The Toronto Blue Jays are believed to have met with two-way superstar free agent Shohei Ohtani at their spring training complex on Monday, reports The Athletic. The team rescheduled manager John Schneider's Winter Meetings media availability from Monday to Tuesday, and GM Ross Atkins conducted his daily media session on Zoom because he was not at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, also was not at the Winter Meetings.
"Due to scheduling conflicts, I was able to be on this call, and I am grateful for your adjustment to be here with me today," Atkins told reporters, including MLB.com, when asked why he was not at the Winter Meetings (his background was a blank wall, providing no clues about his whereabouts). "I wanted to make sure that I was with you, and Zoom permitted that."
The Blue Jays extensively renovated their spring training and player development complex in Dunedin, Florida, in 2021. Although the Los Angeles Angels hold spring training in Arizona, Ohtani has played at TD Ballpark in Dunedin. The Angels visited there in April 2021, when the Blue Jays were playing home games in Florida due to pandemic restrictions. Ohtani went deep that series.
Of course, a quick stop in and playing a few games at the ballpark is much different than touring the facilities and seeing everything the team has to offer. Backfields, clubhouses, workout areas, the team's pitching lab, the works. Assuming Ohtani did meet with the Blue Jays, they surely rolled out the red carpet and showed them everything they have in Dunedin.
The on-field fit is obvious, and not only because Ohtani is the most talented player in the world. The Blue Jays desperately need an impact middle-of-the-order left-handed hitter. Cavan Biggio, who is tentatively in line to replace Matt Chapman at third base, and Daulton Varsho, who underwhelmed in 2023, are the club's only two notable lefty bats.
These two stats tell you exactly how badly the Blue Jays need a left-handed bat, and Ohtani is arguably the best left-handed hitter in the world (not to mention a very good pitcher when healthy):
|PA by LHB in 2023
|PA% with platoon advantage in 2023
30. Houston Astros: 1,349
30. Houston Astros: 35.7%
29. New York Yankees: 1,650
29. New York Yankees: 41.6%
28. Toronto Blue Jays: 1,836
28. Toronto Blue Jays: 42.0%
MLB average: 2,524
MLB average: 53.4%
If Toronto's two lefty hitters were Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, they could live with so few lefty bats like Houston. That isn't the case though. They badly need a lefty thumper to slot in around righty hitters Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and George Springer. Bichette and Vlad Jr. are two years away from free agency and Springer is 34. Now is the time to go all-in.
The Blue Jays have splurged for a few free agents in recent years, most notably Springer and Hyun-Jin Ryu, though they have rarely played at the tippy top of the free agent market. They also face a few obstacles, namely the exchange rate and having to go through customs when they leave and return for every road trip. No one likes going through customs.
That said, Ohtani is a unique opportunity not only because he's a great player, but because he generates revenue like no one else in the game. He opens the door to Japanese sponsors, new Japanese fans, etc. The Blue Jays are owed by telecom behemoth Rogers Communications, and Rogers executives surely understand the marquee value Ohtani would bring to the franchise.
Also, the Blue Jays are currently in Phase 2 of their $300 million renovation at Rogers Centre. Seating capacity will be reduced by approximately 7%, and with capacity shrinking, ticket prices will likely increase to make up the revenue difference. Ohtani would help the club justify those price hikes. Every team could use Ohtani. The Blue Jays could use him more than others.
If nothing else, Ohtani visiting the Toronto's spring training complex suggests he is inching closer to a decision. Ohtani has also met with the San Francisco Giants, according to CBSSports.com's Jim Bowden, though it is unknown whether he's met with any other clubs. There is no firm timetable for his decision, though it is expected to come within the next 10 days or so.
Ohtani, 29, threw 132 innings with a 3.14 ERA and also led the American League with 44 home runs in 2023. That earned him his second unanimous AL MVP award. Ohtani will not pitch next season after having an elbow procedure in September.
The Blue Jays went 89-73 this past season and were swept by the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Series. They are 0-6 in the postseason in the Bichette and Vlad Jr. era.