Dodgers met with Ohtani, Roberts confirms: 'Our top priority'

LA general manager Gomes, though, won't confirm meeting with two-way superstar

December 6th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sometimes the truth hurts. The question on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings was whether the truth bomb Dave Roberts dropped on the media will hurt the Dodgers’ chances of signing superstar two-way talent .

In confirming that the Dodgers met with Ohtani at Dodger Stadium recently, Roberts delivered a stark contrast from the clandestine operation that the Ohtani courtship has been for the other clubs involved. Though the Dodgers have long been considered the industry favorites to land Ohtani, an admission of a meeting counts as a stunning surprise in this secretive process.

“Clearly,” Roberts told reporters, “Shohei is our top priority.”

This was assumed, of course. But given previous reporting that Ohtani’s camp will hold any leaks about this process against the club involved, Roberts’ truthful approach with reporters about the two-time MVP sent waves through the Gaylord Opryland.

After his media session, Roberts immediately conferred with the Dodgers’ public relations staffers on site. Soon after, Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes met with reporters as part of a scheduled availability and admitted to being “surprised” by his manager’s candor.

Unlike Roberts, Gomes would not confirm the meeting.

“It’s just not something I’m comfortable getting into right now,” Gomes said.

Gomes was asked whether Roberts’ confirmation could hurt the Dodgers’ chances of signing Ohtani.

“I have no idea,” Gomes said. “I mean, I think this is all so personal … We’re not going to go into the free-agent world making comments. It’s going to play out how it plays out.”

It is believed that the Dodgers’ meeting with Ohtani took place last Friday. Roberts said it lasted “somewhere around” two or three hours. No other players were present for the meeting, during which, Roberts said, Ohtani and the team became “more familiar” with each other.

“It was just a pleasure to get to spend some time with him,” Roberts said.

Roberts did not venture a guess as to when Ohtani will make his decision, only that he hopes it comes soon.

“No one's putting his foot to the fire,” said Roberts, “and he'll make the decision when he and Nez [agent Nez Balelo] and his camp feel appropriate.”

The Dodgers’ current payroll projection has them under the luxury tax threshold. They also have an opening at designated hitter, with veteran J.D. Martinez having filled the role on a one-year contract in 2023. The Dodgers did not extend the qualifying offer to Martinez.

Though Ohtani will be limited to DH duties in 2024, Roberts expressed confidence, based on discussions with the Dodgers’ medical staff, that Ohtani will eventually be able to resume his two-way role once he is recovered from the right elbow procedure he had performed in September.

“I think our staff is confident that, when the time is right, that he will pitch again,” Roberts said. “But I think that the thing is, for us, it's that you're making a bet on the person, and the player as well. But when you're committing, you know, this type of length and dollars, we're all in on the person. I think that we're willing and excited to make that bet, and hopefully it comes to pass.”

So how were reporters able to get Roberts to open up about Ohtani?

Actually, it wasn’t very difficult at all.

It was Roberts who volunteered Ohtani’s name in his answer to the very first question asked of him -- a general question about the state of discussions with players.

“The elephant in the room,” Roberts said in the midst of his response, “is what Shohei’s going to do.”

The mere mention of Ohtani’s name inspired a follow-up question to Roberts about whether he was able to say the Dodgers have met with him.

“Am I able to say that?” Roberts said. “It's a good possibility. I think that, yeah, we met with him. I don't want to -- I would like to be honest, we met with Shohei and we talked and I think it went well. I think it went well. But at the end of the day he's his own man, and he's going to do what's best for himself, where he feels most comfortable.”

That was the start of a fascinating back-and-forth that took up most of the 20 minutes allotted for the availability.

Reporters have spent this week -- and all offseason -- speculating about Ohtani but getting absolutely nothing in terms of cold, hard facts about discussions. Ohtani himself hasn’t spoken to the media since early August, with the exception of a very brief appearance on MLB Network the night his second MVP was announced. The Ohtani camp won’t even share the name of Ohtani’s dog that was seated next to him during that announcement.

Monday’s news at the Winter Meetings had been dominated by rampant speculation about Ohtani meeting with the Blue Jays after their general manager, Ross Atkins, held his media session via Zoom in front of a blank white wall, which some have assumed to be at the Blue Jays’ complex in Dunedin, Fla.

Roberts opening up about Ohtani was, therefore, a dazzling development. So much so that he was asked directly why he was being so honest.

“I don't feel like lying is something that I do,” Roberts said. “I was asked a question, and yeah, I think to be forthright in this situation, we kept it quiet, but I think that it's going to come out at some point that we met, and it obviously already has. So, I don't think myself or anyone in our organization would want to lie about it.”

Yet Roberts was the only member of the organization willing to confirm that the meeting took place. When Gomes was asked if Ohtani tried a Dodger Dog, the GM didn’t bite (and neither, in all likelihood, did Ohtani).

Once Roberts had rattled the Meetings with his honesty, it was right back to the shroud of secrecy surrounding the Ohtani market. Now, you can add the impact of Roberts’ public comments to the list of things we simply do not know.