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The Mark Shapiro era Toronto Blue Jays haven’t shied away from top free agents, there’s no reason to assume they won’t spend to get Shohei Ohtani

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Photo credit:Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Zach Laing
2 months ago
A common trope is referenced when discussing the Toronto Blue Jays and the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes in non-Canadian markets.
The lowly Toronto Blue Jays, sitting north of the 49th parallel in a market with a weak dollar, don’t have the money to shell out for a player like Ohtani.
Look no further than comments made by former Major League GM Jim Duquette, whose high payroll Mets in 2003 and 2004 missed the playoffs twice, and his 2006 and 2007 Orioles with large payrolls did nothing before the franchise slashed theirs for a decade.
“Toronto, I was told, was definitely, that conversation was real on Soto, but like you said, they’re in on Ohtani for sure. Until you know you’re out of this with Ohtani, you’ve got to play it out. They’re this far into it.
“Soto, the fanbase there in Toronto, there’s a lot of pressure on that front office group. It is time. The hard part is, matching up what prior history is to what’s going on now, I do not believe — and I’m not the only one on this — that Mark Shapiro is going to be the highest bidder on Shohei Ohtani. Record breaking? That’s never been in his DNA. Ever.
I get why they’re in it, for not, but I just don’t see them spending that kind of dough. And if not, they’ve already said they have two budgets: one for Ohtani, one without it. They’re not going to trade for Soto. They should, but the budget is fungible, the money is fungible, they should have money for Soto. Until it happens, I’m not believing it.”
Duquette’s comments highlight the most significant piece of misinformation circling these rumours, as the organization has shown nothing but a commitment to spending money wherever possible to improve its organization in the Mark Shapiro era. When he took over the Jays in 2016, he maintained the club’s payroll for years before; similarly to others, we rolled back in 2019 and 2020.
Toronto remained somewhat competitive in those years. Shapiro wasn’t shy about pulling the plug on bad contracts like Tanner Roark, for example, instead of continuing to roster a struggling player just because.
But Shapiro’s spending habits have only increased over the last few years. The Blue Jays’ payroll, which sat at an estimated $140 m following the 2018 season, has spiked to an estimated $214 m at the end of the 2023 season, according to FanGraphs.
Speaking of payroll, their $194.2m 26-man payroll last year was the third highest in baseball.
The Jays have cemented themselves as big spenders in free agency in recent years. In 2020, Hyun-Jin Ryu was given $80m over four years, the seventh-largest contract. In 2021, the club committed $150m over six years to George Springer, the most expensive contract handed out that offseason while giving Marcus Semien $18m for one season and Robbie Ray $8m for the same length.
Or how about Kevin Gausman’s $110m contract over five years, which was dolled out in 2022, the ninth-highest two years ago, while being one of the last teams in the hunt, Corey Seager? He signed a mammoth $325m, 10-year pact with the Texas Rangers, pushing them over the top and securing a World Series title this past season. Ultimately, like other clubs in the LA Dodgers, they couldn’t match the mammoth offer the Rangers made.
Wisely, the Jays didn’t take any money earmarked for Seager to other shortstop free agents in Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, whose $200m and $140m contracts already look like massive albatrosses.
Still not convinced of Shapiro’s Jays being able to spend in the right places?
Look no further than their commitment to the Dunedin complex, a US$100-m investment in south Florida, where the organization has built a top-of-the-line facility with the sole focus of not just being able to develop drafted prospects but investing in international free agents, too.
Or their investment in their Triple-A Buffalo Bisons’ Sahlen Field during 2021, which, admittedly, came partly due to the big clubs’ need to play there during COVID, can now be enjoyed by their affiliate.
Or how about the Toronto Blue Jays investing a whopping $300m in their home, the Rogers Centre, that brings a new outfield we saw last season and additional seating, shrinking foul territory, that is expected to come alongside new premium seats for next season?
Rogers Communications, which owns the Toronto Blue Jays and the Sportsnet network where primetime games are broadcasted from coast-to-coast on television and radio, has their stock trading around CAD$60/USD$45, reported revenue for the latest quarter at $3.795B, a 32.33 percent increase year-over-year. Their revenue for the past 12 months ending Sept. 2023 was $13.471B, a 13.55 percent increase year-over-year.
If the Toronto Blue Jays don’t land Shohei Ohtani, it won’t because they don’t have the money for him.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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