Given a second shot at free agency, it seems like Dodgers target Shohei Ohtani might not be as much of a geographic stickler this time around.
A few weeks into the offseason, the prevailing consensus around Ohtani's free agency remains the same as it was in September, July and last February. Teams are likely to be mostly undeterred by his UCL procedure and 2024 season away from the mound; there may be a slight contractual discount/series of incentives, but the number will still be staggering. And, without much more information to go off of, the Dodgers are still the heavy favorites (and Ohtani is still Andrew Friedman's rumored obsession).
But ... while circumstances certainly are different this time around -- Ohtani is an established mega-star, only the big boys can play in this particular sandbox, he's looking to set a contract precedent rather than prove he belongs -- you can find similar reporting about the Yankees from 2017's offseason. Surely, Brian Cashman was equivalently obsessed with the slugger/starter's tantalizing repetoire. Who wouldn't be? And, yet, New York was the very first team eliminated from Ohtani's last chase. Sorry, East Coast. You never had a chance.
So, do the Dodgers have a similar automatic leg up on the competition this time around? Don't bet on it. According to Jon Morosi, Ohtani cares most about roster quality this time around, rather than lasering in on a particular coast.
Luckily for the Dodgers, they just so happen to have a pretty great roster, too, and a rock solid locale.
Dodgers Rumors: West Coast won't matter to Shohei Ohtani
Seemingly, this roster obsession will only embolden the Dodgers' chances, but it can't be forgotten he spurned LA last time around and left Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner feeling cold. The Dodgers weren't the only team that felt unfairly rebuffed during that cycle, either.
Which East Coast teams with superior rosters have the requisite level of interest and spending power to compete? Ohtani has been connected to the Boston Red Sox a few times because of their geographic proximity to New Era's headquarters (ironic), and new head of baseball operations Craig Breslow certainly has a mandate to turn his team around. The Sox might be a year away, though, and while Ohtani would be a headline-grabbing way to return to relevance, he'd have to really love their operation to sign on. The Mets, admittedly, are planning for 2025 (when Ohtani can return to the mound). They might be able to offer the most money and certainly care about competing, but would Ohtani be willing to potentially sacrifice a year of his prime to get on their timeline?
The major threats to the Dodgers certainly appear to mostly reside in similar geographic proximity. The Rangers. The Giants. And while Ohtani's new climate might not be the deciding factor, it might not matter anyway when the rosters are lined up against each other.
If New Balance could build a Los Angeles HQ, though, that'd be great.