How one team has emerged as the current favourite to sign MLB’s top player in the Shohei Ohtani free agency period

Even with an elbow injury, Ohtani is anticipated to sign a deal this offseason that is around $500M.

The regular season of Major League Baseball is coming to an end, which means it’s almost time for a high-stakes contest whose winner will have an impact on the entire world. No, the arrival of Shohei Ohtani in free agency, not the World Series.

Ohtani, 29, just undergone surgery for a damaged ulnar collateral ligament, which will prevent him from pitching until 2025 even though he intends to be ready to hit on Opening Day 2024. Insiders predict that he will sign the highest-paying contract in league history, which is anticipated to be in excess of $500 million. And when the player in question has career stats like a 148 OPS+ and a 145 ERA+, then that is how it happens.

It’s still too early to predict how Ohtani’s market will play out in detail; disappointing seasons from potential suitors like the New York Mets and San Diego Padres could change their plans unexpectedly. But one thing is certain, according to numerous front-office sources who have spoken to Livesports in recent weeks about Ohtani’s impending free agency: the Los Angeles Dodgers will be in the running to sign baseball’s top player. They are now thought to be the favourites.

Livesports has outlined three reasons why the Dodgers are and will continue to be the front-runners to sign Ohtani before the start of the bidding process.

1. Third time’s the charm?

The Dodgers will pursue Ohtani as a free agent again this year. It is evident that the Dodgers have long been smitten with him because they had attempted to sign him twice in the past, including when he was an amateur.

It’s unclear how close the Dodgers came to signing Ohtani after he graduated from high school because other major league teams were also rumoured to be interested. He told Nippon Professional Baseball league teams not to draught him since he was so excited about joining an MLB team.

According to former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, “every time we talked to someone who had seen him, the conversations had a little bit (more) life to them than typical.” We understood that to be true. We were certain he was real.

Ohtani was later chosen by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters with the first overall pick, and they persuaded him to contract and further his development as a two-way player. Before being posted for MLB consideration, he would go on to play with them for the first five seasons of his professional career. At that time, the Dodgers made another attempt to sign Ohtani. He chose to sign with the Los Angeles Angels despite the fact that they were one of only a few teams to receive in-person interviews.

2. Past transactions hinted at future plans

When we say that the Dodgers have appeared to be pursuing Ohtani for a while, we are not retelling the past. Remember how in December we partly ascribed their underwhelming offseason on the anticipated pursuit of Ohtani?

Unprecedented athletes frequently sign unprecedented contracts, so the Dodgers may be wary of taking on what they see as pointless long-term obligations before they get the opportunity to sign the player they want most. Should the Dodgers be required to give up the potential of their 2023 roster in order to make that effort? No. But once more, this is a recognition that there are other factors, such as ownership levels and long-term goals, that may influence how teams approach the winter.

Indeed, the Dodgers didn’t sign (and haven’t subsequently traded for) a single player with a 2024 season-long guaranteed contract. There are alternatives for a few additions for the following year. This shows that Brandon Gomes and Andrew Friedman wanted to conserve their resources for an all-out pursuit this winter.

3. Preferences may align

It is a fool’s errand to try to figure out a player’s priorities in a certain way. In general, most players aim to win as many games as possible, accumulate as much money as possible, or achieve two or all three of those goals. The baseball player and their representation must be aware of and able to utilise the precise ranking (and importance) of those criteria.

Ohtani departed NPB for MLB before he could earn more than the big-league minimum wage, proving that money isn’t his primary driving force. So what? we respond to that. That information is irrelevant in terms of this winter because Ohtani will undoubtedly become extremely wealthy regardless of what happens.

The Dodgers would appear to be in the lead given the other factors of winning and location. Ohtani has frequently emphasised that winning the World Series is his top priority. The Dodgers have only won one of those in recent years, but they have a rationale for being the most successful regular-season club during the Pandemic Era, and they are certain to continue being a force.

In terms of the location, Ohtani gave the west coast priority during his initial journey into free agency. His final seven candidates, the Dodgers, Angels, Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and Chicago Cubs, were all in the West division with the exception of one. That might have been a coincidence or a predilection that has evolved over time.

If not, add it to the list of reasons why the Dodgers are the front-runners to sign Ohtani this winter, as if they already had enough going for them.