Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required) reports that the Toronto Blue Jays are a “a sleeper for Shohei Ohtani.” Previously, Jeff Passan of ESPN has also linked Toronto to the free agent Ohtani.
Quoting an unnamed “rival executive”, Rosenthal explains the rationale as follows: “Any plans the Jays had to sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette to massive extensions might now be on hold. George Springer’s six-year, $150M contract expires after 2026. The team remains in need of left-handed power.”
That might make some sense. This current front office has yet to extend a homegrown player to a long-term contract extension (beyond arbitration eligibility) in their time in Toronto. However they have agreed to big contracts with players acquired via trade in Randal Grichuk and José Berríos, as well as Hyun Jin Ryu, George Springer, Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Bassitt.
When a superstar like Ohtani is available, the Blue Jays have to at least try their best to bring him here. The 29-year-old won his second AL MVP Award after a monster season, where he put up a bWAR of 10.0, slashed .304/.412/.654 with an OPS of 1.066 (OPS+ of 184, i.e. 84% better than league average), 44 home runs and 95 RBI. These numbers would have led the Blue Jays in all categories except batting average, where Bichette was two points better at .306.
While he won’t pitch in 2024 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, Ohtani also put up a 10-5 record with a 3.14 ERA in 23 starts covering 132 innings, with 167 strikeouts (11.4 Ks/9) and 55 walks. The 2018 AL Rookie of the Year is clearly one of the marquee players in MLB, and will be well deserving of a massive long term contract. MLBTR predicts a 12 year, $528M deal, which would shatter the MLB record.
The Athletic article makes mention of some of their strongest selling points the Blue Jays ownership and front office could make in a pitch to attract Ohtani:
“The Jays could sell Toronto as an international city with a growing Japanese population.” As someone who lived in Japan for many years, this author can confirm that as fact. If Ohtani's a foodie, the only two-starred Michelin restaurant in Toronto is Sushi Masaki Saito, while Japanese restaurants Aburi Hana, Kappo Sato, Yukashi, Shoushin and Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto all have one star.
Personal favourite, and less well-know Japanese foodie spots in Toronto include Okonomiyaki House, Tsujiri, Don Don Izakaya, Tempura Keisuke, Tachi, and a multitude of good ramen shops like Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Oji Seichi and Ramen Isshin.
The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, which is home to Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto, is also a great place to visit and learn about our long standing relationship with Japan and its people. Toronto also hosts a Japanese consulate; and, there is a long history of relations between Canada and Japan, perhaps best exemplified by the beautiful Nitobe Memorial Garden on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Those gardens celebrate the memory of Dr. Inazō Nitobe (1862 – 1933), who’d been Undersecretary General for the League of Nations and dedicated his life to becoming “a bridge across the Pacific”. He wrote the book Bushidō: the Soul of Japan. In Bushidō - “the way of the warrior” - he wrote that “to live by the code of bushidō was to embody the traits Japanese people held in highest regard: courage, rectitude, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honour, loyalty, and self-control.
Toronto is also home to Blue Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi, who has one year remaining on his contract. Other Japanese players who’ve called the GTA home include Munenori Kawasaki, Norichika Aoki, Shun Yamaguchi, Gosuke Katoh, Tomo Ohka, Michael Nakamura and Ryota Igarashi.
Some Japanese players have apparently not wanted to play on MLB teams with other Japanese nationals, with perhaps one reason being a very hierarchical Japanese social structure, where deference is due to the senior person in a relationship. Also, as The Athletic notes, “if Ohtani’s priority is winning, he might prefer a club outside the highly competitive AL East.”
The other caveat that could hurt a successful bid for Ohtani’s generational talent is the fact he’s recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, and might be less inclined to do so in a cold weather climate like Toronto after spending the last six seasons in southern California? As Rosenthal writes, “though the Jays’ home is the Rogers Centre, a ballpark with a retractable roof, teams in the West play in more reliable conditions than teams that play large chunks of games in the East.”
Jays fans can only hope there is some fire behind this smoke. Canada and the GTHA would certainly welcome a bushidō warrior like Ohtani with open arms, with the goal of returning multiple World Series championships to the city.