The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes appear to be heading down the home stretch, with reports he could make his baseball-shaping decision within the next couple of weeks. With that in mind, I wanted to spend this week breaking down two of the teams that have been most heavily connected to Ohtani in recent weeks — and two teams that would definitely help fulfill his desire to win — the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves.
The Dodgers and Braves are in very similar positions. L.A. won the World Series in 2020 and Atlanta did so in 2021. In both years, the two teams faced each other in the NLCS with the victor going on to win it all.
Over the past two seasons, the Dodgers and Braves were the two best teams in the National League — until they reached the playoffs. The Dodgers were twice embarrassed by a seemingly overmatched NL West rival, while the Braves were humiliated by the Phillies both times.
In both cases, Ohtani could lead these already loaded rosters back to the Fall Classic. Let’s dive in.
The Braves’ World Series window is wide open for another superstar
Just imagine a 2024 Braves lineup in this scenario. Leading off, 2023 NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. Batting second, 2023 AL MVP Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani would turn what was a historically productive Braves lineup into an All-Star team, combining with Acuña, Austin Riley and Matt Olson to form maybe the most feared top four of a lineup in MLB history. Because of the core that Alex Anthopulos has assembled in Atlanta, the Braves have the biggest World Series window in the league, except maybe the Baltimore Orioles. And they’ve already made good on that window in the six years that it’s been open, with that 2021 title run.
There’s also long-term stability for Ohtani. Acuña, Riley, Olson, Ozzie Albies, Sean Murphy and Michael Harris II are all under contract for the next several years. That group has an incredible amount of talent, and they’re not going anywhere.
The other big thing the Braves have going for them is their projected 2024 starting rotation. Spencer Strider will be a preseason pick to win the Cy Young. Max Fried and Charlie Morton are solid. Bryce Elder is a promising young arm. They don’t need another frontline arm until at least 2025, when Ohtani will pitch again.
But there are some negatives here, too.
First is the financial aspect. The Braves have done an incredible job with so many good young players on team-friendly extensions, but those contracts add up. Atlanta’s 2024 payroll is currently slated to be the fourth-highest in all of baseball, per Spotrac.
I believe that will limit them in a potential bidding war for Ohtani’s services, especially going against some other big-market teams that have cleared more salary. I just do not see the Braves shelling out at least $500 million for Ohtani.
Will the Dodgers’ yearlong Ohtani gamble pay off?
Speaking of superstars and loaded tops of lineups, the Dodgers won 100 games for the third straight year this past season thanks primarily to Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, two former MVPs who were finalists this year and could have seriously contended for their second award if not for Acuña’s unbelievable season.
If Ohtani couldn’t find team success alongside one MVP (Mike Trout), why not try with two?
But it’s also worth pointing out that aside from Betts and Freeman, the Dodgers have handed out very few long-term contracts recently. Last winter in particular, they stuck to only handing out one-year contracts to fortify their lineup while relying on young, unproven pitchers to solidify their rotation. It’s hard to argue against a 100-win season, but that lack of pitching depth was exposed in a big way in their stunning NLDS loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
On the plus side, the Dodgers now have more money to spend than any other contender for Ohtani’s services. According to Spotrac, L.A.’s current payroll is only 15th-highest in the league, just above the league average.
There are geographic advantages to signing with the Dodgers, as well. For starters, it would allow him to stay in Southern California, where he is very comfortable. It would also allow his fans in Japan to watch more of his games, which was a big factor in why he limited his options to teams in the Pacific time zone when he initially joined Major League Baseball and signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
Again, I do not believe geography is as big of an issue in his mind this time around, but it definitely does not hurt the Dodgers’ chances.
As for a downside with joining the Dodgers? I don’t see a big one. Yes, they have struggled in the playoffs over the past few years, but they still reach October every season, something Ohtani has still never done. Their roster is more top-heavy than it used to be, but Betts and Freeman are still in their primes and two of the best in the entire sport. Yes, the Dodgers will need more pitching heading into next season, but they would have the benefit of adding him to their staff in 2025 and beyond.
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We have been saying it for the past year, and so has just about everyone in baseball — Ohtani to the Dodgers just makes too much sense. I’m not saying it definitely will happen. I don’t know if it will. Other teams will have their say. If Ohtani does not want to be a Dodger, he will not be a Dodger, no matter how good the fit is. But on paper, at least, nobody appears to be a better fit for Ohtani than the Dodgers.
So, if Ohtani does want to be a Dodger, expect him to be wearing a blue L.A. cap very soon.
Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.
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