Where do the Blue Jays pivot after missing out on Ohtani?
For a brief period of time on Friday afternoon, fans of the Blue Jays were led to believe that Shohei Ohtani was on a private plane bound for Toronto. That report, of course, turned out to be false, as did another that said Ohtani had chosen to sign in Canada.
Any remaining optimism was then crushed Saturday, when Ohtani himself announced his new record contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on his Instagram account.
The deal is valued at $700 million over 10 years.
It's a sum of money so large that it doesn't really register in the brain.
President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins need to dust themselves off quick. Ohtani is reportedly a major reason why the free-agent and trade markets have been so slow to get started this winter. Now that his destination is confirmed, expect the floodgates to open. Toronto already missed out on Juan Soto, who the franchise was reportedly interested in signing, and, to make matters worse, Soto landed in its division with the New York Yankees, who have vowed to make up for an embarrassing 2023 season.
There's no denying that swinging and missing on Ohtani is a massive blow for the Blue Jays. No matter how big a long shot they were perceived to be at the beginning of the winter, all indications were that they made a competitive pitch. And while it doesn't matter who finished second, third, or fourth in any free-agent signing, the aggressiveness from the front office and ownership indicates a willingness and desire to extend this current competitive window. The Ohtani fund was likely the exception to the rule, though. The Blue Jays are not going to turn around and spend more than $500 million on new players, but there should be plenty of room financially to add. The 40-man roster payroll currently sits around $203 million, well short of the $237-million first CBT threshold. So, where do the Blue Jays go from here?
Extend Guerrero or Bichette, or both
One of the biggest question marks surrounding the long-term health of the organization is that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are set to hit free agency after the 2025 season. With two years left of team control, time is ticking to work out an extension for either. If the front office believes Bichette and Guerrero are players worth building around, it needs to get an idea of what each is looking for with their next contract. Both players are homegrown All-Stars, and retaining them should be a high priority. Bichette will be a free agent at 28 and Guerrero at 27. Both will be in their primes. The worry of how a long-term extension will age isn't as big a concern as deals with some other players. Keeping stars around is crucial, and with over $300 million invested by Rogers into stadium renovations, fans need a reason to go to the games.
A potential comparison for Guerrero's next deal would be Rafael Devers, who inked a 10-year, $313.5-million extension with the Boston Red Sox prior to last year as he headed into his age-26 season. Devers was a year away from free agency and plays third base, so that difference in position could hurt Guerrero's value somewhat, along with the fact that Guerrero is coming off a down season. Bichette, meanwhile, is coming off another strong year. He likely sees himself as the next $300-million shortstop and can compare himself to others at the position like Francisco Lindor ($341 million), Corey Seager ($325 million), and Trea Turner ($300 million).
However, in both cases, if the two parties are nowhere close to being on the same page in terms of what an extension looks like, the Blue Jays need to consider a trade in order to maximize the asset. It will be important to get a deal done with at least one of these players. The front office took a lot of hits from the fan base following another postseason collapse, and, after missing out on Ohtani - as big of a dream as acquiring him was - dealing away another core player would be a tough PR hit. But, if the Blue Jays want to extend their competitive window, they need to entertain all options.
Make aggressive offers to remaining free agents
Luckily for the Blue Jays, Ohtani held up the market. The problem, though, is Toronto will now be competing with baseball's big spenders for the remaining players. The New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Yankees are all in pursuit of marquee players this offseason.
Adding another frontline starter like Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, or even Jordan Montgomery would give Toronto one of the best rotations in the majors. It could also allow them to deal a starting pitcher to acquire a bat. Alek Manoah, coming off a turbulent season, could be moved. It's been reported that the Blue Jays received interest in him but were reluctant to move him. Does that change now? Top prospect Ricky Tiedemann could also be a key piece in a big-ticket move.
If the front office is content with its starting pitching, all available resources need to go into the lineup. Toronto needs to add an impact outfielder with power, along with a third baseman. Cody Bellinger is a perfect fit on paper. He can play a strong outfield and brings a lot of athleticism and power from the left side of the plate. He's expected to land a contract north of $200 million, and that's a lot for a player who was non-tendered by the Dodgers prior to last season. But, behind Bellinger, the options are slim. A reunion with Matt Chapman would address the team's need for a third baseman, but his offense fell off a cliff last season. Teoscar Hernández hit 26 home runs with the Seattle Mariners in 2023, but he also struck out in 31% of his plate appearances. The Blue Jays have also gone down that road before.
Two other intriguing short-term options are Rhys Hoskins and J.D. Martinez. Both would give the Blue Jays plenty of power, but there are some red flags. Hoskins missed all of last season following knee surgery and would only be able to play first base or DH. Martinez hit 33 home runs and posted a .893 OPS last season, but he was limited to 113 games, will by entering his age-36 season, and can't play a defensive position. Other options include Justin Turner, Jorge Soler, Jung Hoo Lee, Kevin Kiermaier, Michael A. Taylor, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Joc Pederson, and Adam Duvall. None of them are going to bring a lot of excitement, but they could address a number of needs.
The Blue Jays' farm system was ranked 25th by MLB Pipeline in its latest edition in August, so they aren't exactly loaded with top-tier minor-league talent like the Baltimore Orioles. Still, the front office likely has the pieces needed to pull off some trades. What helps is their ability to take on payroll from other clubs in any deal which could help lessen the amount of prospect capital needed in return.
Starters Corbin Burnes, Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Bieber are all reportedly available, though all three would be rentals. Dylan Cease has two years of control, but the asking price from the Chicago White Sox is believed to be high. The Blue Jays could look to expand a trade by asking for an outfielder like Luis Robert Jr., Eloy Jiménez, or maybe third baseman Yoán Moncada. Willy Adames is also on an expiring deal, but he's only ever played shortstop - aside from a handful of games at second base in 2018. Pete Alonso and the New York Mets have yet to hold extension talks as he enters his final season, and despite president of baseball ops David Stearns saying he expects Alonso will be in the Opening Day lineup, it doesn't hurt to pick up the phone.
If the Blue Jays really want to continue to swing big, a pursuit of José Ramirez has to be approached. The third baseman is owed $105 million over the next five seasons, and the Guardians are facing payroll questions given the uncertainty surrounding their TV deal. But Ramirez does have a full no-trade clause.
The good news for the Blue Jays is that the offseason remains young. Despite missing out on Ohtani, there are still multiple paths to building a contender.
The team has no time to feel sorry for itself, though.