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As Ohtani's decision looms, Olney still believes Dodgers are favourites

Los Angeles Angels Shohei Ohtani - The Canadian Press

Amidst reports that free agent superstar Shohei Ohtani's decision could come as soon as Friday, ESPN's Buster Olney still believes that the Japanese slugger will sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers

Olney joined First Up on TSN1050 Friday to discuss where he thinks Ohtani will sign, what impact he will have with his new team and where the Toronto Blue Jays may need to pivot if they miss out on the coveted free agent.

"I don't think this is going to go on much longer," said Olney. "If we got a call today saying that a decision has come down I don't think that would shock anybody."

Ohtani, and his expected record-breaking contract, have dominated the off-season storylines. The two-way star hit .304 with an American League-leading 44 home runs and 95 runs batted in across 135 games last year, and pitched to a 3.14 earned-run average with 167 strikeouts in 132.0 innings as he earned his second AL MVP award of his career. 

"He's made the visits. He's a high-end guy, it's not like his agent has to go out and sell teams on the idea that it's going to cost a lot of money," Olney said. "Everybody knows that whatever deal he ends up with will be a record-setting deal."  

With MLB executives gathered in Nashville for the Winter Meetings, ESPN's Jeff Passan reported throughout the week that the Blue Jays were among the frontrunners to land Ohtani. Olney is still confident in the Dodgers, though.

"I think he's going to wind up with the Dodgers. It's only a guess based on the information out there, I don't pretend to have inside information," said Olney. "People have told me that they wonder if his agent even knows [where he wants to sign]."

"I feel like when he signed with the Los Angeles Angels [in 2017] it was clear he wanted to play in warm weather in Southern California." 

Another important factor, per reports, that has kept the Angels in the Ohtani sweepstakes, is that he was given free rein to interact with media and sponsors as much as he wanted to.

“I think generally speaking, he wants to be left alone. He just wants to play baseball and doesn’t want anybody bothering him with these extra requests.” 

"Knowing too that he would have a ton of protection [with the Dodgers] in terms of having superstars around him - Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts - he would have protection in terms of talking to sponsors," Olney said. "With the Angels he basically didn't do any of that extra stuff. They left him alone entirely and he wanted to be left alone. Could that be a problem in Toronto, with Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. potentially gone in two years? Would that be more on the shoulders of Ohtani?"

The off-season has started with a slow pace as teams await Ohtani's decision, but one major move made earlier this week was the trade between the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees that sent superstar slugger Juan Soto to New York. 

The Blue Jays were rumoured to be talking to the Padres on a possible trade for Soto, and Olney points out that if they are to miss out on both Ohtani and Soto, the marketplace for hitting talent is bleak. 

"The Blue Jays have pushed all their chips in on Ohtani and once he comes off the board, you're looking at Kevin Kiermaier being at the top of the marketplace, Harrison Bader being at the top," said Olney. "So it's a bleak situation for the Blue Jays given their needs with their everyday lineup."

"Beyond getting Ohtani to be the face of the franchise and carry this team beyond [if] Bichette and Guerrero leave," Olney added. "In this moment, where you're trying to bolster this lineup that was so disappointing last year, they need him."