Around the Horn: Shohei Ohtani in free agency and more MLB rumors

Los Angeles Angels, MLB

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This week, Around the Horn checks in on the likelihood of Shohei Ohtani entering free agency, front office shakeups for the Padres and more MLB rumors.

The thought of Shohei Ohtani becoming a free agent in 2023 just became increasingly realistic — and it could result in one of the biggest free-agent bidding wars in baseball history.

“I really like the team,” Ohtani said. “I love the fans … but, more than that, I want to win. I’ll leave it at that.”

Ohtani, 27, wants to play in the postseason. That’s part of why he came to MLB. He has not made the playoffs since signing with the Los Angeles Angels, who have not posted a winning record since 2015, with Ohtani adding: “It’s very frustrating, very disappointing. I always look forward to being in the playoff race at the end.”

What might his next contract look like? No one knows. He has more home runs than Fernando Tatis Jr. and a better ERA than Clayton Kershaw. It’s why he’s going to be the American League MVP and perhaps the face of baseball for the next decade should he stay healthy.

Said one executive: “I’d hand him a blank check.”

The AL playoff race is a bloodbath

The next week of baseball is going to be nuts. A current look at the AL playoff picture:

New York Yankees: 89-67
Boston Red Sox: 88-68
Toronto Blue Jays: 87-69
Seattle Mariners: 86-70
Oakland A’s: 85-71

The upcoming slate of games featuring those teams:

Yankees vs. Blue Jays, then Yankees vs. Rays and Blue Jays vs. Orioles. Red Sox vs. Orioles and Nationals. The Mariners and A’s will play in an elimination series. Then Mariners vs. Angeles while the A’s finish with the Astros.

Only two will advance to get to the wild card round. Let’s get weird.

Yankees are getting hot at the right rime

When the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton in 2017, pairing him with Aaron Judge, the envisioned two of the game’s elite home run hitters wreaking havoc in the middle of their lineup.

On Sunday night in Boston, with the Yankees trailing by one run, Judge hit a 118.4 mph two-run double off Adam Ottavino. Then Stanton hit a towering 116.4 mph home run to seal a 6-3 Yankees victory, completing a three-game sweep and giving New York a one-game lead for the first slot in the AL wild-card race with six games remaining.

This season has been a rollercoaster for the Yankees, but Stanton and Judge both getting hot before the postseason is a gamechanger. Stanton, 31, homered in all three games against the Red Sox, hitting 7 for 12 (.583) with three home runs. Judge, 29, is hitting .284/.370/.533 with 36 home runs in 142 games this season.

Dodgers vs. Cardinals is an epic playoff matchup

The Los Angeles Dodgers, arguably the most talented team in baseball history and preseason World Series favorites, against the St. Louis Cardinals, winners of 16 consecutive games. In a winner-take-all wild-card game.

It looks like it’s about to happen, and hoo boy, what a matchup that would be.

The Dodgers, of course, would start Max Scherzer. The Cardinals would counter with Adam Wainwright, the 40-year-old right-hander who has won 16 games and posted a 3.07 ERA in 31 starts, and could bring ace Jack Flaherty out of the bullpen late in the game if the right opportunity presents itself.

The Dodgers are built for games like this, with a historically great pitcher (Scherzer) and a lineup loaded with MVP candidates. But the Cardinals, with a lineup that features Paul Goldschmidt, baseball’s hottest hitter, and Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill, are as equipped as any team to play spoiler — and could end the Dodgers’ season before it really started.

More changes in the Padres front office

The San Diego Padres continued their front office shakeup this weekend.

Just after firing farm director Sam Geaney and reassigning amateur scouting director Mark Conner, the team parted ways with at least four area scouts on Friday. The reasoning behind the changes, first reported by Dennis Lin of The Athletic, is that president of baseball operations AJ Preller wants his decision-makers to share a similar vision. Of course, it has been seven years since Preller took over and the Padres have yet to finish a full season above .500.

More changes are likely coming, with manager Jayce Tingler on the hot seat after officially being eliminated from postseason contention. But it’s surprising that the first changes are coming to the amateur side, with one rival scout saying: “It’s bullshit, really. Those scouts built the best farm system in baseball. Preller traded them all away and the scouts got fired.”

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