The first day of the MLB winter meetings has been a snooze (literally—at least one reporter fell asleep in the press room), but that could change soon. Circumstantial evidence points to the possibility that Shohei Ohtani, the jewel of the sport and of the offseason, might be advancing in conversations with the Blue Jays.
Ohtani, 29, has been linked with Toronto for weeks, although both sides have taken pains to keep machinations quiet. On Monday there may have been a development. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins reportedly switched his scheduled in-person media availability to Zoom, then declined to tell reporters where he was. Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, was not believed to be in Nashville on Monday either. Ohtani is thought to be at home somewhere in the western United States, perhaps with his dog, whose name he has also not disclosed. (This is the level of secrecy we are dealing with.)
Meanwhile, Blue Jays manager John Schneider, who had been scheduled to address the media on Monday afternoon, had his session moved to Tuesday. A person familiar with that process said the change had been made Friday. A team spokesperson did not return a request for comment as to whether Atkins’s classified location and Schneider’s schedule change were related. Atkins did not return a request for comment as to whether he was at that moment with Ohtani. Balelo did not return a request for comment as to whether he was at that moment with Atkins.
The Blue Jays would in many ways make sense for Ohtani. He could command a deal in excess of half a billion dollars, and Toronto ranked only No. 11 in payroll last season. But given his global marketing potential, some executives believe his contract will pay for itself. Japanese television will almost certainly bid to broadcast his team’s games, as NHK did last season. Japanese companies will almost certainly vie to sponsor the team, as many have since he joined the Angels before the 2018 season. And Japanese fans will almost certainly take interest in his team, as they did when he played in Anaheim. Canada’s team could become Japan’s team.
And that team should be better than the one Ohtani is leaving, which never made the playoffs despite employing him and Mike Trout. The Blue Jays have made the postseason in three of the last four years, although they have been swept out of the first round each time. It’s easy to imagine that a player of Ohtani’s ability could make them a true contender. They have a young lineup that needs an anchor and a solid middle of the rotation that needs an ace.
Ohtani, of course, is perhaps the most talented player who ever lived. He would be the most attractive hitter on the market if he could only hit and the most attractive pitcher on the market if he could only pitch. Even the elbow injury that will keep him off the mound for 2024 will likely only make his contract more complicated, not smaller. His signing will jolt an entire industry awake.