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Shohei Ohtani suitor rankings: Which team can make best case for most exciting MLB free agent ever?

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 11: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels is introduced prior to the 93rd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard at T-Mobile Park on Tuesday, July 11, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Shohei Ohtani was the brightest star at this summer's All-Star Game in Seattle. His status remains the same as he enters as the No. 1 free agent this offseason. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Shohei Ohtani needs a new suit. Or, more precisely, a new baseball team that suits his excellence.

The most sought after man in baseball twice over, Ohtani made the leap from Japan before he could maximize his earnings and chose to join the Los Angeles Angels in a truly leaguewide sweepstakes. Since then, he has played six seasons in the majors, with the latest three somehow exceeding that winter’s wildest dreams of two-way stardom, yet never reached the postseason. With a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP on the 29-year-old’s mantle and another MVP joining them Thursday, Ohtani is set to draw the largest total contract in MLB history — a mark currently held by erstwhile teammate Mike Trout’s extension with the Angels ($426.5 million) — despite elbow surgery that will keep him off the mound until 2025.

That means the market for Ohtani’s services is inherently more limited than the first time around. While every MLB team owner could theoretically afford the expenditure in a vacuum, this is far enough into the contractual stratosphere to recognize that some franchises cannot realistically play ball at the required dollar figures. Others, to make an important distinction, simply will not.

There are, by my estimation, 14 teams with any inkling to shop in this neighborhood and 10 with a real appetite to outfit Ohtani in their colors at the necessary cost and reap what might be generational, Hall of Fame-plaque rewards. They aren’t precisely the teams with the top payrolls from last season, but it’s pretty close.

Given that Ohtani has offered remarkably few indications of his current preferences, we can only broadly speculate as to what might sway his ultimate decision beyond money — which might not even be the biggest factor, if his previous moves are representative. It’s somewhat easier, though, to reverse-engineer the equation: Which teams have the most incentive to meet Ohtani’s needs and wants? Which franchises enter the winter, either by chance or by design, with a Shohei Ohtani-shaped hole in their competitive puzzle? Which uniform would fit Ohtani like a glove for the next decade or so?

To assess fit, we’re taking stock of three dimensions:

  1. How would he fit into the lineup? This is the easiest bar to clear for most. He was the best hitter in baseball in 2023 by park-adjusted metrics such as wRC+. Every lineup can fit Ohtani, but some teams have a more readymade opening at designated hitter, where he needs to play in 2024 to effectively protect his elbow and in 2025 and beyond to continue his two-way high-wire act.

  2. How would he fit on the pitching staff? Since Ohtani can't help on the mound in 2024, this is a two-pronged question. Who can get through 2024 pitching at a high level without relying on a high-priced acquisition? And who has the depth and developmental savvy to accommodate Ohtani’s successful return to the rubber with a plan (and a six-man rotation) in 2025?

  3. How would he fit into the franchise? A vague amalgamation of payroll, culture and other factors, this is our acknowledgement that things beyond the field and the lineup card will hold sway. One of them — payroll history and general financial might — looms so large that it has already eliminated more than half the teams. Beyond that, there are matters of ownership functionality, which have repeatedly kneecapped the Angels, as well as geography, competitive timelines and general cultural stability.

Let’s get these suitors measured, starting with the most serious contenders.

Was Mookie Betts making a sales pitch to Shohei Ohtani in July? (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Was Mookie Betts making a sales pitch to Shohei Ohtani in July? (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Size 'em up: Real deal contenders

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Lineup fit? The DH slot is wide-open with J.D. Martinez in free agency and multiple mainstays capable of moving around defensively. With Ohtani slotting in either between or right after the dynamic duo of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, this choice would give the Dodgers three of the six best hitters in baseball from 2023.

Pitching fit? The perennially contending Dodgers could seriously use Ohtani in 2024, but they have the farm system and the pocketbook to be patient. At the moment, their rotation’s only proven starters are Walker Buehler, himself coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Bobby Miller, a second-year hurler just 22 starts into his MLB career. The Dodgers' 2023 situation, however, wasn’t much firmer, and they won 100 games. Between fledgling big-leaguers such as Ryan Pepiot and Emmet Sheehan, impending prospects and less glitzy external additions, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts will probably figure it out. If nothing else, they have the track record and the cache to make Ohtani believe it.

Franchise fit? Whatever jokes or laments you want to make about the Dodgers’ postseason disappointments, their reliability in reaching the postseason will be a beacon of light to Ohtani. Over the past 10 seasons, the Dodgers’ 939-580 regular-season record is the best in baseball by a healthy margin. The team in place, both at Chavez Ravine and running the organization’s perpetual talent delivery machine, gives no reason to think their run of October chances is likely to dry up soon. Thanks to a barrage of expired contracts and some pretty apparent Ohtani-focused planning, the Dodgers enter the offseason with only the 14th-largest projected payroll for 2024 and much more modest commitments in 2025 and beyond than other big spenders. Add Ohtani’s familiarity with the Los Angeles area, and you have the recipe for a clear if unsurprising favorite in the Ohtani derby.

2. Texas Rangers

Lineup fit? The defending World Series champs, as luck would have it, are bringing back almost their entire triumphant lineup — except for Mitch Garver, the usual DH.

Pitching fit? For at least the first part of 2024, Ohtani would slot in right alongside Jacob deGrom … as megastars not pitching. Rangers GM Chris Young eagerly and necessarily pursued a more-the-merrier strategy for his starting rotation in 2023, and Ohtani could form the leading edge of the next wave. Max Scherzer and Andrew Heaney will become free agents after 2024, and Nathan Eovaldi could also hit the market depending on a vesting option.

Franchise fit? You don’t have to squint to see the appeal here. They just won the World Series. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien are in place through at least 2028, while Adolis García is under team control through 2026. A crop of young bats headlined by Evan Carter, Josh Jung and 2023 draft pick Wyatt Langford could be around even longer. Ownership has exhibited a willingness to spend, running a 2023 payroll that put the Rangers over the lowest threshold of MLB’s competitive balance tax. The question is whether they’re willing to commit to paying that tax, plus potentially its escalating penalties for repeat payers, in most or all years of Ohtani’s potential tenure. If there are any soft factors at play here, it should be noted that the Rangers were one of the few non-West Coast clubs among Ohtani’s reported finalists back when he joined the Angels.

3. Chicago Cubs

Lineup fit? In serious need of pop, the Cubs would greatly benefit from Ohtani’s presence in a lineup whose best attributes reside in the useful but unspectacular realms of patience and contact. The only ripple effect would be the likely move of Christopher Morel, a powerful but whiff-happy young hitter, either to another team or to a position where he would be a defensive liability.

Pitching fit? With the emergence of Justin Steele as an ace and more young arms on the way, with Jordan Wicks the latest to arrive at Wrigley Field, there’s some promise around the Cubs’ pitching plans. There’s also enough youth and fungibility to maintain a holding pattern and then grow around Ohtani in 2025. It must be mentioned that in executing the coup of hiring Craig Counsell away from the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs snapped up the manager who has most successfully steered young pitchers through recent transitions to and from the bullpen and the rotation.

Franchise fit? Having missed the playoffs the past three seasons, the Cubs will have some work to do convincing Ohtani that they are ready to win imminently. Hiring Counsell and paying him record-tying money for a manager is a good nod toward their intentions. The rest of the plan from president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and his staff might also include bringing back Cody Bellinger and engaging in talks with a pitcher who can contribute in 2024. All of it, plus the money, will need to be sketched out for Ohtani, but this is the other non-West Coast club that reportedly held Ohtani’s interest in 2017. The Cubs' present go-for-it mentality, classic franchise status and seemingly favorable place in Ohtani’s history make them a team to watch.

4. San Francisco Giants

Lineup fit? A high whistle trills in the wind. A tumbleweed bounds through your field of vision. A faded, shredded billboard of Aaron Judge, papered over with a graffiti-laced, also shredded poster of Carlos Correa, is all you see as you scan the horizon for anything resembling reinforcements or obstacles in the Giants' lineup.

Pitching fit? San Francisco has been a great home for pitchers recently, as the Giants' staff has helped Logan Webb develop into an ace and bolstered the careers of now-departed stars such as Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodón. It remains to be seen how much of their notable usage creativity will carry over from Gabe Kapler’s tenure to new skipper Bob Melvin’s reign, but certainly, the Farhan Zaidi-led front office is unafraid to tailor roster plans to suit personnel, a necessary trait for anyone hoping to woo Ohtani.

Franchise fit? After years of sometimes excellent but always cobbled-together teams built to win on the margins, the firing of Kapler signaled that Zaidi and the Giants are feeling pressure to become not just a better baseball team but also a more exciting one. Their current payroll situation — following a series of misfires or shy approaches in free agency — is a double-edged sword. As currently constituted, they have zero hitters on the roster who should make Ohtani feel confident that this is a playoff team, but they are also a motivated, large-market team on the West Coast with less money committed long-term than any other realistic employer. Ohtani probably doesn’t care that this team’s richest free-agent deal is still the $130 million contract with Johnny Cueto, but you’ll forgive fans and prognosticators if they harbor some doubt about the club’s willingness to turn the clock back to 1993 Barry Bonds and lure a reigning MVP.

The tailor is in: Questionable fits with potentially sharp answers

5. Atlanta Braves

Lineup fit? The best lineup in baseball has six stars locked in 'til kingdom come; seriously, the earliest apparent opportunity for one of these Braves to hit the market is Ozzie Albies after 2027. Having declined Eddie Rosario’s option, they have a hole in left field and Marcell Ozuna currently penciled in at DH in the last guaranteed year of his deal. Whether they feel comfortable sliding him back to left field or not, that’s not a qualm that would prevent them from making way for Ohtani and somehow upgrading an already historically good lineup (they matched the 1927 Yankees for the best park-adjusted offense of all time in 2023) into unabashed super-team territory.

Pitching fit? The Braves need pitching help in 2024 and almost definitely need it via free agency due to a relatively thin farm system and an impetus to keep chasing another championship. That could put a restrictor plate on an Ohtani pursuit, but the prospect of ace-level starter Max Fried leaving after 2024 is very real, and Ohtani would make for a nice preemptive replacement.

Franchise fit? Look, the Braves are a real dark horse here. They are not even often cited as a team in the running for Ohtani, but at least some rumors are mentioning them this week.’s Jon Morosi said Ohtani is intrigued by the idea of playing for the Braves, and while that actual tidbit says very little, thinking about the concept of the thing for a second says a lot. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to play for the Braves for the next five to seven years? Under president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta has built and consolidated a behemoth that has the brightest outlook and clearest cost certainty of any team in MLB. It would absolutely require multiple bites of the luxury tax apple to land Ohtani, but the wildly successful Braves organization can afford it. Maybe all those extensions were for savings and Anthopoulos’ peace of mind, but they also open the door to orchestrate a bigger move with confidence. Notoriously tight-lipped about their plans — their official announcements often break news — the Braves’ capability to strike for Ohtani should not be discounted.

6. New York Yankees

Lineup fit? The obstacle is a physically big one in Giancarlo Stanton. In particularly frank remarks this week that drew the ire of Stanton’s agent, GM Brian Cashman at least made it crystal clear that he expects the DH slot to be open much of the time, one way or another, because of Stanton’s frequent battles with injuries. When Stanton is healthy, however, the Yankees would need to be comfortable playing him in the field (or attempting to trade him) should Ohtani come to the Bronx.

Pitching fit? They have faced legitimate criticism for failing to see Jordan Montgomery’s potential, and the list of homegrown starting pitchers who have really worked out is starting to get thin. But there are reasons to believe in a typically strong pitching development organization and to foresee a solid staff with a rebound from Carlos Rodón and continued surges from Clarke Schmidt and/or Michael King that could make for an appealing Ohtani landing spot.

Franchise fit? They’re the Yankees, and they need a win. Cashman’s sharp-tongued offseason comes on the heels of a hugely disappointing season and belies a top-down resistance to the seismic changes many fans wanted to see. Cashman might be right to resist — his track record of winning is long and nearly unparalleled — but the signs are not pointing in the right direction for the Yankees. Often, in moments such as these, the Yankees have turned to their largesse to reframe the narrative. Ohtani would do that, but it would amount to placing a huge bet, with multiyear luxury-tax multipliers included, on the foundation being strong enough to allow Ohtani and Aaron Judge to shine without the middle of the roster sagging beneath them as it has under Judge in recent years.

Seams showing: These fits are doable but difficult

7. Boston Red Sox

Lineup fit? Honestly, a little dicey. Masataka Yoshida showed great promise with the bat but did not look up to the task on defense, even in Fenway Park’s tricky but small left field. If his best position is DH, adding Ohtani creates at least four years of a suboptimal quandary or pressure to find him a new home. Again, that’s not going to stop anyone from pursuing Ohtani, but it’s a hurdle most other teams won’t have to worry about.

Pitching fit? Well, they really need him! With a diminished Chris Sale heading into the final guaranteed season of his contract, the only pitcher the Red Sox can confidently project into their 2025 rotation is 24-year-old Brayan Bello. That’s strong reason to pursue Ohtani and probably a deterrent to actually signing him.

Franchise fit? ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Ohtani “loves visiting Boston and has a fondness for Fenway Park,” potentially countering some belief that he prefers to remain on the West Coast. That’s perhaps a point in the Red Sox's favor. The ability to spend big is obviously there, as is a pretty promising crop of prospects en route, but team owner John Henry’s frequent pendulum swings on priorities and executives can’t be viewed as a positive. Sure, he’s apparently back to going for it right now, but first-year chief baseball officer Craig Breslow just can’t present the same sort of proof of concept or stability that many other executives can.

May 15, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) follows through on a single against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Shohei Ohtani is reportedly a big fan of Fenway Park. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

8. Toronto Blue Jays

Lineup fit? It would lock Vladimir Guerrero Jr. into playing first base for the remainder of his time with the team, which defensive metrics would rate as a grimace-worthy idea, but the Blue Jays would almost definitely accept that tradeoff to add Ohtani’s gravitational presence to a lineup that has consistently failed to reach its full potential.

Pitching fit? The rare team that doesn’t necessarily have an urgent need for Ohtani’s services in 2024, the Jays can make a strong case as a soft landing spot, thanks to reliable veterans Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and José Berríos.

Franchise fit? I wouldn’t exactly call this a positive, but the Blue Jays’ inability or disinclination to sign Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette to long-term deals means the payroll is just about wide-open beyond 2025. Unable to get over the hump recently despite strong rosters on paper, the Blue Jays could use a superstar nudge but might have a tough time distinguishing themselves as either high bidders or potential winners.

9. Seattle Mariners

Lineup fit? One of MLB’s most glaring one-man shows, the Seattle offense went exactly as far as Julio Rodríguez could take them. This is a bit of an overstatement, of course, but J.P. Crawford's and Cal Raleigh’s contributions would look much more appealing as the third-, fourth- or fifth-best hitters instead of playing second fiddle. Ohtani would solve that, but he might understandably be reluctant to join a club whose lineup resembles Angels North.

Pitching fit? Another team with a cornucopia of pitching, the Mariners could forge ahead in 2024 and feel good about a rotation led by Luis Castillo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert, backed up by several second-year arms or rookies. Health is not a given for any of them, but there’s enough talent on hand to run a strong six-man rotation if needed in 2025, which might be more than any other team can currently say.

Franchise fit? While hosting the All-Star Game this past summer, Seattle fans broke into multiple chants appealing to Ohtani to come to Seattle. The enduring MLB home of Ichiro Suzuki, the fervent Mariners fan base would welcome and appreciate Ohtani. Plus, ownership and the Jerry Dipoto-led front office backed up the Brinks truck to secure Rodríguez on a complicated, incentive-laden deal that runs through at least 2029

10. Los Angeles Angels

Lineup fit? As you might have seen, the Angels have room for him.

Pitching fit? Also yep. This staff was built to fit Ohtani but perhaps not to add much else. The team is reportedly overhauling some pitching development personnel, but the process behind those changes does not sound promising.

Franchise fit? This is really the Angels’ only hope: Ohtani defaults to comfort and personal relationships and casts his lot in with the only American team he has ever known in hopes that a tumultuous, oft-wayward organization figures it out in time to get him to October before he declines. Don’t hold your breath.

Adjustments needed: Long shots who theoretically have the budget

11. New York Mets

Having attempted to shoot the moon in 2022 and 2023, ultra-rich owner Steve Cohen could go for Ohtani if he wants, but the trade deadline and the hiring of David Stearns as president of baseball operations point more toward a retrenchment year focused on building a more consistent operation.

12. Philadelphia Phillies

One of the rare teams for whom the DH thing actually becomes a problem, the Phillies are well-stocked with superstars. Kyle Schwarber really needs to man the DH slot, and while that’s a short-term concern that could be overcome, Dave Dombrowski’s win-now efforts are probably going to be focused elsewhere.

13. Houston Astros

The Astros are maybe the only team that can rival or top the Dodgers’ penchant for winning. With seven straight ALCS appearances under their belts, Ohtani is surely aware of his former division rivals’ capabilities. With Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman’s contracts approaching end dates, Houston could feasibly have the budget space, but team owner Jim Crane has never committed more to a free agent than the $58.5 million he gave José Abreu last winter. Trying to imagine him topping that with a number almost 10 times higher is about as impossible as envisioning an ALCS without the Astros.

14. San Diego Padres

There’s no immediate clarity on the Padres' plans after the death of freewheeling owner Peter Seidler, and any baseball implications are beside the point. Recent revelations about the Padres’ financial situation — they reportedly took out a loan to make payroll in September — cast doubt on the idea that they have another big free-agent swing in them this offseason, but counting out GM A.J. Preller and this talent-hungry organization entirely would be a fool’s errand.