If Shohei Ohtani signs with Dodgers, pitcher says he'd change uniform numbers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. − There have been few signs or hints in Shohei Ohtani’s mysterious free agency tour where he may ultimately choose to play, but perhaps the strongest indication yet that the Los Angeles Dodgers could be the favorites is by the organization’s recent request.

The Dodgers telephoned veteran reliever Joe Kelly this week to ask if he would surrender his uniform No. 17 to Ohtani.

Kelly, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Dodgers last week that has yet to be officially announced, informed Dodger officials that he’d be honored to switch uniform numbers for Ohtani. Ohtani has worn No. 17 since signing his first MLB contract in 2017 with the Los Angeles Angels.

The uniform request may mean nothing.

Or it could mean absolutely everything.

Shohei Ohtani has worn No. 17 since signing his first MLB contract in 2017 with the Los Angeles Angels.
Shohei Ohtani has worn No. 17 since signing his first MLB contract in 2017 with the Los Angeles Angels.

One GM told USA TODAY Sports that the Dodgers would have no reason to request a player to change his uniform number unless they truly believed Ohtani was signing with them.

The Dodgers and Ohtani’s representatives declined comment.

It wasn’t until manager Dave Roberts spoke on Tuesday in his media session that the Dodgers even confirmed they met with Ohtani last Friday at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers postponed stadium tours while closing their team store that day to prevent any public sightings of Ohtani.

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Ohtani also has recently visited with the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park and the Toronto Blue Jays at their spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida, with team officials refusing to confirm the meetings.

“I would like to be honest, and so we met with Shohei,’’ Roberts said Tuesday. “I don’t feel like lying is something that I do. I was asked a question, and to be forthright in this situation, we kept it quiet. But I think that it’s going to come out at some point that we met.

“So, I don't think myself or anyone in our organization would want to lie about it.’’

While the Dodgers didn’t publicly say they wanted Roberts to lie, they scolded him for his candidness.

“Clearly,’’ Roberts said, “Shohei's our top priority.’’

Ohtani and agent Nez Balelo have asked teams for privacy throughout the free agent process, but Roberts dismissed the notion that his comments would be detrimental to the Dodgers’ chances of signing him.

“There's a respect of privacy, which I think that we've done that,’’ Roberts said. “There is a foundational integrity part of it I feel, and not necessarily the gamesmanship part of it, which is still plausible and fair.

“For me, it's hard to get a pointed question and then to just give a false answer knowingly. So, I don't think it's disrespect to anybody in Shohei's party or on our side. I think that the details are going to be withheld, which I think they should be, but it's pretty clear he's a priority for us.’’

Ohtani, who is expected to command the richest contract in North American sports history, exceeding $500 million, could choose the winner of his services within the week.

“At the end of the day,’’ Roberts said, “he's his own man, and he's going to do what's best for himself, where he feels most comfortable.’’

Yes, apparently even wearing his same number.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: If Shohei Ohtani signs with Dodgers, Joe Kelly would give up number