Shohei Ohtani just signed the biggest contract in baseball history. 10 years for $700 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
While there were other teams in the running, no one was closer to landing Ohtani than the Toronto Blue Jays. Everyone was in a frenzy. When he learned that the Japanese superstar was in Florida at the Jays’ spring training facility, tracking a private jet flying from Santa Ana to Toronto, to news that ended up not being true, it was so close, but still still so far for the Canadian club.
But what would have happened if Ohtani did go there?
First, let’s talk about whether they could have even signed him. They had money in the budget for sure, but at first it was estimated that whichever club landed Ohtani would have to pay between $500 and $600 million. The Blue Jays have an active total payroll of $128,964,255 for 2024 according to Spotrac. Their total is projected at more than $190 billion, according to their calculations. All that to say, they could have afforded the $700 million the Dodgers got Ohtani for. They certainly could have signed him, but it seems that staying in California was a bigger draw.
What does Ohtani bring to them?
Adding Ohtani to any lineup instantly improves it. Regardless of whether he is hitting or pitching, he is a dual threat and has proven that throughout his time with the English. While he may not play much or at all in 2024 after coming off elbow surgery, he could fit that designated hitter role and work himself into a rotation with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Blue Jays’ current DH. If he can pitch at all next season, he will not only bolster their mound presence, but also help improve the catchers.
Last season, Ohtani had 151 hits in 497 at-bats and a .304 average. He hit 44 home runs, fourth best in the league. He also had 95 RBIs. On the mound, he pitched 23 games and had 163 strikeouts and a 3.14 ERA. While these may not be his best batting stats for a season, his batting average would rank him as the fifth best batter last season based on batting average for the Blue Jays and the ninth best pitcher in terms of ERA.
So, not only does he bring that presence of someone who is so good at baseball, it’s scary, but he brings relief to a Blue Jays roster that has struggled to get players on base. He could have drawn a very capable roster to their full potential. Think of Michael Jordan when he rejoined the Bulls in 1995. They were good, but they could have been better. When he returned, they went 13-4 and clinched a playoff spot. Incredibly talented players have the potential to bring that drive and competitiveness to any roster they join.
What went wrong?
We won’t know all the details that led to Ohtani’s decision until he talks about it in the subsequent press conference he referenced in his Instagram post, but there are some big possibilities. One is that living in California keeps him geographically close to home. Japan is still almost a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles, but it’s much closer than Toronto would be. The other is that there is hope that his longevity will not be damaged after his elbow surgery. Spending $700 million on anyone (or anything, frankly) is an enormous risk. What if it doesn’t pan out? What if he can’t lift like he used to? It’s a valid concern, and maybe Toronto just didn’t want to leave any doubt on the table when they thought about drafting the contract. They wanted to be confident, and they weren’t sure they could do it. That feels like the most logical reason why. The money was there, the roster spot and opportunity was there, but maybe the confidence just wasn’t.