Shohei Ohtani’s name was a hot one in Blue Jays circles on Monday, with mixed reactions to a rumour that started on Twitter early in the day.
As far as I can tell, most of the conversation started because of a tweet from Pete Simonetti, whose Twitter account links him to nyynewstv.com, a site and podcast dedicated to the Yankees. Truthfully, I have no idea if Simonetti is connected enough to actually have inside sources on something like this, but the tweet was more than enough to get Blue Jays fans talking on social media.
For those that aren’t aware, here’s a quick rundown of why Ohtani could potentially find himself on the trade block this winter, even if he’s arguably the most valuable baseball player on the planet:
- The 28 year old has just one year left on his deal before he’ll become a free agent
- According to Spotrac.com, the Angels are already 10th in payroll in the league thanks in large part to the massive contracts that Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon are working on. That figure will rise once arbitration settlements begin, and that’s before the Angels try to improve a roster that went just 73-89 in a year where many people thought they could compete for a playoff spot
- Ohtani reportedly has a fierce desire to win, and without significant steps taken in the right direction by the Angels in the next year, he could leave without them getting any more than a draft compensation pick in return.
- Ohtani’s camp is going to be seeking a record-breaking contract, whether that’s through an extension as an outright free agent. Considering both Trout and Rendon’s injury issues and their long-term contracts, it would be a significant risk to tie even more salary around just three players. As it is, the trio is set to earn more than 113 million dollars next season, and this top-heavy model hasn’t worked for the Angels for a long time now.
Knowing all of that, I genuinely believe that the Angels will shop Ohtani this offseason, and I think they’ve already tipped their hand about such a move with their early agreement on his 2023 salary. Before the regular season was even over they had already agreed to a one-year, 30 million dollar contract for 2023, and my mind immediately thought, “knowing what he’ll make next season probably makes him easier to trade”.
So will the Blue Jays get involved? Personally, I’m a believer in what Simonetti is selling, and I’m surprised by the sentiments I’m reading from a lot of Blue Jays fans on social media. To be fair, I’m seeing of, “The Jays shouldn’t make the trade if they can’t get him to sign an extension” posts, and I’ve tweeted a similar message myself. That said, I think the Blue Jays would be fools if they didn’t turn over every stone on this one to try and find a way to make it happen.
What I don’t understand is the fans that scoff at the idea completely. I’ve read some folks that don’t think the Blue Jays have the trade pieces to make this kind of deal, and I couldn’t disagree any more. Keep in mind, Ohtani is a rental at this point, and that will bring his value down whether it’s in a significant way or not. Regardless, the Blue Jays have the trade pieces to get something done even if the bidding gets out of hand.
For a player of Ohtani’s talent, which is hard to even compare to anyone else thanks to his two-way value, I don’t think there’s any idea that you immediately dismiss. No, I don’t think the Blue Jays are going to trade Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the three years he has left before he’ll be a free agent, or the five years of contract control they have left with Alek Manoah, but I don’t think there are many other players that the front office wouldn’t at least discuss. This is assuming of course that Ohtani’s side would be open to extension talks with the Blue Jays, which is a real unknown at this point.
But for those that are saying the Blue Jays don’t have the trade chips, I genuinely think that is a false statement. Ross Atkins could start with a young and controllable catcher like Gabriel Moreno (a consensus top five prospect) or even Alejandro Kirk, and build the package out from there. Yes, I would trade Kirk in a heartbeat in an Ohtani deal, so feel free to light me up in the comments section below. After Kirk, add Ricky Tiedemann, who Baseball America ranks as the #28 prospect after he had a remarkable 2022 campaign (subscription required). I’m not trading Kirk/Moreno and Tiedemann unless Ohtani is willing to discuss an extension, but if he is, I’m doing it without a second thought. Atkins could add a mix of other talented minor leaguers, or maybe even players from the big league roster such as Cavan Biggio, or even Santiago Espinal. I would suggest they pitch one of their corner outfielders in Teoscar Hernandez or Lourdes Gurriel Jr., but with both scheduled to be free agents after 2023 I doubt the Angels would have a whole lot of interest, unless they saw them as flip candidates.
For those that say that the Blue Jays can’t afford Ohtani, I’m not sure I agree with you there either, although I’ll admit that it will be a challenge. That said, for a player with Ohtani’s historic talents, you can change the plan in order to accommodate him, and that’s exactly what I think the Blue Jays would do if they could get him to stick around for the long-term. If I had to guess, I wouldn’t be shocked if it requires a ten-year deal and something in the neighbourhood of 450-500 million. I know that’s a ludicrous amount of money, and for anyone else I would run for the hills, but Ohtani could be the rare exception.
In order to make room for that kind of hit to the payroll, let’s not forget that Hyun Jin Ryu’s annual salary of 20 million comes off the books after the 2023 season. Spotrac.com has Teoscar Hernandez down for an estimated salary of just shy of 14.5 million in 2023, and that money could be off the books after 2023 as well, even if his bat will likely be missed. Others like Matt Chapman (12.5 million), Whit Merrifield (6.75), and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (5.8 million) could be in another uniform in a year from now as well, and the total for those five players comes to just shy of 60 million. Some of those players will have to be either retained or replaced of course, but the Blue Jays do have options as they look ahead to the next few years.
The true elephant in the room with acquiring Ohtani might be the fact that it would probably put an end to the dream of signing BOTH Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette to long-term extensions. There’s no guarantee that happens with either player anyway, but it would likely be nearly impossible to carry three players in that range of salary, but of course that could always depend on what kind of deals they could work out with their current star duo.
Having said all of that, the main point that I wanted to drive home today is that chasing Ohtani should not be viewed as a pipe dream by Blue Jays fans, at least in my view. You can absolutely debate whether it would be worth making a blockbuster deal for a star player with just one year left before free agency, and I’ll absolutely hear the arguments about whether handing him a record contract would be wise in the grand scheme of a roster build. As for whether the Blue Jays could be serious contenders for him if he truly becomes available? I 100% believe that they can, and that they should jump into the sweepstakes with both feet.