In a striking indication of the Blue Jays’ interest in Shohei Ohtani, it is understood that team representatives gathered with the Japanese sensation at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida on Monday. While Ohtani’s final choice on his free-agency status is yet to be determined, this encounter signals that negotiations between the Jays and other interested clubs are likely in the concluding phase.
Multiple teams, including the Dodgers and Cubs, and perhaps others, are still in the hunt for Ohtani, who is known to have convened with several clubs. The progress or closeness towards finalizing an agreement with any team remains undisclosed. Ohtani’s free agency continues veiled in intrigue, and his agent, Nez Balelo, has reportedly cautioned anxious parties about disclosing any aspect of the proceedings.
Known for his meticulous focus on preparation and an extreme meticulousness, Ohtani would likely value a personal visit to the Blue Jays’ spring-training facility as a significant step before advancing any negotiation.
Ohtani, as part of the Angels, has had his playtime at the Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre. However, he hasn’t taken a look at the team’s recently opened $100 million spring training complex yet. The apparent urgency in Toronto’s approach could be an indication of the various factors pushing the organization towards a more aggressive ‘now or never’ playing strategy.
The Athletic recently shed light on some of these circumstances, including the Blue Jays’ unexpected and debate-provoking postseason exit when Schneider made a decision to pull out Jose Berríos from a shutout in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Twins.
The subsequent loss saw the Blue Jays exit from the tournament. Atkins, initially passing on all blame to Schneider, later assumed a larger share of responsibility for the debacle. Being winless in the last four postseasons, the Blue Jays haven’t caught a whiff of playoff victory since their 2016 win.
Adding to the team’s dilemmas is the disquiet within the fan community, coinciding with the Rogers Centre’s $300 million renovation and resultant increase in ticket costs.
Several other teams, including the Yankees, Giants, Cardinals and Red Sox, find themselves handling fan discontentment, but the Blue Jays’ issues could be especially prominent. They need to convince fans of the value of new luxury seating to offset the large-scale renovation expenses.
For the Blue Jays, maintaining future competitiveness appears under threat as key players Bo Bichette, a shortstop, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the first baseman, inch closer to free agency in two years time.
The club has yet to seal an extension with either player, leading to speculation about whether they wish to stay on. Guerrero’s attractiveness as a long-term bet could be dwindling in the context of his offensive regression after the incredible 2021 season.
Further injecting uncertainty into the Jays’ future is the potential of either Atkins or Mark Shapiro, the president of baseball operations, being ousted from their positions.
While Shapiro’s contract lasts until 2025, and Atkins’ until 2026, the mounting pressure indicates that longevity isn’t assured. Rogers, as a public company, is certainly seeking a return on its $400 million investment, collectively made in the ball club’s spring-training complex and home stadium.
The addition of Ohtani could prove to be the necessary boost to secure a return on their investments. It appears that the Blue Jays have made their intentions clear of wanting to include him in their future plans.