SPORTS DIGEST:  Dodgers get their man, sign superstar Shohei Ohtani 

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

When the Dodgers truly want someone, they go get him. And pay him.

In 2020, they wanted Mookie Betts. They put together a package of young prospects and agreed to take Dave Price and his salary off the hands of the Boston Red Sox, who sent the Dodgers a perennial all star.

In 2021, they outbid others for Trevor Bauer. That didn’t work out too well, but the Dodgers were willing to spend money for the right player.  In 2022, they outbid four other teams for Freddie Freeman.

Now, they have once again one a bidding war for the best player in baseball, Shohei Ohtani.

The contract terms are staggering. Ten years for $700 million. That’s more than double what Betts is making.

But the Dodgers aren’t breaking the bank with the new contract because Ohtani asked to have most of the money deferred. In other words, the Dodgers will be paying Ohtani around $68 million a year after the contract is over.

Ohtani asked that the bulk of his money be deferred because he wants the Dodgers to have enough financial flexibility to sign another pitcher or two before spring training starts in March.

Ohtani won’t be able to pitch next season as he recovers from his second major elbow operation in four years. But he should be able to swing a bat. 

Last year he was the best hitter in the American League with 44 home runs while leading the league in slugging percentage and on-base percentage. His 325 total bases also led the league.

He will lengthen the Dodgers lineup, probably hitting third or fourth. That means Max Muncy will hit fourth or fifth fourth. Betts, Freeman, Ohtani and Muncy combined for 148 home runs last year. That’s a lot of power for the top of a lineup that will get even stronger at the bottom end if Gavin Lux has recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him last season.

Miguel Rojas did a more than capable job replacing Lux last season, but if Lux is back to normal, he is a much better hitter than Rojas, who will probably be a utility infielder next season.

The Dodgers are not through with off-season signings. They are still in the bidding for Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who wants to follow Ohtani and  try his hand at Major League Baseball after becoming a star in Japan, and ace reliever Josh Hader

They also are in trade talks for starting pitchers like Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers and Tyler Glasnow of the Tampa Bay Rays. 

The team completed a minor deal with the Yankees to make room on the 40-man roster for Ohtani. Left-handed reliever Victor Gonzalez and minor league infielder Jorbit Vivas went to the Yankees for young shortstop prospect Trey Sweeney.  

The whole purpose of signing Ohtani is for the Dodgers to remain one of the elite teams in baseball, a team that is always expected to play in the postseason.

Ohtani left the Angels because — as good as he was in his six years in Anaheim — it was never good enough to reach the playoffs. He shouldn’t have to worry about that next year.

And with him hitting behind Betts and Freeman, it’s hard to imagine all three of them going cold in October again. 

The Dodgers are owned by a bunch of billionaires. They didn’t get that way by throwing money around foolishly. 

The Ohtani contract will pay for itself in adverting and marketing ways as well as selling tickets. Don’t be surprised if the Dodgers agree to a television contract with a Japanese network, if Major League Baseball rules allow that.

Ohtani also might be the key to the Dodgers finally getting over the four million mark in annual attendance. They reached 3,974,309 in 2019.

Surely over 81 games, Ohtani will put more than 25,000 more fans in the seats this year.

Signing Ohtani was an early Christmas present for the team, the city and the fans. Spring training can’t come fast enough.

WHEN A WIN ISN’T: The Lakers won the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament Dec. 9 with a 123-109 win over the Indiana Pacers, 123-109. The win was a nice accomplishment. 

When these players were growing up, winning a tournament was a significant achievement. But it didn’t compare with winning a league, section or state championship.

That’s the point I want to make about the NBA In-Season Tournament. It’s a good thing to win. Just don’t go hanging any banner next to the other 17 you currently have hanging in the rafters at Arena.

Winning always helps build chemistry on a team. That’s one good thing about the tournament win. 

It also taught the young players — and the Lakers have a lot of them — what it takes to win and what it feels like to win. That’s a good, positive learning experience.

It showed the veteran players on the team that there is the ability on this roster to win it all next June, if everybody stays healthy and focused on the brass ring.

That the Lakers came out three nights after winning the tournament and lost to the Dallas Mavericks also is a reminder that there are still 57 games to play in the here-and-now NBA schedule and all of the Lakers need to come ready to play every night for the team to succeed.

Against the Mavericks, Anthony Davis scored 37 points and LeBron James scored 33. Only two other Lakers — Austin Reaves with 22 and Taurean Prince with 15 — were in double figures.

The Mavericks weren’t exactly balanced, either, but Luka Doncic scored 33, Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 32 and Dante Exum scored 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 7-of-9 from three-point range.

Whoever was supposed to be covering him wasn’t.

Still, the Lakers have to be pleased with the way their season is going. They went undefeated during the play-in tournament. James and Davis have been healthy so far. This could be the start of something big.

ODDS AND ENDS: The UCLA Bruins end the football season Dec. 16 in the L.A. Bowl against Boise State, the champions of the Mountain West Conference. Game time is 4:30 p.m. and ABC will televise the game.

A win for the Bruins would give them eight on the season, the third year in a row they have won at least that many. That might take some of the heat off head coach Chip Kelly, but maybe not. … 

Four months after he went into cardiac arrest during a July practice, Bronny James, the son of LeBron James, returned to action for the USC Trojans Dec. 10.

James scored four points in 16 minutes off the bench in his college basketball debut in the Trojans’ 84-79 overtime loss to Long Beach State.

A proud papa was sitting courtside to see James make a three-point shot and a free throw during his limited action. The Trojans might need James if they can’t beat Long Beach State. … 

Don’t look now but the Los Angeles Clippers have won five straight games after defeating the Sacramento Kings Dec. 12, 119-99.

The Clippers are now 8-2 since acquiring James Harden and starting to play like a team that can do some damage this season. Harden is averaging 15.9 points, 6.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his 10 games with the team.

Russell Westbrook is adjusting to coming off the bench and providing an energy boost when he enters the game and Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are combining to score almost 46 points a game. Now if they can just stay healthy. … 

While the two local pro basketball teams are riding high at the moment, the same can’t be said for our two NFL teams.

Both the Chargers and Rams lost last week. The Chargers’ 24-7 loss to the Denver Broncos Dec. 10 probably ended the Chargers’ playoff hopes for the year.

Quarterback Justin Herbert broke the index finger on his throwing hand, ending his season, and Easton Stick didn’t seem capable of lighting a spark in the Chargers offense that has scored only 23 points in the last three games. 

At 5-8, the Chargers currently have the 12th best record in the AFC and only seven teams make the playoffs. Six teams ahead of them are 7-6 and only two of those will make the playoffs.

Without Herbert, the Chargers’ goose is cooked and so is Brandon Staley’s future as head coach. …

The Rams still have playoffs hopes, but those hopes would be a lot brighter if they had managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens Dec. 10. Instead, the Rams took the Ravens into overtime before having the backup punt returner return a punt 76 yards for the winning touchdown almost eight minutes into overtime.

The Rams played the best team in the AFC tough for four quarters, leading 20-17 at halftime and 22-20 after three quarters. But Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson burned the Rams’ secondary for three long touchdown passes to overcome a three-touchdown performance by Matthew Stafford and another big game from running back Kyren Williams. Williams gained 114 yards on 25 carries.

Cooper Kupp had his best game of the season with eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.

At 6-7, the Rams are still in the NFC playoff hunt, tied with the Packers and four other teams for the seventh best record in the conference. That loss to the Packers in early November is the only thing keeping them out of the seventh playoff spot right now.

With games coming up against the Washington Commanders, the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints, the Rams have a chance to take charge of their playoff fate the next three weeks, before ending the season against San Francisco.