The Dodgers officially kicked off the Shohei Ohtani era on Thursday, unveiling the two-way superstar for the first time in a heavily attended press conference at Dodger Stadium. Ohtani touched on a little bit of everything, from his future on the mound to what drew him to his new team to even the name of his now-famous dog.
He also shed some light on the process of his free agency — specifically, the dialogue with his now-former team, the Los Angeles Angels. Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, told reporters that his camp remained in contact with the Halos throughout the offseason, even claiming that he went back to the team and gave them a chance to match the Dodgers’ record $700 million offer. Per a report from the Los Angeles Times, the Angels and owner Arte Moreno declined, and so Ohtani went to the Dodgers.
(Ohtani and Balelo) approached the Angels near the end of his free-agent process, giving Ohtani’s old team a chance to convince him to stay in Anaheim ... However, Angels owner Arte Moreno wouldn’t budge. According to multiple people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly, Moreno wouldn’t match the 10-year, $700-million deal that Ohtani eventually signed with the Dodgers.
Balelo more or less reiterated that version of events on Thursday.
“The Angels are special to Shohei,” Balelo told reporters. “He was there for the last six years. Everybody has to understand, we felt that they earned the right to at least have a discussion at the end. And that’s what we did. Because, again, it’s a place that he really loved to play. He loved the people there, everything. The Angels had every opportunity.”
Now, it bears mentioning that it serves Balelo and Ohtani to put this out there; Ohtani gets to be the good guy, shifting the responsibility for his (eminently justifiable) decision to sign elsewhere onto his former team. It’s entirely possible, maybe even probable, that Balelo knew the Angels wouldn’t match their crosstown rivals’ offer, and that Ohtani — whose top priority in this process was to finally contend for a World Series title — had his eyes set on the Dodgers anyway. Moreno is an awfully convenient fall guy, considering how unpopular he is at the moment — and how badly he failed to build a functional roster around Ohtani and Mike Trout over the past few years. This could very well have been nothing more than a final courtesy on his way out the door.
Regardless, it’s a final twist of the knife for the Angels, one that jives with Moreno’s reputation around the league as an owner who systematically underinvests in his organization only to try and paper over those shortcomings with the occasional free-agent splurge. All of which colors how Los Angeles chooses to begin life without Ohtani: With holes all over the roster and a barren farm system, now would seem to be the time to tear things down to the studs and start over. The Angels’ offseason activity so far has been signing relievers — Adam Cimber, Luis Garcia, Adam Kolarek — to one-year deals that can easily be flipped come next year’s trade deadline.
Of course, the Angels don’t always do what’s best long-term, and the fact that it’s still unclear how they will proceed more than a month into the offseason probably isn’t a good sign. Another year in which they’re caught between not being good enough to contend but also not horrible enough to rebuild could be on the horizon, and that’s the worst place to be.