Dodgers head to Winter Meetings with Shohei Ohtani atop their wish list – San Bernardino Sun

Bill Plunkett

The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center is a sprawling complex that boasts more than 2,800 rooms and nine acres of indoor/outdoor gardens and atriums, which are turned into a holiday attraction that draws visitors from miles around the Nashville location at this time of year.

Good thing – they’re going to need all that space to accommodate the giant elephant in the room as front offices from all 30 MLB teams check in for the annual Winter Meetings this week.

A little more than a month since the Texas Rangers were crowned as 2023 champions, a winner of the winter has yet to be determined. Shohei Ohtani remains an unsigned free agent and the focus of the most intense speculation these Winter Meetings have seen in years.

The Dodgers remain the frontrunners to land the recently crowned, two-time American League MVP with a revolving group of hopeful teams (currently including the Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Angels, most prominently) considered to be in the mix. But those speculated rankings are all an attempt to read tea leaves when no one has spilled the tea. Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, has kept the cone of silence on all negotiations to this point – reportedly telling teams any leaks would be seen as strikes against them.

Ohtani could make his decision over these next three days. That would certainly please MLB, which uses this winter gathering as a marketing opportunity, reminding fantasy football-obsessed sports fans that the summer game does still exist even as the amount of actual news generated this week seems to shrink with each passing year.

Or he might not, leaving MLB to hope the motivated sellers in San Diego swing a blockbuster trade of Juan Soto or free agents like Blake Snell and Yoshinobu Yamamoto choose their next employers to provide the week’s headlines.

“It feels like a lot of things are coming to a head right now and when that dam bursts it’s hard to say,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on the eve of the meetings, fastidiously avoiding anything that could be construed as a comment on any particular player.

“It does feel there’s a lot of momentum right now on a lot of fronts.”

Having invested time and effort over years (they aggressively courted Ohtani before he signed with the Angels six years ago), the Dodgers would be disappointed not to land Ohtani this winter. But they want him more than they need him.

This winter’s most important task is to rebuild a starting rotation that dissolved on them in 2023 and lacks any proven depth. As they arrive in Nashville, the Dodgers’ starting pitching depth chart consists of one starter returning from his second Tommy John surgery (Walker Buehler), a career swingman (Ryan Yarbrough) and a group of talented young pitchers – some proven (Bobby Miller), most not (Emmet Sheehan, Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone, et al).

That doesn’t make the Dodgers unique. It seems every team with a suite at the Gaylord Opryland this week is looking for starting pitching, driving up the prices for the top free agents like Yamamoto and Snell and mid-tier options like Jordan Montgomery as well.

“Every single year, that is the focus for the vast majority of teams because we understand that with starting pitching depth – I’m not sure it actually exists. If you think you’ve got enough, it’s probably not enough,” Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes said.

“But I think the fact that there are strong free-agent targets and there’s quite a few names that seem like they may move, or at least have the opportunity to move (in trades), it creates for a more robust group than maybe in years past.”

At the GM Meetings in November in Scottsdale, Arizona, Gomes acknowledged that the Dodgers are looking to add multiple arms – “a starting pitcher or two,” he said. To satisfy that need, they might have to take a ‘one from Column A, one from Column B’ approach.

‘Column A’ would be the front-of-the rotation types expected to be available either through free agency (Yamamoto or Snell) or trade (Tampa’s Tyler Glasnow, Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber or 2021 Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes). The Dodgers have plenty of competition for those pitchers, with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets prominent among those in pursuit.

‘Column B’ would be the mid-tier free agents where the Dodgers might again test their ability to midwife career rebirths for pitchers. Right-handers Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty, both former Harvard-Westlake standouts, are the most obvious candidates in that group.

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2023-12-03 17:45:44 , San Bernardino Sun

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