MLB 2024: Splashy Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto Signings Boost Dodgers as Teams Try to Dethrone Rangers

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
An aerial view shows a mural in progress of Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani, created by artist Robert Vargas, in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles Saturday, March 16, 2024.

As the Los Angeles Dodgers made splashy signings with Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto this offseason, other teams focused on modern baseball’s stark reality: pricey payrolls often don’t translate into titles.

AP Photo/Ahn Young-Joon
Los Angeles Dodgers’ designated hitter Shohei Ohtani , right, and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, left, walk together prior to the exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kiwoom Heroes at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, March 17, 2024.

Baseball’s biggest spender has won the World Series just three times in the last 23 seasons: the 2009 New York Yankees, 2018 Boston Red Sox and 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers. Going back to the start of the Wild Card Era in 1995, the highest roller has just six championships, with the Yankees also winning in 1996, 1999 and 2000.

“Clearly having a very high payroll is correlated with winning more games in the regular season,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday. “The saving grace for us has been that our playoffs are unpredictable enough that the 110-win team doesn’t automatically march through the playoffs. That’s why I reacted probably too negatively to the criticism that the playoffs were unpredictable and the best teams weren’t coming through. The fact of the matter is that’s a good thing for us over the long haul.”

Just 12 of the last 29 World Series winners had the top regular season record in their league. Steve Cohen’s New York Mets became the most expensive failure in baseball history last year, boosting payroll to a record $355 million on opening day, then finishing fourth in the NL East at 75-87 and incurring a record luxury tax of nearly $101 million.

“Some of the best teams in baseball that we’ve seen over the last 10 years have a hard time winning the World Series,” Cohen said.

Since Texas won its first title after finishing second in the AL West at 90-72, the Dodgers made the most ostentatious additions by reaching a record $700 million, 10-year contract with two-way star Shohei Ohtani and a $325 million, 12-year deal with right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. They also acquired right-hander Tyler Glasnow from Tampa Bay and gave him a $136.5 million, five-year agreement.

Los Angeles attracted a rock star following ahead of this week’s opening series against San Diego in Seoul, South Korea.

“I think we’re kind of starting to get used to it a little bit,” All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “But I don’t know if anybody is going to get used to this like this.”

Other teams open March 28 in hopes of preventing the Rangers from becoming the first repeat champion since the 1998-2000 Yankees. Bruce Bochy, who turns 69 next month, will try to join Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Connie Mack as the only managers with five Series titles.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
A woman walks past a mural of Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani, left, and Mookie Betts, painted by artist Gustavo Zermeno Jr., in Hermosa Beach, Calif., Monday, March 18, 2024.


Other free agents who wound up with new teams included St. Louis right-hander Sonny Gray, Giants third baseman Matt Chapman and Houston closer Josh Hader.

San Francisco also brought in an Asian star, giving South Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee a $113 million, six-year contract.

Juan Soto was the most-prominent player traded, dealt from San Diego to the New York Yankees for his final season before free agency.

But as opening day approached, pitcher Jordan Montgomery and designated hitter J.D. Martinez remained free. NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell struck a $62 million, two-year agreement with San Francisco late in spring training.

Some teams appear to have reduced payroll because of local broadcast revenue uncertainty. MLB took over broadcasts of Padres and Arizona games last year after Diamond Sports Group filed for bankruptcy protection.

“It’s just profit-taking and a lack of competitiveness,” said Scott Boras, the agent for Snell, Montgomery and Martinez.

Big league umpires might welcome a notable new coworker, too. Jen Pawol was given a full-time Triple-A assignment and is on the verge of becoming the first woman to umpire a major league game.


Several stars will start on the injured list, among them reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole with the Yankees, Gray with the Cardinals and closer Jhoan Durán with the Minnesota Twins.

An All-Star pitching staff is recovering from Tommy John surgery, including Jacob deGrom, Sandy Alcántara, Félix Bautista, Shane McClanahan and Liam Hendriks. Ohtani won’t pitch this year following elbow surgery in September.


Among the winter’s biggest acquisitions was the Chicago Cubs poaching manager Craig Counsell from rival Milwaukee. The Brewers replaced Counsell with bench coach Pat Murphy.

Ron Washington is getting another chance to manage at 71 years old with the Los Angeles Angels, and Bob Melvin left San Diego for San Francisco, returning to the Bay Area after previously leading Oakland. Mike Shildt got Melvin’s previous job with the Padres, Joe Espada replaced retired Dusty Baker in Houston, Stephen Vogt got Terry Francona’s old gig in Cleveland and Carlos Mendoza took over the New York Mets.

Boston’s Alex Cora and the Yankees’ Aaron Boone are lame-duck managers in the final seasons of contracts. The Yankees are coming off an 82-80 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

“All you can kind of do is focus on what we have, and I’m excited about our group,” Boone said.


Oakland heads into an uncertain future. The Athletics’ lease at the Oakland Coliseum expires after this season and the team plans to move into a new Las Vegas ballpark in 2028 with no home site set for 2025-27.

Baltimore will enter a new era when Carlyle Group Inc. co-founder David Rubenstein completes an agreement to buy the Orioles from Peter Angelos, who has controlled the team since 1993. The sale values the franchise at $1.725 billion and is likely to close just before the Orioles open.


After instituting a pitch clock last year that cut the average time of nine-inning games by 24 minutes to 2:40, its fastest since 1985, MLB shortened it with runners on base by two seconds to 18. MLB also widened the runner’s lane approaching first base to include 18-to-24 inches of fair territory until the edge of the grass, changing a more than century-old rule that caused World Series controversy over interference calls.

Helped by a swifter pace and a return to normalcy following the coronavirus pandemic, MLB last year drew 70 million fans for the first time since 2017 at 70.75 million and revenue rose to a record $11.6 billion. However, broadcast revenue is 25% of the total, according to Manfred, and while Amazon’s investment in Bally has created a more positive outlook, the future of media rights is unclear.

“The media landscape is uncertain. It’s changing really fast,” Manfred said. “Even the smartest people in the business, and I don’t necessarily count myself in that group, but even the smartest people in the business don’t know exactly where this is shaking out.”