NASHVILLE – Baseball’s off-season slowed to a bizarre standstill Tuesday, and everyone involved knows why.
The sport awaits Shohei Ohtani’s next move with genuine curiosity and just a little impatience, knowing that whatever choice he makes will transform one team, devastate a few others, and spark activity in a trade and free agent landscape that’s been notably quiet. Asked to characterize the market, Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins offered this simple explanation.
“It’s not moving,” Atkins said. “The reasons are relatively obvious and also exciting.”
But in a market that lacks real movement, over-analysis and speculation have stepped up to fill any gaps. In fact, that’s a good place to start at a time when few people, if any, know what Ohtani’s next move will be.
It certainly appears that interested teams have now made their pitches to Ohtani, the two-way superstar who’s expected to land a contract valued over $500 million at some point soon.
The Blue Jays appear to be among the finalists on Ohtani, who made an impromptu visit to their Dunedin, Fla. player development complex Monday. While further conversation is always possible, it certainly seems the Blue Jays have made their best pitch. Now, it’s up to Ohtani to decide whether their vision — a winning team in a diverse city with a supportive fan base and industry-leading resources — lines up with his.
In the meantime, both Atkins and manager John Schneider dodged questions about the meeting, which was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
“Great player,” Schneider said with a laugh. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Moments later, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took a different approach, acknowledging that Ohtani recently visited Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
“Clearly, Shohei’s our top priority,” Roberts said, offering rare honesty in a process that’s generally been secretive from start to finish. “It was just a pleasure to get to spend some time with him.”
But even as Blue Jays decision-makers dodged questions, publicly available flight information uncovered by X user @Josh_theJaysFan told a more complete story. On Sunday evening, a private jet flew from Anaheim to Clearwater, the nearest airport to the Blue Jays’ player development complex in Dunedin, Fla. On Monday afternoon the same jet flew back from Clearwater to Anaheim, presumably with Ohtani and his CAA representatives on it.
Then on Monday, roughly 50 minutes after Atkins’ Zoom session with media ended, a different private plane flew from Clearwater to Nashville. Though the GM wouldn’t confirm as much, chances seem good that he was on that plane.
This much, Atkins would say: the Blue Jays see opportunities in this market, including Ohtani.
“And one that is historic, potentially,” Atkins said. “It’s very good for the game, and it’s nice for the Blue Jays to be a part of that discussion.”
But if the Blue Jays are aware of a timeline for Ohtani’s decision, they aren’t offering that information up publicly.
“Not one that I’m comfortable sharing,” Atkins said. “We’re fortunate to be one that’s being considered. We have a better sense than some, but it’s not something I’m comfortable giving specifics on.”
Ohtani was on the minds of many as other interested GMs addressed the media alongside Atkins in a conference room at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Across the room from the Blue Jays, Dodgers GM Brandon Gomes said he was surprised Roberts was so candid, but declined to comment further on free agents.
Nearby, Padres GM A.J. Preller pointed out that the decision of the top free agent available is also impacting the trade market.
“Shohei Ohtani’s as impactful as any player in the game,” said Preller, who’s drawing ample interest in Juan Soto. “There’s going to be a lot of organizations that want to know where that stands, so it probably affects business for everybody.”
“In our talks, we’ve had some teams say ‘we want to wait,'” Preller continued. “’Not just with Shohei but with different players and see how it (develops) from a free agent standpoint first. Other teams have been willing to engage on trades (earlier).”
Whether the Yankees acquisition of Alex Verdugo takes them out of the mix for Juan Soto remains to be seen. And while the Blue Jays like Soto, it’s hard to see them making their strongest push before Ohtani makes his choice.
Any prediction on Ohtani amounts to an educated guess at best, but Ohtani’s list of finalists appears to be established with the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Giants, Angels, and Cubs still involved. Yet some observers suggest the Cubs are losing ground and one rival executive with knowledge of talks now sees the Blue Jays are leaders. For others, the Dodgers remain the prohibitive favourites.
One high-ranking executive might have put it best, “no one knows.”
“Wish it was over,” a rival agent offered.
Eventually, it will be, and this odd standstill will end, creating a fresh start for the off-season, and ushering in a new era of baseball for whichever team won Ohtani’s trust.