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Shohei Ohtani is the biggest free agent on the market and Boston could surely use a player of his caliber, but he will not pitch in 2024 because of injury and the Red Sox definitely need pitching. Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Baseball executives from around Major League Baseball will gather in Nashville next weekend for the MLB Winter Meetings. That’s usually where the hot stove gets cranked up, with teams making deals and top free agents signing with clubs.

There has been some movement on the free-agent front this fall, but one man is holding things up. Shohei Ohtani, the generational two-way talent, will dictate what the market looks like for many other players and pitchers.

If only he could pitch this season.

But Ohtani can’t. He underwent elbow surgery in September and will be limited to only hitting in 2024. Of course, we don’t know the limits of his hitting just yet. He led the American League with 44 home runs this past season, despite playing only three games in September. He has power to all fields.

He also has a .310 career average at Fenway Park. He could solidify the middle of the Red Sox order for years to come.

Would it make sense for the Sox to sign him? He reportedly loves Boston. His ads for Boston Landing-based New Balance were ubiquitous during World Series telecasts. He’s the type of hitter that could provide protection for Rafael Devers and give the Sox one of the most formidable lineup in the majors. Eventually, he could pitch.

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Trouble is, the Sox can’t wait for pitching help. Not if they want to be competitive in 2024. Signing Ohtani to a deal north of $500 million will leave them little to address their pitching deficiencies.

Newcomer Craig Breslow could try to address pitching in other ways, trading for starters after investing a fortune in Ohtani. He’s got a robust farm system to use as trade capital. Moving prospects for big-league arms could help keep Boston’s payroll in check.

After pitching, the Sox need to improve their defense. According to the Fielding Bible, Boston’s defensive runs saved as a team was -20 in 2023. Only the lowly White Sox and A’s were worse in the American League last season.

Ohtani can’t help there, either. He’ll be a DH in 2024. Justin Turner held down that position in 2023 and did a fine job. Ohtani would be an upgrade, but not in an area of need.

Of course, there are the intangibles a megastar like Ohtani brings with him. He would create instant buzz for a fan base that desperately needs it. Sox fans have grown increasingly disillusioned with Boston’s recent struggles. Boston has finished last in three of the last four seasons. Bringing in the reigning MVP would certainly help us all forget about the recent past.

It would also tie up financial resources for years to come. September’s surgery was Ohtani’s second since he became a major leaguer, following Tommy John surgery back in 2019. That’s a lot of risk.

As general managers gather in Music City, there will be a lot of talk about the biggest names available. Yoshinobu Yammamoto, Blake Snell, and Jordan Montgomery are all top-of-the-rotation starters that could help turn a lackluster rotation into a competitive pitching staff.

Ohtani could, too. Just not in 2024. Which makes signing him this winter a much more complicated decision for the Sox.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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