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Shohei Ohtani rumors: Ranking top five suitors for baseball’s best player ahead of MLB Winter Meetings

Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, often the busiest stretch of the offseason, are slated to begin on Sunday, Dec. 3. All of the league’s top decision makers and agents will be siloed in hotel suites in Nashville, tasked with nothing better to do but make deals and avoid job seekers. As such, it’s reasonable to expect that a lot of important business will transpire next week. That may include Shohei Ohtani, the two-way sensation and top free agent on the marketplace, choosing his next employer. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the bidding is “barreling toward the finish line.” 

The process has been kept shrouded from the media and the public by design, but Passan reports that at least four teams are believed to remain in the bidding: the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Angels, the Chicago Cubs, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Passan was unable to confirm if the San Francisco Giants were in, too.

We here at CBS Sports are nothing if not the speculative kind. To honor the forthcoming mad stretch, and to celebrate the first real piece of Ohtani news in some time, we’ve decided to rank the four rumored finalists (plus the Giants, because why not live dangerously?) based on their perceived likelihood of landing Ohtani. We’re basing this on a variety of factors, including fit and the front office’s past willingness to shop at the top of the market.

This exercise is, obviously, more of an art than a science. Let’s get to it.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have long felt like the favorites to land Ohtani. The organization tried to sign Ohtani out of high school, and Andrew Friedman later gave chase when Ohtani first came to MLB. (The Dodgers were reportedly a finalist.) They check all of the boxes. The Dodgers have the financial means after seemingly planning for this the past couple winters; they have the best team of these five clubs (you’re doing something right when your “off year” results in 100 wins); and they have shown they’re capable of closing the deal with star player after star player, even if it means getting creative with contractual structures. There’s no guarantee Ohtani signs with the Dodgers — maybe there’s something about the organization that rubs him wrong — but until we’re given reason to believe otherwise, we’ll keep thinking it’s their game to lose.

2. San Francisco Giants

These rankings are guaranteed to age poorly no matter what. That’s especially true with respect to the Giants, since it’s possible they’re not even a finalist for Ohtani’s services. Nevertheless, we think that Farhan Zaidi has a lot of pressure riding on him to finally deliver a face-of-the-franchise type. He’s come up short on Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge, and he saw medicals dash his deal with Carlos Correa. The Giants can miss out on Ohtani and make up for it this winter by signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto (they’re expected to be a top suitor for Jung Hoo Lee, too); make no mistake, though, they’re well past the point where finishing second on a star feels like a win.

3. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are a compelling suitor, in our estimation. They have a good team in place; they have several top prospects nearing the majors; and they have an apparent need for a big bat, with Cody Bellinger presumably departing through free agency. (They also play at a historic venue and within a relatively weak division, if either of those things matter.) The Cubs have even played at the top of the market in recent years, landing Dansby Swanson and Seiya Suzuki, among others. Would the same ownership group that’s allowed the Cubs to clear $200 million in payroll just once really OK the front office giving more than $500 million to a single player? That’s the part that we’re not sure about. 

4. Toronto Blue Jays

On paper, the Blue Jays have a lot to offer Ohtani. Toronto is a great city; the Blue Jays already have a capable roster that has made the postseason in three of the last four years; and, if he were to join their ranks, he could prove to be the difference maker in putting them over the top. The catch is that the Blue Jays, despite being owned by Rogers Communications, have seldom behaved like true large-market behemoths. To wit, George Springer’s six-year, $150 million pact represents the largest contract in franchise history — that ranks as the seventh-cheapest in the majors, behind even the Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, and Baltimore Orioles. Maybe Toronto’s management and ownership will make an exception for Ohtani — the most talented player in the sport’s history — but we’ll need to see it first before we’ll believe it.

5. Los Angeles Angels

Even inertia, a most powerful force, can’t keep the Angels out of last place. Ohtani’s stated priority is to win a World Series title. (He’s going to get paid regardless, so fair enough.) None of these teams is less likely to fulfill that desire than the Angels, who failed to make the postseason despite employing Ohtani and Mike Trout together for six years. The Angels have a bad big-league roster; a depleted farm system; and more than $140 million on the books for next season already. The Texas Rangers (among others) have proven that spending money is the quickest and most fan-friendly way to turn a bad team into a good one. The Angels would have to spend a lot of money to come across as serious World Series threats. We suspect Ohtani knows that, and we suspect that he’s highly, highly unlikely to return to the Angels as a result.

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