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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Extra Innings: The two sweepstakes

Who will land the biggest fish of the 2023–24 MLB offseason?

extra innings-henry blickenstaff

There are two players that teams looking for a superstar this offseason will be all-in on. The first is, of course, Shohei Ohtani. We’ve been waiting all year to see where the two-time American League MVP plays next. The other is Juan Soto, who no one thought would be available this offseason, and who still might not be (it’s complicated). Here are my thoughts on where these two end up.

Ohtani’s impending free agency has been one of the most discussed topics in MLB over the past year. Potential suitors include pretty much every big-market team, as well as some smaller teams on the West Coast (namely the Seattle Mariners), thinking that he’d want to be closer to his native Japan. But he won’t pitch at all in 2024 while recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. If teams could be more certain of his pitching future, they might be willing to make a once-in-a-lifetime investment, betting that Ohtani’s unique skills would generate enough revenue to recoup the cost. But the volatility of his elbow health means mid-market teams will likely be out.

Though the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are all  rumored to be considering hiring Ohtani — and are all teams that could afford his services — for me, the race for Ohtani comes down to the two West Coast heavyweights: the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers were my preseason pick for where he’d play in 2024, and I’m sticking with them. As much as I hate the idea, it makes perfect sense. Ohtani would stay closer to home, the Dodgers like spending big and they’ll be eager to add to their roster after a disappointing postseason exit.

The situation around Soto is more confusing. The San Diego Padres only have him under club control for one more season, where he’s expected to earn around $33 million. While his agent has tried to quell some of the rumors surrounding a potential trade this offseason, I’d be shocked if Soto wasn’t moved. San Diego is reportedly seeking to cut payroll to get under the luxury tax threshold. With so much money committed to other players, trading Soto might be their only option if they want to accomplish that goal. The circumstances are eerily similar to those that preceded the Mookie Betts trade in 2020, and there will no doubt be a bevy of teams looking to pull off a similar heist.

The Padres have expressed a desire for young, pre-arbitration (translation: cheap) starting pitchers, so whoever wants him in a trade will need to offer just that. The Yankees and New York Mets are rumored to be interested, but of the teams with the financial wherewithal to pay Soto, the Cubs make the most sense to me. They have two pitchers ranked as top-100 prospects, and pre-arbitration starters like Hayden Wesneski and Jordan Wicks have shown potential and could be ideal trade pieces. Besides, their farm system depth is among the best in baseball, so trading a couple of prospects for Soto wouldn’t tank their future.

Granted, these are just predictions, and these guys could end up anywhere. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees being outbid if they’re all-in on one of these guys. The Steve Cohen-era Mets have shown an incredible propensity to spend. Or maybe the Oakland Athletics will shock the world and sign them both.

Okay, that last one probably won’t happen. But you get the point.