Ross Atkins didn’t come right out and mention the name.
He didn’t have to.
He was talking about Shohei Ohtani without specifically talking about Shohei Ohtani.
He was saying he believes the Blue Jays are still in the bidding for the remarkable free agent — the most expensive, attractive free agent, possibly in baseball history — without really leaning one way or the other on their chances.
Instead, the general manager of the Blue Jays was talking about concepts, which is about as far as he was willing to go in his annual meeting with Toronto baseball writers on Tuesday.
Atkins said he “can’t get into specifics on (Ohtani).” And then he talked about possibilities. All this is a little about possibilities, a little about hope, and a lot about dreaming. But Atkins is living the dream this off-season in his own kind of way. Until someone from the Ohtani camp shuts the door on him or Mark Shapiro.
And apparently, that had not happened yet. And until the door closes completely on the Blue Jays, they’re not willing to concede that the off-season is beginning the way the playoffs ended — with a swing and a miss.
“Mark has done an incredible job working with ownership to make sure we are nimble,” said Atkins. He likes the word nimble. He used it more than once on Tuesday. Being nimble “has increased our agility and ability to do things.”
It’s a little bit of baseball poetry, agility and ability. But the largest rumours of the off-season, rumours possibly started by the Jays themselves, have the baseball club still in the running for Ohtani. The Dodgers of Los Angeles are the morning book favourites to nab the free-agent hitter and eventual pitcher after Tommy John surgery. The World Series champion Texas Rangers are in the mix as well, and by reports elsewhere, the Boston Red Sox also. And the Blue Jays keep getting mentioned, by credible reporters, at least until they’re officially out on this.
Ohtani is just about the best hitter in baseball. When he was starting, he was just about the best pitcher. The combination of the two — well, there’s never been anyone like him before. There may never be anyone like him again.
So the Jays made their pitch. They offered him the stars, the moon, a spot near Drake on the Bridal Path and a piece of the CN Tower. They’ve tried to sell Ohtani and then have tried to sell him some more.
“What I can tell you is, we are in position to present those opportunities and always have the access and authentic interest to listen and hear where we go from here,” Atkins said.
That is part of the convoluted Atkins speak, which is pure Atkins and also part of his charm. One plus one with him doesn’t necessarily equal two. There is always a touch of meandering in between.
“I won’t get into the specifics of who we are meeting with and who we won’t be meeting with,” he said.
Some of the meetings have already occurred. Some will happen soon. The fact the Ohtani bidding has already begun — and some are surprised it has lasted this long — leads one to believe the Jays have made their pitch.
The Jays need Ohtani’s bat. The arm is a year away from pitching, but that’s not the greatest need around here. A lineup with Bo Bichette hitting into Ohtani, hitting into Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is intriguing if not mind-blowing.
That’s part of the sell. The Jays won in and around 90 games without Ohtani in each of the past three seasons. How many would they win with him? A number closer to 100 makes some sense on this, even in the American League East.
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The sell for Shapiro, as chief presenter, moreso than Atkins, is about the city and the country. You’re not playing for one, you’re playing for both. It’s about a stadium about to be renovated with state-of-the-art facilities for the season after the winter home provided state-of-the-art facilities for spring training.
The Jays lead all of baseball with state-of-the-art training facilities and overweight players. But never mind that right now, Ohtani isn’t overweight.
“I think every year there is one to five players whose impact is so significant it impacts the way the market moves,” said Atkins, talking about Ohtani without talking about Ohtani. And this year, Atkins maintains, the market is moving slower than usual.
Does that help or hurt Toronto’s chances?
Are the Blue Jays even realistic players on this?
“We have an incredible opportunity here,” said Atkins. ‘This city, this country, the support of ownership, the winning environment, the renovations that have occurred, the buy in on so many levels … that has been very attractive over the last several years and we expect it to be (this year).
“We have incredible opportunities with the economy, with diversity being the strength of the city, (a city) that is celebrated by a country.”
So maybe the city isn’t necessary celebrated by the country. But Atkins was on a roll here. And who were we to rain on this Ohtani parade until we hear differently or know better? We all can all dream just a little on this cold November day, can’t we?