TORONTO – A weekend that began with gleeful flight tracking ended with frustration and conspiracy theories for the many Blue Jays fans who hoped Shohei Ohtani would choose Toronto.
In between, erroneous reports placed Ohtani on a plane to Toronto and had him signing with the Blue Jays, but it turned out the two-way star was at home in Southern California all along. Under those circumstances, the disappointment at seeing Ohtani choose the Los Angeles Dodgers was even greater.
Every version of the story ends with Ohtani as a Dodger, so the pain will likely persist for Blue Jays fans. Yet it’s hard to fault Ohtani for choosing an iconic franchise with a loaded farm system and 11 consecutive playoff appearances, especially when the Dodgers also offered a record shattering deal: $700 million over 10 years, including heavy deferrals.
As for how close the Blue Jays came to landing Ohtani, that’s a question only the two-time MVP himself can really answer, but sources familiar with the negotiation say the Blue Jays’ best offer was in the same financial ballpark as the Dodgers. One source with knowledge of the talks said the Blue Jays were “right there” with an offer described as very competitive.
The specifics of the final number aren’t known, but to be “right there” with a $700-million offer certainly suggests a final bid well above $600 million from ownership at Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns Sportsnet. When reached via text message this weekend, both Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins and a spokesperson for CAA — which represents Ohtani — declined to comment.
Of course, alongside the question of money, there’s the question of intent. A cynic might say Ohtani was going to choose the Dodgers all along and that he was simply using the Blue Jays for leverage. Was Ohtani’s visit to the Blue Jays’ player development complex in Dunedin, Fla. a product of genuine interest, or a ploy to get more money out of the Dodgers?
And did you see that CAA represents Robert Herjavec as well as Ohtani? Maybe it was all an elaborate ruse with the Shark Tank host a willing decoy and Blue Jays fans the intended victim. Scare the Dodgers into making a higher offer by building buzz about the charter flight and hoping that no one would notice when a 61-year-old investor stepped off the plane.
Or maybe not. As one industry observer pointed out, even if CAA wanted to scare the Dodgers, wouldn’t they leak word that the Giants were pushing hard, rather than the Jays? It’s plausible, given San Francisco’s near misses on Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, and the Giants pose a bigger threat to the Dodgers as they play in the same division.
Granted, Ohtani and his agents at CAA likely benefited from the buzz surrounding the Blue Jays. According to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, there was “angst among the Los Angeles executives” on Friday. And maybe Ohtani’s reps nudged him toward the Blue Jays’ PDC earlier in the week, knowing a leak could occur. But that doesn’t mean the events of the last few days were all a plot orchestrated by agent Nez Balelo.
An alternate explanation looks like this: the Blue Jays were seriously interested in Ohtani and were given reason to believe they were in it until the end. Ohtani liked the Blue Jays’ pitch, an unprecedented organizational effort that included significant involvement at the ownership level. The Blue Jays were finalists, likely the runner-up. In some cases, that mutual interest was wrongly characterized, misleading fans. In the end, Ohtani chose the Dodgers.
That leaves the Blue Jays where they started, although the pursuit does offer insight into how the team can approach stars in future years. An offer approaching $700 million would easily shatter the record for the biggest contract in franchise history, which currently belongs to George Springer, who has three years remaining on his six-year, $150-million deal.
This bid reflects a significant willingness to spend from a team that was asking players to defer money for one year of right-hander Ervin Santana within the last decade. At the same time, other agents have noted the Blue Jays’ aggressiveness and will attempt to use that in their negotiations with the club this off-season. Beyond free agency, the representatives for Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will surely take note ahead of any extension talks.
Even before the Ohtani sweepstakes began in earnest, the Blue Jays had lots of work to do this off-season. Six players from last year’s team are now free agents, and the front office has yet to make a significant addition to address major needs, most notably in the starting lineup, where third base and left field are major question marks.
Landing Ohtani, a historic talent in his prime, would have been an organizational coup for the Blue Jays. There’s no replicating the excitement he would have generated. But now that he’s chosen the Dodgers, what choice does the front office have? It’s time to seek alternate pathways to the kind of on-field impact Ohtani offers all by himself.