In the end, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers all along. We were beginning to doubt, as reports started flying that Shohei Ohtani was en route to Toronto and Yusei Kikuchi had rented out an entire sushi restaurant in celebration of his impending signing. But the opportunity to sign with one of the sport’s glamour franchises, remain on the West Coast and make more money than god were simply too much for the two-way phenom to pass up. L.A. has World Series dreams dancing through their heads, arguably the best player the sport has ever seen in tow. For Toronto, meanwhile, it’s time to pick up the pieces after a devastating emotional roller coaster over the last 12-18 hours.
We’d forgive Jays fans if they’ve yet to reach the acceptance phase yet. But 2024 is coming now matter what, and this is still a team primed to contend in the AL even without Ohtani in the lineup. Where can GM Ross Atkins look to improve a club desperate for a vibe shift? Let’s break it down.
What should Blue Jays do next this offseason?
Go get Cody Bellinger
Few teams got hit harder in free agency than Toronto. Among their key departures? Veteran center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who was quietly among the Jays’ best players in 2023. The plan right now is to slide Daulton Varsho from left to center to take Kiermaier’s place — but that, of course, raises the question of who replaces Varsho in left. Luckily for Atkins and Co., a largely thin market for position players does have one marquee name at the top, and he just so happens to play the outfield: Cody Bellinger, coming off a sensational bounce-back season with the Cubs.
Bellinger is a perfect fit for this Toronto lineup, both as an outfield/DH option and also as a source of lefty power in what remains a very righty-heavy lineup. More broadly, though, signing the top available hitter on the market would help the franchise wash the taste of Ohtani out of their mouths, and tell fans that they still intend on getting over the hump next season.
Figure out the infield
Both third baseman Matt Chapman and utility man Whit Merrifield have entered free agency, leaving Toronto stretched at both second and third — currently, the best internal options are probably 2023 breakout Davis Schneider and Cavan Biggio, respectively. But both players carry serious platoon splits and probably profile best as part-time bench bats. Alas, whereas there are some reasonable corner options available, the infield picture is pretty grim — with Jeimer Candelario off the market, the best non-Chapman option at third base is probably someone like Gio Urshela, while the best middle infielder available is ... maybe Tim Anderson? Like we said: It’s not what you want.
Maybe Atkins gets creative, targeting someone like the Rays’ Isaac Paredes or the Brewers’ Willy Adames or even the Reds’ Jonathan India. He’ll probably have to, considering the other options at his disposal.
Round out the pitching staff
Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Jose Berrios is a great way to start a rotation, and Jordan Romano is among the best closers in the game; Toronto’s pitching staff is starting from a very strong foundation. But deadline acquisition and setup man Jordan Hicks is now a free agent, as is back-end starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. Finding a swingman type or two as well as another high-leverage bullpen arm would be swell. Would James Paxton come home to Canada? What about a reunion with Hicks, or a proven eighth-inning guy like Hector Neris or Robert Stephenson? Even without Ohtani in tow the Jays are about as win-now as win-now can get — Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are just two years away from free agency, after all, and Gausman and George Springer aren’t getting any younger. Atkins needs to get to work.