Shohei Ohtani is having another one of his historic, legendary, preposterous seasons. He is hitting .302 from the plate and leads the league with 32 homers. He's also gone 7-4 on the mound with a 3.32 ERA, a number that would've been lower if he didn't try to pitch through a blister on his throwing hand and give up back-to-back homers for the first time in his career right before the All-Star Break. In addition to all those stats there are approximately a million advanced numbers with weird capitalized acronyms that all tell you the same thing-- the best player in baseball is performing to a level we've never seen before and probably will never see again.
Despite all that the Los Angeles Angels are still out of the playoff picture as of now, which is not entirely their fault but is the fact of the matter. If the team misses the playoffs again, it has become clear Ohtani is gone. He seems to like playing for the organization well enough but he has yet to play a single inning of postseason baseball, which is a shame for both him and all us fans. Unless the Angels get healthy and turn it around in the second half, Ohtani will become the most coveted free agent of all time come winter. And the recruiting has already begun. Just listen to the Seattle crowd chanting at a non-Mariners player during the All-Star Game last night.
I can't say I remember anything like this happening... ever? In any sport? This is LeBron James hitting free agency all over again except everyone knows it's coming five months out. The only thing that stands between Ohtani and the open market is a playoff push by Los Angeles, which is not out of the question.
But that is not as fun to think about. Instead, let us assume the Angels falter down the stretch, as they are wont to do, and Ohtani does indeed hit free agency at 29 years-old. He will command a contract well over $500 million from any place he chooses so owners who are notoriously cheap (like, say, John Fisher of the Athletics) are not going to have their teams in the running. Otherwise, though, it'll come down to Ohtani's preference because most teams will just give him a blank check if he says he wants to play for them.
Here are a few potential free agent destinations for the reigning MVP.
As the fans above can attest, the Mariners want Ohtani. In many ways they are an ideal fit. He'll still be on the West Coast, making travel back home and Japanese fan viewing a bit easier. They have a young superstar slugger on a very reasonable long-term contract and two pitchers who were just named All-Stars. It wouldn't be the best supporting cast possible for Ohtani to find but it is pretty good and they check a lot of other boxes.
The potential issue is similar to what Ohtani ran into with the Angels, though-- the Mariners are not a winning organization. They just broke a 20-year playoff drought last season. In their 45 seasons of existence they've made the postseason five times. And they rather famously had another incredibly good Japanese player on their team by the name of Ichiro for over a decade and made it to the playoffs exactly once with him. You might say such labels don't mean anything tangible, and you'd be right, but they matter to a guy who has made it clear he wants to play October baseball. If Ohtani thinks the roster is strong enough to compete, then they're in play. If there are any questions, though, the Mariners do not have a history that suggests they'll do whatever it takes to figure it out.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Yeah, yeah, I know. Nobody wants this except Dodgers fans. It would suck to see the biggest-spending team in baseball history shell out even more cash to get the best player in baseball. But you can obviously see the appeal from Ohtani's perspective. This Los Angeles squad has made the playoffs every season for the last decade and appeared in three World Series, winning one title. They're basically the polar opposite of the Angels, constant contenders with ownership willing to spend the big bucks in order to patch holes in the roster and win games. Plus they're in the same time zone, Ohtani wouldn't really have to move, all that good stuff.
But he may prove too expensive even for the deep pockets of Dodgers ownership. The team's payroll this season is $227 million, good for fifth in all of baseball. With the tax they'll pay $256 million in total to field this roster for the year. Ohtani could easily command a deal worth $50 million annually. It's hard to believe the Dodgers could pay him while keeping the roster together. If they are willing to move money (and can do so without trading their best players) in order to sign Ohtani, then they're definitely a frontrunner. But that is a lot of uncertainty.
San Francisco Giants
You'll notice all three of these teams are based in California. There is a reason for that. It is just very, very hard to see Ohtani leave the West Coast. There are plenty of Japanese players who play all over the country but Ohtani's status allows him to choose to play literally wherever he wants and it feels like a very long shot that he'd choose to play further from home. As such, Giants feel like a very interesting possibility for his talents.
They are good this year and have a rich history of winning over the last 15 years or so with multiple World Series titles. The team is set to win now, loaded with veterans who have a lot of playoff experience. And the roster isn't super expensive so ownership could add Ohtani's massive salary without moving anybody else if they so wish. There would be some worry on Ohtani's end that the window of contention would be shorter with the Giants than other squads due to the age of the roster but they fit in pretty much all other ways. Don't forget about San Fran as free agency approaches.