Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger, now it’s time to capitalize

Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger. Boy, that feels nice to write.

The Dodgers have spent over a decade making that sentence a reality. They tried when he was a high schooler in 2013 and nearly succeeded. Their plan to sign him as an amateur pitcher only fell apart after Hideki Kuriyama, then manager of the Fighters (and future manager of 2023’s WBC-winning Samurai Japan), convinced him to chase his dream of pitching and hitting. Five years later, the Dodgers tried again, but failed due to the complicated logistics of managing a two-way player without access to a DH. Six years later, eleven years after their first failed pursuit, they have their man.

Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger.

For fans, too, this is a momentous occasion. I first started watching Ohtani in 2014, when as a teenager in NPB he posted a 2.61 ERA in 155 innings and hit for an .842 OPS in 234 plate appearances. He was still figuring things out, charting an uncharted path. It’s unbelievable to say now, but he was skinny – this was 30 pounds of muscle ago – and he was raw. His command came and went and he hit for more doubles power than the light-tower power we know today. He didn’t hit on the days he pitched or the games surrounding it. But the seeds were there, and he was worth losing sleep over, either for a 5AM weekday start on the east coast or for a 1AM weekend affair. Even when he was 19, there was a sense that there would never be another player like him.

Almost a decade ago. I’m over it now.

Things didn’t go well the following year, but in 2016 he had his first true Ohtani season. At that point, who really needed sleep? Watching Ohtani shatter the rules were the most engaging moments of my baseball fandom, and it was tremendous fun to share these moments with more of the baseball world on Twitter. Clearly, Ohtani was coming to MLB eventually, but at that point it didn’t matter when. I still have an unreasonable amount of Ohtani/Fighters merchandise laying around (probably more than I have Dodgers apparel), and a poster of Ohtani from that era is still on my wall. It was a reversion to child-like fan wonderment. He just has that effect on you. It was intoxicating. Ohtani’s posting after the following season came as a surprise to his NPB fans due to the money he was leaving on the table (an amusing concept now), and the fact that he was not a Dodger following that process was devastating to certain sleep-deprived baseball fans who didn’t get to see him on their favorite team.


Clearly, the decade-plus wait gnawed at the Friedman regime too, given the contract they just gave him. The actual value doesn’t matter that much. You can’t help but get a sense that Andrew Friedman, Brandon Gomes, and even Mark Walter had the same intoxication watching him play that I did seven years ago. At that point, if you have the ability to have the most talented baseball player to ever live play in front of you for a decade, you make it happen. They were not going to be outbid.

The Dodgers have spent years planning for this move despite the extreme risk (some of which was realized when Ohtani’s elbow required surgery in September, reducing his on-field value next year), but they now have been rewarded for doing so. The biggest buzzword they used during the previous few seasons was “flexibility.” When taken at face value, flexibility means the ability to strike while the iron is hot. Now, following Ohtani’s signing, the iron has never been hotter.

The Dodgers now have three sure-fire hall-of-famers at the top of their lineup. They have significant lineup presence beyond them in Will Smith and Max Muncy. But the team still has many holes, particularly on the pitching side, and the other two prongs of that Hall Of Fame lineup are in their 30s and (very slowly) aging out of their primes. If the goal of signing Ohtani is to bring the World Series trophy back to Los Angeles, the front office needs to back up their action with further action. The time to push the chips in is now. What would the point of flexibility be if they can’t take advantage of this moment?


The Dodgers don’t like the concept of a “competitive window.” Being immune to windows is how you make the playoffs every year for over a decade. That brings me to the one potential pitfall of this contract. It has nothing to do with the value Ohtani can bring on or off the field. Even if the back end of the contract doesn’t work out from an on-field value perspective, Ohtani’s marketability and the Dodgers’ financial clout makes the monetary risk miniscule. The risk is in the way the Dodgers proceed from here.

Ohtani’s actual contribution toward the Dodgers’ competitive balance tax number is $46 million. Per Cot’s Contracts, Betts’ CBT number is $29 million, and Freeman’s is $25.8 million, putting the trio combined at just over 100. The Dodgers don’t have many large contracts beyond that, but there are still 23 other major league players to pay, and they need to be good players to justify the outlay on the top of their roster. It doesn’t take much in terms of player quality to get from $100 million to the first penalty line at $237 million. The Dodgers are currently $19 million below that line with very little pitching, and $59 million below the threshold for losing ten spots on their first round draft pick. They probably have more than $59 million worth of work left to do, and that’s in a state where they have very little financial dead weight on the roster.

Additionally, adding high-paid players to the mix makes it harder to reset the tax penalties (like they tried and failed to do this year), and it makes it more disruptive to try. The idea of a penalty reset year should go out the window. They can’t waste years of Ohtani’s time doing that; the team is no longer structured in a way which would let that happen without severe damage to on-field results. Thankfully, it seems like the Dodgers understand that at this moment, but that mindset needs to continue going forward. The goal is to win a ring, not to win a ring cheaply.


The next few weeks are going to be wild. The Dodgers are heavily involved in the bidding for Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto (profiled here), who is expected to get close to $300 million dollars. They are also said to be extremely active in the trade market and have recently been showing interest in Tyler Glasnow. The time between now and Christmas could involve adding one or both. It could involve more.

For now, though, it’s time to celebrate. It’s a great time to be a Dodger fan. After more than a decade of waiting, Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger.

(H/T: Jon Weisman for structure inspiration.)


Chad’s Note

It’s also time for Dodgers Digest to capitalize and tell you to buy shirts that are both awesome and support the site, via this here link.

Hey, you know this signing is a big deal because it got Brim to write an article, so come on.

About Daniel Brim

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Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.