Ohtani and Yamamoto change the MLB landscape

You would think the Los Angeles Dodgers would be the odds-on favorite for the best record in baseball — but not so fast. Even with three former MVPs on their roster plus the addition of the 25 year old, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, to add to the abundance of riches with Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman, FanGraphs still has the Dodgers at 4.4 wins behind the Atlanta Braves. On paper, the younger team from Atlanta still is loved by the computers. But there is a reason we play the games — and a ticket to see the Dodgers will be the hottest ticket in baseball.

Money talks and the Dodgers just committed over $1 billion dollars for the two Japanese players, and Yamamoto has never thrown a pitch in an MLB game before. He has faced former MLB players before in games with the Orix Buffaloes as well as international tournaments. In the November Japan Series finals he gave up just one run when former Nats draftee, Sheldon Neuse, cranked a home run off of him. That happens, and enough teams did their due diligence to offer him record-breaking money for a pitcher in a $325 million contract.

Both the Mets and Phillies were bidding on Yamamoto, and the bidding even got to the point where the Dodgers reportedly had to match the top bid which they did. Quite possibly this move will move the Dodgers back to the level of dominance they have been trying to get to. But again, nothing is guaranteed. The Mets ran a record payroll for the 2023 season, and they did not even sniff the postseason in what turned out to be an embarrassment that led to several people getting fired — and the trades of both Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

The Washington Nationals were not supposed to be a contender in 2024 — and maybe that is good timing as the Dodgers try to buy their way to NL supremacy. It could set up for some great postseasons in the future between the two teams in the same way we saw in the latter part of the past decade when the Nats won a World Series before the Dodgers. In fact, the only World Series that the Dodgers won since 1988 came with an asterisk in the COVID season of 2020. Don’t worry, Dodgers fans know this all too well. They have heard it from their own fans. Now they are dancing in the streets around Chavez Ravine, and Japanese fans are thrilled that their two favorite players since Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui are both with the Dodgers.

When the Dodgers play the Nationals on April 15 on Jackie Robinson Day at 7:10 pm on that Monday in L.A., it will be 10 minutes after noon on Tuesday, in Tokyo, Japan. That is how it works in Japan for those that follow everything that Ohtani has done since he went to the Angels back in 2018. It is afternoon or early morning baseball for those in Japan who follow live MLB games. Ohtani never made it to the postseason, even with Mike Trout as his teammate on that dysfunctional team that had once seen Ohtani involved in what some deemed a diss of his former teammate Anthony Rendon. It seemed clear that Ohtani was leaving the Angels, and they failed to trade him at the deadline.

For the teams that hope they can top the Diamondbacks as the reigning NL Champs going into 2024, the Dodgers, Braves, and Yankees are the Top-3 favorites today on the Vegas lines to win the World Series with the Astros, Phillies, and Rangers in the next tier. The Nats are 26th in odds to win the 2024 World Series. There’s a long-shot bet for me to make. Of course the lines will move further after every significant signing going forward, and it will move every game right into the final game of the Fall Classic.

For MLB, in their efforts to grow internationally, this is a blessing to have Ohtani and Yamamoto together for marketing. Imagine the trips to San Francisco and San Diego and other cities to see the Dodgers on the road by baseball fans, and of course tourists from Japan. The Nats have the Dodgers in early in the season for three games beginning on April 24. Fans will be trying to pinpoint a game that Yamamoto could be pitching. You have about a 60 percent chance of seeing him pitch in that series.

Of course, Nats fans are hoping that their team will be better than last year, and truth be told, FanGraphs has the Nats at 68 wins in their most recent projections. That is three games below last season — and the hope is the Nats make some big signings, considering that only nine of the Top-20 players are signed. Plenty of players left to move the needle for Nats fans in a quest to improve over the 2023 season.

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