Unless you’ve been on vacation under a rock recently, you’re probably aware that the struggling Los Angeles Angels are considering dealing Shohei Ohtani — the game’s best, coolest and most valuable player in every sense of the word — at this year’s trade deadline. It’s likely the most momentous decision in franchise history, if not one of the most momentous decisions in baseball history. And it’s no sure thing they’ll go through with it: The Angels did just sweep the Yankees to get back over .500, and they’re only 4.5 games back of the second and third AL Wild Card spots — it’s possible they get spooked and refuse to be the organization that traded Babe Ruth 2.0.
Still, with Ohtani’s free agency looming and this injury-riddled roster not inspiring a ton of confidence, the smartest decision from a baseball perspective is likely to send him packing and kick-start your rebuild with what will likely be a massive return. So then the question becomes: Just where will the two-way phenom go? We’ve taken the liberty of ranking all 29 potential landing spots — yes, even the A’s — in order of the likelihood that they acquire Ohtani’s services for the stretch run.
None of these teams are in the hunt for a playoff spot, which would render a two-month Ohtani rental moot. None of them are likely to have enough pieces to entice L.A. anyway — the Pirates and Nationals could come close, although it would require D.C. to part with just about everything they gained only a year ago in the Juan Soto deal. Given where the White Sox are in their lifecycle, you could maybe make the argument, but 1) as if Jerry Reinsdorf has that in him and 2) who are they sending in return?
I was tempted to vault the Mets up a couple of tiers — you can never count Steve Cohen out of any bidding war — but it’s hard to believe that New York would look at a team six games under .500 and decide to sell the farm for Ohtani now rather than back up the Brinks truck for him this winter. The Tigers, Cardinals and Cubs all reside in eminently winnable divisions, but St. Louis GM John Mozeliak has already all but committed to selling, while Detroit doesn’t have a ton of young talent to spare and isn’t at the right stage of its contention cycle to be going all-in on an Ohtani rental.`(You could say the same about Boston.) In a perfect world, these teams got off to better starts and are all near the top of this list; alas, we don’t live in that world.
Contenders without the means
Each one of these teams could use both another arm and, more importantly, a middle-of-the-order bat, each one is in a place where they should be trying to win now and each finds themselves smack in the middle of the postseason chase. (Big-ups to the AL Central, Cleveland.) The Guardians and Marlins aren’t going anywhere with that lineup. The D-backs are in an arms race with the Dodgers and Giants.
The Marlins likely don’t have the prospects to get this done, so we can disregard them. As for the other three: Can anyone see any of these teams willingly taking on the roughly $10 million in salary it would take to acquire Ohtani? (Not to mention Anthony Rendon’s contract, which Moreno would love to offload and other, richer teams would probably be willing to take on.) Sure, Milwaukee could dangle Jackson Chourio and someone like Freddy Peralta, while Arizona could offer Jordan Lawlar and/or Druw Jones and the Guardians have a bevy of young arms to include. All three rank in the bottom 12 of the league in payroll, though; given their decision-making history, it’s hard to see it.
Long-shots, but you have to try
We’ve officially reached the realm of real possibilities. Some of these teams (Mariners, Twins) have better pools of young talent to dip into in a potential trade, while others (Phillies, Braves) are more aggressive by nature, but all of them hypothetically have the motivation and the means to get an Ohtani deal done.
Seattle was reportedly one of Ohtani’s top choices when he first came to the States — and they’re expected to pursue him aggressively this winter — but Moreno seems hell-bent on not trading him within the division. With Andrew Painter’s future now very much in doubt, do the Phillies have the talent it would take to land him? (The Jays should be at or near the top of this list, but disastrous years from Alek Manoah and Alejandro Kirk — and pitching prospect Ricky Tiedemann’s health issues — leave Toronto suddenly short on young, impact talent.) And would the Braves risk it given that their team already boasts far and away baseball’s best record?
Navigating Yordan Alvarez and Ohtani at DH would be tricky, but that’s a problem every single team would love to have. More importantly, the Astros’ rotation has been decimated by injury (and whatever the heck’s happened to Cristian Javier) and they could really, really use Ohtani’s arm as they attempt to repeat. Houston isn’t as formidable as in years past, but they’re obviously in win-now mode, and Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and Alvarez deserve the best possible chance to snag another ring. The only two downsides here: the likelihood of Moreno dealing Ohtani within the division, and a lack of young talent to include in a deal outside pitcher Hunter Brown.
After years of striking out on luring star free agents to San Francisco — despite a healthy payroll, major metro market, beautiful ballpark and largely competitive teams — you know Farhan Zaidi is going to go all-in to lure Ohtani to the Bay. The Giants are currently in possession of a Wild Card spot, have a need for a DH and another front-line starter and have a top prospect in Triple-A lefty Kyle Harrison who could serve as the centerpiece of a deal. The track record here, though, has me skeptical, and I’m not sure that Harrison plus, say, Luis Matos, would do enough to move the needle against some of the other teams vying for Ohtani’s services.
7. New York Yankees
Six years ago, Ohtani declined to speak to the Yankees as a free agent — he respectfully declined to even listen to their recruiting pitch. He doesn’t have a no-trade clause, however, and no team is more desperate for his services on the mound and at the plate than the moribund Yankees. And who knows, maybe spending a couple months as a Yankee and living in New York during a pennant chase will be enough to sell Ohtani on sticking around? We know Hal Steinbrenner and Co. aren’t going to sell; the only question is whether they can put together a promising enough package to compete with some of the other teams in this top 10.
Are the Padres too high? Maybe, but given A.J. Preller’s recent history, I’m not counting them out. San Diego still has two premium prospects in shortstop Jackson Merrill and 17-year-old catcher Ethan Salas, plus all the motivation you could possibly want as MLB’s most win-now team. We know Ohtani would love to stay on the West Coast, and he and Yu Darvish have formed a close friendship, both of which would play in the Pads’ favor as they look toward trying to resign him this winter. The only real obstacle is whether the current team is going to be good enough to convince their front office to be buyers, and we know Preller needs very little motivation on that front.
The top five
The Reds’ free-wheeling band of youngsters has them right in the thick of the NL Central race, and Cincy has the goods to put together a competitive package for Ohtani without even touching marquee names like Elly De La Cruz and Matt McLain. (The recently-promoted Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Triple-A shortstop Noelvi Marte would be a good start.) This team is in desperate need of a frontline starter, and while they’re already a bit too deep in position player talent, we’re sure they can carve out DH at-bats for someone as good as Ohtani. America deserves for a team this fun to acquire a player this fun — and for Ohtani to try to hit a ball clear into the Ohio River — but it remains to be seen whether an ownership group and front office that entered this season with a skinflint reputation will be willing to accelerate their timeline so drastically.
Sure, the Rays haven’t typically played at the top of the trade or free-agency market, but keep in mind that they’ve made runs at Freddie Freeman, Sean Murphy and Matt Olson over the past year or two. Tampa’s squandered their AL East lead, their rotation has been ravaged by injury and they could certainly use another power bat; with a seemingly endless supply of intriguing Minor League hitters (Junior Caminero might be the single most intriguing centerpiece of an Ohtani return), it would be criminal if they didn’t make a run at Ohtani. This has been among the game’s most consistently successful and competitive franchises for over a decade now — all their missing is the World Series ring to prove it, and if ever there were a year and a player to go all-in on, it’s here.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have the need, what with injuries up and down their starting rotation. They have the motivation, with a core of stars who aren’t getting any younger and a hunger to finally capture a non-pandemic title. They have the goods, year after year producing among the deepest farm systems in the game. And we know they have the inclination, given how many times we’ve seen Andrew Friedman and Co. make a splash both in free agency and specifically at the trade deadline. Really, the only reason L.A. is even this low is because it’s very hard to see Arte Moreno willingly trading Ohtani to his crosstown rival. Especially considering how competitive the Dodgers figure to be in the race to sign him to a long-term deal this winter.
The Rangers are still a very, very good team, but the cracks in the armor have begun to show a little bit of late. Jacob deGrom is out for the year after Tommy John surgery. Jon Gray left his most recent start after taking a comebacker off the leg, and he’d started coming back to Earth over the past few weeks. Nathan Eovaldi’s fastball velocity is waning, and Andrew Heaney and Martin Perez are no one’s idea of a postseason rotation. Texas is even a natural fit at the plate: If there’s one hole in one of baseball’s deepest lineups, it’s at DH, where Ezequiel Duran has done an admirable job but is stretched a bit as an everyday option. (If anything, Duran’s performance this year would make him an ideal fit in a trade package for Ohtani.)
This team didn’t spend all that money on deGrom, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and others to play it safe. Their core is good enough to win a World Series, and they’ve certainly got the prospects to get a deal done — highlighted by this year’s No. 4 overall pick, outfielder Wyatt Langford. Texas makes a ton of sense as an Ohtani landing spot. And yet, the fact that they share a division with the Angels keeps them out of the top spot, as does the fact that their farm system doesn’t quite measure up to our No. 1 team.
It’s time, Mark Elias. Baltimore’s GM has stuck rigorously to his long-term plan, sitting tight at both last year’s deadline and this past winter despite a surprisingly successful 2022 season. But for as much as the O’s are ahead of even the most optimistic schedule, those team-building considerations should be out the window by now. It’s become abundantly clear that this team is ready to win today, not next year, and they’re too good for the front office to start getting cute; for as much as we think Adley Rutschman and Co. will contend for the next decade, you never know how many bites at the apple you’ll actually get.
Not to mention that Baltimore, probably the best hitting development org in the game right now, is overflowing with so many top position player prospects that they can’t even make room for them all on the Major League roster. Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser have already joined Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson in Baltimore, but Heston Kjerstad, Connor Norby, Coby Mayo and more are still sitting in the Minors. No team is better equipped to bowl the Angels away with an offer, and no team should be more motivated than an organization that hasn’t won a World Series since 1983.