Yankees complete Soto blockbuster as Blue Jays await decision on high-stakes Ohtani push

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.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. –  If the Blue Jays can somehow pull this upset off and land Shohei Ohtani, it will all have been worth it.

And to be fair, there was never any guarantee the Blue Jays would have given the Padres what they wanted for Juan Soto. But as the Yankees complete a blockbuster trade for Juan Soto, it seems likely the Blue Jays’ decision to push so hard on Ohtani cut them off from at least one other interesting possibility.

The Blue Jays won’t come out and say it the way Dodgers manager Dave Roberts did, but Ohtani certainly appears to be their top priority. This pursuit requires coordination from ownership on down, and since adding both Ohtani and Soto in one off-season probably isn’t realistic for anyone, the Blue Jays saw the Soto market pass them by.

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But even with the Yankees landing Soto, the Blue Jays’ goals will remain unchanged.

“We’re probably worried about our own house first and foremost,” assistant GM Mike Murov explained Wednesday without addressing specific players. “I don’t think it’s one thing where, ‘okay, this team’s projection changed from 84 to 86 (wins) so now we have to be more or less aggressive. And I don’t think we’re doing live playoff odds based on that. That’s just not where we spent our energy.

“You follow it like everyone else and you talk about potential moves as they come through … but I don’t think we’re thinking like we have to adjust our strategy or we have to move differently in a reaction to what any other team does.”

Elsewhere in the AL East, the Orioles signed Craig Kimbrel on a one-year, $13 million deal, giving Baltimore a late-inning option alongside Yennier Cano. But even if the Blue Jays’ off-season is in some respects on a temporary pause while Ohtani mulls his decision, those who have interacted with the Blue Jays this off-season describe this front office as motivated to make significant improvements.

“Certainly Ross (Atkins) has been flying around, if you will,” said agent Scott Boras in reference to the GM’s whirlwind pursuit of Ohtani. “Good for them. They’re trying to make their team better, I expect they will and I think they’re very excited about what their opportunities are in the American League East.”

By pursuing Ohtani into $500 territory, the Blue Jays are operating like a big market team – always welcome news to player agents.

“Their bird feeder has arrived and they’re spreading their seeds throughout Canada,” Boras said.

Maybe the Blue Jays’ efforts result in a franchise-changing addition. Or maybe it means a challenging reset before turning to lesser targets, most of whom are still available. Either way, there are ways to make this team much better, but only one path would truly alter the perception and trajectory of the franchise: landing Ohtani.

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Meanwhile, the Yankees have acquired Soto for 2024, but it does sound like he’ll be available again next winter when he hits free agency. While an extension is technically possible, Boras already had the makings of a free agent pitch down when he addressed reporters at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center Wednesday morning.

Soto is now entering his age-25 season, the same age at which Aaron Judge played his rookie season.

“Then you think about what Soto’s done (.284/.421/.524 with 33 home runs and 100 RBI per 162 games), and it tells you what a remarkable talent he is by his age,” Boras said. “You’re talking about Soto being younger than Adley Rutschman who’s a great, young player. He’s younger than him and yet he’s been in the league for five or six years. It’s kind of remarkable. A world champion and numbers that are elite. He’s really in the top category of three or four players in the game’s history to do what he’s done at his age.”

Now that the Yankees have paired Soto with Judge, they have a tremendous combination of corner outfielders, creating a possible opening for a defence-first centre fielder such as Kevin Kiermaier. Already, the Yankees are a much stronger team.

As for the Blue Jays, their roster remains largely unchanged since the season ended, though Boras said they’ve remained consistently involved on his clients, a group that includes Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman.

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But the holding pattern created by Ohtani has slowed and perhaps even prevented pursuits elsewhere. Their risk in that approach, to be sure. The hope is the reward will make it all worthwhile.

“Players reaching free agency, they’ve earned that right and have every right to take their time and assess the right fits,” Murov said, speaking broadly. “It’s not up to us to tell them that that they have a certain timeframe or push them to a specific decision.”

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