Why the Blue Jays should take a run at Shohei Ohtani this winter

Shohei Ohtani could be on the move this offseason, and the Blue Jays have a chance to be a frontrunner to land the two-way superstar. (Getty)

After winning 92 games in 2022, the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to improve their roster over the offseason, and they’d certainly do that and then some by acquiring two-way megastar Shohei Ohtani via trade.

But will Ohtani be made available?

It remains to be seen whether the Los Angeles Angels will pull the trigger on a deal for Ohtani this winter. They chose not to at the trade deadline in August, but with the 28-year-old just one year away from free agency, things could change quickly in the coming months.

Ohtani, who returned home to Japan on Tuesday, added fuel to the fire while speaking in an interview at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The 2021 AL MVP admitted he enjoyed a “good season,” personally. As for the Angels, well, he wasn’t impressed about the team finishing 73-89 and missing the postseason by a wide margin once again.

Thanks to a lack of support around Ohtani and three-time MVP Mike Trout, Los Angeles missed the playoffs for an eighth straight season. That led to plenty of uncompetitive games over the final few months of the campaign, leaving the Japanese star with a “rather negative impression of this season.”

That probably isn’t the response you want to hear if you’re the Angels, who are likely to be sold to a new owner this off-season. Whoever takes control of the team probably doesn’t want their first move to be trading one of the most talented players in the history of baseball.

So, with that in mind, it’s probably fair to assume Angels GM Perry Minasian will keep all his options open this winter, including potential offers for Ohtani.

Any team would be foolish not to at least do their due diligence and explore what it would cost to acquire the 6-foot-4 superstar, especially the Blue Jays, who’d benefit from adding an elite starting pitcher and left-handed hitter to their roster. They’d be able to check off both those boxes with just one move.

What Ohtani brings on offence

Offensively, the power-hitting lefty would add a serious boost — and much-needed balance — to Toronto’s right-handed heavy lineup. Despite trading some power for contact this past season, he still blasted 34 home runs and drove in 95 runs across 157 contests.

Ohtani slashed .273/.356/.519 with a .320 BABIP and 142 wRC+ in his fifth — and potentially final — season with the Angels. He also created a 49.8 percent hard-hit rate and a 16.8 percent barrel rate, both ranking in the 93rd percentile or higher, according to Baseball Savant.

The two-time All-Star’s offensive output was worth 3.8 fWAR, 1.2 points lower than last season’s rating. But while he was slightly less valuable at the plate, he made up for it on the mound, where he was worth a career-high 5.6 fWAR.

The Blue Jays could fill their two most pressing needs with one trade. (Getty)
The Blue Jays could fill their two most pressing needs with one trade. (Getty) (Lachlan Cunningham via Getty Images)

What Ohtani brings as a pitcher

In his fourth big-league season as a pitcher — he missed 2019 and almost all of 2020 due to Tommy John surgery — Ohtani posted career bests in starts (28), innings pitched (166.0), ERA (2.33), xERA (2.68), FIP (2.40), OPP AVG (.202), strikeout rate (33.2 percent), chase rate (28.6 percent) and walk rate (6.7 percent).

While combining Ohtani’s value at both positions, it added up to 9.4 fWAR, 1.4 points higher than his 2021 rating. Aside from outfielder Aaron Judge, who earned an 11.5 rating, no one was more valuable to their team than the Angels' two-way star.

From the Blue Jays’ perspective, acquiring a two-way player of that calibre would be a massive game-changer. Prying him away from the west coast won’t be cheap, though, as it’ll likely cost a significant haul of future assets.

What it might take to acquire Ohtani, then keep him

Even with just one season of team control remaining, the Angels will surely attempt to maximize any return they receive for their prized possession. But there is no doubt the organization doesn’t control nearly as much leverage as it did earlier this year.

The franchise must improve the supporting cast around its top two stars this winter, particularly on the pitching front. If they can’t and fail to convince Ohtani to sign long-term, he will likely depart via free agency after next season. It's also possible Ohtani could ask to be traded this offseason. And if that occurs, Los Angeles’ return probably won’t be as significant as it could’ve been had he been dealt this past summer.

Could Toronto strike a deal by packaging one of its top young catchers (Alejandro Kirk or Gabriel Moreno) with prospects Ricky Tiedemann and Orelvis Martinez? Perhaps. It’d certainly be worth trying.

In the end, however, any final decision will more than likely be determined by the organization’s financial flexibility. With roughly $102 million already committed for 2023, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, adding another high-priced ticket to the mix could prove challenging.

The Angels and Ohtani avoided arbitration earlier this month by agreeing to a one-year, $30-million deal for next season. That alone could push the Blue Jays’ 2023 Collective Ballance Tax payroll beyond the $232 million luxury tax threshold if existing salaries aren’t removed.

Ohtani’s next contract, which is likely to be worth at least $40 million per season, could also have significant ramifications on the franchise’s books moving forward. It could eventually lead to trading one of Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. down the road.

But if Rogers Communications signs off on increasing the team's budget, it’d be well worth exploring. After all, opportunities to acquire a generational superstar don’t come around often. Toronto’s competitive window would likely shrink from its current timeframe, but it would significantly increase the odds of winning a World Series north of the border. That might be a favourable trade-off.

It's unlikely that Ohtani joins the Blue Jays this offseason, but if the Angels are willing to trade him, it couldn’t hurt to see what it would take to turn that dream into a reality.

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