Ohtani controversy overshadows new MLB season ahead of opener

Shohei Ohtani has made plenty of headlines over the winter
Shohei Ohtani has made plenty of headlines over the winterAFP
Since the Texas Rangers lifted the World Series back in November, defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-1 in the seven-game series, the MLB world feels uncertain ahead of Thursday’s opening day and that’s down to one player.

The off-season was always going to be the Shohei Ohtani (29) show. The two-way player - one of the best pitchers as well as batters in the league - was set to be a free agent going into the off-season and there were plenty of suitors.

Despite a rumoured flight to Toronto, leading Blue Jays fans to refresh flight tracker websites at an alarming rate, the Japanese star decided to stay put in Los Angeles, moving from the Angels to the Dodgers in a deal that was worth $700million over 10 years.

This move for the 2023 American League MVP along with the pick-ups of pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto seemed to put the Dodgers in pole position for the pennant in 2024 and the team to beat before Opening Day.

But, trouble has brewed in the last week. News broke that Ohtani’s translator, Ippei Mizuhara had used $4.5million of his friend’s money to pay off gambling debts where he had used an illegal Californian bookmaker to place countless bets on sport. At first, it was understood that Ohtani had knowledge of this, but since then his lawyers have called it ‘theft’.

This scandal has rocked MLB with the story taking numerous twists and turns. The league are investigating this case and there is no doubt that when Ohtani takes to the plate, it will be something that follows him around for the foreseeable future as it did in the two-game series against the San Diego Padres in South Korea.

Away from LA, much has changed around the league. The New York Yankees acquired another potent weapon in Juan Soto from the Padres to bolster their batting lineup, whilst the 2023 Cy Young winner - the award given to the best pitcher in each of the National and American League each year - Blake Snell took most of the off-season to find a move.

He waited and waited, but finally found a home in San Francisco on a two-year $62million deal. He won’t be ready to start the season for the Giants, but he is likely to be on the mound at some point in April.

The frontrunners

A new year brings fresh hope to fans of the 30 teams that 2024 could be the year they go on a run and make history.

However, that hope is larger for some than others. For the Dodgers, despite the Ohtani furore, it will be expected that they reach the postseason once again. In fact, the last time they didn’t was 2012. Their NL West rivals and 2023 World Series finalists Arizona will be chasing them down. They have bought Jordan Montgomery this week from Texas to bolster their rotation that will see Zac Gallen once again lead the line. With postseason experience, this team will be confident of another run, but there is a target on their back that wasn’t there last year.

Other teams that will be a threat in the National League will be the Philadelphia Phillies, the Padres and none more so than the Atlanta Braves. They have the best starting rotation with a batting lineup that goes deep.

Meanwhile in the American League, it feels a more open race. The AL East has been the division to watch in recent years with gladiator battles between all five sides to jump over each other and into the playoffs. With the addition of Soto, the New York Yankees look in a good position to overthrow the Baltimore Orioles in the East, whilst Toronto have plumped for experienced batters in Justin Turner and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, whilst their starting rotation is still regarded as one of the most consistent. More runs north of the border and they will be in with a shout.

Players to watch

Obviously, Ohtani will be the player making headlines in 2024 with the Dodgers. On and off the field, it is likely to be an eyebrow-raising season for him and that is even before he is fit enough to pitch, which is likely in 2025. Everywhere he goes he sells out stadiums, maximises TV deals for his side and will get the people talking. For MLB, a season of Ohtani in full force on a successful team could be huge for the league.

Elsewhere, 2024 is likely to see the rise and rise of Elly de la Cruz. The Cincinnati Reds’ star was electric in 2023, breaking through to be one of the most watched players. His star is rising and with a year in the big leagues under his belt, it feels likely he could be on for an All-Star appearance or a run at the league MVP. 

Who will win the World Series?

The MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint. To make the playoffs, you need to perform consistently over 162 games before making it to October. 

Both Texas and Arizona felt unlikely to make the World Series a year ago, but their run at the end of the season created enough momentum to see them make it. 

But, this season, it feels like big teams, who missed out last time, are ready to reign supreme and it is tough to look past the Braves or the Dodgers to win it all in six month’s time.

France gouvernement

Les jeux d’argent et de hasard peuvent être dangereux : pertes d’argent, conflits familiaux, addiction…

Retrouvez nos conseils sur (09-74-75-13-13, appel non surtaxé)