Shohei Ohtani tracker: Why race for No. 1 free agent could expand

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or perhaps one of MLB’s new supersized bases), Shohei Ohtani is a free agent.

Far and away the best player available this winter, the longtime Los Angeles Angels two-way star is expected to command more than half a billion dollars. And that’s despite undergoing a second UCL surgery and being unavailable to pitch for the 2024 season.

Who is going to land this once-in-a generation talent? Here’s everything we know — from just how great Ohtani is and how much he could make, to his top suitors and, of course, all the latest news and buzz.

We’re stuffing all that below — so keep checking back for the latest, up until and after Ohtani chooses his next big league destination.

Key links: Our complete free agency tracker | Ranking the top 50 free agents

Latest buzz

Nov. 16

Cubs eyeing second chance at Ohtani

The Chicago Cubs made a push in 2017 to sign Shohei Ohtani and were among the finalists for his services before falling short. This time, though, they might have a better shot. — Jesse Rogers

Nov. 15

Which teams are on Ohtani’s mind?

Though much of Ohtani’s free agency will be played close to the vest, MLB’s No. 1 free agent has expressed affinity for certain teams and cities in the past, according to multiple sources. — Jeff Passan

Nov. 13

Could Ohtani be interested in a short-term contract?

One number has consistently been linked to Shohei Ohtani since he began dominating as a two-way player, and has continued to be brought up even after he underwent a second elbow procedure:

Five hundred — as in $500 million, an unprecedented milestone for a North American professional athlete.

That type of free agent contract, of course, would require a long-term commitment. But people familiar with Ohtani’s thinking believe he might be open to a short-term deal with an exceedingly high average annual value, a circumstance that would open up a host of suitors this offseason.

The baseball record for annual value, by the way, is $43.3 million, attained by both Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander with the New York Mets. Ohtani would blow that away on a shorter deal, even if it doesn’t reach $500 million in total value. — Alden Gonzalez

Nov. 11

Will Ohtani be off the board BEFORE the winter meetings?

Shohei Ohtani’s highly anticipated free agency might not last that long. A handful of general managers who are expected to be in the market and spoke to ESPN this week were under the impression that Ohtani will choose his next destination relatively quickly, perhaps before the end of the winter meetings, which take place Dec. 4-6 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Major League Baseball would undoubtedly prefer that Ohtani — one of the most fascinating free agents in the sport’s history — sign his next contract during those winter meetings, the annual event that brings together executives, agents and managers, drawing a heavy media presence. But one industry source said he believes it might happen even before then.

Ohtani is the type of player who typically shapes the market, prompting other high-profile free agents to wait in hopes that he will elevate their own contracts. But one executive brought up an interesting point about Ohtani, who, regardless of his need for a second elbow procedure, is expected to garner a $500 million-plus contract:

“He’s in such a different stratosphere that I don’t know that it even matters.” — Alden Gonzalez

Nov. 9

Is a position change in Ohtani’s future?

Shohei Ohtani will serve as a designated hitter in 2024 and will look to pitch, and thus return to his role as a two-way player, in 2025.

But could the outfield be in his future?

Executives from the general managers’ meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona, have brought up the possibility of Ohtani transitioning to a corner-outfield spot or perhaps first base eventually in his career. It could at least be a fallback option if at some point he is no longer able to pitch – and it’s yet another indication of the value teams place on Ohtani’s talent even as he is recovering from his second elbow procedure.

Former Angels manager Joe Maddon had Ohtani take some outfield reps during the COVID-19-shortened season in 2020 mostly as a way to keep his body active while he recovered from surgeries and often said he looked natural out there. Ohtani also made 64 appearances as an outfielder during his time in Japan. — Alden Gonzalez

Nov. 8

GMs mum on Ohtani … for now

Jerry Dipoto’s loquaciousness has made him a favorite with reporters at gatherings like the general managers’ meeting, taking place this week in Scottsdale, Arizona.

On the topic of Shohei Ohtani, though, the Seattle Mariners‘ president of baseball operations was noticeably concise.

“He’s awesome,” Dipoto said, simply, when asked about Ohtani on Tuesday afternoon.

Asked later how his team will approach a potential pursuit, Dipoto said, “I won’t go there.”

Dipoto was hardly alone. Ohtani is the guy everyone wanted to ask about but no executive was willing to talk about publicly, partly because of mandates from both the league and the players’ union not to make public comments that could hinder a player’s market, and partly, perhaps, because of Ohtani’s desire for this to play out as privately as possible. — Alden Gonzalez

The 10 teams in hot pursuit of Ohtani

It’s still early in the process, but most of the executives and agents who talked about the subject privately seem to agree on the 10 teams that will probably be the most aggressive in pursuing Shohei Ohtani — the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. But the degree of interest will undoubtedly vary greatly among them, and other surprise teams are expected to jump into the mix.

At this point, few seem to have much of an idea what Ohtani himself will prioritize. One of the few who might know is Angels GM Perry Minasian, who helped launch Ohtani as a legitimate two-way force three years ago.

He wasn’t willing to tip his hand.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of attention on it, and I understand why,” Minasian said. “Great player. We’ll see how the offseason develops. We’ve got our plan, and we’re going to try to execute that plan and see where everything goes.” — Alden Gonzalez

Dodgers, Rangers a fit for Ohtani

Which teams do our experts think match up best with Ohtani? There are strong arguments to be made for the National League West champion Dodgers and the World Series champion Rangers.

Ohtani must-reads

How much is MLB’s ultimate unicorn worth? The Shohei Ohtani True Value Calculator

‘A decade of disaster’: As Ohtani’s free agency looms, Arte’s Angels at crossroads

Why going all-in against long odds is Angels’ best hope of keeping Ohtani

Did Shohei Ohtani just have the best month in MLB history?

How to appreciate a unicorn: Ranking the feats that make Ohtani MLB’s ultimate unique star

‘It looks like a fastball, and then it’s just gone’: How Shohei Ohtani has gotten better — yes, better — as a pitcher

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