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 Shohei Ohtani took a meeting with Toronto Blue Jays brass at their Florida complex on Monday — the first team the two-way superstar (and potential $600 million man) is known to have visited so far.
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.
Atkins took his Winter Meetings media session over Zoom, in front of a purposefully anonymous white background that masked any hint of where he might be located; not to be too tin foil hat about all of this, but there certainly seems to be a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing to this meeting taking place.
Which, if it did, would be a remarkable development: Toronto was thought to be, at best, on the outskirts of the Ohtani sweepstakes even just a few weeks ago, and the fact that he (and apparently his agent) have taken the time to visit points to just how seriously they’re taking the Jays’ pitch. Obviously teams like the Dodgers and Giants remain very much alive, and an actual agreement doesn’t appear close. But Ohtani doesn’t seem like the type to lead a team along, or to treat a visit like this casually; if he’s poking around the team’s facilities, it’s a sign that he’s very much interested.
But should he be? Is Toronto the right place for the biggest free agent in baseball history to call home for the foreseeable future — and possibly the rest of his career? As we wait for Ohtani to make his decision, let’s break down the case for and against the Jays.
Shohei Ohtani free agency
The argument for the Blue Jays
While there’s still much we don’t know about Ohtani and what he wants out of his next home, it’s safe to say that playing for a contender is at or near the top of his list — he just got done slogging through years of mediocrity with the Angels, after all, and he told reporters at this year’s All-Star Game that “it sucks to lose”.
If Ohtani is looking to win and win now, he could do a lot worse than Toronto. The Jays have won 89, 92 and 91 games over the past three full seasons, and while they’ve yet to record a single postseason win in that span — suffering Wild Card sweeps in both 2022 and 2023 — there’s still a very solid foundation to build on here. The trio of Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios and Chris Bassitt can go toe-to-toe with just about any other rotation in the AL, while Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer is an awfully good place from which to build out a lineup. Ohtani would also plug the Jays’ biggest hole: This is a righty-heavy lineup crying out for a big-time lefty bat, one that also happens to have a need at DH with Brandon Belt moving on. They’d still have questions to answer at third base, second base and left field, but Ohtani would go a long way to vaulting this team into the inner circle of World Series contenders.
On the field, you can see why Toronto would appeal. And they’ve got plenty to say for themselves off of it as well: For starters, the team’s owner, Rogers Communications, is a Canadian giant with a market cap of nearly $24 billion, and the Jays ranked in the top 10 in total payroll last season. Rogers has consistently proven that it’s willing to spend to try and chase a championship, and they should be able to afford whatever Ohtani might command on the open market. Plus, Toronto is a major, multicultural city, one that offers access to an entire country (and beyond, given its considerable Asian population) worth of potential fans — just look at how much the Raptors were embraced during their run to the NBA title back in 2019.
The argument against the Blue Jays
So if the Blue Jays check off just about every box, what’s the problem? Put simply: While they rank highly in a lot of criteria, you’d be hard-pressed to find the area in which they rank first. If Ohtani is strictly worried about winning, the Dodgers — with 11 straight playoff appearances, 10 straight division titles and a World Series ring — would clearly have the more compelling case. And while the Jays have money to spend and play in a major market, they don’t have the most money to spend, and they don’t play in the biggest market; from the Giants to the Cubs to the Mets and Yankees, there are several interested suitors that will draw far more attention, if that’s something that appeals to Ohtani.
And then there’s the biggest question: How might Ohtani feel about moving up north? When he first came to the States in 2018, it was widely reported that he preferred to remain on the West Coast — Ohtani still spends considerable time at his home in Japan, and trans-Pacific travel is far more convenient from, say, Los Angeles than from New York or Toronto or Chicago. The fact that Ohtani took time to visit the Jays’ complex is a sign that he’s willing to at least consider other options, but it remains to be seen whether Toronto is fighting an uphill battle in that regard. All in all, while the Blue Jays present a compelling option for Ohtani, it’s hard to argue that they’re the most compelling; then again, years of keeping this close to the vest means that Ohtani remains largely unknown to the public — adorable dog aside — and who knows how this roller-coaster ride will end.