Cactus League teams among leading contenders to land free agent jewel Shohei Ohtani

As baseball’s 2023 Winter Meetings kick off, the buzz centers on the coveted free agent Shohei Ohtani, who is likely to sign a record-breaking contract. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE – Before November’s MLB General Managers meetings were cut short reportedly by a Norovirus outbreak at Scottsdale’s posh Omni Montelucia Resort and Spa, much of the buzz among the roughly 300 baseball executives in attendance centered on one question:

Where will phenom Shohei Ohtani go?

Ohtani, who was baseball’s first two-time unanimous MVP winner as a pitcher and designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels, is the jewel of this winter’s free agent class.

In fact, Ohtani, 29, will be among the most highly-coveted free agents in the history of all American professional sports this offseason. Some estimate the contract he’s set to sign could be worth more than $500 million in guaranteed money, plus incentives. The record of $450 million in a guaranteed deal belongs to his former Angels teammate, Mike Trout.

This despite the torn right ulnar collateral ligament that Ohtani suffered during a pitching start on Aug. 23. It ended his season on the mound, although he continued to hit for nearly a month until right oblique irritation ended his season on Sept. 15.

Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed surgery on the elbow, said Ohtani will not pitch until 2025 but expects Ohtani to be available as a designated hitter to begin the 2024 season.

All of baseball’s big-market, high-spending clubs are expected to pursue him as baseball’s Winter Meetings began Sunday and the Hot Stove heats up.

Still, Valley baseball fans, whether lifelong supporters or new fans in the wake of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ World Series run, can dream.

During a Nov. 2 interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick, said that the economic windfall from the Diamondbacks’ playoff run could lead to more investment in the team.

“The opportunity that playing all these games creates is an economic windfall that was not planned,” Kendrick said. “We will use that to invest back in the players on the field and it will allow us to make some additions to the roster.”

Of course, it’s doubtful that the Diamondbacks will emerge as a contender for Ohtani, but local baseball fans can still hope to see him during spring training.

There are 15 teams in Arizona’s Cactus League, and perhaps all of them could make a run at the Ohtani, a three-time AL All-Star. And most of the leading contenders – minus the Toronto Blue Jays, who reportedly met with Ohtani Monday – make their spring training homes in Arizona’s Cactus League.

“I’m sure there are 30 teams that would love it if he came to their market,” Jerry Dipoto, president of baseball operations for the Seattle Mariners, told the media at November’s GM meetings.

The oddsmakers apparently don’t like the chances for Dipoto’s Mariners.

DraftKings Sportsbook lists the Dodgers, who train at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, as the favorites to land Ohtani, with +110 odds, or a 47.6% chance of signing. The Cubs, who train in Mesa (+350), and the Giants (+650), who make their spring home in Scottsdale, round out the top three.

Ohtani’s current team, the Angels, also plays in the Cactus League in Tempe and is given the ninth-best odds at +1600.

The Mariners are +1200 and the Diamondbacks fall into the “Any Other Team” category at +2000.

Were Ohtani to sign with any of the 15 Cactus League teams, it remains uncertain whether he will even be available to play in the spring because of his elbow surgery. Ohtani played just one spring training game this past season before joining the Japanese National Team for the World Baseball Classic.

Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen told the media at November’s meetings that the Diamondbacks are still in the early stages of determining their level of aggression this offseason.

“We’re just coming out of the coma right now, just trying to get our arms around the market, the players’ availability of both trade and free agencies,” Hazen said. “We’re just starting to have conversations now.”

The Diamondbacks woke up from the coma long enough to trade for third baseman Eugenio Suarez out of Seattle on Nov. 22, filling a position of need and signaling that the team intends to invest in an effort to keep winning next season.

As for whether the team will make a play at the world’s best player, Diamondbacks fans will have to wait and see. And so will baseball fans who stream into the Valley every spring to watch some of the game’s biggest stars in the Cactus League.

Alex Wakefield(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Alex Wakefield expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Wakefield is a senior reporter for The State Press.