The two biggest prizes of the hot stove season occupy different ends of baseball’s economic spectrum. In the varying pursuits of Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani, the Dodgers remain alive, though to what degree isn’t quite known.
The market for Ohtani severely narrowed on Sunday, with the Japanese star paring down his list of suitors from 30 teams to a reported seven. The Dodgers are one of the finalists that will meet with Ohtani this week in Los Angeles per multiple reports, along with the Mariners, Padres, Giants, Angels, Cubs and Rangers.
Prior to Sunday, the Yankees were presumed to be one of the favorites — if not the favorite — to land Ohtani, who was posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters on Friday after playing five seasons in Japan as both a pitcher and a hitter. But New York, like several other teams, got the news that it was no longer in the running.
“I know that our presentation was excellent,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, per the Associated Press. “The feedback from that was outstanding. But I did get a sense that I can’t change that we’re a big market and I can’t change we’re in the east.”
The fact that the Dodgers are still alive in the pursuit suggests Ohtani isn’t totally averse to a large market, and with the Cubs and the Rangers among the finalists not being on the west coast isn’t an absolute deal breaker.
Comfort and relationships will be paramount in the race for Ohtani, who is forgoing tens of millions of dollars by not waiting two more years to come to the United States. This is someone who is sacrificing a lot to play in MLB, and wants the best possible situation for his next challenge. The Dodgers do have a history with Ohtani, scouting him out of high school in 2012, though he ultimately decided to stay to stay in Japan.
Things are a little more murky in the Stanton sweepstakes, though fewer parties are involved.
Stanton, the reigning National League MVP who hit .281/.376/.631 with 59 home runs in 2017, is not a free agent. Far from it. But he still essentially holds all the cards in deciding his next location.
What we know is that trade talks with the Marlins have progressed enough for the Giants and Cardinals to have had meetings with Stanton and his representatives last week. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported that at the very least a rough framework of a deal with Miami is in place for both teams, though the key is Stanton’s no-trade clause.
Stanton has a whopping 10 years and $295 million remaining on his contract. That’s $103 million more in remaining guaranteed money than any other player in baseball (Miguel Cabrera still has $192 million and six years left on his deal with the Tigers). That’s a huge number to absorb, especially if the Dodgers have designs on getting under the competitive balance tax threshold at some point, even if only to reset their tax rate.
There is also an opt out after 2020 for Stanton, another matter that might have to be addressed in a potential trade.
The Dodgers have had talks with the Marlins, per Morosi, though the extent of which are unknown. The Dodgers’ biggest advantage, if any, is if Stanton — who played at Notre Dame High School in nearby Sherman Oaks — is hellbent on returning to Los Angeles.
If he would only accept a trade to the Dodgers — it is unknown if this is truly the case, though we could find out soon enough — it would force the hand of the Marlins, who are comically and embarrassingly looking to drastically shed payroll even with a new ownership group that just spent $1.2 billion to purchase the team.
There might be some more clarity for the Dodgers on both Ohtani and Stanton by the winter meetings, which will be held next week in Orlando. Or there might not. The Dodgers might not be the favorite to land either one.
But in the case of both players, it will probably come down to just how badly they want to be Dodgers.