NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Silence is golden and secrecy is sublime.
Standing in the eye of the biggest, boldest pursuit in franchise history, the Blue Jays aren’t saying a word. Even the name “Shohei Ohtani” is spoken carefully, each syllable tiptoeing gently to the next.
Don’t rock the boat. Don’t wake the baby.
The secrecy with which baseball’s brightest star lives his life has taken over his free agency, which is bubbling to a boil here at the Winter Meetings. Earlier this offseason, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that it would be “held against” potential suitors if news leaked that he’d visited a specific team.
Well, it’s happening.
Every good drama has a shocking confession, and this one came from Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on Tuesday afternoon, admitting that he and members of Los Angeles’ front office had met with Ohtani in recent days. It all went very well, the veteran manager thought, and besides, the news would get out eventually.
“Clearly,” Roberts said, “Shohei is our top priority.”
This was a wailing siren through the silence, because even following reports that Ohtani had toured Toronto’s training facilities in Dunedin, Fla., over the weekend, the Blue Jays refused to give that fire any oxygen, instead letting it live as a detail and nothing more.
Soon after Roberts dropped that nugget, though, Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes stood before a throng of cameras -- less than 50 feet from Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins doing the same -- and struck a much different tone. Gomes acknowledged the comment made by his manager, said he was surprised that it was made and went no further. No comments on Ohtani, no comments on a meeting that may or may not have happened.
That toothpaste isn’t going back in the tube.
Across the room, Atkins spoke vaguely, dancing in the shadows between questions. It’s the same approach he took Monday, when his in-person media availability was suddenly shifted to Zoom, where the GM was cryptic with details as he sat in front of a blank, white wall, refusing to answer where in the world he was.
“Everything that we’re doing to make the team better, to the extent that we will keep private, we will do,” Atkins said. “Meetings that occur, don’t occur, I’m not going to get into the specifics of.”
It’s remarkable to watch this happen in real time, a big league GM sidestepping questions not as standard practice, but as an act of strategy that fans are suddenly praising. There’s an elephant in the room, but Atkins will not confirm whether elephants do or do not exist.
“There’s an incredible amount of energy, an incredible amount of buzz around the game and around several potential opportunities, certainly one that is historic, potentially,” Atkins said.
Atkins is built for this game. He’s the Shohei Ohtani of secrecy.
The Blue Jays’ GM went as far as saying that they are “fortunate to be one that’s being considered,” but offered no details about the reported visit to the club’s player development complex over the weekend.
Manager John Schneider did the same, saying “we meet with lots of players” and sticking to the script throughout his media availability. When a reporter joked that Schneider looked tanned when asking about his whereabouts and involvement in said meeting, Schneider just cracked another smile.
“I live in Florida,” he said.
The logic and logistics of it all point toward a decision coming soon from Ohtani. The Blue Jays and Dodgers are clearly among the front-runners here, and while it’s unclear what impact Roberts’ revelation and recent reports will have on Ohtani’s decision, these two clubs are clearly involved in the final sprint. Others, including the Giants, Cubs and Angels, have also widely been linked to this historic chase.
When this news breaks, the landscape of Major League Baseball will tilt in an instant. Until then, it’s one of the biggest secrets in baseball history and the Blue Jays aren’t making a sound.