Blue Jays’ off-season now in catch-up mode after Ohtani disappointment
Manipulated by Ohtani reps, Jays remain stalled on the side of contending highway with no CAA help in sight
As the final details of the last nine days of the once-in-a-lifetime multi-team Ohtani chase continue to be revealed, the reporting of usually reliable baseball media insiders has been cast in doubt. Fans are either outraged with the insiders or mocking. Was the national reporting-base manipulated by Ohtani’s reps at CAA to make it a more competitive process and drive up the final price? Likely.
In this case, the agency-imposed from Day-1 silence was golden. Maybe it will simply be a learning moment for usually savvy baseball fans and their relationship to believing what they read, but it was a painful moment for some writers and for Blue Jays ownership that felt they were right there in the hunt…that is, until Ohtani sent out an Instagram post on Saturday morning informing the world that he was taking his talents to Chavez Ravine.
Eventually, the Jays, the underdog, north-of-the-border David ran out of rocks and Goliath took home the prize, which in this case was the most talented player in MLB history. The Dodgers were always the favourite to land the DH/RHP, but Jays’ genuine interest pushed the cost to a record total value for any team sport. Does signing Ohtani guarantee the Dodgers a World Series? The previous Top 23 total value contracts in MLB history have produced two championships in 110 seasons. So, no.
The two main teams that were seen to be competing for the services of the 29-year-old megastar were the Dodgers and Toronto. Others mentioned were the Giants, Cubs and his ex, the Angels. There was a clear home field advantage for L.A. since he already lives about 80 kilometres south of Dodger Stadium, in Newport Beach.
In the end, all the Canadian optimism and ability and willingness to overspend because of unique business opportunities in Asia, seemed logical, but secondary to the Ohtani agency’s attempt at leveraging the best terms, the highest total-dollar-amount they could get from the Dodgers. It should have been obvious. Agent Nez Balelo and CAA simply allowed “hope” to play itself out in the other markets as the Dodgers kept responding by edging up their final offer..
In the end, as others fell by the wayside, it became a tale of two cities. To quote the great Charles Dickens from the opening of his classic novel: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”
On Friday morning, then continuing through the height of the afternoon news cycle, the anticipation of an Ohtani signing was palpable in Toronto, as hundreds of Jays fans used a Flight Tracker app to follow some random private jet, with an unconfirmed passenger list, but reported to be carrying Ohtani towards some sort of Jays close encounter of the lucrative kind. As the jet made its way from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana (CA) to Pearson International, Canada was on board with anticipation. Everything about it was hauntingly reminiscent to the wooing of Kahwi Leonard by the Raptors after their title run…and we know how that turned out. Four years later, it was feeling the same, but this was supposed to be different. There were believable, shiny-objects of logic behind every clue, all leading to his being a new Jay.
1- Why would Ohtani be flying all the way across the country to Toronto if it was not to sign a contract, undergo medicals, stay for a press conference and find somewhere to live? The Jays already had edged into the “likelihood lead” according to media pundits. Besides, MLB Network’s reporter J-P Morosi had quoted his usually reliable sources as confirming that Ohtani was indeed on that mystery plane. ‘Nough said!
2- Reports on December 4, the first day of the Meetings at the Opryland Resort, had produced news that an earlier private jet had flown from John Wayne to Clearwater-St. Pete with Ohtani on board. The reasoning was that he was curious about the Jays’ state-of-the-art training facility in Dunedin, since he would be rehabbing his pitching for a full year. That presumed interest, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and others in the know, was the reason GM Ross Atkins was forced to hold his Monday media session via Zoom instead of in person with Toronto media at the convention hotel.
3- The CAA group, behind its lead agent, Balelo, were insisting from the early November opening of free agency that all negotiations be under a complete cone of silence. Any media leaks judged to be from club personnel would be treated harshly. So, when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, on Tuesday, casually mentioned in a media session that, yes, they had met with Ohtani at Dodger Stadium and it had been great, the suggestion was that, given this slip, the tight-lipped Jays may be gaining ground.
But reality is always easier to see in hindsight, so let’s take a stab at some reality.
*First, let’s take the group hysteria of the Friday mystery flight. Toronto fans were, of course, leading the way in feeding the beast. But, following hours of hand-wringing giddiness, watching attentively as some random jet was winging its way east via flight trackers -- shown onscreen, live, via TSN’s sports-talk giant, Overdrive, the plane landed just before 5:00 p.m. and some rich guy named Robert Herjavec from Shark Tank emerged. Similar to Dorothy’s disappointment when she pulled back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz. Herjavec reportedly is also a client of CAA which helps explain use of what might have been the same plane that had flown to Florida a week earlier. But it was not a setup, just a coincidence. It may not have been planned by, but was also not discouraged by Ohtani’s people.
There was a follow-up Wall Street Journal report that suggested when the doors of the jet opened in Toronto, a customs person pushed into the cabin and breathlessly said, “Where is he?” Don’t believe any of that. Sure, it would play well in the U.S. because it makes us seem like a country of slack-jawed hicks. Besides, Canadian customs and immigration agents have a flight manifest and in the history of Jays charters landings at the remote Pearson private terminal, nobody has ever entered a plane like that.
Then the New York Post’s Jon Heyman wrote that Ohtani signing with the Dodgers instead of the Jays was the best thing for baseball. Toronto is a nice franchise, but has always had a small market feel, he said. The Dodgers are the franchise of Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax and Vin Scully. Unfortunately, that is the view of many in the national media. Should be noted Heyman has not been to Toronto in seven years.
*Second, let’s examine the actual truth of if Ohtani was ever even on the earlier tracked flight that had arrived in Florida on Dec. 3 and kicked off the saga. In light of how events unfolded and that nobody has ever actually confirmed Ohtrani’s presence at a meeting with Atkins, Mark Shapiro and manager John Schneider at the Jays’ PDC, did this Ohtani trip even happen?
If clever CAA reps could encourage, by not discouraging, Friday’s Ohtani to Pearson flight, they surely could have reached out a week earlier to national media friends in Nashville to quietly leak the fact Ohtani had been in Dunedin. I’m not saying it was a Ghost Flight cross-country, but what if it was a team of CAA reps who had flown to Florida to negotiate and check out the Jays’ impressive facility, bringing Ohtani back a thorough report and continuing to accelerate the perception that the Jays were moving up the Ohtani-likelihood chart.
*Third, in terms of the CAA’s threat of finger-wagging repercussion to MLB front offices if there were leaks regarding that team’s interest in Ohtani, the warning served CAA well. Think about it. If no team was able to confirm or deny contact, movement or even interest in Ohtani, then CAA was in total charge of the medium and the message. There had been a note in the San Francisco Chronicle that Ohtani had visited the Giants on Saturday before the Meetings. How did the paper get that and did it hurt the Giants’ chances? Then was that the Cubs were reported to no longer be in it, but they responded that they had not been told. Did that public denial of being an also-ran disqualify them? Only CAA would know.
Finally, the Ohtani people hit the jackpot, the key to squeezing the maximum payout from the targeted Dodgers. They spoke to the Blue Jays early on and understood the team’s sincere and compelling presentation for what may have risen as high as $650 million for 10-12 years. The amount would always remain the same, but by extending to 12 seasons, the average annual value (AAV) would drop, leading to a lower payroll, balanced against any luxury tax penalty.
In fact, the more the National media wrote about the Jays interest and the uniqueness of repping an entire country, with the business opportunities that would be available for Ohtani and Rogers in penetrating the Asian market, all of that genuine interest under a cloak of imposed silence served the purpose of the agency, a group starting in show business that has historically been reputed as “Hollywood ruthless” in terms of squeezing the most money for their clients. On Friday night, CAA squeezed and the Dodgers came up with their best offer … the best in the history of major-league baseball, the details of which may be more difficult to decipher than the Dead Sea Scrolls. And there are no parting gifts for the losers.