It's time for the Boston Red Sox to put their money where their mouth is.
New chief baseball officer Craig Breslow acknowledged the club's need for upgrades, particularly in the starting rotation, during his introductory press conference. Chairman Tom Werner vowed the Red Sox will go "full throttle" this offseason in their pursuit of talent.
If that's the case, they should be in the mix for arguably the top two names on the free-agent market: two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani and Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Both would bring much-needed excitement to Fenway Park in 2024, but with Ohtani expected to command a record-breaking contract and Yamamoto projected to sign for roughly $200 million, Breslow and Co. will have to pick one star to prioritize.
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So, who should it be?
We asked the fans that question and of the 634 respondents, 63.1 percent voted in favor of Ohtani. The other 36.9 percent believe Yamamoto is the more sensible option.
Those results aren't surprising. Ohtani is the face of baseball and unquestionably the most talented player in league history. Yamamoto, despite the well-deserved hype surrounding him this offseason, is an unfamiliar name who has yet to prove anything on the MLB stage.
But that doesn't mean the Yamamoto voters are off base. There's a solid case to be made that if the Red Sox have to choose between the two, they should focus on signing the 25-year-old right-hander over the soon-to-be two-time MVP.
We evaluate both arguments below, and share our own vote:
The case for Shohei Ohtani
Arguing in favor of Ohtani isn't a difficult task. All it takes is one trip to his Baseball Reference page to show why he'll be the most coveted player on the market this winter.
Ohtani is a perennial MVP candidate -- he'll likely win his second MVP award on Thursday -- and he may have been in the Cy Young conversation had he stayed healthy in 2023. He finished fourth in Cy Young award voting in 2022.
The three-time All-Star is coming off a ridiculous season in which he slashed .304/.412/.654 with an American League-high 44 home runs and 95 RBI in 135 games. On the mound, he posted a 10-4 record with a 3.14 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and 167 strikeouts in 23 starts (132 innings).
Along with his talent, Ohtani will bring incredible fanfare to whichever organization is fortunate enough to sign him. We got a glimpse of Ohtani-mania in Boston when the 29-year-old superstar visited Fenway Park with the Los Angeles Angels last April. If he were to don a Red Sox uniform next season, it would reinvigorate the interest in the organization that has been missing over the last few years.
There's no need to overthink this one. If the Red Sox are serious about returning to their high-spending ways, there's no excuse not to be among the highest bidders for arguably the best baseball player of all time.
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The case for Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Yamamoto is widely considered the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market, which says a lot about his talent given the other names on the list.
His accomplishments over his seven-year Nippon Professional Baseball career speak for themselves. A two-time Pacific League MVP and three-time Eiji Sawamura (best pitcher) award winner, Yamamoto posted a 70-29 and a 1.82 ERA in Japan. He tossed two no-hitters, including one this past season.
Yamamoto averages 95 mph with his fastball and tops out at 99 mph. His impressive arsenal also includes a deceptive splitter, a cutter, and a curveball. In 172 starts, he averaged 9.3 strikeouts and 2.1 walks per nine innings.
To sum all of that up, he's a bonafide ace, and the Red Sox desperately need to add one of those ahead of the 2024 campaign. Yamamoto would make an instant impact on the club while Ohtani, who underwent elbow surgery in September, will have to wait until 2025 to resume his two-way role.
Even when Ohtani returns to the mound, it's far from a guarantee he'll be the same pitcher after his second elbow surgery. The younger Yamamoto has no injury history and is set to anchor a rotation for years to come.
In a perfect world, the Red Sox would set the MLB world ablaze by landing both Ohtani and Yamamoto this winter. That just isn't realistic, however, so we're forced to pick one of the two superstars.
As thrilling as the Ohtani experience would be, Yamamoto makes more sense for a 2024 Red Sox club that's looking to escape the AL East cellar. Pitching is Boston's No. 1 priority of the offseason and Ohtani won't be able to contribute in that department until 2025.
If Ohtani signs a record-breaking long-term contract, the latter half of his deal would come with tremendous risk. It's far from a guarantee that Ohtani's two-way talent will be sustainable as he ages into his mid-30s. He's a baseball unicorn, so we wouldn't rule it out, but it seems much more realistic he will eventually transition to a full-time DH role.
The Red Sox as they're currently constructed already have too many DHs. Although adding Ohtani to the mix would be a good problem to have, it wouldn't immediately address any of the glaring issues on the roster. Breslow named starting pitching, a right-handed bat, and defensive upgrades as the club's biggest offseason needs. Ohtani solves none of those problems.
If they want to return to contention next season, signing a certified ace like Yamamoto should be the Red Sox' No. 1 priority. Even if it means missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime talent.