Shohei Ohtani wrapped up his sixth MLB season with the Los Angeles Angels in 2023 and took home AL MVP and Silver Slugger honors for the second time. By both counting stats and advanced metrics, he's one of the best players in the major leagues. He led the league in WAR and slugging percentage and turned 29 years old this past summer.
It's no surprise that he's one of the most sought-after free agents in recent MLB history. Ohtani will likely command a record-breaking contact beyond what former teammate Mike Trout signed in 2019. He won't be able to pitch again until 2025 after undergoing Tommy John surgery but, as a hitter alone, he'll be in high demand.
ESPN's Jeff Passan noted Friday that the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, and Los Angeles Angels are still in on signing Ohtani. Passan added that the San Francisco Giants have previously shown interest in him. Here's how he'd fit into each of those teams, plus another under-the-radar destination.
Los Angeles Dodgers
This one's an easy pick. He's lived and played in Los Angeles for the last six years and Ohtani's expressed interest in staying on the West Coast. The Angels are tied for the longest postseason drought in the MLB; the Dodgers have the longest postseason appearance streak.
For a team that finished second in the MLB in runs scored and home runs in 2023, the Dodgers managed just six runs total while being swept in the NLDS. They could use help in the bullpen as well with the team moving on from Julio Urías, aging star Clayton Kershaw out for at least half of 2024, and Walker Buehler's return taking longer than hoped.
Ohtani wouldn't help on the mound in 2024 but could help ease a potential Kershaw retirement in the future. The Dodgers are also targeting Japanese pitching ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto to upgrade their bullpen, per MLB.com.
MLB.com's Mark Feinsand said earlier this week that he'd take the Dodgers against the field in signing Ohtani.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are seriously pursuing Ohtani and he'd fill multiple needs. Toronto was slightly above league-average on offense in 2023 in runs per game, slugging, and home runs. They also have an opening at DH and Ohtani would immediately help in all of those areas.
Toronto wouldn't immediately need him on the mound, either. The Blue Jays had the fourth-lowest ERA in the MLB and all four of their top starters return in 2024. Pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, who started 32 games in 2023, is a free agent in 2025. Ohtani could take his place by then, should the Tommy John recovery go without a hitch.
The Blue Jays' young stars Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have two more years before free agency. Getting Ohtani would be a great way to soften the blow of either player leaving or help convince them to stay.
Baseball in Oakland: City announces expansion team in Pioneer Baseball League
Chicago's dished out a sizeable $177 million contract for Dansby Swanson and a one-year, $17 million deal for Cody Bellinger. Ohtani commands another tier of free agency money, but well worth the investment.
Chicago has steadily improved through 2023. Two 70-win seasons in 2021 and 2022 preceded an 83-win season this year that put the Cubs just nine games behind NL Central winner Milwaukee. Chicago's set up for the future as well, with the fourth-ranked farm system, per MLB Pipeline. New manager Craig Counsell just signed the richest managerial contract in league history.
The Cubs' bullpen isn't quite as strong as the Blue Jays' is but Chicago was better than league average on the mound at in 2023 at 4.08 team ERA. Chicago was among the finalists to sign Ohtani six years ago, so there is a history of interest as well.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants, as they have with many notable free agents, are seen as another potential destination. San Francisco checks the box as a West Coast team. After firing manager Gabe Kapler and bringing in Bob Melvin, the next order of business for San Francisco is improving on offense.
San Francisco could use a hitter like Ohtani more than any team on this list. The Giants had the worst offense in the majors over the second half of 2023 and were in the bottom four of the MLB in hits, batting average, and slugging.
The same can't be said for the Giants' pitching, which was much better than league average despite at times having just two starters. Returning starters Logan Webb and Alex Cobb are very solid and Kyle Harrison, a promising rookie in 2023 despite just seven starts, could develop into a full-time starter by 2025. That'd keep the pressure off Ohtani to shine on the mound. MLB Network's Jon Morosi notes the Giants will also aggressively pursue Yamamoto as well, again easing pressure for Ohtani to pitch sooner than later.
Beyond all that, a little recruiting help from San Francisco-based chain Ike's Love and Sandwiches can't hurt.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels were one of the worse teams in the American League in 2023 and finished 73-89. They haven't made the postseason since well before Ohtani's first year in Los Angeles. Even with the AL MVP on their team, the Angels were league-average in batting average and runs per game.
Los Angeles isn't set up as well for the future as other teams on this list. The Angels' farm system is rated third-worst in the majors. Fellow star Mike Trout had his worst season from the plate since his rookie year by batting average, slugging, and on base percentage. Ohtani's familiar with the team and city so a return would be easy but the Angels may not have enough else to offer him.
Have the Braves reportedly shown much interest in Ohtani? No. But they could offer Ohtani the easiest route to a World Series of any team on this list.
Pick a team batting statistic and the Braves probably led the majors in 2023. Atlanta was tops in the MLB in runs per game, hits, home runs, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging. Ohtani wouldn't have nearly the pressure to perform from the plate in Atlanta as in other teams on this list.
The Braves are just two years removed from a World Series win and much of their core is signed long-term. Top hitters Matt Olson, Michael Harris, 2023 NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., and Austin Riley will all be with Atlanta until at least 2028 barring a trade. One issue would be sorting out how DH Marcell Ozuna fits in this, considering he was third on the team in slugging in 2023, but that's a luxury problem to have.
Atlanta's top pitcher in 2023, Max Fried, will be a free agent after next season. Ohtani could theoretically pick up some of the slack for the starting rotation in 2025. Ohtani or not, Atlanta's going to contend for years. He could make them near-unstoppable on offense.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why Shohei Ohtani could sign with Dodgers, Blue Jays, or Cubs