Shohei showtime coming to Toronto? Blue Jays showing interest in Ohtani

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He is the highest-profile free agent on the market and Shohei Ohtani will have the pick of the lucrative litter when deciding where the big-money years of his career end up.

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But is Toronto one of those potential stops for the Japanese superstar?

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Even if it is a long shot, it certainly sounds as though Jays general manager Ross Atkins is making sure all of his off-season options are being considered — even the most expensive ones.

With MLB free agency now officially under way, Ohtani’s name repeatedly has been linked to the Jays, even if it is among the second tier of suitors.

As Atkins has proven in recent off-seasons, however, being in the conversation is an important first step.

For a team committed to spend, one in need of multiple bodies to replace departing players, fishing for Ohtani certainly is a tantalizing prospect, a move that could alter the franchise trajectory in one mammoth transaction.

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Now that Ohtani has done the obvious and declined the Angels’ qualifying offer, the bidding will begin in earnest. And in some form, anyway, the Jays appear poised to join the fray.

The outsized caveat is that this is the way the Jays have approached each off-season since 2020. Atkins has been diligent in getting word out that his team is “in” on just about any big-name player of value. In part, that’s dreaming big and, in part, due diligence for a baseball executive with the green light to spend.

When the player is at the extreme high end of the market — and global star Ohtani may be the highest yet — it’s a whole new ball game, however. Will owner Rogers Communications sign off on a contract likely to be triple anything its paid in the past, for example?

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While the likelihood still is that Ohtani lands his big bucks elsewhere, remember that three years ago few thought that Toronto would be the destination for outfielder George Springer.

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THE BUZZ

In recent days there has been no shortage of reports suggesting various levels of aggression from Atkins in the pursuit of Ohtani, who would be by far the biggest acquisition of his eight years in the GM chair.

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi linked the Jays to the Japanese phenom based on intel that Ohtani has indicated he’s less concerned about geography and more about the quality of team he lands. That debunks the notion that he prefers to stay in California.

As a playoff team the past two seasons and one with a solid core in place, the Jays would fit on the quaiity side.

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Citing a source “familiar with the Jays plans,” ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote that they “want to do something big” this winter.

Obviously, there is nothing bigger on the market than Ohtani, a player who backs up his star power with results.

And one more: USA Today‘s veteran Bob Nightengale includes the Jays among a group of seven teams expected to “make strong pitches” for the head of the free-agent class. The fact that the group includes both New York teams, two from California and the World Series champion Texas Rangers is indicative of how stout the competition for Ohtani’s services will be, however.

HOW IT COULD HAPPEN

Jays president Mark Shapiro made it clear in his season-ending news conference that the team once again will have a hefty payroll, likely matching and perhaps surpassing the $250 million US the team spent in 2023.

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But how much?

To land Ohtani — who led the American League with 44 homers while also pitching to a 3.14 ERA as a starter with the Angels — it’s likely going to require close to $500 million US. Are the Jays willing to spend that much?

There are more expensive seats to sell when the second phase of the Rogers Centre renovation is unveiled in April and a player of Ohtani’s status would assure they are filled. The Jays would also tap into the marketing value of Ohtani and do so on their Rogers broadcast platforms that already draw the biggest “local” ratings in baseball.

Ohtani certainly would fill a couple of needs on manager John Schneider’s team — first as an elite DH and then post-elbow surgery as another ace for an already-strong rotation by 2025.

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A left-handed power bat would immediately propel the Jays offence to elite levels and boost the value already in place with Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr., who are under team control for two more seasons.

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WHY IT WON’T

The Jays have proven to be aggressive, elite-minded spenders over the past few off-seasons, landing Springer on that five-year, $150 million deal, extending Jose Berrios (seven years, $131 million) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (four years, $80 million).

But Ohtani will be in a different stratosphere, obviously.

Sure, the Rogers vault has been open for Atkins and Shapiro to establish then maintain a sustained competitive window. But as groundbreaking as that Springer deal was three winters ago, to get Ohtani would cost triple that and more.

Even if the Jays can afford Ohtani, would it be enough to convince him that Canada is a worthy next frontier for his global brand? There’s also the question of how much signing the 29-year-old would compromise future Jays business, most notably extending one or both of Bichette and Guerrero.

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