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Why Shohei Ohtani to the Dodgers ‘made too much sense’

Los Angeles Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten was strolling into the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto on New Year’s Day to watch the inaugural game of a new women’s professional hockey league – when someone yelled at him. 

“Hey,’ the guy blurted out, “you’re the [freaking] guy who stole Ohtani from us.’

Two days later, Kasten is in Boston for their season opener against Minnesota, and now he’s walking briskly, hoping to go unnoticed. 

“I was praying not to get any Mookie Betts’ [crap],’ Kasten said, well-aware that Red Sox fans are still livid that they traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers in 2020.  

Kasten, after overseeing the Dodgers’ franchise-record expenditures of $1.35 billion for Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow in December, spent the first week of the new year visiting five of the six cities in the new Professional Women’s Hockey League, in which he’s an advisory board member.

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He was there when a record 2.9 million Canadian viewers watched the first game on Jan. 1. He was there among the crowd of 8,318 in Ottawa the next day, the most fans ever to watch a women’s professional hockey game. And four days later he was at the Excel Center in St. Paul, Minn., when the record was shattered with 13,317 fans to watch Minnesota and Montreal. 

“I knew we had the elements in place,’ Kasten said, “but this has taken off so much better than we even hoped. It’s just amazing.’’ 

So, just what went through Kasten’s mind as he basked in the PWHL’s spectacular opening week, just six months after Dodgers chairman Mark Walter decided to start the league? 

“I went to all five games in Toronto, Ottawa, Boston, New York and Minnesota,’ Kasten told USA TODAY Sports, “and Ottawa was the only city in which I did not lose a World Series.’

Hilarious. 

Also true. 

When Kasten was president of Atlanta, they lost the 1991 World Series in Minnesota. They lost the World Series the next year in Toronto. And after winning the 1995 World Series, lost the 1996 World Series in New York. And in 2018, with Kasten at the helm, the Dodgers lost the 2018 World Series to Boston.

“The first was the toughest,’ said Kasten. “That ’91 World Series was the greatest ever. It was also the most painful loss in my career.’

Atlanta, which went from last place in 1990 to winning the NL West in 1991, lost Game 7 against the Minnesota Twins, 1-0, in 10 innings at the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. It was the first time a team lost a Game 7 in extra innings since 1924. 

“So when I hear people say they suffered the most painful loss of their career,’’ Kasten said, “I tell them, “More painful loss than a Game 7 in extra innings?’ I don’t think so. ‘

Well, the way the Dodgers have dominated this offseason, spending a record $1.1 billion this winter with an estimated player payroll of $310 million this year, it may be the last time he’ll ever experience a World Series loss while president of the Dodgers. 

“People have to understand, we are still in the Dodgers,’ Kasten said. “The Dodger franchise is unique and historic, and we hoped to have a historic season. High payrolls are no guarantee of success. We all know that. We’ve had high payrolls before and didn’t win, just like a lot of teams. 

“High payrolls bring high expectations.’

Those expectations hit a crescendo the morning of Dec. 9 when Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, telephoned Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, one minute before Ohtani unveiled the news to the rest of the world on his Instagram account. 

Yet, 24 hours earlier, the Dodgers had no idea where Ohtani was going. They were caught up in the erroneous reports that Ohtani was on that plane, N616RH, heading from Orange County to Toronto, carrying Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavec instead of the greatest player in the game. 

“That airplane day, we had no freaking idea,’’ Kasten said. “We were watching the airplane reports. I’m looking at the tweets and everything else. The agent is reassuring us that no decision has been made. But it’s not the first time I heard something from an agent that was not true. But in this case, everything was completely truthful. Nez [Balelo] was straight with us from the start. 

“So on that day, we’re thinking we have a 50-50 shot. Then it’s 75-25. Then it’s 25-75. It’s 21%, it’s 14%, we were all over the map with every new tweet. 

“We didn’t get a heads-up until a minute beforehand when Nez called Andrew. Andrew called me 10 seconds later. So, I only knew 50 seconds before the rest of the world knew.’

Just 2 ½ weeks later, the Dodgers signed Yamamoto to the richest contract for a pitcher, 12-years, $325 million, while trading for Glasnow, too, giving him a five-year, $136.5 million extension. 

Days later there was Kasten, who once was GM of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and later president of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers and Atlanta MLB team simultaneously, making his PWHL tour. It was a concept that began just six months earlier, funded by Walter, while tennis legend Billie Jean King is an advisory board member alongside Kasten. 

“The reaction was immediate,’ Kasten said. “Women’s hockey works as an entertainment value and as a business. We were able to negotiate a CBA [collective bargaining agreement] from scratch, and have one league with the best players in the world. The quality of hockey is right, and everything has come together so well. Every game is a big-league broadcast. Our ratings are sky high. There’s a great interest in our apparel. The outpouring of support has been phenomenal. 

“This is not for the short-term. This is not just for the long-term. This is permanent.’ 

Well, the same can be uttered about the Dodgers’ dominance in the game. They have won 10 of the last 11 NL West titles, and won 106 games the year they fell short. The Dodgers, buoyed by their season-ticket renewals,  could draw a franchise-record four million fans this season. They barely can keep merchandise stocked in their stores. They may be baseball’s most popular team with 13 games already scheduled for national TV. 

Really there’s no reason to believe the Dodgers won’t rule the division for another 10 years. They continue to have one of the richest farm systems in baseball. They just built a new performance center at their spring-training facility in Phoenix. They plan on having another Dodger Stadium renovation next winter, too. 

Considering the national and international interest in the Dodgers, it may be wise to include a new pressbox in that renovation too. 

The Dodgers, thanks to Ohtani’s decision, will be a perennial power that could stand the test of time. 

“I think this is good for baseball,’’ Kasten said. “The Dodger brand is unique and historic, and now it’s combined with the Ohtani brand, which is unique and historic. People in Japan are telling me that Ohtani is bigger in Japan than [Michael] Jordan was here. His presence is extraordinary. I don’t know who you compare him to, Messi? His presence is extraordinary. 

“I always felt the ideal spot for Ohtani was here. I thought it made too much sense. And when we first got the report of what Shohei was proposing (deferring $680 million of the $700 million), we knew instantly this could work out.’

Now, the only thing left on the checklist is another World Series championship, with their only title since 1988 coming during the 60-game COVID shortened season in 2020. 

The expectations this year are clear. Anything less than a World Series title will be a vicious disappointment. It’s World Series or bust. 

“I think it will be fun,’’ Kasten said. “We have a team that’s all in. We have a team that has everybody so excited. I’m proud of the team Andrew and [GM] Brandon [Gomes] have put together. 

“Now, we’ll get a chance to see just how it all works out.’

Around the basepaths

– The Seattle Mariners have quietly entered trade talks with the Chicago White Sox for ace Dylan Cease, with the White Sox seeking a package centered around young starters Bryce Miller or Bryan Woo. 

If the Mariners meet the White Sox’s steep asking price, they would have one of the most powerful starting rotations in baseball with Luis Castillo, Cease, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. 

If the White Sox can’t complete a trade with the Mariners, they are expected to open the season with Cease. They could revisit trade talks with teams towards the July 30 trade deadline or wait to see if a team becomes desperate with a sudden injury. 

– Spring training is less than three weeks away but Cody Bellinger and J.D. Martinez still have not received a formal contract offer. Two-time Cy Young award winner Blake Snell’s lone offer was a six-year, $150 million deal from the New York Yankees after Snell requested $270 million over nine years. 

– There have been more than 170 kids who lied about their age in a Dominican Republic signing scandal, according to Diario Libre. There were more than 50 international prospects who had their contracts rejected, including at least 22 players with future deals worth more than $1 million. 

One player had a handshake agreement for $6 million. Another claimed he was 14 years old when he actually turned out to be 21. 

MLB investigators do not have an actual count but believe those numbers could be inflated, insisting the known cases of fraud have been flat over the years.    

In several of these recent cases, kids and their trainers were informing teams they are only 13 or 14 years old, negotiating deals that would be officially consummated when they were 16. In reality, they would already be 18 or 19 years old. 

The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox had five players who lied about their age. 

MLB opened an age and Identity Investigation Department more than 10 years ago, which uses an extensive process to verify age and ID trying to curb the corruption. It does not approve any first-year international contracts with a signing bonus above $20,000 in any country without an age and ID investigation. It reviews more than 1,000 cases per year. 

It’s unknown whether an international draft would definitely help eliminate the fraudulent and illegal behavior, but certainly there would be more scrutiny involving those prospects to help determine the truth. 

– Now that Joe Mauer is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, his election should certainly open the door for first-ballot elections for catchers Yadier Molina and Buster Posey. 

Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons says that Molina is the greatest defensive catcher he’s ever seen, with teammates and peers believing that no one had more of an impact in games. This is a guy who won two World Series, was a 10-time All-Star and a nine-time Gold Glove winner. 

The St. Louis Cardinals permitted a whopping 540 fewer stolen bases than any team in baseball since 1998 when baseball expanded to 30 teams, according to Codify Baseball, with Molina joining the Cardinals in 2004.  

It will be a heck of a 2028 Hall of Fame class with Molina and Albert Pujols going into the Hall of Fame together. 

– Three-time World Series champion Jon Lester, who may find himself in Cooperstown one day, says he was absolutely thrilled to see former teammate Adrian Beltre elected into the Hall of Fame. 

“He’s such a great human being, really an incredible human being and incredible teammate,’ said Lester after playing at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions golf tournament. “One thing about Adrian is that joker plays no matter what. I’m sure physically he tried to play through pain, and he still went out there and did his job. 

“I’ve never seen anything like him. He tore his hamstring, and still was out there trying to play. Just incredible.’’ 

– It’s hard to believe that the only five players remaining from the last Boston Red Sox postseason team in 2021 are Rafael Devers, Bobby Dalbec, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck. 

– The Oakland A’s still are searching for a home to play in 2025-2027 until their Las Vegas ballpark is ready, already visiting sites in Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Reno, and their Triple-A ballpark in Las Vegas. 

They likely wouid split time with games played at Oracle Park in San Francisco, home of the Giants. 

– Kudos to Houston Astros GM Dana Brown for reaching out to veteran reliever Ryan Pressly to inform him they were negotiating with free-agent closer Josh Hader before signing him to a five-year, $95 million contract. 

“I didn’t want to get down the road on this without talking to Pressly,” Brown told Houston reporters. “I think that Pressly means so much to this organization. His leadership in the clubhouse, his leadership in the bullpen, the things that he’s done for this organization. He’s just been a pillar. But I wanted to talk to him because I know that’s the right thing to do.” 

– It’s hard to believe the Baltimore Orioles, after winning 101 games last year, won’t do anything more this winter than sign veteran closer Craig Kimbrel to a one-year, $13 million contract to replace injured Felix Bautista. 

They need another frontline starter, but talks with the White Sox for Dylan Cease have stopped. 

They currently have just a $73 million payroll. 

– The Arizona Diamondbacks had strong interest in J.D. Martinez and Justin Turner before turning to Joc Pederson to be their DH, giving him a one-year, $12.5 million contract that turns into a two-year, $23.5 deal if the mutual option is picked up. 

– Shrewd move by the Los Angeles Angels putting in a clause to protect them in reliever Robert Stephenson’s three-year, $33 million contract. If he spends 130 consecutive days on the injured list with an elbow injury, the Angels have a club option for a fourth season for just $2.5 million. 

The Angels have spent $49 million on relievers this winter with Matt Moore, Luis Garcia, Adam Cimber, Adam Kolarek and Stephenson. 

The Angels’ bullpen yielded a 4.88 ERA last season, ranking 25th, and gave up the second-most homers in the league with 88. 

– The Baltimore Orioles honored esteemed baseball writer Jim Henneman by naming the press box after him at Camden Yards. Henneman began his writing career in 1958. 

– The Chicago Cubs were patient and landed veteran reliever Hector Neris on a one-year, $9 million contract with a $9 million club option. He was originally seeking a three-year deal from the Houston Astros. 

He comes at $1 million less than David Robertson’s one-year, $10 million deal with the Texas Rangers. 

– A year ago, the Dodgers opened the season with a starting rotation of Julio Urias, Dustin May, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Michael Grove. 

Only May and Grove remain with the Dodgers with Kerhsaw still officially a free agent.

– CC Sabathia, who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year, says he didn’t start seriously thinking about the honor until a trip with his son at Cooperstown a few years ago. 

“That was the first time I really, really, really thought about it,” Sabathia said. “I was like, ‘Damn, I really want to be in the Hall of Fame.’ I never thought about being in the Hall of Fame when I was playing. But going up there, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, this is cool.’ ” 

– The Milwaukee Brewers made a good move signing first baseman Rhys Hoskins to a two-year, $34 million contract, their most lucrative free-agent contract since Lorenzo Cain (5 years, $80 million) in 2018. He’ll earn just $12 million this season with an $18 million salary in 2025. If Hoskins opts out, he’ll earn an additional $4 million. They also have a mutual option at $18 million in 2026. 

– Tickets are going for as high as $1,300 for MLB’s opening series in Seoul, South Korea, with the Dodgers and Padres, featuring Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The capacity at Gocheok Sky Dome is slightly less than 17,000. 

Follow Nightengale on X: @Bnightengale 

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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