With Major League Baseball's regular season winding down, it's nearly time for a high-stakes competition that will have global implications for the winner. No, not the World Series, but Shohei Ohtani's entrance to free agency.
Ohtani, 29, recently suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament and He's still expected to land the richest contract in league history, with insiders forecasting a deal topping the $500-million mark. So it goes when the player in question has career marks that include a 148 OPS+ and a 145 ERA+., though he plans to be ready to hit for Opening Day 2024.
It's too early to know how, precisely, Ohtani's market will shake out -- poor seasons from expected suitors like the New York Mets and San Diego Padres could alter their plans in unexpected ways. Even so, various front-office sources who have spoken to CBS Sports in recent weeks about Ohtani's free agency are certain about one thing: the Los Angeles Dodgers will be in the mix and are viewed as the current favorites to sign baseball's best player.
Below, CBS Sports has highlighted three reasons why the Dodgers are and will remain the favorites to land Ohtani heading into the opening of bidding.
1. Third time's the charm?
This winter won't be the first time the Dodgers chase Ohtani as a free agent. The Dodgers have tried to sign him twice before, including as an amateur, making it clear that the organization has long been enchanted by him.
There's no indication of how close the Dodgers were to landing Ohtani out of high school, as other big-league clubs were also known to have interest. He was so enamored with the idea of signing with an MLB organization that he directed Nippon Professional Baseball league teams not to draft him.
"Every time we talked to someone that had seen him, the conversations had a little bit (more) life to them than typical," former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told The Athletic. "We knew it was real. We knew he was real."
The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters later selected Ohtani with the No. 1 overall pick and convinced him to sign and develop as a two-way talent. He would go on to spend the first five seasons of his professional career with them before being posted for MLB consideration. That's when the Dodgers once again tried to land Ohtani. They were among a handful of teams to be granted in-person meetings, but he decided to join the Los Angeles Angels.
2. Past transactions hinted at future plans
We're not retconning history when we write that the Dodgers have seemed intent on chasing Ohtani for a while. Consider that last December we attributed their slow offseason in part to the expected pursuit of Ohtani:
Unprecedented players tend to receive unprecedented contracts, meaning the Dodgers might be leery of adding what they perceive as unnecessary long-term commitments to their books before they have a chance to recruit the player they most desire. Should the Dodgers have to sacrifice the upside of their 2023 roster for that effort? No. But again, this is an acknowledgement that there are other forces that can dictate how teams approach the winter, ranging from the ownership level to future plans.
Sure enough, the Dodgers did not sign (and have not since traded for) a single player with a guaranteed contract for the 2024 season. (Several additions do have options for next year.) That suggests Andrew Friedman and Brandon Gomes wanted to keep their powder dry for an all-out pursuit this winter.
3. Preferences may align
Attempting to divine what a player prioritizes in a specific manner is a fool's errand. In general, most players want to make as much money as possible; win as many games as possible; be close to a certain location; or fulfill two or all three of those components. The precise order (and importance) of those priorities is for the ballplayer and their representation to know and leverage.
Ohtani demonstrated that money isn't his main motivating factor when he left NPB for MLB before he was able to earn more than the big-league minimum. To that we say, so what? That piece of information is useless as it pertains to this winter since Ohtani is certain to become a very rich person no matter what.
The other pieces of the equation -- the winning and the location -- would seem to favor the Dodgers. Ohtani has repeatedly stated that his top goal is winning a World Series title. The Dodgers have captured only one of those in recent years, but they've been the winningest regular-season team during the Pandemic Era for a reason -- and they seem likely to remain a force.
As for the location, Ohtani's first foray into free agency saw him prioritize the west coast. All but one of his seven finalists were located in a West division: the Dodgers, Angels, Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and Chicago Cubs. Perhaps that was a coincidence, or perhaps it's a preference that has changed with time.
If not, count it as another reason why the Dodgers are the favorites to land Ohtani this winter -- as if they didn't have enough working in their favor.