Ohtani dons Dodger Blue: 'I can't wait to join the team'

December 15th, 2023

LOS ANGELES -- The size of the crowd on hand at Dodger Stadium for 's introductory press conference on Thursday surprised the two-way superstar.

“I was very humbled and happy to see all of you guys here,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I was told that it was only media today, so I was not expecting this.”

“It actually is only media,” Dodgers broadcaster Joe Davis informed him.

It’s hard to imagine any other scenario in which hundreds of press members from across the country and around the world would gather for just one player, with a whopping 70 million viewers tuning in, according to MLB Network. But that’s just the kind of environment that follows Ohtani, who will be a Dodger for the next 10 seasons after agreeing to a record $700 million deal, the richest contract in sports history.

“I can't wait to join the Dodgers,” Ohtani said. “They share the same passion as me. They have vision and history all about winning, and I share the same values. I just can't wait to join the team and get it going.”

Ohtani discussed an array of topics in a question-and-answer session, including but not limited to his offseason right elbow surgery, the structure of his contract and, yes, his dog’s name. When asked if the procedure was a second Tommy John surgery, Ohtani avoided specifics, though he did say, “I know it's completely different from my first time.” His agent, Nez Balelo, added that there is “no name” for the procedure, and that Ohtani is progressing well in his recovery -- even better than after his 2018 Tommy John surgery.

But above all, commitment to and passion for winning were the themes of the afternoon. A two-time unanimous AL MVP and three-time All-Star, Ohtani has more than his share of personal achievements in his six seasons in MLB. But he has yet to have an opportunity to play in the postseason, or even be part of a winning season.

His free-agency decision ultimately came down to which team was best equipped to build a winning roster around him, and he felt that was the Dodgers, perennial postseason contenders who have won the NL West in 10 of the past 11 years. (It’s why his contract includes an opt-out clause that he can exercise should either chairman Mark Walter or president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman leave the team, as he views them as pivotal to L.A.’s success.)

“I think the most important thing is everybody, from ownership all the way to the staff, we all are going to be on the same page,” said Ohtani. “We're all going to be wanting to win, and I think that's the most important thing, and I think this team has that.”

And Ohtani has done his part to enable the front office’s pursuits via the unprecedented deferrals in his contract, which will see him receive the vast majority of his money after the deal ends. The approach was his idea, intended to free up funds to spend elsewhere and aid in avoiding issues with the competitive balance tax.

“It certainly helps,” Friedman said. “You can see just by easy math of what that adds to our group. It was important to Shohei that this wasn't the one group we were going to make, and I think anyone who's watched us operate over the years, we're trying to add really good players at every turn.”

News of a pending deal to acquire Tyler Glasnow broke shortly after Ohtani's press conference ended. There were also reports of Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto meeting with the club at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, with Ohtani on hand to help sell his fellow countryman on joining his new team. When it comes to pitchmen, it’s hard to go wrong with the game’s premier player -- and the Dodgers see getting to play with him as quite the draw for baseball’s top talent.

“Our goal is for the Dodgers organization to be a destination spot for everyone around the league,” said Friedman.