MLB free agency: Five deals that should happen with Shohei Ohtani off the board

And now, the Major League Baseball offseason can actually commence.

Yeah, yeah, it’s technically been going on for about a month, and many tens of millions of dollars have already been distributed. But let’s be real: Shohei Ohtani was a massive occlusion, a $700 million speedbump keeping much of the market from moving.

Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers have graciously moved him out of the way, let us begin.

Ohtani’s agreement will bring both clarity and desperation to the market, the latter perhaps delaying some of the brightest targets from a decision simply to see how high their various suitors will go. Yet certain matches of player and team are almost too good to ignore.

With that, a look at five players and teams who’d be well-served – and well-paid – to join forces in coming days:

Cody Bellinger spent 2023 with the Cubs after starting his career with the Dodgers.
Cody Bellinger spent 2023 with the Cubs after starting his career with the Dodgers.

Cody Bellinger: Giants

Not sure how deep San Francisco got into the Ohtani sweepstakes, though at least they avoided the soul-crushing near-misses that marked their off-season a year ago, when Aaron Judge turned them down and Carlos Correa turned up with an MRI they did not like.

Yet it is clear they have cash to burn, evidenced by their massive, unaccepted offer to Judge last year and their Ohtani dalliance this. How to spend it? Well, an organization that needs both upgrades and charisma would be wise to bet on the best athlete left on the board.

San Francisco can certainly use Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but outbidding New York’s Yankees and Mets and those dreaded Dodgers seems unlikely – yet another second-place ribbon in the making. There are ways to concoct a pitching staff from spare parts, and San Francisco knows this well.

But an elite defender at two positions, and a 28-year-old slugger just getting his groove back? Those are awfully hard to find. Farhan Zaidi’s platoon sorcery fell flat the past two years without a former MVP (Buster Posey) to build around.

Time to concoct a lineup around another.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto: Mets

We’re developing a theme here, and that’s for teams to lean into their identities. The Mets’ gambit on deploying a pair of 39- and 40-year-old, $43.3 million aces fell flat, though it wasn’t entirely Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander’s fault.

Yet 2023 was not a total loss: Kodai Senga emerged as at least a viable No. 2 starter going forward, and Jose Quintana was splendid after returning from a debilitating rib injury. Owner Steve Cohen’s trip to Japan to court Yamamoto seems an indication the club will try to double down on run suppression.

Matt Chapman: Blue Jays

It’s undoubtedly a total drag that Ohtani never got on That Plane. His left-handed bat would have been a perfect complement between Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. His surgically repaired right arm would have given Toronto a punishing front four in the rotation come 2025.

Yet it’s now back to the drawing board for the Blue Jays, who have been a good to great team for the better part of three years but have zero playoff wins to show for it. They traded offense for defense last offseason and nearly missed the playoffs because of that, and another thumper in the lineup would really help.

But as we mentioned with Bellinger, this is a relatively putrid free agent market for hitters. There may be things to be done in the trade market, but as the Blue Jays gaze the landscape, they may find that the previous version of themselves wasn’t that bad. Pitching the ball and catching the ball are laudable qualities.

Chapman was an integral part of that since his 2022 trade from Oakland, but last year, the contributions were almost entirely on the defensive side of the ball. Oh, well: The man was still worth 4.4 WAR last season. Although Scott Boras is his agent, lugging a .226/.322/.420 line the past three seasons into free agency might suppress his value just a bit.

Blake Snell: Red Sox

File this under “probably won’t happen for many reasons but should.”

The odd reign of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is over, but the mysteries of the Red Sox offseasons are only more confounding with the cerebral Craig Breslow taking over. The man literally has no track record, but from a purely reductionist standpoint, it’s hard to imagine a Yale-educated molecular biophysics/biochemistry double major chasing after a Boras client with an alarming walk rate.

Yet the Red Sox appear merely on the periphery of the Yamamoto chase, if they’re even in at all. Chris Sale’s contract comes off the books after this season. A reigning Cy Young Award winner and proven horse would enable the Kutter Crawford-Tanner Houck-Garrett Whitlock types to assume appropriate roles.

And from Snell’s perspective, new pitching coach Andrew Bailey – who had a hand in many pitching renaissances in San Francisco – would make a decent muse. Sure, Jordan Montgomery – recently relocated to the Northeast – makes sense here, but Snell’s superior strikeouts per nine innings (11.7 to 7.7 last year) would play better in Fenway Park.

Josh Hader: Phillies

No sense messing around.

The Phillies made it through two rounds of the playoffs with Craig Kimbrel as their closer, and he bobbed and weaved through traffic and avoided any vibe-killing pratfalls. Then, the NLCS came around and he blew Games 3 and 4, leveling the series and creating an opening the Arizona Diamondbacks exploited.

Now, the championship-caliber core returns, as does the guts of an often-dominant bullpen. But deploying Hader to lock down the ninth inning will make them that much better.

Not only are they adding a guy who saved between 33 and 37 games the past four full seasons (at an 89% conversion rate), they’re also putting their own relievers in better positions to succeed. Fellow lefty Jose Alvarado can blow away guys in the sixth, seventh or eighth if needed.

Righty Jeff Hoffman can clean up whatever messes might occur. Rookie Orion Kerkering can develop organically.

Hader will just cost money. And that’s never stopped the Phillies before, right?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB free agency: 5 deals we want to see happen now that Ohtani signed