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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: Shohei Ohtani ‘open’ to playing outfield in 2024

Ohtani has made just seven outfield appearances in his MLB career, but more could be on the way in 2024.

Newly acquired Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani poses for a picture with his agent from CAA Sports Nez Balelo as he is introduced at a press conference on December 14, 2023 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We already knew that Los Angeles Dodgers two-way star Shohei Ohtani won’t pitching during the 2024 season, the result of Tommy John surgery — er, well, some sort of elbow surgery — in September. But while most people assumed that would make the 29-year-old a full-time DH next year, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts may have other ideas. During a radio appearance over the weekend, Roberts said that he and Ohtani have discussed the reigning AL MVP seeing some time in the outfield.

“There was even a little talk with Shohei about, come September when he can pick up a baseball and throw, would he be open to taking some balls out there in left field?” Roberts said on the Dan Patrick Show, according to “[Ohtani] said, ‘If it works and my arm feels OK, I’m open to it.’ So we’ll see, but we’ve got a lot of time before we get to that point.”

As Roberts alluded to, this plan wouldn’t even be on the table until Ohtani has recovered enough to throw a baseball with confidence in a game environment — and it’s still unknown when that might be. Teams tend to give their pitchers about 14 months or so to recover from Tommy John surgery, but position players often face shorter recovery timetables; Bryce Harper was back in the lineup just 160 days after his surgery, while New York Yankees outfielder Jasson Domínguez is expected to return from his TJ some time this summer.

Those are limited data points, but if they’re any indication — and, again, if Ohtani did in fact undergo a second Tommy John surgery as his doctor says he did — they point to Ohtani being able to make throws from the outfield at some point in August or September. Ohtani has appeared at an outfield position just seven times during his MLB career; none of those outings came more recently than 2021, however, and none were in a starting capacity. Ohtani is yet to record either a putout, an assist, or an error during his various cameos on the grass.

That the Dodgers have already approached Ohtani about playing some outfield late in the season should come as no surprise. The Dodgers are known to value optionality as much, if not more, than any other club in the game — this is the same team that intends to turn Mookie Betts into a regular second baseman after moving him all over the diamond in 2023, and that platoons its lineup as much as anyone. Plus, outfield remains a bit of a question mark: Despite resigning Jason Heyward and acquiring Manuel Margot in last week’s Tyler Glasnow deal, L.A.’s current group of Heyward, Margot, James Outman and Chris Taylor isn’t particularly inspiring. There’s still plenty of time for Andrew Friedman and Co. to add more pieces, but Ohtani could be a nice late-year solution to that problem.

But as for whether that’s in the best interests of the player? It’s hard to see the case for it: Ohtani already puts a tremendous amount of stress on his body, stress that quite literally no one else in the history of the game has had to endure — even Babe Ruth was mostly done as a starter when he became the most feared slugger in the sport. Both Ohtani and the Dodgers should be very, very careful asking him to take on anything else, much less throwing from the outfield less than a year removed from his second serious elbow surgery. Ohtani will make back much of his record $700 million contract strictly through his off-field value, but it goes without saying that the priority should be doing whatever it takes for him to keep pulling double duty for as many years as possible. Throwing him into the outfield without a ton of game-speed reps on a surgically repaired arm as he attempts to return to the mound in 2025 feels short-sighted at best. It does, however, reaffirm Ohtani’s commitment to doing whatever it might take to finally, at long last, get a taste of postseason baseball — and to help the Dodgers capture another World Series.