Rosenthal: Dodgers need to sign Ohtani and do more to change narrative | ET REALITY


If you’re a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, how exactly are you going to get excited about the 2024 regular season?

Two words: Shohei Ohtani. However, even if the Dodgers sign the two-way superstar as a free agent, they wouldn’t be assured of a different outcome in October.

It doesn’t matter. The Dodgers basically took a break this past offseason while they waited for Ohtani to hit the open market. Now, after another crushing disappointment in October, they need to change the narrative.

Their biggest need is starting pitching. Ohtani will not pitch next season while he recovers from elbow surgery. Even if his only task initially is to replace JD Martinez as designated hitter, he won’t dramatically improve a Dodgers offense that just scored 900 runs for the first time in 70 years.

Ohtani, 29, won’t be the answer to the Dodgers’ postseason woes either. Not if he makes the playoffs like Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman did by going a combined 21-1 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. And not if the Dodgers fail to adequately address a 2024 rotation that currently includes only one proven starter: Walker Buehler, who is coming off his second Tommy John surgery.

Strictly from a team building point of view, the above points are quite relevant. But the Dodgers this offseason can’t just worry about simple roster construction. Despite all their success in the regular season, if ever a franchise needs to give its fans a reason to stay engaged, this is it.

If you’re a Dodgers fan, chances are you’ll still buy tickets to see Betts, Freeman and Co. next season, even if president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman does nothing. The Dodgers have led the league in attendance for each of the last 10 full seasons. His average attendance of 47,371 this season was the highest in the majors by more than 7,000.

On the other hand, if you’re a Dodgers fan, you’re probably experiencing a little October fatigue.

His team has made the playoffs in each of the last 11 years, but only claimed a World Series title in the shortened 2020 campaign.

His team has won 100 or more games in each of the last four full seasons, but advanced beyond the Division Series only once.

His team, based on a comparison of regular season records, has suffered three of the six biggest upsets in postseason history over the past three years!

That’s a lot.

It can be rationalized that the true test of a franchise is its ability to field teams capable of repeatedly dominating the 162-game regular season, as the Dodgers have done.

It can be rationalized that, in an era where teams play at least three and sometimes four rounds of playoffs, a team needs a lot of luck to win the World Series.

It can be rationalized in many ways, but many Dodger fans won’t want to hear it. Their team is this generation’s version of the Atlanta Braves of the ’90s and early ’00s, who won 14 consecutive division titles but only one World Series, in a 1995 season shortened by a player’s strike to 144 games. . And really, enough is enough.

Clayton Kershaw was the Dodgers’ most expensive signing, for one year, $20 million. Noah Syndergaard, one of the biggest flops of the season, was next, for one year, with $13 million. Then came Martinez, for one year, $10 million and a few minor moves, including one, Jason Heyward, that worked out quite well.

Friedman’s deadline additions (Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Amed Rosario, Kiké Hernández) were mostly mediocre, although Eduardo Rodríguez’s rejection of a trade from the Detroit Tigers to the Dodgers deprived the team of a potential that would make a difference. The small trade market foreshadowed what will be a relatively small free agent market. But the Dodgers surely know they can’t play it safe for the second straight winter and are relying on all of their young pitchers to mature at once.

Dave Roberts is very likely to get votes for National League Manager of the Year. (Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

Manager Dave Roberts will be a topic of discussion, as he often is after playoff disappointments, but this one isn’t up to him. After making this team 100 wins, Roberts will almost certainly get votes from baseball writers for National League Manager of the Year, maybe even be a finalist.

Ultimately, Kershaw’s shoulder injury, combined with injuries to Buehler, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin and the absence of Julio Urías, left the team’s rotation too vulnerable. Urias, the team’s opening day starter, was charged with felony domestic violence after a physical altercation with his wife in early September. Major League Baseball placed him on paid administrative leave and he missed the rest of the season.

The free agent that makes the most sense for the Dodgers, and for any other club, is Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who will hit the market at age 25. But Blake Snell, a pitcher the Rays drafted under Friedman, will also be available. The same goes for Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray, among others.

Kershaw’s uncertain status further increases the urgency of bolstering the rotation, and Ohtani really fits into that plan, if not for the 24th, perhaps beyond. Ohtani is not a sure option after a second Tommy John surgery, and that will surely complicate the market for him. But his work ethic is impeccable. His character seems to be too. The offense he will provide, along with the marketing push, still makes him a great fit.

It’s about winning, yes, but the Dodgers have proven to be quite competent at it. Even if they fail to sign Ohtani, they should once again be the team to beat in the NL West. Well, I’ve been there, done that for almost a decade and counting. No one should belittle Friedman’s achievements. But fans can be forgiven for wanting more.

Ohtani would provide not only the steak, but the sizzle as well. And maybe when October rolls around, dessert fans will want it too.

(Top photo of Shohei Ohtani and Mookie Betts: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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