PHOENIX — (AP) — Money can buy lots of things, including Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a pair of Japanese superstars that set the Los Angeles Dodgers back more than $1 billion.
Now the journey begins to see if it'll buy them a championship.
Major League Baseball's spring training opens for 28 of 30 teams over the next few days, with pitchers and catchers reporting to sites in Arizona and Florida. The Dodgers and San Diego Padres are already in camp, getting a head start because they'll open the regular season on March 20 in Seoul, South Korea.
“There's a lot more eyeballs on the Dodgers,” LA manager Dave Roberts said. “I expect our players and organization to elevate our game. The responsibility with more eyeballs is greater expectations. That's good for all of us.”
The New York Yankees took a big swing this winter by trading for Juan Soto and signing Marcus Stroman. The Philadelphia Phillies reloaded by bringing back Aaron Nola on a $172 million, seven-year deal. San Francisco Giants took a $113 million gamble on Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee, while the Chicago Cubs gave lefty Shōta Imanaga $54 million to leave Japan.
But there's no doubt the Dodgers won the winter — not that it's any guarantee Los Angeles will hoist the Commissioner's Trophy after a World Series win this fall. Just ask the New York Mets, who splurged with a $374 million payroll last year that was the highest in MLB history.
All that bought was a 75-87 record, a fourth-place finish in the National League East, and a bunch of jokes at their expense.
The Dodgers dominated much of the offseason conversation, but there are several other teams who have realistic championship aspirations. Among them are the defending champion Texas Rangers, who beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in five games during last year's World Series to win a title for the first time.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and the Atlanta Braves will try to finish the job after a disappointing early exit in last year's playoffs. The Houston Astros — who have been to the World Series four times over the past seven seasons, including two titles — are another formidable team with a deep lineup led by Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker.
Here are some more things to watch as spring training begins:
It may be mid-February, but their are still several big-name free agents available for teams who need help, including two-time Cy Young winner Blake Snell, third baseman Matt Chapman, left-hander Jordan Montgomery, outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger, outfielder Jorge Soler and veteran slugger J.D. Martinez.
Snell is a top-of-the-rotation option, while Montgomery had a breakout 2023 for the Cardinals and Rangers. Chapman has some power and a reputation as one of the game's elite defensive third baseman.
Bellinger is a former MVP who had a stellar bounce-back season for the Cubs. Soler was the American League home run leader in 2019 and popped 36 long balls for the Marlins last season, making his first All-Star team.
Martinez is a six-time All-Star who thrived with the Dodgers last season, hitting 33 homers.
Texas goes to spring training with World Series MVP Corey Seager recovering from surgery Jan. 30 for a left sports hernia repair. The Rangers are hopeful the shortstop will be ready for the start of the regular season and don't seem concerned about any lingering issues.
The Rangers won their first World Series title in their first season with manager Bruce Bochy, who won his fourth. They had six consecutive losing seasons before that.
Including Seager, in the third season of his $325 million, 10-year contract, the Rangers return all six of their All-Stars from last season. Second baseman Marcus Semien, third baseman Josh Jung, catcher Jonah Heim, AL Championship Series MVP slugger Adolis García and right-hander Nathan Eovaldi are also back.
Cy Young Award winners Jacob deGrom (elbow) and Max Scherzer (herniated disk in lower back) could return to the rotation around the trade deadline. The Rangers won all six of deGrom's starts early last season before he had surgery, and he should resume throwing this spring. The 39-year-old Scherzer, their deadline acquisition last summer, had surgery in December.
Jen Pawol is on the verge of becoming Major League Baseball's first female umpire.
The 47-year-old from New Jersey was selected to work a full-time big league spring training schedule this year, putting her on track to become the first woman to umpire a regular-season big league baseball game.
MLB's new rules package rocked the sport in 2023 — mostly in a good way.
The changes included a pitch clock, bigger bases and a limit on the number of times a pitcher could step off the rubber. There was scattered grousing by players, but it’s hard to argue that the changes weren’t a huge success.
The sport drew 70 million fans to stadiums for the first since 2017, game length fell to its lowest since 1984, and there was widespread agreement that the changes made the game much more watchable.
Last year’s spring training was the testing ground for those rule changes. This year, everyone will be used to them.
Two of the most exciting teams in baseball last year were the Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles.
The D-backs made a stunning run to the World Series, led by unanimous NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll, who was an all-around threat with 30 doubles, 10 triples, 25 homers and 54 stolen bases, all while playing stellar outfield defense.
Arizona made some moves during the offseason to try and prove its team success wasn't a fluke, adding third baseman Eugenio Suarez, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and veteran slugger Joc Pederson.
The Orioles won 101 games before getting swept out of the playoffs by the eventual champion Rangers. AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson — also a unanimous selection — returns after blasting 28 homers and playing great defense at both shorstop and third.
Baltimore made a recent splash when it traded for Milwaukee ace Corbin Burnes, a three-time All-Star who won the 2021 Cy Young.
AP Baseball Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.
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