Shohei Ohtani is set to break records with his free agency this winter and the Toronto Blue Jays are reported to be interested in entering the sweepstakes.
Toronto is among a handful of teams expected to make a "strong push" for the Japanese superstar, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale. The Los Angeles Dodgers are viewed as the "overwhelming favourites" to land Ohtani, per Nightengale, who also says not to rule out a return to the Los Angeles Angels.
The Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers were the other teams Nightengale linked to Ohtani.
Ohtani has spent his entire six-year MLB career with the Angels, living up to the immense hype he garnered while starring in Japan. The 29-year-old won American League Rookie of the Year in 2018 and has gone on to make three All-Star teams. He won AL MVP in 2021 and is almost certain to win the award again in 2023.
The two-way star has thrived at the plate and on the mound, posting a career .274/.366/.556 slash line while logging a 3.01 ERA and 11.4 K/9 rate as a pitcher.
Ohtani's next contract will be north of $400 million and could have been even larger had he not been forced to undergo elbow surgery in September that will prevent him from pitching for the entire 2024 season. He believes he'll be able to return to the mound in 2025. The surgery was Ohtani's second major procedure, as he underwent Tommy John in 2018.
Even without being able to pitch for a year, Ohtani brings enormous value as a powerful left-handed hitter. He also generates about $20 million in merchandising, advertising and licensing sales, per Nightengale.
The Blue Jays have a significant amount of money coming off their payroll entering this offseason, as Matt Chapman, Hyun Jin Ryu, Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, Jordan Hicks and Whit Merrifield are all hitting free agency. Several Blue Jays will be due salary increases through arbitration, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Toronto had the ninth-highest payroll in MLB in 2023 and president Mark Shapiro expects to be in that ballpark again in 2024. That said, the opportunity to sign a player like Ohtani rarely comes around, so if there's a legitimate chance of bringing him north of the border, ownership might be willing to sign whatever cheque is necessary.