In no way should fans be criticizing the roll of the dice the Los Angeles Dodgers likely took this past offseason when they limited expenses in their plan to make room for Shohei Ohtani when he becomes a free agent after 2023. He's the best player in the game and would fill two eventual gigantic needs for LA.
But ... it's worth questioning if it's a gamble that will eventually pay off. At first, questions arose when insiders and analysts speculated New York Mets owner Steve Cohen probably wouldn't take issue with out-bidding the Dodgers and offering Ohtani the largest contract in MLB history.
Now that the Mets are taking a step back in 2023, however, Ohtani may not be enticed to sign another 3,000 miles from home if there's a chance he won't be in the best position possible to compete for a World Series title.
That's why the Dodgers feel -- and have always felt -- like the best bet. They're right next door to Anaheim. Ohtani is still the closest he can possibly be to Japan. And the Dodgers have made the playoffs 10 years running with three appearances in the Fall Classic. They have the best attendance in MLB and are one of the most renowned franchises in sports.
There's now another problem with Ohtani unquestionably joining the Dodgers. The Angels are 37-31, just 5.5 games back of the Texas Rangers for the AL West lead, and are looking like a legitimate contender despite a crowded Wild Card field.
Could Shohei Ohtani choose Angels over Dodgers?
Meanwhile, the Dodgers -- still a very good team -- are four games back of the NL West lead after relinquishing control to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Big deal? Not really. But when you consider the state of LA's pitching staff, that really changes the complexion of everything.
The Dodgers are on pace to record their worst ERA in team history (since the franchise moved to Los Angeles). Right now, that number sits at 4.49, with the next worst being 4.47 back in 1958. And it's all because of the self-imposed limitations enacted this past offseason.
The Dodgers added Noah Syndergaard to their starting rotation in an attempt to make a bargain signing for a bounce-back candidate. That's $13 million in the trash. They welcomed back Dustin May from Tommy John surgery, but his elbow still isn't right and he's on the 60-day IL. Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urías will be free agents after 2023. Tony Gonsolin is unable to pitch every fifth day. And that's just the state of the starting rotation, which will at least boast Bobby Miller next year, but we can't be so sure about Kersh, Urías, May and/or another topflight addition.
As for the bullpen, patchwork additons such as Alex Reyes (out for season), Jimmy Nelson (still hasn't pitched), Daniel Hudson (still hasn't pitched), Blake Treinen (still hasn't pitched). and JP Feyereisen (still hasn't pitched). In risky fashion, they relied on rebounds from Phil Bickford (nope) and steps forward from Yency Almonte (nope) and Alex Vesia (disaster). It's been a combination of bad luck and imperfect decision making, but it's especially concerning because there will be a lot of work ahead to improve for 2024, even with Ohtani in the fold.
And perhaps even worse, it's all put 2023 in peril, as the Dodgers' plan was to minimize the pressure with fewer big names and try to avoid the spotlight being on them entering the postseason, which hasn't gone particularly well in 2021 and 2022. In a weakened NL, it felt like the perfect time for LA to make at least some upgrades to further take advantage of their positioning. It also would've been great to avoid an all-out pitching disaster, since that's what plagues teams in postseason play.
You can never count out the Dodgers, but right now, the most important part of the roster is melting down and trending in the wrong direction, as regressions and poor play add insult to injury. Will Ohtani trust the Dodgers' vision if they don't recover from this and he's offered a massive extension from the Angels (and they manage to sneak into the postseason and make some noise)?
That's all we're asking.