NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the latest instalment of, Don’t admit you’re trying to sign Shohei Ohtani when you’re really, really, really trying to sign Shohei Ohtani, Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins moved his winter meetings media session online and then refused to divulge where he was.
“Due to a scheduling conflict,” he said Monday, “I wanted to ensure, out of respect for each of you, to not change this, and Zoom permitted me to do that.”
That a simple question about his whereabouts, when nearly the entire baseball industry is at the Gaylord Opryland resort, is fraught enough to generate such an ambiguous non-answer, underlines just how sensitive and delicate the pursuit of Ohtani is for interested clubs.
Clearly Atkins was not in Nashville — a scheduling conflict, after all, is easily resolved by a simple time change if he’s on site — meaning his absence had to be connected to the courtship process.
One logical guess is that he was still in Los Angeles, where presentations are believed to have been made to the superstar free agent over the weekend. Another possibility, maybe even a more likely one, is that he was back in Toronto, consulting with the senior leadership of owner Rogers Communications Inc. (which also owns this website) on where things stand.
Late Monday night, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Ohtani is believed to have met with the Blue Jays at the club’s Player Development Complex in Dunedin, Fla. If that’s indeed the case, it’s the clearest signal yet that there’s mutual interest between the sides.
For the time being, though, it’s all conjecture, with an unusually high degree of secrecy around the process. And while Atkins is expected at this sprawling biodome venue Tuesday, his unusual obfuscation demonstrated both the length teams are going to win over Ohtani, and how they’re willing to play by his rules, too.
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All of which made Atkins’ media session simultaneously off-the-charts weird and totally understandable, as no one this far along wants to trip in the home stretch, and if you’re still in the running, you’re clearly prepared to do what it takes.
That the Blue Jays are still in play for what’s expected to be a half-a-billion-dollar-plus deal is remarkable in so many ways, especially when you consider that in September 2000, Rogers bought an 80-per-cent stake in the club for US$112 million (at the time roughly C$165 million) before acquiring the remaining 20 per cent for an undisclosed sum in November 2004.
Ohtani, obviously, is a business decision more than a baseball decision, as his fit on the field is universal for all 30 big-league teams, but only a handful are equipped to fully leverage all he brings to the table. One executive suggested that he’s so valuable financially the Angels couldn’t deal him prior to the trade deadline because of all the sponsorship obligations tied to him.
In every way, then, the tantalizing possibility of his signing captures the imagination and the resulting intrigue has taken on a life of its own within the Blue Jays fan base. So too has the notion that Juan Soto, the one-year rental slugger being shopped by the salary-dumping San Diego Padres, could be added as well in NBA-styled super-team push.
Using profiles that describe both, Atkins pumped the brakes on that chatter, saying “it would be exceptionally difficult for us to land two players that are, don’t hold me to this figure, but that are five win and above, $25 million AAV and above.”
At the same time, he definitely didn’t kill the possibility of adding one player who fits that description, at the risk of raising expectations that could very well end up being unmet.
“The fact that we’re in a position to attract marquee free agents, to be in a position to potentially trade for really good players, is a very, very good starting point and one that we are embracing,” Atkins said. “What we’re embracing is the opportunity and (are) entirely focused on that. In terms of expectations, listen, we’re going to do everything we can to make our team better. There are certain players in the game that any team in baseball would like to have, and it’s extremely competitive. We will do everything in our power to build upon this very good team. And that could happen in a lot of different shapes. We’re pushing very hard to do so.”
To that end, Atkins spoke more like a covert spy operative than a baseball general manager, refusing to disclose where he was or what he was doing, choosing his words even more carefully than usual, surely cognizant that any small detail might be the difference.
Even when asked if the top of the Blue Jays acquisition preference list was still in play Atkins offered up a muddy-water reply, saying, “nothing has happened this off-season that has put us in a position that is less strong from our perspective.”
The wut, you ask?
Those are the words of someone refusing to admit a pursuit of Ohtani, while refusing to lie about a pursuit of Ohtani, from a location they can’t reveal tied to Ohtani. This really is uncharted territory for the Blue Jays, in every single way imaginable.