The Winter Meetings don’t work that way, Shohei

The Winter Meetings don’t work that way, Shohei

If you exist on a plane outside the insular world of sports Twitter (sports X?), you might not be aware that the world currently hinges on MLB free agent Shohei Ohtani picking a new baseball team. Until said team is chosen, those of us left behind in the bubble can do nothing but hit “refresh” on the social media accounts of Ken Rosenthal, Jeff Passan, Susan Slusser, and their ilk until such time as Ohtani sees fit to release us from MLB purgatory.

Because those who live for MLB view the Winter Meetings as a bucolic oasis of baseball in the midst of the winter sports — football, basketball, hockey — we are spending our days hanging on every tweet, every column, every dispatch that might give us some insight on where a myriad of our favorite players will be next summer. Will our teams be winners or losers, thereby turning us into winners or losers by association? Only the news crawler at the bottom of MLB Network broadcasts knows!

I’m trying to paint a picture here of how desperate MLB fans — a month past the end of the World Series and a month away from their various team fanfests — are for MLB news. Having been a dedicated member of Cubs Twitter since around twenty aught eight, I feel qualified to gather the children around the campfire and tell tales of how we found out that the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano (and then immediately learned it was a 7-year deal, absolutely insane at the time) and the time we learned the team had traded away the entire core of the 2016 World Series team, because the owners decided that one World Championship was plenty for us.

Which brings me back to the man of the hour, Shohei Ohtani, and his reported desire for secrecy while he flirts with half a dozen lucky MLB teams. You might have seen Ohtani catching stray tweets from a few media members, but I wasn’t aware this was “a thing” until Craig Calcaterra pointed out Buster Olney’s ESPN column in his newsletter this morning. Olney claims that Ohtani’s decision “is being handled like delicate negotiations over a secret spy swap. There is silence and threats, with club executives rolling their eyes as they describe the warnings they have been given from Ohtani’s camp about publicly discussing their efforts to sign the most dynamic and popular talent on earth.”

Over at ESPN, Jeff Passan has reported that Ohtani’s camp says that public reports from any teams about their meetings will “be held against the team” in Ohtani’s decision-making.

There have been a few tweets from beat writers as well, whinging on about all the information they aren’t getting. All the ways life is unfair to them — blah blah blah. Typical fare from a certain type and generation of MLB beat reporter. The reason all of this matters is because the first big free-agent domino usually needs to fall before the free-agent signing frenzy begins, and this year, Ohtani is the biggest domino of all. Until Ohtani signs, and the teams that lose out on the sweepstakes are forced to look elsewhere for a big bat and starting pitcher in two different people, we’re all just going to sit here, poking the Winter Meetings with a stick, begging it to do something.

But despite the hand-wringing, information about Ohtani is getting out, thanks to guys like Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who spoke candidly about Ohtani being the Dodgers’ top offseason priority, much to the dismay of GM Brandon Gomes. “I don’t feel like lying is something that I do,” Roberts said. “I was asked a question (about Ohtani), and to be forthright in the situation, we kept it quiet. But I think it’s going to come out at some point that we met.”

Indeed. Is there anyone out there that thinks the Dodgers would not meet with Ohtani? Or that LA wouldn’t be one of the finalists for his services? I would submit that there is not. Reports of Ohtani meeting with the Blue Jays in Florida was only a semi-surprise because of his well-known desire to stay on the West Coast. Ohtani meeting with the Reds? The Marlins? Now those would have been bombshells. But so far, most of the vague reports about who Ohtani is considering are exactly the teams we all guessed he was considering. The Dodgers, Giants, Angels, maybe the Cubs, maybe the Mariners. Probably no one on the East Coast, but if he was going to meet with a team on the eastern half of the continent, my guess would have been Toronto. (What are you even doing, Yankees? You should be in on this.)

Because while Ohtani has the right to conduct his free agency search in any way he wants, keeping things on the down low isn’t really how the Winter Meetings work. Sure, every once in a while we’re shocked with a real humdinger of a dark-horse deal, but team reps at the Winter Meetings have cameras and digital recorders stuck in their faces repeatedly, and everyone wants to know about Ohtani. And that’s before we even consider all the assistants running around Nashville who have covert relationships with the media. Then think about the front-office staffers who didn’t go to Nashville, but are looped in on who the team is meeting with. That’s a lot of people to keep quiet. Someone was always going to leak it to the press. Dave Roberts just beat them to it.

If Ohtani wants to use leaking to the media as part of his criteria for choosing a team, it’s his right, but it also seems very shortsighted. There are already only a handful of teams that can afford Ohtani and dinging a team like the Dodgers, who appear to check all the boxes Ohtani reportedly cares about, just because their manager admitted that they want to sign Ohtani and have met with him, seems like a real weirdo move. Of course, Ohtani isn’t like any player we’ve ever seen.

Maybe he wants to see what team will honor his request as part of the evaluation process. Perhaps it matters to him because of a desire to protect the details of his private life. Maybe salary negotiations are distasteful and embarrassing to him. Maybe it’s all a lark to see how many hoops he can make teams jump through. Whatever the reason, it was never actually going to work. Not with the fishbowl in Nashville and reporters skulking around the lobby hiding behind potted plants and frantically tweeting out whatever bits of information they manage to glean. The public having no idea of what teams Ohtani is talking to was always a pipe dream. Anyone on MLB Twitter could have told him that.

Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.