Winter meetings Day 2 notebook: Jays’ excitement in Ohtani pursuit hard to hide
NASHVILLE — As the unicorn of the sport continues to weigh his options, the small group of teams that were given the chance to make a final pitch in private to Shohei Ohtani’s camp can do nothing but wait.
Even other roster business is being pushed to the side for the moment, making for a very quiet start to the off-season league-wide.
On the second day of the winter meetings in Nashville, Toronto Blue Jays brass did their best to once again keep things under wraps, but the excitement of being legitimately involved in the chase is becoming hard to hide.
Manager John Schneider, for one, is excited.
As he should be.
“It’s exciting that we’re in the mix for it,” Schneider said in a one-on-one interview with TSN. “There’s a lot of different ways to make our team better, but he’s obviously a great player.”
A little later in the afternoon on Tuesday at the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, GM Ross Atkins also did more than hint at their position in the market for Ohtani, even if he still wouldn’t confirm the free agent’s trip to Dunedin.
The whole thing has become a hilarious cat and mouse game of asking questions that doesn’t sound like they’re about Ohtani, but they’re really only about Ohtani.
When I asked Atkins if he felt he knew the timeline for when Ohtani could make a decision, he said he wasn’t comfortable sharing that.
But his excitement was evident.
“We’re fortunate to be one (of the teams) that’s being considered,” he added.
The Jays are in. There’s no question. So are the Los Angeles Dodgers. Beyond that, it’s murky.
If it will be enough to ultimately land him is the only question left, but people around baseball seem to be slowly shifting their view on the realistic nature of the Jays’ chase.
After all, this is a player who has already made a couple of non-traditional decisions by coming over from Japan early instead of waiting for a massive payday as a true free agent and then choosing the Angels, a team that wasn’t considered to be a favourite at the outset.
Until the Jays get an answer from Ohtani one way or another, Atkins’ hands are mostly tied.
With the Jays hunting for offensive production and significant improvements, one of the common themes that has emerged this off-season is if this club is going to get over the wild-card hump it will have to come from within.
Even adding Ohtani might not be enough if players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Daulton Varsho and Alejandro Kirk don’t improve and meet expectations in 2024.
“It was kind of a unique offensive season for us with guys with huge track records who didn’t quite get to where they had been,” Schneider noted. “But you look at our pitching, you look at our defence, and you feel really good about where that landed. Hopefully, with some tweaks, and with an already really good roster, that you can make the adjustments offensively.
“We’ve got a lot of free agents that played a significant amount of games last year so I think you’re looking at offence, whether it’s left-handed or right-handed, and just for ways to make the guys we already have — the Bos, the Varshos, the Vlads, the Janos, the Kirkies, the Georges — it’s how do you make those guys better? Offence is kind of at the forefront.”
If there’s a true plan B, the winter meetings talk has them making a quick attempt at a Juan Soto trade and then circling back to Chapman to fill the hot corner hole.
Of course, that would cost in excess of $100 million to re-sign Chapman, and the prospect capital required to outbid teams for Soto would be significant, as well.
It’s pretty amazing that Soto, a guy with a career .421 on-base percentage at the age of just 25, is seen almost as a consolation prize with Ohtani available.
He’s a rental, but it’s an elite one.
There’s one obvious trade headline candidate in the Blue Jays minor league system and it’s very clearly lefty Ricky Tiedemann, a consensus top 50 prospect in baseball.
It’s easy to understand why the Jays would want Soto, but it doesn’t feel like a great trade match with the Padres believed to be seeking MLB-ready pitching.
No player or prospect is ever untouchable, but I did ask Atkins that about Tiedemann specifically.
“It just depends, there’s players in the game that would make any player I think acquirable,” Atkins said. “I think there’s players that are exceptionally difficult to trade, but there’s so many ways to make your team better, I wouldn’t want to put the organization in a box.
“Certainly not going to comment specifically on a player. I’m excited about Ricky, really excited about where he is. He’s in a really good spot physically, had an incredible Arizona Fall League, and will likely be sliding into our Triple-A rotation as someone that can impact the team for a foreseeable future and the short term.”