While the rumors at the winter meetings mostly swirled around Shohei Ohtani, the New York Yankees got the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) offseason underway with their blockbuster trade for outfielder Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres to join fellow superstar Aaron Judge. Then, on Saturday, December 9, Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, the top free agent, announced on Instagram his decision to move crosstown and play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers will pay him $700 million over ten years–the richest contract in North American professional sports history.
However, thanks to his status as the most marketable player in the sport who makes millions of dollars from lucrative endorsements, Ohtani plans to defer $68 million of his annual $70 million salary until 2034. Ohtani’s decision, similar to the New York Mets’ arrangement with former player Bobby Bonilla, opens up substantial payroll space for the Dodgers to sign pitchers to complement the tremendous trio of Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman.
Even after the Yankees’ and Dodgers’ moves to strengthen their lineups, these two historic franchises still need pitching help and remain involved in the race to sign Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Additionally, the following three teams may experience more pressure to reinforce their rosters via the trade or free-agency markets.
MLB Teams Feeling the Pressure After Winter Meetings
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays fell short in the postseason wildcard round for a second straight year. Despite employing talented hitters Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and George Springer, their 2023 offense was middle of the pack. The Minnesota Twins’ pitching shut down Toronto in the playoffs. Now, the team stands to lose starters Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt, and Kevin Kiermaier in free agency.
With Springer 34 years old and Bichette and Guerrero Jr. only two years away from free agency, Toronto needs to maximize this contention window. They were heavily involved in the Ohtani sweepstakes to the end. On Friday, fans started tracking a plane headed for the city following MLB reporter Jon Morosi’s false online report that he was going there to sign with the team.
The Jays also were interested in Soto, only to watch him get traded to their division rival. Not landing the two most impactful hitters available, the team is turning to free-agent outfielder Cody Bellinger, who bounced back with the Chicago Cubs this year following a disappointing end to his Dodgers’ tenure. Toronto also may need to acquire a new third baseman and designated hitter if Chapman and Belt depart to other teams.
San Francisco Giants
Once again, the San Francisco Giants went big in free agency, only to be disappointed. Last year, Aaron Judge decided to remain a Yankee, resisting his hometown team’s $360 million offer. Then, the team had agreed with shortstop Carlos Correa, only to balk at his physical and end negotiations.
Before Bob Melvin’s first season as manager, the star-hungry club pursued the two biggest superstars in Soto and Ohtani but came up short. Even worse, they will have to face Ohtani so much over the next decade as he signed with their most hated division rival.
Bellinger makes a lot of sense in San Francisco as the former Dodger is better than the team’s incumbent center fielder, Mike Yastrzemski, and has the skills to serve as the centerpiece of this team’s lineup. Chapman also makes sense as a free-agent signing, given his ties to Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Melvin from their time with the Oakland Athletics. Lastly, their stadium’s reputation as a tough place to hit may entice Yamamoto, who would be a stellar co-ace alongside Logan Webb.
2022’s American League Rookie of the Year center fielder Julio Rodriguez led the Seattle Mariners to their first postseason appearance since 2001, satisfying a rabid fanbase excited about their team snapping the longest playoff drought in MLB history. In 2023, the Mariners fell just short of the playoffs with an 88-74 record.
Aside from superstar Rodriguez, their offense did not score enough to support a talented pitching staff of young flamethrowers. In a division with the 2022 champion Houston Astros and 2023 champion Texas Rangers, the Mariners seem to have taken a step back this offseason. They received minimal returns from trades that sent starting third baseman Eugenio Suárez to the Arizona Diamondbacks and left fielder Jarred Kelenic, a one-time top prospect, to the Atlanta Braves.
With the increased payroll space, the Mariners could re-sign free-agent right fielder Teoscar Hernández or go after Matt Chapman to take over third base. Or, they can trade from their stockpile of young pitchers (Bryan Woo or Bryce Miller) to boost their offense with someone like Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder Randy Arozarena.
Once the dust settles on Ohtani’s deal that sent shockwaves across all American professional sports, other free agents like Yamamoto, Blake Snell, and Josh Hader may find their new home. How these three teams react may determine their ability to be competitive next year in what will likely be strong divisions.
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