One of the most exciting players in recent memory is a free agent this winter, as a two-way superstar and the AL MVP winner Shohei Ohtani is testing the free agent waters and likely will command a record-setting contract, one that could push the $500 million mark.
With such an interesting player in free agency, the interest across the league is obviously quite high, which includes teams such as the Dodgers, the Yankees, the Cubs, and the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays have appeared to be on the “outside looking in” when it comes to the Ohtani sweepstakes but The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal mentioned earlier this week that Toronto could be a sleeper for his services this offseason and ESPN’s Jeff Passan noted that the Blue Jays front office “wants to do something big” this offseason.
Nothing bigger than landing one of the best players on the planet.
While this will all be speculation until Ohtani puts pen to paper, the Blue Jays do have some needs that the Japanese product would certainly address and given ownership is reportedly willing to go past the CBT again, there could be a potential match.
Not needing Ohtani to start (immediately)
Towards the end of the 2023 season, Ohtani underwent surgery on his throwing arm to repair a torn UCL, an injury that will keep him off the mound for all of next season. While the right-hander is currently slated to return to pitching in 2025, the Blue Jays are one club that doesn’t need Ohtani to pitch right away anyway given the current rotation.
Last season, the Jays boasted one of the top pitching staffs in baseball and had four pitchers go 30+ starts – Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, José Berríos, and Yusei Kikuchi – while the club utilized Alek Manoah and Hyun Jin Ryu in the last spot. The starting group finished with a 3.85 ERA and struck out 922 batters, both of which rank in the top three in the league.
Even with Ryu a free agent this winter, the Jays will currently roll into Spring Training with five capable starters while hoping Manoah can find his 2022 form after struggling last season. Should he continue to struggle with his command, the Jays have top prospect Ricky Tiedemann waiting in the wings, although a mid-season call-up seems more likely.
With this rotation, the Jays do not need Ohtani on the mound next year but will need him in 2025 when Kikuchi is a free agent and has no guarantee of returning. With his departure and Bassitt scheduled to hit free agency after the 2025 campaign as well, Ohtani won’t need to rush back to the mound and can focus on hitting next season while he recovers from elbow surgery.
Once healthy, having Ohtani and his career 3.01 ERA would certainly be a significant boost for the Blue Jays rotation.
Left-handed power bat
Last season, the Blue Jays struggled to generate offense for most of the campaign, ranking 11th in OPS (.746) and 16th in home runs (188). One of the Jays’ struggling points in 2023 was also their ability to capitalize with runners in scoring position, owning a .730 OPS and a .390 SLG with RISP while 491 runs, ranking 19th in the league.
In adding Ohtani, the Blue Jays would be getting a strong left-handed power bat that solves quite a few of these issues. The slugger has 30+ home runs over the past three seasons and his lowest OPS mark during that span was .875 back in 2022, which still would have led the Blue Jays squad last season comparatively.
Factor in that Ohtani swings it from the left side, something the Blue Jays will lack with Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Belt free agents this winter, and the fit makes even more sense.
Blue Jays lefty-bats struggled last season, especially against left-handed pitchers (one home run with a .689 OPS). Ohtani has not experienced those struggles in his career, owning a .492 SLG with 44 home runs through 788 at-bats.
Renovations and the front office on the “hot seat”
The Toronto Blue Jays are a team that is poised to contend given the current core of George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette. But considering the club hasn’t won a postseason game since 2016, anything short of a deep playoff run in 2024 will be a disappointment.
With the likes of Guerrero Jr. and Bichette free agents after 2025, the time for the Blue Jays to win is now and the front office knows this as well, with many believing that general manager Ross Atkins would not survive the 2023 campaign.
He and manager John Schneider both did and with the playoff window slowly starting to close with no long-term extensions in place as of yet, it is no secret that the front office is definitely on the hot seat to get something done this winter (aka, do something big as Passan mentioned).
To make matters more interesting is phase two of renovations that the Rogers Centre is currently going through, which includes replacing the lower bowl seats while also adding some concessions to the level as well.
These renovations will likely see an increase in ticket prices, which won’t bode well for fans should the club stand pat this winter (whether that is signing Ohtani or other free agents). Financially, the Blue Jays are one of the clubs that could bring in Ohtani and his mega contract although it would involve the franchise heading into uncharted territory past the CBT,
Ohtani and the Blue Jays
While the Blue Jays may not be tied to Ohtani compared to some of the big market teams, the fit is certainly there for a club looking for some thump in the batter’s box and another starter for the 2025 season. Atkins has stated that the Blue Jays would be heavily interested in position players this winter and there would be no better option out there right now than Ohtani for a team looking to improve at the plate.