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The Mirror

The student website of Van Nuys High School
Van Nuys, California
The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

One billion dollars and a dream

After yet another disappointing end to their season, the Los Angeles Dodgers spend over $1 billion in hopes for a championship. Buying players may get them to their goal.

Postseason struggles and early exits in the playoffs have plagued the Dodgers’ reputation for the past decade. Since 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been the powerhouse of the National League, winning the National League West division title 10 of those 11 seasons.

The front office regularly spends over $200 million per year to pay the best players in the world to perform as well as using their exceptional scouting to construct their farm system with some of the best prospects in the league that either blossom into future stars or get traded to other teams for other stars. The team’s player development staff takes declining veterans and transforms them into a version of them that rivals that of their prime.

Putting all of these factors together, it’s absurd that the Dodgers have amassed just one World Series title in a shortened 60 game season in 2020 many consider to be fake. Every year, they’re World Series favorites because of their promising young players and stars they spent plenty on, but so far it hasn’t worked out how they wished.

Since 2014, the Dodgers have given out contracts of $100 million or more to players such as Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trevor Bauer in hopes of winning another title, but their sole championship in 2020 has been nothing but underwhelming for the team and its fans.

Some of the best current players are free agents right now and the best player in the world is one of them, but going on a spending spree by buying free agents often doesn’t guarantee a trophy. Going all out this offseason may finally lead the Dodgers to another coveted title, though.

In high school, players often will both pitch and hit for their team. As you look to higher levels of the game however, you see almost no two way players. Being a pitcher or hitter on its own is already difficult enough, and trying to do both at even an average level is nearly impossible. Nearly.

AS AN 18-YEAR-OLD, Shohei Ohtani had dreams to sign with an MLB team and leave Japan. MLB scouts only envisioned him as a pitcher in the MLB instead of a two way player. The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league decided to take a chance on the young ballplayer, drafting him in 2012 as a two way player.

Ohtani flourished in his 5 seasons in the NPB as a pitcher, registering a 2.69 ERA (earned run average) and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings pitched. As a hitter though, he struggled. In 244 games from 2013 to 2015, Ohtani hit to an unimpressive .242 batting average with only 18 home runs, while striking out at a subpar 27.9 percent clip. Many professional teams, both American and foreign, continued to doubt Ohtani’s ability to be a productive two way player at a quality level.

In the 2016 season though, the baseball world changed and would never be the same.

Ohtani played for the Fighters as a hitter in a career high 104 games out of the 143 total. In these 104 games, the league saw his batting average rise from a measly .202 average to an outstanding .322. He set a career high in countless stats, clubbing 22 home runs, 18 doubles and 67 runs batted in. Being one of the best hitters in the NPB while also pitching to an astonishing 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings, Ohtani brought home his first NPB Most Valuable Player award. Due to injury, he pitched only 26.1 innings in 2017, but still put up impressive numbers in his 66 games played as a hitter.

Following the 2017 NPB season, Ohtani requested his team post him to the MLB, allowing him to leave Japan and join a major league club. Being able to hit and pitch at an elite level drew the attention of every MLB team as he does the job of two players while only taking up one roster spot. Only half of the teams in the league would allow him to both hit and pitch though, because of the designated hitter position.

A designated hitter is a player who hits in a team’s lineup, generally instead of the pitcher, but doesn’t play defense on the field. In the MLB’s American League, a designated hitter is allowed in each team’s lineup. This has been implemented in the rulebook for 51 years now, but the National League didn’t adopt the rule until 2022. To ensure his bat would be in a National League team’s lineup as much as possible, Ohtani would need to play the field on days he wasn’t pitching. This would put even more stress on his already physically taxing position as a two way player.

Ohtani would end up signing with the Los Angeles Angels for the major league minimum of $545,000. He could have waited a few more years to join an MLB team and make upwards of $200 million from a large contract, but he could only sign for the minimum due to not being 25 years of age or older. Still, he chose to sign with the Angels and prove being a successful two way player in the MLB was possible.

IN HIS FIRST YEAR competing with major league competition, Ohtani proved to be an exceptionally valuable player for his squad. He pitched to a 3.31 era with 63 strikeouts in 51.2 innings, and smashed 22 home runs along with a .285 batting average and 61 runs batted in in 104 games. These stats earned the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2018, giving him hope that he would prove being a high level hitter and pitcher at the same time was possible. Unfortunately at the end of the season, Ohtani would have to undergo Tommy John surgery, leaving him unable to pitch in his team’s 2019 campaign.

Tommy John surgery takes between 12 and 18 months to make a full recovery and pitch again, meaning Ohtani was unable to take the mound for the entire 2019 season and some of the 2020 season as well. He still hit at a similar level to his rookie year, but injuries would continue to plague his seasons. In both 2018 and 2019, Ohtani played in 104 and 106 games respectively out of the 162 total.

Due to covid-19, the 2020 MLB season was shortened from 162 games to a mere 60. At the same time, Ohtani would have his worst season of his career. He pitched just 1.2 innings that year, giving up three hits and eight walks with only three strikeouts, leading to seven earned runs being charged against him. His batting also seriously declined, hitting embarrassingly bad .190 batting average with seven home runs and 24 runs batted in while striking out 50 times in 44 games. Team’s owners, coaches, fans and MLB reporters seriously doubted Ohtani could ever be a successful two way player without being constantly injured. Ohtani was often compared to Babe Ruth, as he was also a two way player in the beginning of his career, but even Ruth elected to hit only because it was too difficult to do both professionally. Approaching the 2021 season, Ohtani had one last chance to prove he was capable of both pitching and hitting at an elite level. It appeared as if it would be impossible with him coming off of Tommy John surgery and having a horrendous season at the plate, but Ohtani proved everybody wrong.

Shohei Ohtani had one of the most impressive seasons in the MLB’s 120 year history. Ohtani would finally play a season in which he was both a full time pitcher and hitter. As a pitcher, he struck out 156 batters in 130.1 innings, attaining an exceptional 3.18 ERA in the process. He would also hit .257, driving in 100 runs and clobbering the third most home runs in MLB at 46, allowing him to be voted into his first career all-star game. The numbers Ohtani put up as both a pitcher and a hitter are amazing alone, but combining the two brought him his first American League MVP award. In 2022, he would put up extremely similar numbers, getting second place in American League MVP voting to New York Yankees star Aaron Judge. His 2023 season was arguably his most magnificent yet, hitting .304 while batting in 95 runners and hitting a league leading 44 home runs and striking out 167 hitters with a 3.14 ERA in 132 innings.

In unlucky fashion, Ohtani would tear his UCL in his right elbow during the 2023 season, requiring a second Tommy John surgery and leaving him unable to pitch for the 2024 season. Fans are still somewhat skeptical of whether Ohtani can continue being a two way player for long because of this, but MLB teams didn’t seem to care.

Ohtani’s Angels were unsuccessful in building a winning team around him, failing to make it to the playoffs in their six years with him losing more than half their games each of those seasons.

At the end of the 2023 season, Ohtani elected free agency to sign with a team expected to compete for a championship for the foreseeable future. He would easily vastly improve any team he signed with, but it came with a hefty price tag. The best of the best in the MLB often sign contracts for $25 to $30 million per year, usually for 8 or more years. Combining the price of a star studded pitcher and hitter, Ohtani’s contract would come out to at least $50 million per year. On December 11, 2023, the Dodgers officially signed Ohtani to a record breaking $700 million over 10 years.

ALONG WITH OHTANI, the Dodgers signed another coveted Japanese free agent in starting pitcher.

25-year-old Yoshinobu Yamamoto was posted to the MLB this offseason, allowing him to be signed like any other Japanese player. Because he was 25 though, he could sign for any amount instead of just the major league minimum. Since Yamamoto joined the NPB as a 19-year-old, he has consistently been the best pitcher in the entire league. Over 967.2 innings pitched, he has accumulated 986 strikeouts and a career 1.72 ERA, with his lowest coming in at an absurdly low 1.16 this most recent season.

Foreign players will often sign with MLB teams for large contracts, but nothing groundbreaking. Kodai Senga of the New York Mets signed for $75 million over five years with a career ERA of 2.42 in 11 seasons. Yamamoto was expected to break the $200 million mark, but nobody expected him to sign for how much he did.

The Dodgers signed Yamamoto on December 22, 2023 to a 12 year, $325 million deal, the largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history – and he had never even thrown a pitch in the league before. Previously, the largest contract given to a pitcher was Gerrit Cole’s nine year, $324 million deal with the Yankees.

The 29 other teams in the MLB have spent around $1.2 billion this offseason on free agents and contract extensions. The Dodgers have just about matched that number with only three players, including an extension for starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow.

Glasnow was formerly on the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2016 to 2018, then the Tampa Bay Rays onwards. On Dec. 16, 2023, the Dodgers traded starting pitching prospect Ryan Pepiot and outfield prospect Jonny DeLuca for Glasnow. Almost immediately after the trade, Glasnow agreed to a $135 million extension with the Dodgers.

There’s no promise that any of these contracts will work out though, like anything. Teams often spend hundreds of millions of dollars on players just for those contracts to be a waste of money. Anthony Rendon left the Washington Nationals to join the Los Angeles Angels in 2020 for a $245 million contract through seven years. Since the contract was finalized, Rendon has played in only 37% of the possible games in the first four years of his tenure.

SPENDING MILLIONS upon millions on players can always still work, as proven by the Texas Rangers recently. Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jacob DeGrom have all signed with the Rangers for a total of $685 million and it brought them from a last place team to the 2023 World Series winner in just two years.

Due to the ridiculous amount of money the Dodgers have spent this offseason, fans around the world have brought up the idea of a salary cap in baseball. Adding a salary cap would put a hard limit on the amount of money a team can spend on their payroll each year, effectively stopping any team from doing what the Dodgers did this offseason. A salary cap isn’t needed nearly as much as a salary floor for fixing the league’s spending issues.

While teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets and other big market teams spend money like it’s nothing, other team’s owners pinch pennies to gain the most money for themselves. The Oakland Athletics had a payroll of $56 million in 2023, over six times less than the Mets who led the league with a $353 million payroll. Teams like the Athletics field teams of extremely young players and rarely spend money on trying to sign them long term. They rather look to trade their best players when they are at their highest value to get the best return of prospects. This strategy leads teams to never build a good dynamic and lose upwards of 100 games a season. In 2023, the Athletics were dead last in the league with a 50-112 record. Owners of these “small market” MLB teams have plenty of money to spend on players like the big market teams, but they choose to make the most money for themselves without even trying to field a competitive team.

What does this mean for the Dodgers, then?

With all of these massive signings, the Dodgers have shown they’re going all out this decade. Many teams are apprehensive to offer extensive contracts because of the commitment to them, but the Dodgers threw all of that out the window. Their roster already had exceptional players, and adding these three players does nothing but bolster their team. With the rosters the Dodgers have constructed over the past decade and the success the team has had in the regular season, fans have rendered those 10 years as a failure for only winning one championship. With arguably the best catcher, first baseman, second baseman, pitcher and hitter on the same team for years to come, the expectations are through the roof for them, if that’s even possible anymore.

With the signings of Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow, the Dodgers aim to create a dynasty and be the best team in baseball under these contracts. The disappointment from fans, players and baseball staff seeing only one championship fuels the fire for this squad to be the most dominant team of the 2020s and beyond.

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About the Contributor
Rogers Levitt
Rogers Levitt, Staff
From playing Mozart’s sonatas on my upright Yamaha to watching a baseball soar into the bright day sky from my bat, I’ve always been driven to be the best. As a rookie journalist, I aspire to take my same dedication to become a noteworthy and dependable writer. With every story, I will report facts in an entertaining fashion with the hopes of drawing readers. When I am not honing my journalistic craft, I can be found at my piano, on the Van Nuys baseball field, or in my kitchen elevating my homemade ramen.
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