Harang and cash
The original home city of the sweet swinging Japanese hitter is only months removed from collectively wooing Ohtani during the 2023 All-Star Game at T-Mobile Park.
Daniel Kramer of MLB.com said the Mariners will not be making a play for him. Ohtani’s camp does not want teams exploiting their sit downs with him and making even more of a spectacle of the international superstar. To do so would reflect poorly on that organization. Does this all point to some covert plan for bringing the two sides together?
With Luis Castillo already at the top of the rotation through at least 2027, not to mention a pair of young starters in Logan Gilbert and George Kirby also around for the next four seasons, the addition of Ohtani to the rotation wouldn’t leave much room for anyone else.
That would leave one remaining spot between Bryce Miller, Emerson Hancock and Bryan Woo. Another trio debuting this season, all three right-handers are 25 or under and would come at a steep cost. Miller and Woo combined to make 43 starts for Seattle once Chris Flexen struggled and Marco Gonzales missed significant time with a left forearm strain.
Gonzales is a logical trade target for Colorado. A Fort Collins native and son of former Rockies minor league pitching coach Frank Gonzales, the left-hander has already been linked to the organization for the past few offseasons. Set to make $12.25 million in 2024, the Mariners wouldn’t mind shedding some payroll for a player entering his age-32 season. A team option for $15 million in 2025 could make him even more enticing for a Colorado squad targeting contention that season.
Last trade: 2017 – Colorado acquired C Jonathan Lucroy for OF Pedro Gonzalez (minors)
The Texas Rangers accomplished everything the Mets wanted in 2023. They broke the bank in free agency the previous two offseasons, brought in a veteran manager with a history of winning and, in the end, gave Max Scherzer his second World Series ring.
Somewhere in the four months between fielding six players at the same time for the American League during the Midsummer Classic and the parade around the parking lot of Globe Life Field, a check for a reported $111 million was torn up by the Rangers broadcasting partner, Diamond Sports Group. While it’s unclear how the organization will make up for this loss in finances going forward, there’s is one way for them to have their cake and eat it too: reduce payroll for the rotation after signing Ohtani.
Andrew Heaney will make $13 million in his final year with Texas while Jon Gray and his remaining $26 million over the next two seasons would cut costs even further. Gray enjoyed his time with the Rockies and it came as a surprise to many when he went elsewhere — especially Colorado’s front office who specifically didn’t deal him at the 2021 trade deadline to help their chances with bringing back one of their best homegrown starters in franchise history.
Toronto Blue Jays
Last trade: 2022 – Colorado acquired OF Randal Grichuk for OF Raimel Tapia and 2B Adrian Pinto (minors)
Besides the Cubs, Toronto is the only team with notable pitching depth that’s currently rostering a player from Japan (LHP Yusei Kikuchi). As such Toronto has emerged as another sleeper pick to obtain Ohtani’s services.
The Jays are definitely in a win-now mode with Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette only two years away from free agency. Their rotation is set with four pitchers making $10 million or more per season, including two earning $22 million. Their top prospect, Ricky Tiedemann, just won the Pitcher of the Year in the Arizona Fall League. The 21-year-old left-hander posted a 2.50 ERA following an abbreviated campaign impacted by three months on the injured list due to biceps inflammation.
That leads us to Alek Manoah, the odd man out. Following a selection to the All-Star Game in 2022 and a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young Award that year, the 25-year-old suffered a massive slump throughout 2023. Even when optioned to the minors, his struggles continued. A shoulder issue that required a PRP injection late in the year suggests this could be the factor, so Colorado will tread cautiously.
Teams Without Pitching Depth
Last trade: 2023 – Colorado acquired 2B Jamari Baylor (minors) for cash considerations
Do you really think a team with over $100 million committed to the 2030 roster is worried about signing another massive free agent? Top prospects Mick Abel and Griff McGarry will soon find themselves making their debut with the Phillies after spending much of 2023 at Double-A Reading. Zack Wheeler has one year remaining on his deal while Taijuan Walker has three to go at $18 million per season. Philly can’t afford to add Ohtani and then subtract from the rotation, nor will they want to do such a thing in pursuit of their first ring since 2008.
San Francisco Giants
Last trade: 2012 – Colorado acquired UTIL Charlie Culberson for IF Marco Scutaro
The Giants are first on this list for going the longest without striking a deal with the Rockies. That trade, back in 2012, ended up aiding San Francisco to their second World Series in three years. It may be one reason why Colorado has avoided dealing players at the trade deadline before this past season. Despite losing records in eight of the next 10 seasons following the Scutaro swap, the Rockies have made just two deals of subtraction at the trade deadline before this past season: Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto in 2015 and Mychal Givens to the Cincinnati Reds in 2021.
Farhan Zaida’s club has money to spend and at least two rotation spots to fill for 2024, so expect that to continue into the 12th consecutive year. (The longest Colorado has gone without making a move with another team? It was nearly two decades ago that the Rockies acquired RHP Marcos Carvajal from the Milwaukee Brewers after they selected the 20-year-old in the 2004 Rule 5 draft.)
Teams That Need A Lot More Than Ohtani
Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, New York Yankees and San Diego Padres
Most recent trade: Colorado acquired LHP Mason Albright (minors) and RHP Jake Madden (minors) from the Angels 1B C.J. Cron and OF Randal Grichuk
Least recent trade: Colorado acquired RHP Collin McHugh from the Mets for OF Eric Young Jr.
Let’s get one thing straight: adding Ohtani will do wonders for any team. It just so happened it meant nothing to the Angels for the past six seasons. (L.A. had the 5th-fewest wins in the American League since signing Ohtani in Dec. 2017. Their postseason futility pre-dates that, tying the Detroit Tigers for the longest active playoff drought — nine years — in the sport right now.)
The Padres are the one team that don’t fit with this group, both because of the size of their market (fourth-smallest in MLB) and a seeming need to reduce payroll following the death of owner Peter Seidler. Interim control person Eric Kutsenda may act in a similar fashion to continue Seidler’s legacy, but the writing on the wall suggests more conservative financial transactions.
Team Completely Unattached To Ohtani
Last trade: 2013 – Colorado acquires RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes for OF Dexter Fowler
Before making a single move this offseason, Houston already has a higher payroll than last season. Adding Justin Verlander last summer, plus several raises for those on extensions and deeper into arbitration suggests minimal movement in free agency. The idea of trading Alex Bregman in his final year before free agency has even been floated. Don’t count anything out as the Astros have a streak of seven consecutive postseason appearances, fourth-longest in MLB history and longest active streak in the AL.