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The Dodgers needed Shohei Ohtani. They still need a few other pieces

It's important to remember that 24 hours before Shohei Ohtani announced he was joining the Los Angeles Dodgers, a significant portion of MLB fans thought he was headed to the Toronto Blue Jays.

He wasn't — he wasn't even on the plane, according to five reporters — but the public possibility made for a very uncomfortable question: What would the Dodgers do if they didn't get Ohtani?

One day later, the Dodgers landed Ohtani and reset the market with a 10-year, $700 million contract (which contains significant deferrals). However, that deal doesn't make the previous question entirely moot, as the Dodgers still have some significant holes they need to address — areas Ohtani will not help them next year.

Of course, that's not to say Saturday wasn't an enormous victory for the Dodgers. It certainly was.

The Dodgers needed Shohei Ohtani more than any other team and acted like it

At the very least, this was the Dodgers' third attempt at landing Ohtani.

The team's interest in the two-way phenom goes back to 2012, when Ohtani announced that he would forego a professional career in Japan and look into signing with an MLB team instead. The Dodgers were among the many teams pursuing his services and loomed as a favorite, given their status as the biggest team on the West Coast and their past success with Hideo Nomo.

Ohtani ultimately decided to stay in Japan, eventually signing with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and becoming a league MVP.

The Dodgers' next chance was 2017, when Ohtani made the jump to MLB. Again, they were among the favorites. In addition to their previous advantages, the Dodgers were among the best teams in baseball, having just reached the World Series and won their fifth straight NL West title. Ohtani's signing bonus was capped, so being a winning team could've been an asset.

Ohtani decided to sign with the Angels instead and ended up becoming the most famous and most valuable player in baseball. We don't know how many times the Dodgers attempted to trade for Ohtani toward the end of his Angels career, but the interest was pretty clearly there.

The Angels decided to hold onto Ohtani at all junctures and never made the playoffs with him, despite one of the best three-year stretches in baseball history. This winter, with Ohtani finally back on the market, the Dodgers left nothing to chance — almost as if they had been planning this for years.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 07:  Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels in the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on July 07, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Mookie Betts has a new Dodgers superstar teammate in Shohei Ohtani. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

For a solid half-decade, the Dodgers were not shy about making splashy and expensive moves: Yu Darvish, Manny Machado, Mookie Betts, Trevor Bauer, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman. Obviously, not all of those moves worked out, but the stretch of 2017 to 2021 saw the Dodgers act like a big-market team.

Then they got very quiet, by their standards, for about a year or so. They didn't sign a player to a multiyear deal in the 2022-23 offseason, though one-year deals with Clayton Kershaw and J.D. Martinez certainly ended up working out. Their biggest trade acquisition in the offseason was Miguel Rojas, and their biggest 2023 trade-deadline acquisitions were Lance Lynn and Amed Rosario. They declined Justin Turner's $16 million option and non-tendered Cody Bellinger.

It was a perplexing offseason for a deep-pocketed team looking to win now, and it made sense only if they were keeping their powder dry. On Saturday, we found out just how much powder they had stored. Missing out on Ohtani would've been disastrous for the Dodgers — not just because they wouldn't have had Ohtani but also because of the moves they didn't make with the hope that he would finally say "yes" to them.

Ohtani won't fix these holes for the Dodgers

Ohtani got his contract because he can play two sides of the game extremely well, but he will fill only one hole for the Dodgers in 2024. Ohtani is not expected to pitch at all in 2024 after undergoing UCL surgery at the end of the 2023 season, so he will be a full-time DH next year.

That position was a need for the Dodgers, with 2023 All-Star J.D. Martinez hitting free agency. Re-signing Martinez would've been step one in the Dodgers' backup plan if they had whiffed on Ohtani, but now they will replace Martinez with the best bat available.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, that $700 million won't fix their roster's other issues. Here's what else they need to do to be ready for 2024 — and some ways they can do it.

Starting pitching

Where they are now: Ohtani will be a massive addition to the Dodgers' rotation when his arm is healthy again, but he can't help how that group is shaping up for 2024. Injuries and free agency have ravaged what is normally one of the deepest starting pitching groups in MLB.

Kershaw, Lynn and Julio Urías, who combined for 56 starts for the Dodgers in 2023, are all free agents, and Kershaw is the only one who seems likely to return. Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May both figure to miss most, if not all, of next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Right now, the team's rotation is basically Walker Buehler (who is returning from the dreaded second Tommy John surgery and not a lock to be ready for Opening Day) and the very young group of Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, Emmet Sheehan and someone like Gavin Stone, Michael Grove or Landon Knack. That's not going to cut it when you're at the "just signed Shohei Ohtani" level of trying to win now.

Bobby Miller headshot
Bobby Miller
SP - LAD - #28
2023 - false season
124.1
IP
3.76
ERA
1.10
WHIP
119
K
32
BB

What they could do: Re-signing Kershaw would usually be an obvious step one, but he's injured, too, and won't be back until the summer.

For immediate help, the Dodgers are reportedly still in on the biggest free agent remaining on the market, Yoshinobu Yamamoto. That would represent the most expensive route, with Yamamoto expected to receive at least $300 million, but 25-year-olds with his arsenal and track record rarely become available.

FILE - Yoshinobu Yamamoto, of Japan, pitches to Australia in the first inning of a Pool B game at the World Baseball Classic at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Sunday, March 12, 2023. Yamamoto will become a free agent Tuesday and major league teams can sign him through 5 p.m. EST on Jan. 4. Nippon Professional Baseball notified Major League Baseball that the 25-year-old right-hander’s club, the Orix Buffaloes, was posting him for availability to MLB teams. MLB notified the 30 teams of the posting on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)
Yoshinobu Yamamoto just won a third straight MVP and Triple Crown in Japan's NPB, in addition to a World Baseball Classic title. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

They have also been linked with Los Angeles native Lucas Giolito, as well as Seth Lugo. They've also been dipping a toe in the trade market, with reported interest in Dylan Cease, Tyler Glasnow and Corbin Burnes.

If we're being real, the Dodgers need at least two starting pitchers they can rely on. That doesn't need to be two elite pitchers, but their rotation is so volatile that they can't sign just one guy and call it a day.

Corner outfield

Where they are now: Chris Taylor is 33 years old and hit .237/.326/.420 last season. He is currently on track to be the Dodgers' primary left fielder next year. Jason Heyward is 34 years old and saw only 28 plate appearances against left-handers in 2023. He is currently on track to be the Dodgers' primary right fielder next year.

With Mookie Betts making the move to every-day second baseman next year, the Dodgers' outfield is looking mighty shallow, with young players such as Jonny Deluca, Michael Busch and Miguel Vargas looming as unproven options. Re-signing Heyward to a one-year deal was the first step, but the Dodgers could probably use one more.

What they could do: As with starting pitching, the Dodgers have options in multiple areas. David Peralta was solid last season and could be brought back. Free agents such as Jorge Soler, Hunter Renfroe and Randal Grichuk could be platoon options. The biggest name might be Randy Arozarena, who is reportedly available.

Randy Arozarena headshot
Randy Arozarena
LF - TB - #56
2023 - false season
551
AB
.254
AVG
23
HR
22
SB
.789
OPS

This spot should be cheaper than the starting pitching fixes, but neglecting it would probably be a mistake.

Back-end bullpen

Where they are now: Evan Phillips, Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen should form a perfectly fine late-inning trio, with Caleb Ferguson, Alex Vesia and Joe Kelly behind them. That said, you can never have enough relievers.

What they could do: Andrew Friedman has never been a fan of huge bullpen deals, so odds are the solution will be a person you haven't even heard of. The Dodgers have a good enough track record here that they'll probably go for the diamond-in-the-rough approach again.

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