One month before the end of the 2023 MLB season, Shohei Ohtani's free agency is among the biggest stories in baseball. There has been a ton of speculation about where the Los Angeles Angels' star might land since Opening Day. It's hovered over the Angels' trade deadline moves—they couldn't have worked out worse for Los Angeles—and has received even more attention amid Ohtani's elbow injury.
With Ohtani on his way to winning a second American League MVP award in three years, it's largely been assumed that the two-way superstar would sign a record-breaking contract in free agency. A $500 million contract seemed like a given for a player who could theoretically be the best offensive hitter AND the best pitcher in the same season. Ohtani's injury and a potential second Tommy John surgery could end up costing the Angels' star tens of millions of dollars on the open market. If Ohtani's price in free agency comes down, it might also increase the number of realistic suitors during the 2023-24 MLB offseason.
Given the Angels' inability to make the playoffs, let alone sniff a championship since signing Ohtani six years ago, Los Angeles is expected to have a difficult time keeping their best player. It's no secret that the free-agent-to-be wants to play for a team that gives him a chance to compete for World Series titles. Landing a massive contract will, of course, be part of Ohtani's calculus when choosing his next team. It's also believed that Ohtani has a strong preference to play on the West Coast.
Based on all of those factors, let's take a look at the five most likely teams to seriously pursue Ohtani in 2023 MLB free agency.
5. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have climbed out of their hole after three losing seasons. Chicago dipped its toes back into free agency by giving Dansby Swanson a seven-year, $177 million contract. Now it might be time for the Cubs to go all-in during free agency, paying more than half a billion dollars for a new face of the franchise.
The Cubs have saved money for long enough, and it's resulted in little success on the field. Chicago doesn't even have a top-10 payroll in baseball. The most popular franchise in the country's third-biggest media market can obviously afford to spend more money. The Cubs outspent every single team in 2019. Adding Ohtani's record salary to the payroll still might not make Chicago one of the three biggest spenders in baseball.
Chicago has the makings of a good, young core that can compete for championships. Re-signing Cody Bellinger and acquiring Ohtani would set the Cubs up nicely to be among the NL's best teams for the second half of the decade.
4. Seattle Mariners
Want a dark-horse candidate to strongly pursue Ohtani in free agency? How about one of the Angels' AL West rivals? The Mariners might be a superstar away from winning a World Series in the next few years.
The Mariners don't spend like the Angels, Houston Astros or Texas Rangers. More than half the league has a higher payroll than the Mariners in 2023. It's probably hard for some baseball fans to imagine Seattle shelling out $500 million for one player. But if they're going to do it for anyone, it would be Ohtani.
Two decades after signing Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle is a logical landing spot for MLB's latest Japanese star. Ohtani idolized Suzuki and probably considers Seattle to be a more attractive destination than other players. Don't forget this is the same organization that outbid the Yankees for Robinson Cano. Don't be surprised if the Mariners dig deep in their pockets for the modern-day version of Babe Ruth.
3. New York Mets
As long as Steve Cohen is the Mets owner, New York has to be considered one of the most likely candidates to pursue the best player in free agency each year. Cohen is the wealthiest owner in MLB by a country mile. He wants to win at any cost and will spare no expense to improve his chances of winning a championship. For the 2023 season, Cohen put together the most expensive collection of talent in the history of American professional team sports.
Cohen's deep pockets didn't turn the 2023 Mets into a championship contender. Far from it. New York's high-priced roster turned into a disaster, and Cohen was quick to sell off some of the team's best players. The Mets' front office has even signaled that it will spend more prudently in the future. What does all of that mean for the Mets' pursuit of Ohtani? Possibly very little.
Few around baseball actually believe that Cohen and the Mets will sit quietly from the sidelines as other franchises bid for arguably the greatest free agent of all time. Cohen has proven that he's willing to spend big as part of a rebuilding effort by agreeing to pay a large portion of the money owed to Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in exchange for top prospects. Maybe the Mets aren't going to be contenders in 2024, but Ohtani can star for New York in the rotation and the middle of the order when they chase championships in 2025, 2026 and 2027.
During the final season of his contract with the Angels, Ohtani has been linked to the Dodgers more so than any other potential free-agent landing spot. The Dodgers were not big spenders last offseason, and they likely did so with Ohtani's free agency in mind. In the last decade, no team has consistently spent more money than the Dodgers. Ownership has shown time and time again that it has no problem owning MLB's highest payroll in pursuit of a championship.
Ohtani wouldn't simply be a luxury for the Dodgers to add to their lineup. Los Angeles is in need of another slugger. It might not appear that way because the Dodgers rank near the top of the league in the most important offensive categories. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman deserve most of the credit. They've carried Los Angeles' lineup in a way that few duos in the history of MLB ever have.
What happens if Betts or Freeman has a down season in 2024? It's not realistic to think they will both be top MVP candidates for a second straight year. Betts and Freeman will be 65 years old combined next year. Adding Ohtani would take an enormous burden off the Dodgers' star and lengthen a championship-caliber lineup.
The Giants are the best match for Ohtani. San Francisco is on the West Coast. With an MLB-high three World Series titles since 2010, the Giants are clearly an organization that is capable of allowing Ohtani to compete for championships. Perhaps most importantly when it comes to Ohtani's free agency, San Francisco is absolutely desperate to acquire a superstar.
The 2022 offseason was supposed to be when the Giants landed the next face of their franchise. San Francisco whiffed on two attempts to sign a star free agent. Aaron Judge chose to stay with the Yankees over playing for his hometown Giants. San Francisco was ready to pivot toward signing Carlos Correa until a medical issue squashed that deal.
Money wasn't an issue in either pursuit. The Giants were willing to give out the biggest contract in free agency for either Judge or Correa. You can be sure that San Francisco is prepared to match Ohtani's asking price. If the Giants fail to sigh Ohtani, it won't be for a lack of trying.