When Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels were in town from August 28-30, the eyes of many Philadelphia Phillies fans were zeroed in on Bryce Harper every time Ohtani was on first base, waiting to see if the two-time MVP would attempt to recruit the one-time MVP to the City of Brotherly Love.
Alas, Harper decided to take a back seat to the recruitment effort, telling reporters he wouldn't try to lure the upcoming free agent to Philadelphia:
Don't worry, though, Phillies fans: The Phanatic made sure to turn on the charm when meeting with Ohtani ahead of the first game of the series, giving him a glimpse of the antics the team has to offer:
However, maybe Harper knew something fans didn't. On Sunday, Jon Heyman of MLB Network released the top six teams who "will be in" on Ohtani when he hits free agency this offseason: the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox.
Not on the list? The Phillies.
The two-way All-Star suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow near the end of August. While the Angels have shut Ohtani down from the pitching side for the rest of the 2023 season, Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com relayed information from his agent, Nez Balelo, who said that while Ohanti will likely need an operation, it might not need to be another Tommy John surgery. The 29-year-old had Tommy John back in 2018 and didn't pitch at all in 2019.
When healthy, though, Ohtani is a superstar. There is no denying that.
In 23 starts this season, he went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA, 167 strikeouts and 55 walks in 132.0 innings. On the offensive side, heading into Tuesday's slate of games, he’s hitting .304 and leads the American League in the following offensive categories: home runs (44), walks (91), on-base percentage (.412), on-base plus slugging percentage (1.066), total bases (325) and intentional walks (21).
There's no question Ohtani will be highly sought after when he hits free agency this offseason. While many expected the DH and right-handed pitcher to command a record-breaking contract, there are now questions surrounding whether or not this latest injury will affect his upcoming deal:
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic noted that Balelo told reporters Ohtani plans to be in his team's starting lineup on Opening Day 2024 as the DH and that he will continue to be a two-way player.
On their end, the Phillies have some decisions to make this offseason, including surrounding a couple of their starting pitchers.
Michael Lorenzen, who was just added at the trade deadline, has a deal expiring after this season. Longtime Phillies starter Aaron Nola will be a free agent after this season. With a 4.55 ERA and a career-high 30 home runs surrendered, Nola is having a bit of a down year as he plays toward a new contract. According to Spotrac, Nola's estimated market value is $24.1 million a year. Lorenzen's is $12 million. In 2023, Ohtani is making $30 million and will surely sail past that in this next deal.
It's possible the Phillies will choose to focus on re-signing their current starters to new deals or looking for steals on the open market to fill out a team that is already dealing with a bloated payroll. All of the six teams reported to be in on Ohtani are in the top 13 in MLB for payroll this season, and they've all proved they are willing to spend to see stars donning their jerseys.
The chance to sign Ohtani might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but until more is known about what type of procedure Ohtani will need to repair his injured elbow and what sort of timeline he'll be facing, don't expect the Phillies to jump into the race to sign the talented superstar.
Plus, the 2023 season isn't over yet. The Phillies are in the thick of the wild-card race, focusing on returning to the postseason for the second straight year. There is still time before free agency kicks off and serious contenders emerge in the race to sign Ohtani, so never say never.