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The stakes of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes are now higher for the Blue Jays
By Cam Lewis2 months ago
It started out as a pipe dream and suddenly turned into a very realistic possibility. Now it almost feels like a necessity.
Nearly everything in the Shohei Ohtani news cycle over the past few days has favoured the Toronto Blue Jays, who have risen from darkhorse to contender to finalist to possible favourite when it comes to signing the two-way superstar.
When things really started to look like they were in Toronto’s favour was earlier this week when Ohtani landed in the United States to start meeting with teams. It’s known that Ohtani is seeking incredibly private free-agent negotiations and the L.A. Dodgers directly leaked that they had met with him while the Blue Jays maintained that boundary.
Ohtani was reportedly given a tour of the team’s training facility in Dunedin earlier this week but general manager Ross Atkins, an expert in corporate nothing-speak, remained tight-lipped and vague on the situation despite finding himself in the spotlight at the Winter Meetings. Meanwhile, L.A. manager Dave Roberts sort of carelessly mentioned to reporters that the team had met with Ohtani. The way the Dodgers responded made it pretty clear they knew this had been a significant error.
The Dodgers have long been considered front-runners to sign baseball’s biggest name because they’re baseball’s biggest team. They’re riding a playoff streak that’s spanned a decade and present Ohtani the ability to essentially maintain a status quo lifestyle in familiar Los Angeles while shifting from an irrelevant team to a perennial contender.
That said, this has always just been speculation. There hasn’t ever been a clear indication from Ohtani himself what his preferred destination would be. A successful team with lots of money, it obviously makes a lot of sense for Ohtani to wind up a Dodger, but that was also the case six years ago when he came from Japan to the Major Leagues in the first place.
Rather than joining the Dodgers, who had just reached the World Series following a 104-win season, Ohtani signed with the Angels. “What mattered to him most wasn’t market size, time zone, or league but that he felt a true bond with the Angels,” his agent said in a statement announcing the decision.
There are many reasons Ohtani might sign with the Blue Jays, such as their complex in Dunedin, cutting down travel time playing in the AL East, playing on a team with a pitcher he admired when he was in Japan, and the ability to become the face of a team that badly needs one right now. But in order to seal the deal, the Blue Jays need to make that connection with Ohtani, and it seems they have that leg up on the Dodgers right now.
All the Blue Jays can do now is sit back and wait and hope their pitch was good enough to land the biggest game-changer who might ever come their way on the free-agent market.
What started out as a pipe dream has become a realistic possibility, which is incredibly exciting. But the hype around the idea of Ohtani becoming a Blue Jay has shifted slightly now that the best fallback option available has come off the market.
The New York Yankees completed a trade with the San Diego Padres for slugger Juan Soto on Wednesday. Not only did a division rival just get better, the Blue Jays now have less to choose from if they strike out on Ohtani.
Of course, there are still quality free agents out there and the Blue Jays can have a successful off-season that doesn’t involve signing a $500 million cheque. The reality is that it’s a lot easier to sell luxury seating packages on the promise of Shohei Ohtani than it is with the suggestion that Matt Chapman will bounce back offensively and Jorge Soler and Michael A. Taylor are going to raise the floor.
With the facility in Dunedin, the renovations, the big additions in free agency, the Blue Jays have been building towards this for a very long time. Landing a player of Ohtani’s calibre could launch them into the era of success they’ve only talked about but haven’t yet been able to grasp. If they don’t land him, though, Atkins and Co. are going to have to get creative, because an off-season letdown coming immediately following another playoff letdown gives fans another reason to lose interest.
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