In pitch to Shohei Ohtani, how would Blue Jays likely make their case?

Sportsnet's Hazel Mae is joined by MLB insiders Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith from the MLB's Winter Meetings as they weigh in on the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, how high the stakes have been to court him and a potential Juan Soto trade.

NASHVILLE – The first part is obvious. The Toronto Blue Jays are interested in Shohei Ohtani because he’s a historically talented player in his prime.

The other side of that equation – why does Shohei Ohtani have interest in the Blue Jays? – is a more interesting question, and finding out what exactly appeals to him about Canada’s lone MLB team and emphasizing those points would be important in any final push for the two-time MVP.

As of Monday morning, the specifics of the Blue Jays’ pursuit weren’t clear. At some point last month, they expressed serious interest to CAA, the agency that represents Ohtani. Since then, there’s been enough reciprocal interest for talks to continue alongside pursuits from the Dodgers, Cubs, Angels and possibly others. A small group of finalists met with the two-way star in Los Angeles this weekend, and it stands to reason the Blue Jays were among that group, but their executives have declined to comment.

Landing such a meeting with Ohtani would be a necessary step on the path to signing him, but getting the two-way star’s attention only matters if you make the most of that chance. Speaking in general terms about recruiting star players last week, GM Ross Atkins offered a glimpse into the team’s pitch.

“We have an incredible opportunity here,” Atkins said. “The city, the country, the support of ownership, the winning environment, the renovations that have occurred, the buy-in on so many levels for us to continue to build upon something that is very strong.”

Now, let’s apply those words to Ohtani and take an educated guess at how the Blue Jays would attempt to sell him on the Blue Jays:

A chance to win

The Blue Jays have won consistently in recent years, averaging 91 wins over the last three full seasons and making the playoffs in three of the last four campaigns. So far, they haven’t broken through with a max of 92 wins during that stretch and zero playoff wins.

Still, there are reasons to believe this team can do better in 2024. The pitching staff that ranked second in the American League in ERA remains largely in place while young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette would give Ohtani a strong supporting cast on the position player side. As a bonus, Ohtani seems to genuinely enjoy banter with Guerrero Jr. whenever they’re on the same field.

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How do the Dodgers compare: The Dodgers have made the playoffs every year since 2013, back when Josh Beckett, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez were on the team. They won the World Series in 2020 and have reeled off three straight 100-plus win seasons since. They are the model for sustained success in baseball.

The Canadian market

A media frenzy follows Ohtani wherever he goes, so to some extent that pressure is unavoidable. At the same time, these things are relative, and it may appeal to Ohtani that fan and media pressure may be lighter in Toronto than it would be in New York or Boston, two places some observers believe he’d rather avoid given his history of carefully managing media appearances with coordination from the Angels and CAA.

Beyond the ballpark, players can enjoy some privacy in Toronto, a notably diverse city. And from a business standpoint, there would be lots of opportunities for Ohtani, whose current off-field partnerships include Porsche, Hugo Boss and New Balance.

How do the Dodgers compare: The Los Angeles media market is a big one with lots of demands and pressure for star players, but it’s also the centre of the entertainment world.

World-class facilities

Six years ago, the Blue Jays lagged behind in this respect, but they’ve transformed their training infrastructure since then with an $80 million renovation of their Dunedin, Fla. player development complex and a $300 million renovation of Rogers Centre that’s now entering its final stages.

With a new home clubhouse, new batting cages and new workout spaces, players will be well taken care of in Toronto. And whether it’s during the off-season or at spring training, the Dunedin, Fla. complex offers players state-of-the-art training, too. Since Ohtani’s said to appreciate data and take his training incredibly seriously, these improvements may matter.

One other bonus here: the Blue Jays have a dome, which lends a certain amount of predictability to Ohtani’s schedule, especially for 2025 and beyond when he resumes pitching.

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How do the Dodgers compare: This may be one of the Blue Jays’ biggest advantages over the Dodgers, who share a spring facility with the White Sox. Expect these player resources to be a big part of any pitch the Blue Jays make to elite free agents like Ohtani.

As for the weather, you don’t see many rain delays in Los Angeles, but the dome could give the Blue Jays an edge over cold weather teams like the Cubs.

A commitment to comfort

Interested teams will want to impress upon Ohtani that his comfort is a priority. This isn’t just a matter of telling a player what he wants to hear – performing at an elite level requires rest, recovery and support behind the scenes. 

Clearly, interpreter Ippei Mizuhara will be welcomed wherever Ohtani goes, but the support could go even deeper. For instance, could promises be made about further support staff? Could teams agree to restrict daily media availabilities as a way to preserve energy? 

An important way for the Blue Jays to show Ohtani he’s welcome would be to enlist the help of Yusei Kikuchi, who went to the same high school as Ohtani in rural Japan. Culturally, the seniority that Kikuchi has matters in Japan, so a welcome message could mean a lot – and so could Kikuchi’s endorsement of Toronto as a place to live and play.

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Taking this a step further, would Jose Berrios offer to give up his No. 17? If so, would Ohtani accept or decline? That’s the definition of a good problem to have; the Blue Jays aren’t there yet.

How do the Dodgers compare: Having spent the last six seasons in Anaheim, Ohtani would have developed a level of comfort in Los Angeles that would ease any transition to the Dodgers.  

A historic contract

Any team still involved in the Ohtani sweepstakes knows where the cost will end up, and likely has ownership approval to discuss deals in the $500 million range and above. That’s no small development for a Blue Jays team that had to scrape together money to try and sign Ervin Santana within this last decade. Where that leads is impossible to predict right now, but rival agents and executives see Blue Jays as a team that can and will spend big for the right player.

“We’ve always had incredible support from ownership,” Atkins said last week, speaking in general terms.

How do the Dodgers compare: After spending modestly last winter, the Dodgers also seem poised to spend big on Ohtani. As one of baseball’s biggest market teams, they’re more than capable of offering a historic contract, which is one reason industry observers see them as the favourites.

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