The Kansas City Chiefs rallied past the San Francisco 49ers to win their third Super Bowl in five years on Sunday night — and officially put football on a six-month hiatus. But don’t worry, we bring tidings of great joy in between your mock drafts: With teams already reporting to spring training and Opening Day just 45 days away, baseball season is right around the corner.
We understand if you’ve been a bit preoccupied over the past few weeks and/or months, especially if you’re a Chiefs or Niners fan. Maybe you’re just now coming up for air, and haven’t been able to pay too much attention to what’s been a wacky MLB offseason so far. We’re here to help with that — below you’ll find a brief recap of all the Hot Stove happenings so far this winter, in order to help you get up to speed and ready to root on your favorite team.
The Shohei Ohtani saga
Ohtani wasn’t just the biggest free agent on the market this winter; he was probably the biggest free agent in the history of the sport — a two-way phenom the likes of which baseball has never seen before, a top-five hitter at the plate who also just happens to be a Cy Young candidate on the mound. After years of futility with the Angels, Ohtani hit the market in November looking to finally find a path to the postseason — and a payday that was expected to climb over half a billion dollars.
Given that historic price tag, most assumed that Ohtani would wind up with one of MLB’s big-market behemoths; likely the Dodgers or Giants if he wanted to stay on the West Coast, with the Cubs, Mets and Yankees all lurking as potential contenders. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, things went haywire: Word got out that Ohtani’s camp had flown to Florida to visit the Toronto Blue Jays’ team complex ahead of Winter Meetings, introducing a dark horse into the mix.
That kicked off one of the most frantic 48-hour periods in recent memory, with reporters indicating that an Ohtani decision was “imminent” and all of Canada looking for confirmation that the Japanese superstar was coming north of the border. Flights were tracked. Instagram accounts were combed over. Restaurant reservations near the team’s ballpark were leaked. For an afternoon, it looked like the Jays had pulled off the coup of a lifetime ... until it turned out that, actually, the flight in question from L.A. to Toronto held only a judge from Shark Tank. Whoops.
The next day, Ohtani announced that he’d be signing with the Dodgers after all — on a whopping 10-year, $700 million deal, far and away the richest in the history of American sport. That number came with a caveat, however: Ohtani would be deferring the overwhelming majority of it until 10 years down the line, freeing up the Dodgers to continue to spend big in the short-term. Speaking of which ...
The Dodgers are building a superteam
Ohtani was just the beginning of an all-time spending spree in L.A. Less than a week later, the Dodgers swung a trade for Tampa Bay Rays ace Tyler Glasnow, who they promptly handed a nine-figure extension. Then they went out and landed the other biggest free agent on the market: Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who signed a $325 million deal that stands as the richest ever given to a pitcher. Oh, and they also added outfielder Teoscar Hernandez and lefty James Paxton in recent weeks, just to round things out, in addition to bringing back franchise icon Clayton Kershaw for at least one more year. Add it all up, and we’re looking at one of the most impressive assemblies of talent in a single offseason ever — one that’s made Los Angeles consensus World Series favorites at the start of spring training.
It’s now or never for the Yankees
Of course, L.A. isn’t the only blue-blood franchise desperate to wipe away the stain of a disappointing 2023 season. The Yankees have also been among the biggest movers and shakers this winter, responding to a fourth-place finish last year — their worst in three decades — by going out and acquiring superstar outfielder Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres. Soto is one of, if not the, best pure hitters in the game, but he’s also set to become a free agent next winter, and with Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole not getting any younger, there’s a ton of pressure on New York to make a meaningful run in 2024. Whether they’re good enough for that as currently constituted is another matter: New York did add righty Marcus Stroman to its rotation last month, but missing out on Yamamoto hurt, and this is still largely an old and injury-prone roster. No matter what happens this summer, expect fireworks in the Bronx.
Contenders make a splash ... while others stay quiet
There have been plenty of other winners this winter. The Braves acquired lefty Chris Sale from the Red Sox, adding another much-needed weapon to their rotation. The Orioles finally found new ownership more willing and able to spend, and responded by immediately swinging a trade for Brewers ace Corbin Burnes — giving them a formidable pitching staff to go along with arguably the best young core of position players in the league. The Astros have several looming questions facing them next offseason, but in the meantime, they’ve loaded up for one more title run by adding All-Star closer Josh Hader to the back of their bullpen. The Diamondbacks have built on last year’s Cinderella run to the World Series with several smart moves, addressing needs at a reasonable cost; if you’re expecting Arizona to fall back to the pack in 2024, you could be waiting a while.
Alas, for every winner, there must also be a loser, and several would-be contenders are feeling the heat as we get set to open spring training. The Giants and Blue Jays both fell agonizingly short of landing their white whales, and while they’ve pivoted to other additions — Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee for San Francisco, Justin Turner and Kevin Kiermaier for Toronto — both still feel largely stuck in the middle as things stand. Speaking of stuck in the middle: The Cubs fired the first shot of the winter by poaching manager Craig Counsell from the rival Brewers, but they’ve largely avoided the big-ticket move most expected (though Japanese lefty Shota Imanaga is intriguing). The Phillies, Mariners and world champion Rangers have also been awfully quiet thus far this offseason, though all should still be in the mix for playoff spots in a few months’ time.
Plenty of talent still on the market
Camps may be opening in both Florida and Arizona, but there’s still plenty of work to be done this winter — largely thanks to Scott Boras. Baseball’s premier superagent has made a habit of keeping his clients on the market until February or even March, and this year is no exception: Four of our top 10 free agents — reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, postseason hero Jordan Montgomery, outfielder Cody Bellinger and third baseman Matt Chapman — remain available, and all four just so happen to be Boras clients. Where that quartet might end up remains a very open question, one that could swing the balance of power yet again in what’s already been a topsy-turvy offseason.