NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the clearest sign yet of the Blue Jays’ interest in Shohei Ohtani, club officials are believed to have met Monday with the Japanese superstar at the team’s spring-training complex in Dunedin, Fla.
While a timetable for Ohtani’s free-agent decision is not known, the meeting would indicate that the negotiations with the Jays and other clubs are entering the final stages. The Dodgers, Cubs and potentially other teams remain in the bidding, and Ohtani reportedly has met with more than one club.
It is not known whether Ohtani is close to a deal with any team. His free agency remains shrouded in secrecy, and officials with interested teams say his agent, Nez Balelo, has warned them that leaking any details of the process would be held against them.
For Ohtani, whose trademarks include an intense focus on preparation and relentless attention to detail, a visit to the Jays’ spring-training home likely would be a prerequisite to him further advancing negotiations. As a member of the Angels, Ohtani played at the Jays’ home park, Rogers Centre. He has not previously seen the team’s $100 million training complex, which opened in 2021.
All day Monday, there were signs something was happening between the Jays and Ohtani.
General manager Ross Atkins did not meet with the club’s media in person at the Winter Meetings, instead conducting his session by Zoom because of what the team called “a scheduling conflict.” Manager John Schneider was originally scheduled to speak to media on Monday as well, but last Friday, the team’s public-relations staff rescheduled his availability for Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, Balelo also was not in Tennessee on Monday, according to an industry source with knowledge of the situation.
The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath reported that Atkins conducted his Zoom while sitting in front of a nondescript white wall that offered no clues to his whereabouts.
“Due to scheduling conflicts, I was able to be on this call, which I am grateful for your adjustment to be here with me today,” Atkins told reporters. “I wanted to make sure that I was with you and Zoom permitted that to happen.”
The Dodgers have long been considered the front-runner for Ohtani, but the Jays in recent weeks have emerged as a serious suitor. The urgency with which Toronto is maneuvering seemingly reflects a series of circumstances that is forcing the club into win-now mode.
As reported by The Athletic on Sunday, those circumstances include:
- The Jays’ disappointing and controversial exit from the postseason, when Schneider lifted Jose Berríos from a shutout in the fourth inning of Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Twins. The Blue Jays lost that game and were eliminated, and Atkins subsequently assigned sole responsibility to Schneider before later taking greater accountability. The Jays, 0-6 in the past four postseasons, have not won a playoff game since 2016.
- The restlessness of the fan base with the team’s performance at a time when Rogers Centre is undergoing a $300 million renovation, prompting a rise in ticket prices. The Yankees, Cardinals, Giants and Red Sox are among other clubs dealing with fan unrest, but the Jays’ troubles are perhaps even more acute, considering they are trying to sell new premium seating to justify the cost of their renovations.
- The threat to the team’s future competitiveness with shortstop Bo Bichette and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. both two years away from free agency. The Jays have been unable to sign either player to an extension, raising questions about their respective desires to stay. Guerrero also might not be as attractive an extension candidate as he once was, regressing offensively since his monstrous 2021 season.
- The possibility that Atkins and/or president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro could be in danger of losing their jobs. Shapiro is signed through 2025, Atkins through ‘26, but pressure seemingly is mounting. A publicly traded company, Rogers surely wants to see a return on its combined $400 million investments in the team’s training complex and home ballpark. Ohtani could help provide that return. And the Jays seem intent on making him part of their future.
— The Athletic’s Andy McCullough contributed reporting.
(Photo of Shohei Ohtan: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)