Shohei Ohtani’s free agency remains stuck in the MLB offseason

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Shohei Ohtani’s winter began this week. In many ways, it looked the same as it did in the Ohtani summer, or even the Ohtani spring, or in years past since the two-time star from Japan was something unprecedented in baseball.

Reporters at general manager meetings asked MLB team executives about the free agent’s future, and team managers avoided answering in detail at all costs. Quietly and out of view of the cameras, executives speculated among themselves about how much Ohtani would get and how he might get it, what the deal might look like and exactly what Ohtani wants. And as always, his agents remained silent, unwilling to drop hints that could lead to complete misunderstanding until there is an official truth to report.

But in the meantime, the baseball wheels continued to turn at the GM meetings, and with it some stomachs turned: About 30 league and team managers of the few hundred gathered in Scottsdale this week came down with some sort of stomach ailment As of Wednesday, none of the cases were considered serious. And even that couldn’t stop the off-season exodus.

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On Wednesday afternoon, the Los Angeles Angels announced the hiring of Ron Washington as their manager. The Angels are expected to make a strong effort to retain Ohtani, even as they grapple with organizational deficiencies that have prevented them from reaching the postseason since 2014. In Washington, they gain a popular baseball player who previously coached the Texas Rangers for nearly seven seasons and led them to two pennants and three postseason appearances in a tenure that ended with his resignation for personal reasons. He later established himself as a crucial part of the growth of the Atlanta Braves juggernaut, becoming the sport’s most prominent infield coach as the Braves fielded the most stable and stable infield in baseball.

“He is everything you could ask for. He deserves the opportunity,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “It’s a big loss for us. I emphasize that everything is written in capital letters, boldface and italics. But I was with him for six years and I can’t imagine being with a man like that for my entire career.”

Exactly what impact Washington’s hiring will have on Ohtani’s thinking remains unclear. But Ohtani’s shadow is so large that it seemed to color almost everything that happened this week with that very question.

For example, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday that he had spoken with Bryce Harper and decided the longtime outfielder would become their full-time first baseman next year. Harper moved to the starting position after returning from Tommy John surgery, filling the spot vacated by longtime Philadelphia first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who suffered a knee injury late in spring training. But now that the Phillies have Kyle Schwarber as their designated hitter and plenty of outfielders in Nick Castellanos, Brandon Marsh, Johan Rojas and others, it made more sense to stick with Harper for now.

“The more we talked about it internally, the more we think it’s a good situation for us and a good situation for him,” Dombrowski said, admitting he called Hoskins, a free agent, to tell him about it to tell the decision.

That’s enough news for the Phillies. But the draw against Ohtani is clear: Ohtani, who underwent elbow surgery two months ago, will not be able to pitch next year. He will only be able to serve as a designated hitter in 2024 for the team that signs him. If the Phillies have Harper to begin with and plan for Schwarber to be their full-time DH, then they may not have enough hitters to go around, which could make them less eager to go for Ohtani, which would require at least one could knock a team from a major market out of the running, if that team was even in the running. Opinions tend to vary as to who is running this competition, which is why every step seems to be connected in some way.

Case in point: Scott Boras admitted Wednesday that his elite designed hitter prospect JD Martinez, who is also a free agent, will likely also be tied to Ohtani’s fate in some way.

“I don’t expect them to be on the same team,” he said with a smile.

“In this universe, some teams had a condition: ‘If we don’t do it’ [sign Ohtani]“If we do that, because it’s that position,” Boras said. “Which is logical.”

Back last offseason, when the Dodgers signed Martinez to a one-year deal to fill that spot, some industry observers raised the possibility of pursuing Ohtani this year. By giving Martinez a one-year contract, they ensured they had space at designated hitter when Ohtani was available to fill it. Because the Dodgers appear to have the financial wherewithal to fund the massive contract Ohtani is expected to receive, and because they have suffered consecutive disappointing postseason departures, many in the industry believe she is the most logical fit.

“I think there are a lot of teams that are going to be interested in these different players,” Dodgers GM Brandon Gomes said when presented with the idea that the Dodgers could have an advantage for those reasons and Ohtani’s familiarity with Los Angeles . “I think we’ll be on par with the other teams.”

On Wednesday, as so often this week, last month and even last year, the Dodgers were actually on par with the other 29 teams in baseball: They chugged through the usual business of baseball, one eye on the franchise and the other fixated on Ohtani. Shohei Ohtani’s free agency remains stuck in the MLB offseason

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