Dodgers Acknowledge Meeting With Ohtani. Yankees Covet Yamamoto

Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes responds to questions during a news conference at the Major League Baseball winter meetings Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes responds to questions during a news conference at the Major League Baseball winter meetings Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Dave Roberts started to dodge the question about Shohei Ohtani, rocking back and forth in his seat and staying silent for three seconds before his big admission:

“Yeah, we met with him,” the Los Angeles Dodgers manager said Tuesday at the winter meetings, making Roberts' club the first to publicly admit a sit-down with the unique two-way player likely to break baseball's salary record.

Officials on other teams danced meticulously around the question as if choregraphed by Bob Fosse. Toronto general manager Ross Atkins, who sparked speculation of a possible meeting by holding his Monday media availability on Zoom rather than at the winter meetings hotel, had this to say: "Some meetings that occur, that don’t occur, I’m not going to get into the specifics of.”

New Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell batted away Ohtani queries as if in a cross-examination. After saying he had not met with Ohtani, Counsell was asked whether anyone in the Cubs front office had. Counsell replied: “I have not.”

Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, another prized free agent, could be sought by the New York Yankees and Mets, who set payroll records this year in their third season under owner Steve Cohen. The Mets' projected final 2023 payroll is about $346 million and their luxury tax roughly $102 million.

“I don’t know if anybody can compete with Steve Cohen,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “He's obviously a titan of industry. He's had a lot of success and built an empire which has allowed him to do things like the Mets. ... We can just concentrate on what we’re going to concentrate on. Obviously, it's a player of interest and we’ll compete for him and see where that takes us, and it will be enough or won’t be enough.”

Cashman also has talked about trying to acquire slugger Juan Soto from San Diego. The outfielder is eligible for free agency after next season, and Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller has discussed swaps.

New Padres manager Mike Shildt plans to meet with Soto in Miami on Dec. 17.

“He’s a transformational bat. He's one of the best hitters in the game. So he’s impact, period," Cashman said. ”I know A.J. probably is being open-minded to do a lot of different things."

In the meantime, the Yankees made a rare trade with the rival Boston Red Sox, acquiring outfielder Alex Verdugo for reliever Greg Weissert and two minor league pitchers.

Only one relatively small signing was announced during the day. Tampa Bay agreed to a $1.1 million, one-year contract with reliever Chris Devenski, a deal that includes a club option for 2025.

Erick Fedde, a 30-year-old right-hander who spent this year with the NC Dinos in South Korea, agreed to a $15 million, two-year contract with the Chicago White Sox, a person familiar with the deal said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement was subject to a successful physical.

Switch-hitting catcher Victor Caratini and the Houston Astros reached a $12 million, two-year contract, a person familiar with that deal told the AP on condition of anonymity because the agreement was subject to a successful physical.

Marco Gonzales’ time with the Atlanta Braves lasted just two days, ending when the left-hander was traded to Pittsburgh along with cash for a player to be named or cash. Atlanta acquired the 31-year-old left-hander from Seattle on Sunday night with outfielder Jarred Kelenic, infielder Evan White and $4.5 million for right-handers Cole Phillips and Jackson Kowar.

Also, Cleveland won the MLB draft lottery and will have the top pick for the first time when selections are made on July 14.

Roberts said Ohtani met with the team at Dodger Stadium for two-to-three hours a few days earlier and called the two-time AL MVP “our top priority.”

“I think that he had questions for us, just trying to get more of the landscape. But being in this league for six years, he’s got a pretty good idea of the Dodgers, what we’re about, the city itself," Roberts said.

Cashman went to Japan to watch Yamamoto and saw him pitch his second career no-hitter on Sept. 9 for the Orix Buffaloes against the Lotte Marines.

“A lot of teams went over there with their executives and I certainly wasn’t going to make the mistake of not being one of the executives that went over there, too,” Cashman said. “Certainly a negotiation is an important part of it, but I also think those type of personal touches are also important.”

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AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker and Jay Cohen contributed to this report.

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