Dave Roberts shared one of his organization’s most carefully guarded secrets Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at baseball’s winter meetings in Nashville, Roberts revealed the Dodgers met with Shohei Ohtani at Dodger Stadium last week.
“I think it went well,” Roberts said.
Within minutes, rival executives were speculating whether the Dodgers had blown their chance to sign Ohtani.
Teams were led to believe if they leaked information about their meetings with Ohtani, he would hold that against them. Roberts was the first official from any potential suitor to disobey the unofficial code of silence, which felt more like a demand from Ohtani’s agent than Ohtani.
Shortly after, when questioned about Roberts’ remarks, general manager Brandon Gomes sounded as if the Dodgers had been caught sneaking classified documents into Mar-a-Lago.
“We’re just not going to talk about it,” Gomes said in his wannabe-Andrew Friedman voice.
Gomes’ no comment intensified the perception that Roberts did something terribly wrong, but what exactly did Roberts do?
He didn’t leak anything. He made a statement of fact that surprised absolutely no one.
The Dodgers are the richest team in baseball and Ohtani is the best player. Of course they’re interested in him. That was common knowledge by last year’s winter meetings. If they’re interested in him, of course they’d want to meet with him — and him with them, if only to drive up the price for other teams.
Besides, the Dodgers aren’t the only team known to have met with Ohtani, as there have been reports about the San Francisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays also speaking to him in person. And let’s not kid ourselves: Bidders for Ohtani aren’t staying quiet because Ohtani or his agent want them to; they’re staying quiet because they prefer to keep their fans in the dark to maintain the illusion they know what they’re doing.
Step back from the hysteria, and this really feels like a whole lot of nothing.
Whatever threats were intimated by Ohtani’s agent, Roberts didn’t say anything that sounded like a potential deal-breaker.
If Ohtani has a negative impression of the Dodgers, sure, the revelations about their meeting could further solidify his views and serve as the proverbial nail in the team’s coffin.
But if Ohtani wants to sign with the Dodgers, would he really change his mind because Roberts called him “clearly … our top priority”? It’s not as if Roberts divulged details of their conversations or offered any insight into Ohtani’s thinking. It’s not as if Roberts talked about an upcoming meeting, thereby alerting the persistent Japanese news corps about his whereabouts.
Seven years ago, when I visited Japan to report on him in his final season with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, I spoke to his high school coach, who remained a trusted confidant. At some point, I made a flippant remark about how Ohtani was bound to end up with the Dodgers or New York Yankees, and the coach said he didn’t think so. He told me he thought Ohtani would sign with a team with less tradition. Three months later, Ohtani chose the Angels. Did his high school coach know something beforehand?
Everything known about the notoriously private Ohtani points to him being a planner.
When he was a high school senior, he wrote down his annual goals for the next 50-plus years, including mastering English at 19, becoming a father at 28, and pitching a no-hitter in his final major league game at 40.
If Ohtani remained in Japan until he was 25, he could have come to the major leagues as an unrestricted free agent, which could have resulted in him signing a $200-million contract. Instead, he moved at 23 and signed for $2.3 million. Last year, he said he did so because he thought the two extra seasons in the majors would enhance his chances of one day becoming a Hall of Famer.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Ohtani already knows for which team he wants to play. It would be a surprise if he didn’t.
Ohtani has always prioritized his legacy when making important decisions in the past, and he’ll probably do the same here. If he thinks playing for the Dodgers can make him the Michael Jordan of baseball, he’ll sign with them. If he thinks playing somewhere else can do that for him, he’ll play somewhere else. He’s on a road he started charting more than a decade ago. Roberts stating the obvious on a slow news days won’t make him suddenly change course.