Swing And A Miss: What’s The Next Move For The Blue Jays After Striking Out On Ohtani?

How do you recover and pick up the pieces after being oh so close to signing perhaps the best baseball player that ever lived, Shohei Ohtani?

That’s the question that Toronto Blue Jays executives are asking themselves after striking out on their pitch to lure the two-way sensation north of the border to Canada.

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Last Friday, an inaccurate report surfaced that Ohtani was en route to Toronto to meet with the Blue Jays. Speculation that a signing was imminent reached a fever pitch across the country, with every Canadian and their uncle tracking private flights from California to Toronto and googling high-end sushi restaurants in downtown Toronto after it was reported Ohtani’s old high school pal and current Blue Jay, Yusei Kikuchi, had made a reservation for 50 people for what could’ve been a celebratory dining experience following the biggest potential signing in Blue Jays and Canadian sports history.

But the report that Ohtani was en route to Toronto was squashed by several of the sport’s top reporters later on Friday evening, and then the hammer dropped on Saturday when Ohtani announced via Instagram that he had signed a mammoth 10-year, $700-million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays had odds as long as +3000 to sign Ohtani depending on the sportsbook. But those odds slowly began to shorten throughout the fall, eventually landing at even money at bet365 on Friday, when all signs were pointing to Ohtani landing in Toronto. The Dodgers were always the favourites to land Ohtani, though, and now they’re co-favourites with the Atlanta Braves at +600 to win the World Series in 2024.

The Blue Jays went all-in in their pitch to the superstar, even hosting him earlier last week at their Spring Training complex in Dunedin, Florida. And now they’ve had their hearts ripped out and are left to pick up the pieces.

While the Jays were courting Ohtani, the New York Yankees pulled off a blockbuster trade to acquire outfielder Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres. The 25-year-old has already won a batting title, a World Series, and is a three-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger. He would’ve looked awfully good in a corner outfield spot in Toronto, but now he’ll be donning the pinstripes of Toronto’s most-hated rival, at least for next season before he tests the free agent market.

How can the Blue Jays salvage the offseason?

So what’s the team’s next move? How do they recover from this?

The good news is that there’s already a pretty damn good baseball roster in Toronto. Pitching is the strength of the team heading into the 2024 season, as the starting rotation that dominated last year remains intact. Toronto pitchers ranked amongst the league leaders in ERA, K/9, saves, WAR, and FIP, and should keep the team competitive in 2024, even if they don’t make any significant additions this winter.

The Jays are reportedly interested in potentially signing 25-year-old Japanese pitching sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who could command a long-term deal of around $300 million. But could that money be better put to use elsewhere? Yes, absolutely.

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In a previous article featured on Canada Sports Betting, I identified the Jays had holes at third base, second base, and corner outfield/designated hitter. The most glaring hole, in my opinion, is at third base. While the Jays were courting Ohtani, Jeimer Candelario, one of the top infielders on the free agent market, signed a three-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds, so he’s obviously off the table.

Striking out on Ohtani may force the Jays to attempt to bring back four-time Gold Glover Matt Chapman, although the competition will be more fierce now from the other big market teams that also failed to land Ohtani. MLB Trade Rumors is projecting Chapman will command a six-year, $150-million deal on the open market, which is quite steep considering he’ll be turning 31 next season and the recent dip in his power numbers. He hit just 17 home runs last year after posting back-to-back 27-homer campaigns.

Other free agent options at third base could include veterans Evan Longoria, Justin Turner (although he’s probably better suited at first base/DH at this point in his career), or Eduardo Escobar. Overall, the free agent pool is relatively weak for position players this year.

Of course, the Jays could also explore the possibility of improving at the position via trade. They’ve proven they’re willing to swing for the fences this offseason with their pursuit of Ohtani, so why not kick the tires on a potential trade for Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez? Widely regarded as one of the best hitters in baseball over the past several seasons, Ramirez is under contract through the 2028 season and is set to earn an average annual salary of just over $20 million. The low-budget Guardians are always pinching their pennies, and for the right haul of prospects, they’d surely at least entertain the possibility of moving their All-Star third baseman. Landing Ramirez would surely ease the pain of the Ohtani flub and solidify the team as a contender again next season.

Cody Bellinger is the best position player still on the market after a resurgent 2023 season with the Chicago Cubs. MLB Trade Rumors is projecting the outfielder/first baseman will fetch a lucrative 12-year, $264-million contract, which is a big gamble for potential suitors given his health struggles since winning the 2019 National League MVP Award. He’s still only 28, though, and should have plenty of good baseball left in him for years to come.

The Blue Jays could also use their financial resources this winter to lock up two of their core pieces for years to come. Both Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are due to become free agents following the 2025 season and could command massive long-term contracts if they stay on their current trajectories. Given the ridiculous free agent contract amounts being handed out in recent years, the Jays may be wise to lock them in now before inflation drives the numbers up even more in a couple of years. Extensions to these two fan favourites this winter would go a long way in appeasing a dejected fanbase right now.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Blue Jays have the fifth-shortest odds (+1100) at bet365 to win the World Series and the third-shortest odds (+500) to capture the American League pennant.