The champagne has dried from the Rangers’ World Series parade. Contract options have been exercised or declined. Qualifying offers have been extended. At 5 p.m. ET on Monday, Nov. 6, MLB free agency can officially begin. And with all due respect to everyone else on the market this year, that really means that the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes can officially begin.
The two-way phenom and likely AL MVP may be recovering from elbow surgery that will keep him off the mound until 2025, but make no mistake: The 29-year-old is still the most hotly anticipated free agent in baseball history, one whose ridiculous talent and marketability give him a real chance to become the game’s first $500 million man this winter. Just as a reminder, he slashed .304/.412/.654 with an AL-leading 44 home runs this past season, adding a 3.14 ERA and 167 strikeouts over 23 starts before hurting his elbow.
Obviously, all 30 teams could use a player like that, regardless of where they’re at in their contention timeline — he’s still smack in the middle of his prime, not to mention all the attention he’ll generate. But some teams have a better chance than others. So let’s break down the lay of the land, with an authoritative ranking of each team by the odds that they can actually land MLB’s unicorn.
Shohei Ohtani free agency destinations
Tier 6: Absolutely not
We know that Ohtani is desperate to finally play for a contender — “it sucks to lose,” as he told reporters at this year’s All-Star Game — and we know that most of these teams, for better or worse, aren’t financially interested in making a serious run at him. Everyone in the league will probably lob a phone call, but there’s no reason to think that Ohtani would want to play for any of these teams or their ownership groups would be willing to pick up the tab. (You could make an argument for including Cleveland and Milwaukee in the next tier, but both of those teams are entering tricky offseasons and there’s nothing in their recent histories to suggest they have the desire to spend that kind of cash.)
Tier 5: Extreme long-shots
Tampa did reportedly try to acquire Ohtani at the deadline, and they made a nine-figure offer for Freddie Freeman two years ago, so you can’t rule it out entirely. It’s still very hard to imagine, however, as is Ohtani returning to the Angels given the state of that roster and their past inability to build around he and Mike Trout. The O’s should really be higher on this list, but I’ll believe that Mike Elias and the Angelos family want to play in the deep end of free agency when I see it. The Twins make a ton of on-field sense but have historically not been willing to spend like this, while the Tigers are more or less the reverse.
Tier 4: So you’re saying there’s a chance
Hey, the D-backs have been willing to throw money around in the past, they’re near the West Coast and they just got all the way to the World Series; the odds there aren’t entirely zero. The Cardinals would be easier to see as a suitor had Ohtani not blown his arm out — St. Louis is desperate for pitching this winter — while the Reds have payroll flexibility and oodles of young talent but an ownership group that could charitably be described as “cost-conscious”. The Padres haven’t been cost-conscious in recent years, but while GM A.J. Preller loves to make a splash, all signs out of San Diego point to some belt-tightening this offseason. Consider this tier “improbable, but not impossible”.
Tier 3: Dark horses
Now we’re officially getting somewhere. The Blue Jays sorely need an impact lefty bat at DH, plus some considerable star power and a countryman in Yusei Kikuchi, but can they sell Ohtani on playing in Canada? Boston feels like it should always be in these conversations, but they appear to be at a crossroads with new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow coming in and owner John Henry seemingly unable to decide just how much he wants to invest. The Phillies get nudged into the top 10 here almost solely due to GM Dave Dombrowski’s track record with marquee free agents, though it’s hard to imagine how they might fit yet another DH bat into that lineup. The Astros, meanwhile, don’t seem keen on making Yordan Alvarez a full-time left fielder, plus Jim Crane has his own stars to worry about locking up (most especially Kyle Tucker and Alex Bregman).
Tier 2: Outer circle of contention
No team is more in need of a vibe shift than New York, and while an 82-80 record this year doesn’t exactly scream “contender”, the Yankees are still the Yankees — the money is there, and it wouldn’t be too hard to sell Ohtani on their competitive track record. While they can’t fall any farther than this tier, however, they remain among the least likely of the serious suitors; Hal Steinbrenner has been frustratingly unwilling to really spend big in recent years, and keep in mind that Ohtani respectfully declined to listen to the team’s pitch when he first came to the States in 2018.
The Braves have nearly their entire core locked up on affordable long-term deals, giving them the flexibility to break the bank for someone like Ohtani. His unavailability next season as a pitcher hurts an Atlanta team that needs starters — not to mention Marcell Ozuna’s presence as a full-time DH — but this is a team that likes to make big splashes and should be especially motivated given how their 2023 ended. If Ohtani is willing to come east and wants to play for a contender, he could do much worse.
Ohtani has spent some considerable time in the Pacific Northwest, not to mention the Mariners’ connection with Ichiro. They’re also an on-field fit, given their young core of talent, opening at DH and desperate need for lefty power. Really, they should be even higher than this ... were it not for the messaging out of Seattle of late, with Jerry Dipoto telling reporters that “I don’t know that the solutions to our problems are big-name players”. The team’s current payroll is far from exorbitant, but unless they’re really keeping everyone off the scent, they don’t seem to have a ton of interest here.
5. Chicago Cubs
Chicago’s 2023 ended in disappointment, but this is still a team on the upswing, and now would be the time to kickstart their window of contention with a big free-agent addition. There are no compelling DHs currently on the roster, plus Seiya Suzuki is around to help with the transition to the Midwest. Really, there’s no reason for Chicago not to go all-in here — the NL Central is there for the taking, and the Cubs are never hurting for money to burn — but will the Ricketts ownership group take this big of a swing?
Tier 1: Inner circle of contention
On paper, the Rangers check just about every box: They’ll certainly be contenders in 2024 and beyond, and their ownership group showed how committed they were by adding over $100 million in payroll over the last two years. They also have a need at DH despite all that offensive depth — it’s just about the only position on the diamond they don’t have covered for the foreseeable future. Really, everything is aligned for Texas; the only question is whether Ohtani wants to come play in the Lone Star State.
No matter how hard the Giants have tried, they’ve yet to be able to bring a legitimate superstar to San Francisco, most recently falling short with both Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa. After collapsing down the stretch this past season, this is a team desperate to not just get back to the postseason but to establish some sort of identity — and what better way to usher in a new, post-Even Year Magic era than by landing the game’s biggest name? Money will be no object — they reportedly made a competitive offer for Judge and threw $350 million at Correa last winter — and they can sell Ohtani on staying in California.
If this comes down to money, no one has more of it than Steve Cohen, and that alone puts them among the most likely destinations. Much was made of their deadline fire sale and reported lack of interest in contending in 2024, but new president of baseball operations David Stearns would surely make an exception for Ohtani. Whether he can sell Ohtani on 1) New York’s path to immediate competitiveness and 2) coming to the East Coast is another matter entirely. Still, we know for a fact that no one will be more committed to staying in this race than the Mets.
Of course, the Dodgers have more money than just about anyone other than the Mets, and they can also offer a ready-made roster and the ability to stay in Southern California. There’s no way to know exactly what Ohtani will want in his next team, but “staying home, winning and getting paid a ton of money” would seem to be the strongest sales pitch currently out there, and that makes L.A. the odds-on favorite here.