Blue Jays in scramble mode after striking out on Ohtani

Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani follows through as he hits a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

TORONTO – The biggest free-agent swing in Toronto Blue Jays history ended in a heartbreaking whiff Saturday as Shohei Ohtani decided on the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

The two-way superstar, a unique once-a-century-talent, agreed to terms on a North-American sports record $700-million, 10-year contract, he announced on Instagram, spurning the upstart Blue Jays and other suitors. 

The mind-boggling number is believed to include deferrals for the majority of Ohtani’s salary that both mitigates the Competitive Balance Tax hit as a way to help the Dodgers stay competitive, and has personal tax benefits, too. 

For the Blue Jays, after a wild Friday of frenzied speculation that Ohtani was flying to Toronto – he wasn’t – the decision is staggering.

Landing Ohtani may very well have been the most significant, landscape-shifting transaction made by a Canadian sports franchise since the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988.

Instead, they shift into consolation-prize territory, knowing the New York Yankees have already acquired Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres and that there’s no other way to get the type of transformational impact Ohtani would have provided.

For the Blue Jays, the disappointment piles on after a gutting end to the 2023 season, in which they scored one run during a two-game sweep at the hands of the mid Minnesota Twins, with the controversial pull of Jose Berrios in the fourth inning of Game 2 symbolizing organizational rifts in game-planning and management. 

Seeking a dynamic way to both turn the page and recast the path forward, the Blue Jays fully committed to pursuit of Ohtani once they sensed his interest was genuine, engaging in a secretive and regimented recruitment process that had executives across baseball twisting themselves into knots to avoid divulging details.

The club’s hopes were raised by Ohtani’s visit Monday to the Player Development Complex in Dunedin, Fla., a sign of just how thoroughly he was considering their offer. Still, as much of an achievement as it was for them to have lasted as long as they did, an E for effort and a T for nice try will be of little comfort. 

In the aftermath, a middle-of-the-order bat to better support Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette remains a primary need, with holes in the infield, covered ideally by a third baseman, and the outfield to plug. 

Short-term options like Rhys Hoskins and J.D. Martinez make sense as primary DHs, they could re-engage more aggressively on Matt Chapman to cover third, they’re involved on Isiah Kiner-Falefa, while their every-time-available interest in Joc Pederson and Michael Brantley, to some degree, remains.

They could also get creative, pursuing the highly coveted right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto to add more impact to an already full rotation while using a surplus starter, Alek Manoah perhaps, to acquire offence via trade.

Many options will be shorter-term adds that won’t necessarily extend the current competitive window, which is under threat from the pending free agencies of Guerrero and Bichette, among others, at the end of the 2025 season. 

It’s also unclear how losing out on Ohtani and perhaps shifting to less marquee options will impact sales of the club’s new premium seating, a focal point of the current phase of a $300-plus-million Rogers Centre renovation.

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