June 23, 2024

McCullough: For Shohei Ohtani, the Dodgers are everything the Angels weren’t

The finest baseball participant in the world simply joined the most profitable franchise in the sport’s current historical past. 

No marvel Dodgers supervisor Dave Roberts was bursting at the seams final week at the Winter Meetings, incapable of lying when asked about meeting with Shohei Ohtani. No marvel his superiors dummied up like mannequins, petrified Roberts’ candor would possibly have an effect on their probabilities. No marvel the remainder of the business sounded perplexed when it appeared like Ohtani would possibly land anyplace else. 

The match between franchise and two-way sensation at all times made an excessive amount of sense. All it took to make it actuality was the largest contract in skilled sports activities historical past, a 10-year, $700 million pact that can hold Ohtani in Southern California and buoy the hopes of Dodgers followers pissed off by a rash of early postseason exits in recent times. Ohtani spent his remaining seasons with the Angels pissed off by the franchise’s ineptitude. The Dodgers spent the previous few years ready to pounce, forgoing main acquisitions final winter in hopes of retaining payroll house free. It all got here collectively on Saturday with a deal that was surprising for its dimension however totally predictable for its end result.

Ohtani in Dodger blue.

Roberts writing out an everyday lineup that features Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Ohtani.

The Dodgers favored to rule the National League West, as at all times.

Ohtani has mentioned he needed to win. The Dodgers have gained their division in 10 of the previous 11 seasons and tallied greater than 100 victories in 5 of the previous six full seasons. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 marketing campaign, in fact, the franchise gained all of it. Yet the crew gave the impression to be searching for a spark after crashing out of the National League Division Series this previous October. After reaching the World Series thrice in 4 years, the Dodgers have performed in the National League Championship Series simply as soon as since 2020.

In the aftermath of the defeat to Arizona, the crew’s lack of beginning pitching appeared the most evident flaw to right. If Ohtani can return from his second main elbow surgical procedure, he would possibly help that pursuit in 2025. In the interim, his bat can super-charge a lineup that already options Betts and Freeman, two of baseball’s brightest stars and most harmful hitters. Ohtani outpaced them each in 2023, although, when he swatted 44 residence runs with a 1.066 OPS — whereas nursing a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

The profit for the Dodgers, then, is clear. But so is the profit for Ohtani, a routine-oriented participant who won’t must journey far to achieve his new baseball residence. Though he spent his first six seasons enjoying beside outfielder Mike Trout, he has by no means been a part of a lineup that features hitters like Betts, Freeman, catcher Will Smith and third baseman Max Muncy. He has been by no means a part of a crew with a entrance workplace able to recurrently rebuilding a pitching workers with glorious outcomes, as Andrew Friedman has typically executed. And he has by no means performed for an possession consortium like Mark Walter’s Guggenheim group, who’ve been prepared to put money into amenities, infrastructure and ancillary concerns.

That, plus the $700 million, made for a wonderful gross sales pitch.

For Ohtani, after being stranded for the entirety of his profession in Major League Baseball in the aggressive desert that’s 2000 Gene Autry Way in Anaheim, the Dodgers provide the form of sources and expertise by no means earlier than at his disposal. This is a low bar to clear. Outside of Trout, Ohtani has hardly ever shared the subject with distinctive gamers. In 2018, shortstop Andrelton Simmons put collectively a season value 5.7 wins above alternative for the Angels, in keeping with Baseball-Reference. In the intervening seasons, Ohtani has by no means performed with a teammate in addition to Trout who put collectively a yr value greater than the 3.8-WAR marketing campaign of David Fletcher in 2019. His most helpful non-Trout teammate in 2023 was outfielder Mickey Moniak, who produced 2.2 WAR after being referred to as up in May.

Trout turned much less of a presence as Ohtani’s profession took flight. Trout stays a dynamic, harmful hitter. But he has grow to be a part-time performer. Injuries have restricted him to averaging 79 video games per yr since 2021. He has not taken 500 plate appearances in a season since 2019. Ohtani typically operated as his lineup’s sole supply of offense.

He will not shoulder that load. Betts produced 8.3 WAR in 2023. Freeman reached 6.5. Smith equipped 4.1. These are stars, the form of gamers you’ll be able to construct a franchise round. To think about Ohtani intermingling with them, giving pitchers nightmares — you’ll be able to see why Roberts was so amped.

Shohei Ohtani and Mookie Betters are about to get a complete lot friendlier. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

Ohtani’s fellow pitchers with the Angels have been even much less notable. In Ohtani’s six seasons with the Angels, a beginning pitcher logged 180 innings or extra simply as soon as: Andrew Heaney accomplished 180 in 2018. The Dodgers nonetheless have important work to do to rebuild their very own rotation. The crew has the sources, when it comes to each cash and prospects, so as to add both free brokers or purchase commerce targets like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow. Friedman has demonstrated a capability for producing a few of the sport’s finest pitching staffs.

And the Dodgers proceed to introduce helpful rookies to the big-league roster, like outfielder James Outman in 2023. The Angels didn’t construct a player-development pipeline that might assist Ohtani and Trout. The Dodgers excel at figuring out gamers of their system who can contribute in the majors and packaging these thought-about expendable in trades. That course of figures to proceed.

At final, Ohtani has discovered an employer able to ferrying him to the postseason. His presence alone couldn’t buoy the Angels into October. The Dodgers haven’t missed the dance since 2012, the yr earlier than Ohtani debuted with the Nippon Ham Fighters. Ohtani got here to the United States to make historical past. He did that with the Angels, attaining successes that felt unimaginable earlier than Ohtani made them actuality. With the Dodgers, he could make some historical past that resonates past particular person achievement. He is the finest in the world. And as quickly as he steps into his new uniform, his new franchise can say the similar about itself.

(Top photograph of Ohtani at the 2022 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times through Getty Images)