On Tuesday afternoon, clear frustration was present between manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers’ front office.
Roberts’ public (and unplanned) confirmation that the team met with Shohei Ohtani in Los Angeles last week had caught his bosses off guard, including president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. In the immediate aftermath, there was even uncertainty about how the revelation might impact the Dodgers’ chances of landing the two-way star in free agency, given Ohtani’s apparent preference for secrecy throughout the process.
By Wednesday, however, on the final day of this year’s winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, any such strain had seemingly dissipated.
Brad Paisley might be partially to thank.
Tuesday evening, the country music star and noted Dodgers diehard invited team officials — Roberts and Friedman among them — to his nearby 100-acre farm for a late-night soiree.
Whiskey was poured. Miscommunications were resolved. Frustrations were eased.
“I was surprised by [his comments],” Friedman said during a video call with reporters Wednesday morning. “But we had a really good conversation later in the day. I’ll leave it at that.”
Just as important, of course, was that as the initial shock of Roberts’ announcement wore off, a certain perspective began to set in around the sport.
Despite fears that Ohtani’s camp would hold leaks of information about his free agency against teams, the prevailing belief around the industry Wednesday was that Roberts’ comments were unlikely to significantly sway the Japanese star.
It has been obvious that the Dodgers, long seen as a favorite for Ohtani, would meet with him this winter.
Little substance of their conversation had been disclosed by Roberts, who spent most of his Tuesday media session speaking highly of Ohtani as a person and player.
And, it reasoned, if Ohtani really had been planning to sign with the Dodgers beforehand, Roberts’ largely innocuous comments were hardly seen as any sort of deal-breaker.
In other words, despite some brief public drama, the Dodgers are leaving the winter meetings in a similar state as when they arrived: Waiting on a decision from Ohtani, continuing to pursue free-agent pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto and evaluating their other options on the free-agent and trade markets during what continues to be a sluggish MLB offseason.
“I think we’re leaving Nashville with a lot more clarity on a number of fronts,” Friedman said. “The difference between that and getting a deal done isn’t that big. I just think it’s more timing. It just so happened to play out where it didn’t get to that point in these three days. But I think a lot will come from the work done over these three days, not just us but across the game.”
Despite the secrecy surrounding his free agency, Ohtani’s market has taken further shape, as well. Several reports projected him to land a contract worth upwards of $500 million to $600 million, rising back to the record-breaking levels industry experts expected before his Tommy John surgery in September (which will keep him off the mound until 2025).
It is believed Ohtani, whose meetings with the Blue Jays and Giants also became public this week (albeit, through more traditional, anonymously sourced media reports) could make a final decision in a matter of days.
Once he comes off the board, another highly anticipated decision from Yamamoto could follow later this month.
The 25-year-old star from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league is also in line for a lucrative payday expected to surpass $200 million, perhaps by a lot. While the Dodgers have long been interested in Yamamoto — who is a known Dodgers fan — the team has not yet met with him, according to Roberts.
Meanwhile, the Giants, New York Yankees and New York Mets have all emerged as contenders for the right-hander. Mets owner Steve Cohen reportedly flew to Japan recently to meet with him. And given the Dodgers’ underwhelming track record with free-agent pitchers, it’s possible they could be outbid in the battle for his services.
That might make the trade market a more likely place for the Dodgers to land a top starting pitcher.
While the Dodgers might be reluctant to trade away some specific prospects — such as slugger Miguel Vargas (who the team remains high on despite a poor rookie MLB season), or catchers Dalton Rushing and Diego Cartaya — the team’s highly touted farm system should still be deep enough to get a possible deal done.
“There are a number of talented pitchers available,” Friedman said. “Some free agent, some trade. And we’re just trying to figure out what makes the most sense, ultimately. We’re open to either.”
Another name the Dodgers might consider including in a trade package: Gavin Lux, who is currently penciled in to be the team’s starting shortstop next year in his return from a major knee injury, but might be an attractive trade chip in discussion for high-caliber arms.
A dream scenario for L.A. would be landing both Burnes and potentially Brewers shortstop Willy Adames, who has Tampa Bay Rays ties with Friedman and has long been coveted by the Dodgers. Glasnow and Cease (the only pitcher of the three with two years of team control left instead of one) are seen as more likely to be moved this winter.
In other winter meeting developments, familiar faces like utility man Kiké Hernández and relievers Ryan Brasier and Shelby Miller are all candidates to be re-signed, though no deals were thought to be close as of Wednesday.
In a notable development regarding the current roster, it is becoming increasingly likely that Walker Buehler might have a delayed start to his 2024 season, given he’ll be facing an innings limit in his return from a second Tommy John surgery.
For at least a little while longer, though, all else remains overshadowed by Ohtani’s free agency — and the void of information that is slowly being filled.
Team officials might not have expected Roberts to contribute with such public developments during his media session this week. But, as the winter meetings wrap up and internal tensions subside, the team returns home with its biggest offseason goals unchanged, hopeful a big splash might be on the horizon.
“I don’t know that a deal is imminent, but I feel like there’s a lot more information that is helpful in us getting some more resolution on a few fronts,” Friedman said. “I expect the next couple weeks will be action-packed across the industry.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports