Why did Shohei Ohtani pick the Dodgers? 5 things we learned from his intro presser

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LOS ANGELES — Andrew Friedman was at his son’s soccer game last Saturday making a recruiting pitch to another player via Zoom when the franchise-altering phone call arrived. 

The Dodgers president of baseball operations abruptly ended his video chat, walked out to the field and fielded the call he had hoped would come from Shohei Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo. 

“I don’t even remember what Nez said,” Friedman recalled Thursday, “other than that Shohei was going to be a Dodger, and it was going to be announced soon on Instagram.” 

For Friedman, the news marked an “incredible” end to a turbulent 24 hours. 

By Friday afternoon, reports had surfaced that Ohtani had made his decision … and that he was on his way to Toronto. Those reports were refuted but nonetheless caused unease and confusion in Los Angeles. 

“You know those crazy games where there’s late lead changes, and they graph it like that? I think that’s a little bit my range of emotions,” Friedman said. “There’s times where I felt more confident, times where it was down extremely low. Definitely took some amount of time off my life. I don’t know how much exactly, but definitely some.” 

Still, he held out hope. 

Throughout his conversations with Ohtani’s representatives, Friedman knew Ohtani wanted to announce his decision himself. 

“It’s part of what contributed to the emotional roller-coaster of Friday,” Friedman said. “Because people who said, ‘The Dodgers are out,’ we knew that wasn’t true because we knew we would never know we were out and that it would happen on Instagram.”

On Saturday morning, that’s exactly what took place. 

Five days after Ohtani announced his decision, it felt like a wedding at Dodger Stadium. The sounds of jazz music echoed from the speakers in the center field plaza Thursday afternoon. Dodgers front-office staff shared hugs and handshakes while hundreds of media members took their assigned seats or stood and watched the proceedings as the most coveted free agent in baseball history took the stage, subbing out a blue suit and tie for a No. 17 Dodgers jersey.

Ohtani puts on Dodgers jersey for first time at introductory conference

Ohtani puts on Dodgers jersey for first time at introductory conference

Here are five things we learned from Ohtani’s introductory news conference: 

1. Winning conquered all 

Prior to Thursday, Ohtani hadn’t spoken to the media since August — before he tore his UCL, before he got elbow surgery and before his six-year tenure in Anaheim ended with another losing season. Considering how little anyone knew of Ohtani’s desires, it wasn’t clear what would ultimately guide his decision in free agency. 

Now, it is. 

“Obviously, I want to win championships, and I want, when people look back at the championships I won, I want people to know or think that I was a core member, and I was a big deal, or I was a big part of that championship winning team,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. 

Though he declined to discuss how many teams he was considering late in the process, Ohtani said he didn’t make his decision until Friday night — the night before his Instagram post, after initial reports had indicated he was bound for Toronto. One illuminating part of the pitch from the Dodgers’ front office and ownership group during their pitch helped seal the deal. 

“They said when they look back at the last 10 years — even though they made the playoffs every single year — one World Series Why did Shohei Ohtani pick the Dodgers? 5 things we learned from his intro presser, they consider that a failure,” Ohtani said. “When I heard that, I knew that they were all about winning, and that’s exactly how I feel.”

For a player who has yet to sniff the postseason, it was refreshing to hear. From ownership to the front office to the coaching staff, he was sold on the Dodgers’ synergy and vision. 

“For all of us, it was being genuine about who we are,” Friedman said. “I think it’s how in-sync all of us are and how our coaching staff and our scouting group, just talking about that, I think resonated.”

So much so, in fact, that Ohtani tied his future to the Dodgers’ top decision-makers. 

Per an unusual clause he put in the contract, the only way he can opt out of his 10-year deal is if chairman Mark Walter is no longer the controlling owner or if Friedman is no longer running baseball operations. 

“Everybody has to be on the same page in order to have a winning organization,” Ohtani said. “I feel like those two are at the top of it, and they’re in control of everything, and I feel almost like I’m having a contract with those two guys. I feel like if one of them are gone, then, like I said, [we] might not be on the same page, things might get a little out of control. So, I just wanted, like, a safety net.” 

Friedman added: “I know that people think that I put that in. I told Mark that he’s going to think that I put it in. Obviously, it’s really flattering, but it’s a better question for them, but it also is a non-factor for me. I love being here. I love living here. I love being a part of what we’re building and what we’re continuing to build.”

Why Shohei Ohtani’s Dodgers should not be 2024 World Series favorites

Why Shohei Ohtani's Dodgers should not be 2024 World Series favorites

2. The contract structure came from Ohtani’s team

In case Ohtani’s desire to win wasn’t clear enough, the terms of his unprecedented contract cemented it. 

Sure, the overall value of the deal is still the richest in sports history — but 97% of his $700 million won’t get to him until after his 10 years with the Dodgers are complete. The deferrals leave the Dodgers’ yearly luxury-tax hit at $46 million instead of $70 million, setting them up to add pieces around the biggest free-agent signing in the sport. 

And for those upset about the Dodgers gaming the system, it wasn’t their idea. 

“They made the offer to us,” Friedman explained.

The Dodgers and Ohtani’s camp had gone back and forth a number of times on potential contract terms, some specifically written out, others just in conversation. The day before Ohtani announced his decision, the Dodgers received the contract terms from Ohtani’s team. 

“I was looking into it and doing some calculations, and I figured, I mean, if I could defer as much money as I can, if that’s going to help the CBT [competitive balance tax] and that’s going to help the Dodgers be able to sign better players and make a better team, I felt like that was worth it,” Ohtani said, “and I was willing to go that direction.” 

“I wouldn’t have had the guts to propose it,” Friedman said. “But as Nez walked through it and laid it out, as we were talking, it was incredibly consistent with everything he had said throughout the process. A lot of times you experience that, but they don’t sync up and match, and this did in an incredible way.”

3. Ohtani should be ready to hit by Opening Day 

Ohtani neither confirmed nor denied whether the elbow procedure he underwent in September was a second Tommy John surgery, only saying it was “completely different” from his 2018 procedure. 

The Dodgers signed him knowing he would only help with his bat in 2024. On Thursday, he confirmed that he is on track to be ready for the start of the season. 

“I’ve been taking dry hacks, or dry swings, the last week, so I’m on a really good pace to be ready for Opening Day,” Ohtani said. “As long as I can get into spring training as scheduled and be able to play in the exhibition games, I think I’ll be fully ready as a hitter for Opening Day.” 

What does Shohei Ohtani’s signing mean for the Dodgers?

What does Shohei Ohtani's signing mean for the Dodgers?

4. Decoy was … a decoy 

It wasn’t “Dodger.” It wasn’t “Walker.” But the name of Ohtani’s dog certainly turned out to be apropos. 

The dog entered the public sphere as Ohtani’s friendly companion when he accepted his MVP honors last month, but Ohtani hadn’t revealed its name. Amid last weekend’s chaos, Meadowlark Media’s Pablo Torre said on his podcast he heard a rumor the dog’s name was the name of one of the free-agent teams Ohtani was considering. 

Hilarity and conjecture ensued. On Thursday, Ohtani ended the speculation. No, it wasn’t Jay or Ray or Ranger or Giant or Pee Wee. Instead, Ohtani revealed that his dog’s name is “Dekopin” in Japanese, which he has reworked to “Decoy” in English. 

Turns out Decoy fooled everyone. 

5. The pressure to win — and continue to add — is on 

Ohtani picked the Dodgers to be part of a winner, and he created his contract to make that goal easier. After back-to-back first-round exits, and 11 straight trips to the postseason resulting in just one pandemic-shortened championship, the Dodgers are determined to construct a roster that could win it all this year. 

“It was important to Shohei that this wasn’t the one move we were going to make,” Friedman said. 

That process has already begun. 

As the festivities at Dodger Stadium winded down Thursday, news broke that the Dodgers were acquiring Tyler Glasnow from the Rays. It’s a start, but more will need to be done to fill out a rotation in desperate need of help while the Dodgers wait for players such as Ohtani, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin to potentially return to the mound in 2025. 

Manager Dave Roberts said he’s still in the “pinch-me” phase, stunned that Ohtani is part of his team, but he recognizes that the addition of Ohtani raises the stakes. 

“It certainly does, I think,” Roberts said. “This is what we dream of, to have the highest of expectations. It’s a great day in baseball, Dodger history. We’re the center of the sports world. I think we’re just very excited.”

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and MLB as a whole for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner. 

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