When Josh Sborz struck out Ketel Marte looking to capture the Texas Rangers' first-ever World Series victory this year, all eyes quickly shifted to the offseason and the free agent pursuit of a lifetime for many teams; Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani has been in the majors for six seasons, all of which have been spent with the Los Angeles Angels. Over that time, he's had the opportunity to play with one of the game's all time greats in Mike Trout. Together, Ohtani and Trout managed zero playoff appearances -- not even a Wild Card game.
With that stat in mind, it's clear to see why Ohtani's No. 1 concern this free agency was winning. When he first decided to make the move from Japan to the MLB in 2017, geography was important to him. He reportedly preferred the west coast and teams like the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox, who are teams that always seem to be in play for big name free agents, were told quite early in their pursuit that they were eliminated from the bidding. Ultimately, he ended up signing in Los Angeles with the Angels.
This time, as mentioned, was different. Ohtani's principal concern was winning.
"I want to win. That's the biggest thing for me. I'll leave it at that."- Shohei Ohtani following his 2023 season
During Ohtani's free agency this time, the usual big name players seemed to have been involved - the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox, as well as teams like the Giants, Phillies, Mariners and Cubs also seemed to be in the mix. Then, almost out of nowhere, the Blue Jays got thrown in as well. Day after day, the rumours linking Ohtani to Toronto seemed to be growing stronger and gaining more traction. Before long, according to most reports, it was between Toronto and the Dodgers.
Then, MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi sent out a tweet that had the entire country of Canada in shockwaves. He reported that Ohtani was "en route" to Toronto, and this was while majority of baseball fans were tracking a private flight from Santa Ana, CA to Toronto. Could this really be happening? Could the greatest baseball free agent of all time really be choosing to sign here? In Toronto? In the country of Canada?
Shortly after Morosi's tweet though, USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweeted the contrary, saying that Ohtani was not on a plane and was at his home in Southern California. This was later confirmed by Morosi himself saying that he posted "innacurate information" and he "regretted the mistake". At that moment, it felt like the dream was dead for most Blue Jays fans.
The dream officially died less than 24 hours after that, as Ohtani stayed on the west coast, signing a mega-deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $700M over 10 years.
In the weeks leading up to Ohtani's decision, plenty of people gave their two cents on the fact that Ohtani was reportedly considering signing with a team located in the country of Canada. One of these people was former Dodgers player and current broadcaster for SportsNet LA, Jerry Hairston Jr. Hairston Jr noted the fact that Ohtani would have to listen to two national anthems and claimed the taxes would "crush (him)" should he choose to sign with the Blue Jays. And just for good measure, Hairston Jr. ended his rant by saying "Canada's too cold".
"I've heard that the Toronto Blue Jays are involved - great franchise. Oh Canada - you'd have to listen to two national anthems up there, the taxes would crush you. ... Canada's too cold, man."- Former MLB player Jerry Hairston Jr.
While the Toronto Maple Leafs don't have a problem signing top end talent via free agency in the NHL, likely because of their storied history and the fact that majority of players in the NHL are Canadian, the Blue Jays, similarly to the Raptors in the NBA, have an awfully hard time signing superstars through free agency, seemingly due to the perception of Canada.
Quite frankly, this fanbase needed this signing. Ohtani signing in Toronto would have been vindication for the entire country of Canada who has had to listen to Americans talk poorly of this city, and this country, seemingly, every time a major free agent even considers signing with Toronto.