Shohei Ohtani’s free agency to this point has been a very, very closely-guarded secret; it took some deep sleuthing, a postponed Zoom meeting and a private jet tracker just to unearth the two-way superstar’s visit with the Toronto Blue Jays.
But it turns out that if we wanted to know more about the state of the Ohtani sweepstakes, all we had to do was ask Dave Roberts. The Los Angeles Dodgers manager met with the media at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday afternoon, and he made clear that Ohtani is the team’s top target this offseason — and that the two sides met in person this past weekend.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the team met with Shohei Ohtani in Los Angeles a couple days ago for two to three hours.— Alden González (@Alden_Gonzalez) December 5, 2023
“Clearly,” he said, “Shohei’s our top priority.”
The timeline here lines up pretty neatly: Ohtani and the Dodgers met over the weekend, and then L.A.’s brass flew to Nashville for the start of Winter Meetings while Ohtani and his representatives headed to Florida to meet with the Jays. Roberts added that the two sides met at Dodger Stadium — a venue Ohtani is intimately familiar with from his years playing for the Dodgers’ Freeway Series rival — for several hours.
“I don’t feel like lying is something I do. I was asked a question. It’s going to come out at some point,” Roberts told MLB.com when asked why he revealed that the meeting had taken place. “... It was just a pleasure to get to spend some time with him.”
The recent trickle of information regarding Ohtani’s free agency — a Yahoo Japan report also found circumstantial evidence that he recently took a trip to Oracle Park to meet with the Giants — is an interesting wrinkle. Per Ken Rosenthal, Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, have “warned [teams] that leaking any details of the process would be held against them.” And yet, here’s Roberts, getting in front of a gaggle of reporters and going into detail about his team’s pursuit of the top free agent on the market. While technically not a leak (in fact, it’s about the opposite of a leak) it’s certainly not in keeping with the spirit of secrecy that Ohtani and Balelo appear to favor.
Will it end up mattering one way or the other? It’s hard to say. It hasn’t exactly been a secret that the Dodgers have Ohtani at the top of their wish list; they check every box, from consistent contention to lots of money to a convenient location in Southern California, and they have a need both in their lineup at DH and in their rotation for 2025 and beyond. Plus, we’re at the point now where if Ohtani holds leaks against a team, he’ll start running out of places to sign.
Still, if Balelo was hoping to avoid anonymous reports and mystery teams, that cat is probably out of the bag. Ohtani has visited at least three teams that we know about, and recent reports suggest he wants a decision at some point before the end of the week. The Dodgers remain the favorite here, and it seems hard to believe that some indiscretion will get in the way if they really do satisfy all of Ohtani’s wants and needs.