The Dodgers, maybe baseball’s best-run franchise, opted to do next to nothing this winter beyond importing two name players — J.D. Martinez and Noah Syndergaard — off down years on their preferred one-year contracts. This surprising strategy has understandably triggered much curiosity and many theories.
After excellent deals for superstars Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman in recent years, L.A. made only one spirited attempt at a big-time free agent (they were outbid for Justin Verlander) and didn’t even replace many major contributors lost, including shortstop Trea Turner, longtime Dodger Justin Turner, All-Star Tyler Anderson and former MVP Cody Bellinger. Their payroll is down historically, from a record-tying $290 million by about $60 million.
Among many theories with possible validity are 1) they wanted to reset their tax rate; 2) they didn’t like the mega deals being signed; 3) they don’t mind giving a chance to their kids in one of baseball’s most productive pipelines; and 4) the idea that the postseason is a crapshoot gained steam when their 111-win team went out early to a previous patsy, the Padres. One theory that does not hold water is that their excellent ownership group is distracted by their recent purchase of part of the Lakers.
One other theory is that they are saving up for an even shinier object in the near future, and that would be the incomparable two-way star Shohei Ohtani, a free agent next winter. The competition for the once-in-a-century, two-way superstar should be intense, and yes, expect the Dodgers to be in there.
While rumors will persist he prefers to avoid a huge metropolis, those close to Ohtani say his tastes may have changed from his first free-agent tour. Anyway, even if L.A. being the second-biggest market may be a slight negative, the Dodgers do have two big advantages.
They believe the West Coast is a plus; six of seven finalists five years ago including the Dodgers were west of the Mississippi. Plus, after years of frustration 45 miles down I-5 in the OC, being a perennial winner — the Dodgers posted a historically good winning percentage over a six-year period — surely is a selling point. While the Dodgers either tried for shorter deals or passed on some big stars over the past few years, the highest revenue NL team should have plenty of money saved up. And Ohtani may be irresistible, understandably so.