Dodgers embrace new reality after ‘incredible’ offseason: ‘World Series or nothing’

Dodgers embrace new reality after ‘incredible’ offseason: ‘World Series or nothing’

LOS ANGELES — About a week after the Dodgers were swept in the National League Division Series, Freddie Freeman caught wind of his team’s extravagant offseason plan. Multiple plans, really. 

Last season, the Dodgers lowered their payroll considerably and still won 100 games, capturing the NL West crown for the 10th time in 11 years before suffering a second straight NLDS defeat at the hands of a division rival. 

That step back in spending was widely viewed as temporary — a one-year financial stopgap that could help them save ahead of a vital offseason, one in which they’d be the favorites to land one of the most gifted players in baseball history. But as Freeman and others would learn early on from president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, there was much more to the blueprint than just Shohei Ohtani. 

“He told me Plan A, B and C, and what we were going to try and do,” Freeman said. 

“At that point,” Mookie Betts added after getting filled in on the Dodgers’ pursuits, “I kind of just sat back and started eating popcorn and watching it unfold.” 

Those secondary plans might be lost to history. 

“Obviously,” Freeman said, “Plan A was Plan A that succeeded.”

It was not just a pipe dream. 

Adam Jones breaks down what Dodgers are getting in Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Adam Jones breaks down what Dodgers are getting in Yoshinobu Yamamoto

At a time when four of the top 10 free agents remain unsigned and when most teams aren’t shopping at the top end of the market, the Dodgers have secured the top two free agents, handed out more than $1.2 billion in guarantees and continue pushing further. 

Guggenheim Baseball Management has long maintained one of the higher payrolls in the sport, doing plenty to make sure a Dodgers organization that consistently churns out major-league talent also has the financial support to stay among the league’s elite. That combination of funding and organizational fortitude led to 11 straight playoff appearances.

But their goals go far beyond that. 

“It’s World Series or nothing,” Betts said after this offseason’s spending spree. 

In their meeting with Ohtani, the Dodgers told the two-time MVP that they view the past 10 years — during which they’ve won just one World Series ring — as a failure. That was a major selling point for a player who had yet to even sniff the playoffs during his illustrious six-year career. 

Now, the Dodgers are countering in a way that diverges from their usual offseason recipe, ratcheting up the massive expectations in Los Angeles even higher. 

The Dodgers’ longer-term, nine-figure commitments are typically sporadic and meticulous, focusing primarily on elite position players (Betts for 12 years and $365 million in 2020, Freeman for six years and $162 million in 2022) to supplement their homegrown talent — not on pitchers, and certainly not multiple pitchers. Their three-year, $102 million signing of Trevor Bauer in 2021 was an outlier from their typical modus operandi, and even that was a shorter-term pledge. 

But their infatuation with both Ohtani and Nippon Professional Baseball superstar Yoshinobu Yamamoto has always been different. 

Breaking down Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s pitching repertoire

Breaking down Yoshinobu Yamamoto's pitching repertoire

Even those in the organization less-informed on the Dodgers’ decision-making processes expected a heavy pursuit of both players this offseason, despite the exorbitant cost. The Dodgers’ chase for Ohtani has been well-documented since his high school days, and Max Muncy said he knew “for years” how highly the Dodgers thought of Yamamoto and fellow NPB standout pitcher Roki Sasaki, who could be posted at the end of this year. 

“So them being aggressive on Yamamoto was not surprising to me at all,” Muncy said. 

But actually landing both? 

“It’s pretty incredible,” Freeman said. “You just don’t know how far they’re going to go. I know the plan, but to see it succeed, and to know they wanted it to succeed, it’s just so exciting for everyone here and in L.A.” 

Even with ownership’s backing, skepticism would have been understandable, particularly after reports emerged that the primary target might be going elsewhere. Ohtani announced his decision on a Saturday in early December. Friedman described the previous 24 hours — a time in which it was reported Ohtani would be signing with the Blue Jays — as an “emotional roller coaster” that took some time off his life. 

In the end, Ohtani picking the Dodgers served as another catalyst. If he was deferring $68 million per year of his 10-year, $700 million deal, it wasn’t to watch his new team sit idle. 

Less than a week later, the Dodgers traded for and extended Tyler Glasnow. By then, they had already made their pitch to Yamamoto in a meeting that involved a contingent of their best players — a group that included the newly-signed Ohtani. His presence was not the sole reason Yamamoto eventually picked the Dodgers, but it didn’t hurt. Yamamoto said he felt a clubhouse atmosphere during the pitch that resonated with him, and Ohtani encouraged the 25-year-old to ask him anything he might need.  

“It was just one of those things where the connection felt pretty good right off the bat,” Freeman recalled. “I think we did a pretty good job.”

That doesn’t make the end result any less staggering. Moreover, the Dodgers recognize the target it will paint.   

“You know it’s going to be tough,” Betts said. “Every game is going to be the other team’s World Series. It is what it is. It’s what we signed up for. So, we have to embrace that.” 

Smoltz on the Dodgers’ offseason & Shohei Ohtani’s historic contract

Smoltz on the Dodgers' offseason & Shohei Ohtani's historic contract

Ohtani alone would have made the Dodgers this offseason’s winners. But to also acquire the second-best free-agent on the market? And one of the best pitchers on the trade market? And a premium corner outfielder in Teoscar Hernández? And more rotation depth in James Paxton? 

“To see it come to pass,” manager Dave Roberts said, “stuff like this doesn’t happen.” 

The reality sunk in this weekend at Dodger Stadium, where tens of thousands of fans were given their first opportunity to see the fruits of “Plan A” in person. The Dodgers sold 35,000 tickets. Cameras flashed and cheers followed wherever Ohtani walked. Last month, he set the Fanatics all-time record for jersey sales within 48 hours of release. On Saturday, that No. 17 jersey filled the concourses and team stores. 

After a surprising 100-win season, that forecast is modest for the Dodgers this year. For Ohtani, it’s a new reality. For the Dodgers, it’s an enhanced one. The perennial contenders are now the odds-on favorites. 

“Shohei didn’t come here to not win a championship,” Roberts said. 

“I mean, the only choice,” Ohtani confirmed, “is winning the World Series.” 

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and MLB as a whole for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner. 


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