Rival teams viewing Blue Jays as 'sleeper' candidate in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes

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The buzz around the Blue Jays’ purported pursuit of free-agent superstar Shohei Ohtani continues to grow with suggestions from a Major League Baseball executive that Toronto is very much in the mix.

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Prominent MLB insider Ken Rosenthal reported in the Athletic on Thursday that the Jays could very much be in pursuit of the Japanese hitting and pitching machine, who officially hit the free-agent market this week.

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Citing a rival executive to Toronto GM Ross Atkins, Rosenthal said the Jays are viewed by some as a sleeper candidate to land the biggest free-agent prize of this off-season.

While it’s possible that executive could be working his own personal agenda, the fact that Toronto repeatedly gets linked to the heaviest hitters in the Ohtani sweepstakes is at the least intriguing.

According to the source, any designs the Jays had on signing Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette to long-term extensions this winter might be on hold, plus the $150-million US contract the team awarded George Springer in 2021 is due to expire in 2026.

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In other words, there could be money freed up to help afford Ohtani, he of the AL-leading 44 homer runs in 2023. But will there be enough cash and, if so, would Ohtani even want to expand his burgeoning global brand north of the border?

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While the Jays are still seen as a long shot in the Ohtani bidding, there’s no denying that the perceived interest the team has in the 29-year-old sensation is out there — and potentially prominent.

The Jays certainly have been creative in their pursuit of free agents in recent years, selling the benefits of the city and the team’s state-of-the-art player development complex in Dunedin, Fla. The next phase of the $300-million Rogers Centre renovations that are currently under way, will include a rebuilt home clubhouse and enhanced amenities at the aging dome.

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The pitch also would include the fact that the Jays have made the post-season each of the past two seasons and have averaged 91 wins over the previous three campaigns.

Despite their playoff failures, they remain a contending team with a strong core and a superb pitching staff that would only be strengthened by Ohtani when he returns to the mound for the 2025 season.

There’s no doubt that the Jays would need to get creative financially to afford the type of money it would take to land Ohtani — a price tag predicted to be in the $500-million US range — but there are pitches to be made.

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Given Ohtani’s status as one of the most recognized professional athletes in the world — who has his own media contingent that travels to all of his games — the marketing possibilities would be tantalizing to a creative organization.

As the showpiece of the off-season, much of the business for teams around MLB will hinge on how the Ohtani situation unfolds. It’s expected that the Ohtani camp will slow play the negotiations to create the maximum hype and bidding frenzy leading up to next month’s Winter Meetings in Nashville.

And the longer it takes to unfold, the more the Jays’ interest remains a fascinating scenario of a critical off-season for the Toronto front office.

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