Shohei Ohtani wants Dodgers' key power brokers along for the ride: 'Like a safety net'

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Shohei Ohtani wants Dodgers' key power brokers along for the ride: 'Like a safety net'

LOS ANGELES — Baseball’s most powerful player stood in his new Dodgers jersey for the first time, his future secured.

Joining Shohei Ohtani for the moment were two people crucial to his future in Los Angeles. One of them was Mark Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners who serves as chairman and controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The other was Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations, whose adoration for Ohtani has spanned years.

They are the leaders Ohtani wants around so strongly that baseball’s first $700 million man put it in writing. The concept of a “key man” clause is a rarity in the sport. It’s a contractual mechanism often used in finance to allow investors to back out of a deal if a company founder exits a company or leaves their duties. Yet buried in Ohtani’s 10-year deal was that very clause, one aimed at keeping his bosses in the organization for as long as he’s there. If either leaves, so too can Ohtani, with an opt-out available to him at the end of that following season should Walter or Friedman exit their current roles.

“Everybody has to be on the same page in order to have a winning organization,” Ohtani explained through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “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 is 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.”

The clause is a device that can tie the power players in the organization together for a decade and demonstrates a rare level of player influence on an organization’s future. As Friedman spoke, he stressed that Ohtani wasn’t the Dodgers’ only move. Less than an hour later, the club was finalizing an agreement to acquire Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow as well as outfielder Manuel Margot, sources told The Athletic (the deal is contingent on Glasnow signing an extension and passing a physical).

Ohtani’s contract structure, which will involve the two-way superstar deferring 97 percent of his salary until the deal is complete, gives the Dodgers immediate flexibility but also means the club will have to dole out a combined $857 million in deferred payments to Ohtani, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman from 2033 to 2044. They’ll also have to start funding Ohtani’s deferral payments by 2026.

Friedman signed a contract extension with the organization after the 2019 season, but the terms of the deal (much less the length) were never publicly reported. The clause, at the least, gives some basic idea of how long the executive could factor into the organization’s plans (and vice versa), particularly after the Dodgers promoted Brandon Gomes to general manager after the 2021 season. Friedman, the former Tampa Bay Rays general manager, was already the subject of baseball’s other most notable usage of the “key man” clause; his departure for Los Angeles after the 2014 season opened the door for Rays manager Joe Maddon to opt out and take a job with the Chicago Cubs.

Speaking on Thursday about the clause in Ohtani’s deal, Friedman said: “I know that people think that I put that in.” He added that it was Ohtani and his representatives at CAA who presented the Dodgers with what would be the final contract proposal before Ohtani’s decision on Saturday. “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 (Ohtani).

“It’s a non-factor for me. I love being here. I love living here. I love being a part of what we are building and continuing to build. So it was a non-factor for me.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, for what it’s worth, still has two years remaining on the three-year extension he signed ahead of the 2022 season.

Ohtani and Friedman each referenced the concept of “alignment” often as they publicly formalized their partnership. Ohtani’s motive for joining the Dodgers appears simple: No club has won more during the regular season over the last decade, and few clubs have a future as rosy as the Dodgers, let alone the resources the Dodgers have at their disposal.

Friedman and Walter, according to Ohtani’s retelling of their recruiting meeting two weeks ago at Dodger Stadium, spoke of their decade-long run of regular-season success and called their one World Series title during that span “a failure.” As he reflected upon those comments, Friedman pointed to the concept of “brain drain” with opposing clubs poaching front-office talent to replicate what the Dodgers have built.

“We’ve lost a lot of really important employees over the last five to 10 years,” Friedman said. “But there’s no one employee — myself included — whether it’s (Roberts), Brandon (Gomes). It’s about how the group comes together.”

But some things can’t be replaced. Ohtani clearly doesn’t want to be in an organization without Friedman around. The Dodgers’ 10-year commitment to Ohtani shows that’s reciprocated.

“I mean, obviously, I want to win championships,” Ohtani said, “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.”

And, at least in writing, it’s apparent who he thinks will get him there.

(Photo of Mark Walter, left, and Andrew Friedman with Shohei Ohtani: Kirby Lee / USA Today)