HomeTrending MLB NewsShohei Ohtani’s Free Agency Descends Into Delightful Display of Chaos

Shohei Ohtani’s Free Agency Descends Into Delightful Display of Chaos

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Here is the confirmed, publicly available information about what happened in Shohei Ohtani’s free agency on Friday:

Nothing.

And here is what a baseball fan tracking the affair on social media likely saw:

Ohtani may be going to Toronto, Ohtani seems likely to sign with Toronto, have you seen the private aircraft N616RH? It’s going from Orange County to Toronto. What could that possibly mean? Surely that means something. A Canadian opera singer is saying Blue Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi has a dinner reservation for a large party. Now, surely that means something. N616RH is getting closer to Toronto. N616RH is now the most tracked plane of the day on FlightAware. N616RH has been greeted by a cryptic message from the air traffic controller. (Come on, you had to know people were listening in on the air traffic controllers.) Ohtani is definitely visiting Toronto. No, Ohtani is definitely not. It’s so over. We’re so back. N616RH has landed and is not carrying Ohtani. It is actually carrying one of the judges from Shark Tank. There is zero known connection to Ohtani. And if you were looking for baseball news, direct your attention to the fact that the Cardinals traded Tyler O’Neill to the Red Sox, because there is certainly no actual baseball news here.

Ohtani’s free agency search has remained shrouded in secrecy.

Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated

It’s all but impossible to recount in any sane fashion to someone who did not live it. If you try, you will sound like a conspiracy theorist, or at the very least like someone devoted to decoding the work of Taylor Swift. But this was baseball on Friday. At least one t-shirt company has already released a product commemorating the joy of tracking flight N616RH: “On December 8, 2023, the entire baseball world spent all day tracking a private plane going from Santa Ana, California to Toronto, Canada,” RotoWear’s description of the shirt reads. “Never forget.” Even the dictionary got involved.

Ohtani’s free agency has been shrouded in secrecy. This is a player unlike any other in a sweepstakes process that has been hotly anticipated for years. Yet the biggest headline it has offered this winter is an executive scolding a manager for acknowledging that a meeting took place. Ohtani has taken privacy seriously throughout his time in MLB—minimizing how often he speaks to the media or shares personal information in any venue at all—and that has continued here. Substantive information about Ohtani’s free agency has been kept deliberately scarce. That’s resulted in a certain degree of hand-wringing—the idea that he’s missing a crucial opportunity for publicity, or even that he owes more to baseball, somehow. But if what you’re concerned with is an attention-grabbing free agency process that puts baseball in the spotlight… this is it! How could you ask for anything more?

The atmosphere on Friday was slightly deranged and only very loosely tied to any sort of logic. Tracking a private plane based on nothing but high hopes and circumstantial evidence! That is the terrain of fans obsessed with college football coaching searches. That is the manic, compressed action of free agency in the NBA. It is decidedly not MLB, which tends to walk into the kitchen, say it will light the hot stove, wait a bit—just to be sure—and finally bring the market up to a gentle simmer before eventually letting it boil. What do baseball fans usually have to fixate on at this time of year? Scott Boras’s puns? (Which, credit where credit is due, can be genuine works of art.) As a baseball writer looking for December ideas, I have previously found myself calling a social psychologist who studies waiting to ask how fans should best wait through a slow free agency. But today was the first time I reached out to a private aircraft registration company to see if they had anything to share about one of their planes, currently in the air and carrying the irrational hopes of several nations, or whether they had been contacted by any especially dedicated fans. (I did not hear back.) The day was not an especially strong display of logic or patience in the baseball world. But it was silly, and a bit weird, and just delightfully dumb.

Nothing was publicly confirmed about Ohtani’s free agency on Friday that was not already widely known on Thursday. The wider baseball community got nothing substantive from this whole experience. But it did get a sign: Ohtani’s desire for privacy is not preventing anyone from enjoying his free agency. If anything, really, it’s closer to the opposite. 

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