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Winter Meetings rumors: Are Blue Jays a serious contender for Shohei Ohtani?

We’ve got all the latest Hot Stove rumors from around the Majors on Tuesday, including a major update on the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.

Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels singles in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 6, 2023 in Anaheim, California. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The 2023 MLB Winter Meetings are officially underway, and although we’ve had just one major trade so far, the rumors are flying fast and furious. Throughout the next few days, we’ll be keeping track of and rounding up all the information you need to know. Tuesday’s edition includes a major update in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, the latest on a Juan Soto deal and the trade markets for several frontline starters. (As a reminder, here are our top 25 free agents as well as the 10 most interesting trade candidates this winter.)

MLB Hot Stove rumors: Tuesday, Dec. 5

Ohtani visits with Blue Jays

A free agency that had to this point been more closely guarded than some state secrets finally has a significant public development: Per Ken Rosenthal and others, there’s reason to believe that Ohtani took a meeting with Blue Jays brass at the team’s Florida complex on Monday:

General manager Ross Atkins did not meet with the club’s media in person at the Winter Meetings, instead conducting his session by Zoom because of what the team called “a scheduling conflict.” Manager John Schneider was originally scheduled to speak to media on Monday as well, but last Friday, the team’s public-relations staff rescheduled his availability for Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, Balelo also was not in Tennessee on Monday, according to an industry source with knowledge of the situation.

That sure seems like a lot of smoke, as does the fact that Atkins took his Zoom call in front of a seemingly intentionally nondescript white background that would offer no clues as to his whereabouts. Rosenthal takes pains to note that a deal doesn’t seem to be close, and there’s no reason to think that other potential suitors like the Dodgers, Giants and Cubs (maybe even the Braves?) aren’t still very much in the running. But Ohtani’s willingness to travel and hear Toronto’s pitch — as well as take in their spanking-new training complex, which opened in Dunedin in 2021 — speaks volumes as to their seriousness in this sweepstakes, a situation that would’ve seemed farfetched just a few weeks ago. The Jays have the money, the need and the urgency to win ahead of Bo Bichette’s and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s free agency; don’t count them out.

Yankees remain ‘solid favorite’ for Soto

Toronto has also been linked with Juan Soto in recent days, but per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the Yankees — long the most natural fit in a Soto deal — remain the “solid favorite”.

The Friars are expected to move Juan Soto this winter, possibly as early as this week. Despite reports that the Yankees and Padres remain far apart in their talks, New York is still considered a solid favorite to acquire the two-time All-Star, whose left-handed bat would be the perfect tonic for the Yanks’ lineup.

There simply aren’t too many teams who check all the boxes here: The Padres need a team who 1) is a likely 2024 contender, 2) has the payroll flexibility to fit a $30 million+ salary and 3) won’t be scared off by Soto’s pending free agency. New York is at the top of that very short list, and their biggest need also happens to be a lefty-hitting outfielder.

It’s certainly understandable why Padres GM A.J. Preller would want to widen negotiations and encourage Brian Cashman (or another executive) to meet his lofty price tag, but signs still point to Soto eventually heading to the Bronx. It could take longer than some fans would like, though: The New York Post’s Jon Heyman reported late Monday that a Soto trade may have to wait for Ohtani to make his decision, as there are teams interested in both who can likely only afford one — with Ohtani obviously the top priority.

Updates on top available starters

Elsewhere on the trade market: Heyman reports that several teams are interested in acquiring Rays righty Tyler Glasnow — set for a hefty salary in arbitration with just one year left before free agency — while the Orioles and Braves are among the top candidates for White Sox ace Dylan Cease. Elsewhere, New Mets president David Stearns told assembled media on Monday that the team plans on adding “at least” one new pitcher over the winter (Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto is likely at the top of the team’s wish list).

Astros GM swats away Bregman rumors

With franchise stalwarts Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve both entering walks years in 2024, there’s been plenty of speculation that Houston may look to move one of its two star infielders rather than lose them for nothing in free agency — with Bregman the more likely candidate, given that he’s three years younger and figures to fetch a more significant return. But reports just prior to the start of Winter Meetings suggested that the Astros preferred to keep the band together next season, resigning themselves to letting Bregman walk next winter, and GM Dana Brown basically confirmed as much during his media appearance on Monday:

Is India sticking around after all?

Reds second baseman Jonathan India has found himself the subject of consistent trade speculation early this offseason: Cincinnati has more young talent than it has starting sports for, and in a market largely bereft of quality infielders, India would figure to command quite a haul in return. But Reds GM Nick Krall more or less dismissed the idea of dealing the former Rookie of the Year, talking about India as though he would definitely be in Cincy to start 2024 — and even floating the idea of a position change. Per MLB.com:

“We sat down with him before Redsfest again [last weekend] and had a conversation with him about, ‘Hey, how can we get your bat in the lineup more?’ I’ve said this openly … we’re not trying to trade him. But I’m not going to tell you it’s never going to happen. Our goal is to have him here and be a contributing player.”

Granted, Krall does leave the trade door open just a crack, but this still sounds pretty definitive. And moving India around would make some sense: The Reds could slide Matt McLain over to second base, with Elly De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte on the left side and India and Spencer Steer splitting first base/DH duties now that Joey Votto is gone.