Why Blue Jays and Giants need Shohei Ohtani the most

MLB insider Jon Morosi discusses the latest on superstar Shohei Ohtani's free agency saga, including how the Yankees' acquisition of Juan Soto changes the game for the Toronto Blue Jays as they try to acquire the winter's top free agent.

TORONTO — Everybody would take Shohei Ohtani on their team. But the Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants need him more than anybody else.

That’s why the wait is particularly excruciating in those two markets.

Let’s face it: the Los Angeles Dodgers will make it work without Ohtani. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman will still be the best top of the order, and the Dodgers’ Plan B is better than most teams Plan A. The Chicago Cubs are in the National League Central. They don’t need Ohtani to win that division. Plus, they’re the Cubs — they’re loved even more when they stink.

The Los Angeles Angels haven’t won with Ohtani and Mike Trout. That won’t change in 2024. I thought the Seattle Mariners would be the dark horse because Ohtani spends time in Seattle and his agent, Nez Balelo, has deep ties to the organization. Plus, Ichiro! I wondered about the Atlanta Braves, just make my head explode thinking about the reaction in these parts should Alex Anthopoulos sign Ohtani.

But no!

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Which brings us back to the Blue Jays and Giants — the latter of whom were described in 2023 as being “tedious and efficient” by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. And that was the positive stuff. Now, Giants fans can cry us a river after three World Series wins in a five-year span not so long ago but let’s look at what’s happened recently: the Golden State Warriors moved into town and suck up a lot of oxygen along with the San Francisco 49ers because, well, the NFL. The Giants aren’t as good as the San Diego Padres or Arizona Diamondbacks — never mind the Dodgers — and after being teased by Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa last winter, they need something to offer their fans. Oh: And losing out on Ohtani would hurt even more if he’s with the Dodgers because he’ll be there as an opponent. In. Your. Face. A constant reminder of your organization’s enfeeblement.

As for the locals? There’s still a great deal of lingering bitterness from the team’s ham-handed departure from the playoffs and equally ham-handed postmortem. And while that has bubbled away, so too has the realization that another year of Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette has been wasted … a year marked by the type of pitching health that doesn’t always repeat itself … a year in which the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox couldn’t get out of their own way. It’s going to cost more to buy premium seating at the Rogers Centre. And the Baltimore Orioles have made this a five-team division again. You know all this. You can hear the clock.

Tick-tock, fellas.

Leaving aside the pitching and brand power, as a 6 bWAR, left-handed hitter alone, Ohtani would be a perfect fit for this lineup, the closest thing there is to a cure-all. Factor in the pitching when it does return and even at $50 million a year, in a market where one WAR is worth something like $8 million to $8.5 million, Ohtani is obscenely good value.

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And he would certainly fire up a market that might be at something of a tipping point, albeit in a manner different to the Giants.

Simply put, the 2023 Blue Jays were a tough watch, especially at home. Not necessarily boring … but kind of, uh, nondescript. As in the status was quo way too often; as in, “man does not live by run suppression and pitching alone.”

I feel like I should use the word “rizz” here, because apparently it’s a thing and, well, the Blue Jays need some. They could sexy things up a bit even without Ohtani, of course. Bichette is easy on a baseball fans’ eyes because of his youth and because you so want him so badly to succeed; Guerrero Jr. still teases all of us, even with just one MVP-calibre season in five years. And if this is all just an Ohtani fever dream, maybe a one-year flyer on Juan Soto works out the way the Raptors one-year gamble on Kawhi Leonard worked out.

I don’t know … maybe I’m yearning for the good old bat- and bird-flipping days of 2015. Or maybe I’m suspicious that there might not be more than another year’s run in the coolness of the Rogers Centre refurbishments. At some point, this front office is going to have to win because it’s burning currency at an alarming rate — and I’m not talking about the financial kind.

Speaking of which, you don’t have to go back to the halcyon years of 1992-93 to find a time when a Blue Jays player held the title of the game’s highest-paid player, which is where this could be headed. In fact, even before Major League owners had formally signed off on the sale of the team from Interbrew to Ted Rogers, the club made Carlos Delgado the game’s highest-paid player (average annual value) when it reached an agreement with him to a $68-million, four-year deal on the eve of the 2000 World Series.

At the time, that topped the $15.45-million Roger Clemens was being paid by the New York Yankees as part of a two-year extension, and it so rankled then-commissioner Bud Selig that he pushed back a scheduled vote formalizing the sale from Oct. 31 to Dec. 1, after publicly criticizing the Delgado deal, which then-president and chief executive officer Paul Godfrey sold to ownership a sign of intent toward the Blue Jays fanbase.

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Delgado’s highest AAV status didn’t last for long: one week after the sale to Rogers was confirmed, baseball owners dropped $1 billion on free agents at the winter meetings in Dallas, including a 10-year, $252-million contract for Alex Rodriguez and an eight-year, $160-million deal for Manny Ramirez. The 2001 season would turn out to be the first in which the game’s average salary was over $2 million, and even with the profligacy, Delgado still spent that season as the game’s third-highest-paid player on an annual basis because of the way the mega-deals were structured.

The Blue Jays have signed significant free-agent deals since then, with the likes of A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Russell Martin and, most recently, George Springer, Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt. They’ve signed significant extensions with their own players — Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Jose Berrios, Josh Donaldson — to buy out or delay prime free-agent years.

But those were all different and this is so different that I just don’t know where they go from here. Or how they do it. Solace will likely come in some measure from knowing the Blue Jays had a seat at the table to begin with — especially for those of us with memories of the dying days of Interbrew ownership and ice-cold water in the lower-level restrooms — but even then, I’m going to need a minute, if I’m truthful.

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