The Dodgers Got Their Man, Again
10:05 AM EST on December 22, 2023
The Dodgers have spent this winter making every other team in baseball look small-time and unserious. They alone flagrantly violated the decree for secrecy in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, and then they inked Ohtani anyway, and to a mostly deferred deal that gives the Dodgers one of the biggest stars baseball has ever produced while making barely a dent in their near-term salary commitments. The up-front cost savings allowed the Dodgers to stay in the thick of the chase for a second Japanese phenom, 25-year-old ace starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto, owner of one of the most fearsome pitching repertoires in the world. Thursday evening they closed that deal as well, agreeing with Yamamoto on a 12-year contract worth $325 million, the richest contract in total guaranteed money ever given to a pitcher.
It's one thing to expose by unfavorable contrast the dollar store clownishness of, say, the Seattle Mariners, and their humiliating "we are committed to winning 54 percent of our games" act, or to remind fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates once again that for all intents and purposes theirs is a minor-league baseball team. It's possible to expose a full third of MLB's teams as essentially bullcrap by spending just about anything in free agency. That's not an exaggeration: According to Spotrac, 14 of MLB's 30 teams to date have spent less than $5 million on free agents this winter, and nine teams have made zero signings. Yamamoto will make more in his signing bonus than the total new-signing commitments made to date by all but six MLB teams. A majority of baseball teams deserve to have their lunches eaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It's quite another thing to make literally the New York Yankees and New York Mets look puny and poor. Both teams were throwing everything at the Yamamoto chase: The Athletic reported Wednesday that the Yankees sent scouts to every one of Yamamoto's starts in Japan last season, that Brian Cashman was in Japan in September to witness a Yamamoto no-hitter in person, and that the Yankees not-coincidentally kept Yamamoto's jersey number open all of last season. (Of course, New York's courtship of Yamamoto was probably not helped by GM Brian Cashman oafishly pissing off Yamamoto's agent.) Mets owner Steve Cohen schmoozed Yamamoto in two hemispheres: Cohen and Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns leapfrogged Yamamoto's U.S. tour by flying to Japan for a personal meeting in early December; last week Cohen had Yamamoto to his home in Connecticut for dinner.
These teams were not simply kicking the tires on Yamamoto. After watching the Dodgers coolly ring up the most important player acquisition of the modern era, the Mets and Yankees (and Giants and Red Sox and Phillies and Blue Jays) were eager and in some cases desperate to make a big splash. And then the Dodgers just swooped in and snatched up that prize too, with a fresh mega-deal that also pays a whopping $50.6 million posting fee for prying Yamamoto away from Japan. They've got the strongest team of any of the pursuers; they've got the longest active track-record of on-field success; they've got whatever geographic and climatic advantages come from playing in Los Angeles; they've got Shohei goddamn Ohtani; and they've got the financial might to summarily and extravagantly trump any front office that tries to pinch even one single penny. Even when a team does not—the Mets reportedly offered Yamamoto a similar deal, while the Yankees reportedly offered him a 10-year deal worth $300 million, less cash overall but more per year—the total package of Los Angeles's appeal as a baseball destination is too much. The Yankees and Mets have been relegated to crumb-snatcher status.
Like Ohtani, Yamamoto has ways out of his contract—Jeff Passan reported overnight that the deal includes a pair of opt-outs—so it's not impossible he could hit free agency again during his prime years and trigger another round of courtship. But for now the Dodgers have committed over $1 billion in total to just their top two winter acquisitions, more than double what all other teams combined have spent on new signings. The Dodgers are more serious about this shit than anyone else, and for their seriousness they've positioned themselves for another decade of extremely fucking cool baseball.