What's next for Toronto after Ohtani's megadeal with LA?

December 9th, 2023

TORONTO -- For a moment, it felt like anything was possible.

The Blue Jays had a shot at signing Shohei Ohtani, the brightest star in baseball who launched a free-agent frenzy that was simultaneously the loudest and quietest in the history of the sport.

Then, at 3:05 p.m. ET Saturday, an Instagram post. Ohtani himself announced that he is signing with the Dodgers for $700 million over 10 years, the richest contract in the history of North American professional sports.

For Blue Jays fans, it was like opening Instagram to see the person of your dreams posing with someone else, an engagement ring sparkling in the foreground with a diamond the size of an orange.

It’s the hope that kills you, and there’s never been a hope greater than Ohtani.

“Shohei and I want to thank all of the organizations that reached out to us for their interest and respect,” Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, said in a statement, “especially the wonderful people we got to know even better as this process unfolded.”

The Blue Jays have been teetering atop Mount Everest in this pursuit, particularly since the division-rival Yankees traded for a superstar of their own in Juan Soto and took an elite “Plan B” off the market. This was going to end in either a parade or heartbreak with nothing in between, and now, the Blue Jays are staring at an offseason in which they’ll need to rebuild the hope and excitement of a national fan base, not just their roster.

With Ohtani, everything would have lived in a new light. The Blue Jays would have been a few simple pieces away from being a legitimate World Series contender, and any team with Ohtani that chases 90 or 100 wins each season can turn him into baseball’s LeBron James, luring stars for title runs year after year. Then, there would have been the business considerations, with the spotlight of Japanese media on the city of Toronto, the Blue Jays and that newly-renovated stadium, full of expensive new club lounges and seats that need to be sold.

Now, we’ll never know.

Perhaps anything still is possible, but that’s a tough sell right now. It will be a tough sell until Christmas, a tough sell until the new year and a tough sell when the Blue Jays eventually make their first move in free agency, signing someone not named Shohei Ohtani. Being so close on Ohtani, with the Blue Jays widely considered a finalist, keeps the Blue Jays at the adult’s table in Major League Baseball. That’s where they belong after jacking up payroll in recent years with several major deals, but the tough part about having a seat at this table is that “close” is no longer an honor, no longer a banner to hang.

There are two groups: the Los Angeles Dodgers and everyone else.

We’ve seen before, though, that winning the offseason rarely means much. This Blue Jays team is still so close, too, with general manager Ross Atkins repeatedly coming back to the existing strength of the current roster when he spoke at the recent MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. There are ways the Blue Jays can make this work, particularly through the trade market, where they’ve laid extensive groundwork, and free agency still holds plenty of answers.

Besides, when you’ve entertained the idea of spending a half-billion U.S. dollars, the price tags back down here on planet earth don’t look as scary. That has to be where the optimism lives now, in a team fully aware that these windows don’t last forever and fully capable of softening this heartbreak, even if it takes a while.

No path will be as simple as Ohtani, though, and no path holds as much hope.