When you push all the chips into the middle of the table — $500 million US plus worth of Rogers Communications money (and who knows, maybe closer to $600 million?) — and the Los Angeles Dodgers are still in the game, this is the risk you take.
How high do you want to go for Shohei Ohtani? The Blue Jays learned the hard way that it may not have mattered against the apparently limitless high roller opposite them in the bidding.
When the reward is high, the danger is that the risk can be even higher, however, the potentially debilitating reality now facing the Jays after Ohtani hit the biggest jackpot in the history of pro sports, agreeing on Saturday to a 10-year, $700-million US deal with the Dodgers.
And now, an off season that was already the most critical of Ross Atkins career as the Toronto general manager turns to desperation.
Desperation to fill the many holes in a roster that needs both bodies and upgrades, particularly in offensive production.
Desperation to appease a loyal and supportive fan base that has in some corners reverted back to seething mode after having the loss of Ohtani piled onto the debacle of a playoff exit in Minnesota.
And desperation to have a competitive team to entice those same fans eager enough to fill more expensive seats in a renovated stadium.
With 63 (or so) days until pitchers and catchers officially report to the Jays player development complex in Dunedin, Fla., for the early days of spring training, the reality might end up being different, but the perception is that the Jays are in a can’t win predicament.
So yes, when you shop at the high end of the market and swing and miss, the pressure gets magnified.
Of course, the other problem is that in the court of angry fanatics opinion, whatever Atkins comes up with a bid to save face (and his roster) will pale in comparison with the dream of Ohtani and the wild ride the pursuit took fans on.
I don’t have a problem with the Jays pursuit of Ohtani — it was exciting and would have been a franchise transforming transaction, potentially for a decade. Is it possible that the Jays were mere pawns to extract an extra $100 million or so out the Dodgers? Sure. But don’t mistake the Jays as not being serious players in a chase that has indelibly defined their off-season, no matter what happens next.
The fallout is already dramatic, an emotional downer for all involved, and hardly the situation Atkins needed to find himself in.
It didn’t help that Ohtani’s camp dragged the decision on long enough to see his prime trade target, Juan Soto, go from the Padres to the Yankees.
It also doesn’t help that free agents topping those remaining on the market such as Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman are expected to be in high demand.
Furthermore, agents will certainly attempt to commit larceny by extracting extra from the Jays given the knowledge of how deep they waded into the Ohtani game. Of course, the bankroll approved to spend on the prize of the market isn’t likely to be available for the rest of Atkins shopping.
So what’s next now that Plan A and Plan B are gone and C,D,E and beyond are meagre compared to the top shelf the Jays were taste testing to start what was intended to be an ambitious off-season?
Atkins has talked about the trade market being an area he’s explored significantly and I guess we’ll see what happens along that route. Chapman is certainly an enticing possibility even after his laggardly 2023 season at the plate with the Jays. He was an important leader in manager John Schneider’s clubhouse and an elite defender but he’s also expected to attract some serious bidding from other clubs.
Bellinger’s bat, although inconsistent, will have some appeal and who knows, maybe some of the shorter term possibilities out there – a market the Jays have used in the past – will yield bodies.
Complicating it all is that Atkins and team president Mark Shapiro don’t just have a roster to bolster but a restless fan base that has reverted back to being disappointed and angry.
Can Atkins salvage an off-season that started with such hope? Of course he can. The problem, however, is that when that hope was as sky high as it can go in the emotional world of professional sports, anything else will be viewed as a consolation.
The Ohtani watch was as excruciating and exciting as it was real, but it has come with a cost. The incredible allure of the Japanese superstar also temporarily allowed a large constituency of Jays fandom to forget the disastrous end to the past two seasons, the Alek Manoah saga and the loss to free agency of a handful of promising free agents.
And now the pain has returned.
Playing at the big boy table was fun and intoxicating while it lasted. Now it’s time to turn down market and salvage what’s left. A sobering Blue Jays off-season might be what’s left.