Winter meetings Day 1 notebook: Franchise-altering moment awaits team that signs Ohtani
NASHVILLE — As the baseball world gathered in Nashville to get the winter meetings officially underway Monday, a handful of general managers were conspicuously absent.
Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins was one of those missing men, and it was really no secret that the Shohei Ohtani pitch is at the top of his to-do list, even if the club desperately tried to keep his whereabouts a secret.
The entire baseball industry is eager to find out where Ohtani will sign.
A small group of clubs that were invited to make that final pitch are more than eager, and the Jays are one of them.
It’s going to be a franchise-altering moment for one team and the fact the Jays are even being considered speaks to the position the club is in.
Ohtani wants to win and Toronto is one of the places he believes that can happen, even if it may not be enough to ultimately land the unicorn.
The Blue Jays aren’t considered the favourites, but they’re in the conversation and that’s all anyone can ask for when it comes to a very personal decision for any free agent.
As usual, Atkins wouldn’t go near any Ohtani talk and even dodged answering questions of his whereabouts.
“The fact that we’re in a position to attract marquee free agents, to be in a position to potentially trade for really good players is a very, very good starting point and one that we’re embracing,” Atkins said. “That’s what we’re embracing, the opportunity, and entirely focused on that. In terms of expectations, listen, we’re going to do everything we can to make our team better. There are certain players in the game that any team in baseball would like to have and it’s extremely competitive. We will do everything in our power to build upon this very good team and that could happen in a lot of different shapes.”
The expectations for this off-season have reached a fever pitch, but Atkins and the Jays front office is preaching patience behind the scenes.
“It definitely is a balance,” Atkins said. “The urgency, no doubt, is there. We’re not waiting to see what’s going to happen and just be opportunistic. However, we are in a strong position because we have the ability to add via free agency, we have the ability to make trades, and we have already a very strong roster in place.”
Ohtani is expected to make a decision in the coming days, at which point some of the teams that lose out are expected to pivot to a potential Juan Soto trade, but Atkins won’t have to hide his location for that one.
TRADE TALKS ACTIVE
With Ohtani holding up all the free agency dominos for the moment, trade talks have been very active throughout the league in the early stages of the off-season.
Atkins noted they’ve passed on some opportunities to make trades already.
“We’ve made progress with free agents as well, but we’ve had more progress in multiples with teams on trades,” Atkins said. “We’ve had opportunities to make decisions and move and acquire players via trade and free agency, a few more via trade, but we want to make sure we’re prioritizing and have as much information as possible.”
MANOAH COULD BE MOVED
After a tumultuous finish to his season, there are many in Nashville who expect the Jays to trade Alek Manoah this winter.
That would likely mean selling low after he posted an ugly 5.87 ERA across 19 starts, but there is interest in the big righty heading into his age-26 season.
With Manoah immensely motivated and posting his workouts to social media, the Jays would love to keep him around and throw him in the rotation mix next spring, but the relationship between the player’s camp and the club is strained and rival teams seem to know that.
Starting pitching depth is hard to find, and it’s even harder to find a former Cy Young finalist in his mid-20s that’s available, so the Jays are going to have to be tremendously careful with this situation.
It doesn’t seem to be a question of if the Jays would move Manoah, it will simply boil down to whether or not anyone offers something close to what the Jays feel his true value is.
SELLING HIGH ON THE ’STACHE?
The Jays don’t boast a top flight minor-league system, which makes it hard to envision Atkins being able to engineer a blockbuster trade and top competitors’ offers.
But with Manoah generating some interest, another name that’s casually come up is second-half sensation Davis Schneider.
Schneider’s bat is his calling card after he posted a ridiculous 176 wRC+ plus and bashed eight homers in just 35 games as a rookie, but the Jays are looking at upgrading both second base and left field, which could leave him as one of their more attractive trade chips.
It makes sense the Jays would try to at least gauge his value at this point.