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OC Register: Shohei Ohtani joins Dodgers in record $700 million deal

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It was a long courtship but he finally said, “Yes.”

Shohei Ohtani is joining the Dodgers, agreeing to a reported 10-year deal worth $700 million on Saturday. It is the largest contract for any individual in North American sports history.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan was first to report the details of the megadeal after Ohtani revealed his destaintion via Instagram.

The Dodgers landed their man with a two-strike pitch.

They scouted Ohtani as far back as high school and tried to sign him under then-GM Ned Colletti as a teenager before Ohtani was drafted into the Japanese professional ranks. The Dodgers wanted Ohtani as a pitcher at that time but he opted to stay in Japan and establish himself as a two-way player.

After five seasons there, Ohtani made the jump to MLB and the Dodgers were among the finalists to sign him. But the DH had not arrived full-time in the National League, handicapping their efforts and leading Ohtani to sign with the Angels, surprising the baseball world.

After six seasons that included an American League Rookie of the Year award and two AL MVPs, Ohtani emerged as the most sought-after free agent in major-league history – and the Dodgers’ “top priority” as manager Dave Roberts said during an unexpectedly revealing media session at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday.

Bowing to reported threats from Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, that any leaks about meetings would be held against the team involved, front office officials from every team avoided any comment at all about Ohtani – until Roberts blurted out his news.

In order to sign the 29-year-old Ohtani, the Dodgers gave him a contract that far surpassed Mike Trout’s record $426.5 million deal, signed in 2019, and also broke Max Scherzer’s record for the highest average annual value of $43.3 million.

Considered the front-runners to land Ohtani for two years now, the Dodgers positioned themselves for this year’s final pursuit by shedding payroll and making no multi-year commitments to free agents last winter.

Ohtani’s decision apparently came down to a choice between the Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays, with reports flying Friday that he was set to choose the Blue Jays.

Instead, he will join this year’s second- and third-place finishers in the National League MVP race, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, atop the Dodgers’ lineup with another 2023 All-Star, Will Smith, behind them.

With J.D. Martinez (also an All-Star in 2023) at DH this past season, the Dodgers scored more than 900 runs.

Ohtani’s Angels career included an unprecedented three-year run. Pitching and hitting at a level not seen since Babe Ruth, Ohtani won the AL MVP award unanimously in 2021 and 2023 and finished second in between.

Ohtani hit .304 with a 1.066 OPS and a league-leading 44 home runs, while also leading the AL in on-base percentage (.412), slugging (.654) and total bases (325) in 2023. On the mound, he went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA over 23 starts with 167 strikeouts in 132 innings (11.4 strikeouts per nine innings).

But Ohtani will not be pitching for the Dodgers until at least 2025.

He tore his ulnar collateral ligament in August, requiring elbow surgery that will prevent him from pitching next year. He is expected to be able to hit from the start of the 2024 season.

Although the injury casts some doubt on his long-term future as a pitcher, Ohtani is a good enough hitter and athlete – not to mention his value in terms of ticket sales, sponsorships and merchandising – that most large-market teams were expected to pursue him.

Ohtani said very little about free agency, typically declining to answer entirely. He has not spoken to the media since Aug. 9, aside from an appearance on MLB Network’s MVP announcement show on Nov. 16.

Ohtani told the network prior to that appearance that he would not answer questions about free agency, a source said. He then failed to participate in a scheduled conference call with reporters, with an MLB official saying his absence was because of “circumstances beyond Shohei’s control.”

With Ohtani and Balelo staying tight-lipped throughout the process, the rest of baseball was left to speculate about which team Ohtani would choose.

That led to a common belief that the Dodgers made the most sense for him. The Dodgers have been one of the most successful teams in baseball, making the playoffs each of the last 11 years, including 10 division titles and the 2020 World Series title. They also typically have one of baseball’s highest payrolls. The Dodgers also offered Ohtani the chance to remain on the West Coast.

Over the past couple of weeks, a few teams emerged as contenders for Ohtani, despite the Ohtani camp’s insistence on secrecy. Besides the Dodgers and Angels, the Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs were all reported to be on Ohtani’s short list.

There were reports that Ohtani had visited San Francisco and gone to the Blue Jays’ spring training complex in Florida, as well as Roberts’ public admission – much to the chagrin of his bosses – that the Dodgers had met with Ohtani for a few hours at Dodger Stadium in the days leading up to the Winter Meetings.

Speculation that he had picked the Blue Jays increased on Friday morning, with a report of a private jet scheduled to fly from John Wayne Airport to Toronto.

The Angels will receive an extra 2024 draft pick after the second round, as compensation for losing Ohtani.

Staff writer Jeff Fletcher contributed to this story.

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