On Tuesday, to the shock of just about anybody who cares, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts disclosed that his club indeed had a meeting with free agent Shohei Ohtani this offseason. He even offered some details.
It happened a “couple of days ago” at Dodger Stadium. He was there with a few team officials, but no Dodgers players were present. Ohtani asked questions. Roberts thought it went well.
“Clearly,” Roberts said, “Shohei is our top priority.”
The fact that the Dodgers met with Ohtani, the best baseball player in the world, and they want to sign him is not a surprise. Everyone assumed they would. That wasn’t what caused a ruckus at the Gaylord Opryland. The headline was that Roberts dared to admit there was a meeting.
“I don’t feel like lying is something I do,” Roberts said. “I was asked a question. And yeah, I think to be forthright in this situation, we kept it quiet. But it’s gonna come out at some point that we met.”
But the revelation stunned Dodgers officials. It wasn’t supposed to happen because they didn’t want to risk hurting their chances of signing Ohtani. In a vacuum, it was, at best, an unfortunate example of miscommunication. But take a step back, and a disconnect between the manager and his front office seemed evident.
Roberts’ unexpected transparency marked the second time in two days that he and the front office haven’t appeared on the same page. On Monday, Roberts told MLB Network that Mookie Betts will be the Dodgers’ everyday second baseman in 2024. He then reaffirmed the news with local reporters.
The assertion was a departure from what the Dodgers said about Betts before the winter meetings. The team had suggested that Betts would continue starting in right field against left-handed pitchers and at second base against righties.
Roberts’ announcement indicated a change of plans. “Everyday second baseman” means, after all, playing second base every day regardless of the opposing pitcher’s handedness.
But Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes stopped short of calling Betts the team’s everyday second baseman.
“Mookie is going to play a vast majority of second base,” Gomes said. “I think the great thing about Mookie is he just cares about winning. So if there’s a need to kick out to right field or somewhere else I know he’ll be open to it.”
On Tuesday, the apparent disconnect was further exposed.
Ohtani’s free agency has been shrouded in over-the-top secrecy. The two-way superstar’s camp reportedly told teams any media leaks would be held against them. As a result, details have been scarce because parties involved have refused to offer developments. And it quickly became obvious Tuesday that Dodgers brass didn’t want their manager offering any.
Immediately after finishing his session with reporters, Roberts huddled with three Dodgers public relations officials. He appeared uneasy.
Minutes later, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman gave The Times’ Jack Harris a no comment. Minutes after that, Gomes also refused to speak on Roberts’ decision to share the meeting with Ohtani, though he acknowledged he was surprised by it.
In the end, the team’s top front officials chose to maximize their chances of signing Ohtani over backing up their manager. Roberts was left exposed.
Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe it won’t affect Ohtani’s decision. Maybe he signs with another team because the money or the fit is better. Maybe he signs with the Dodgers and Tuesday’s strange sequence of events will be quickly forgotten.
But something has seemed off between the manager and the front office this week, and it was exposed for the industry to see. If they aren’t communicating because they don’t think it’s important, it’s a potential problem. If Roberts is going rogue, it’s a potential problem. If the front office isn’t letting him into its circle, it’s a potential problem. Whatever the case, it’s disconcerting.