Well, no Shohei Otani in Toronto blue and no surprise. After all, while I’m sure Ross Atkins et al made a pitch to the Japanese phenom, I doubt anyone really expected him to pick the Jays for his North American landing spot. After all, Ohtani, arguably the most in-demand player on this year’s free agent market, had his choice of team to play with. Given the current rules and limits to initial salaries for international free agents such as himself, it’s likely all 30 teams (or at least 29 if MLB’s punishment of the Braves for John Coppolella’s violations prevented them from making an offer) made a pitch for the young pitcher/left-handed DH. It wasn’t realistic to expect he’d opt for Toronto.
After all, the blue Jays had less money to offer than several other teams including the Yankees and Rangers, so if money was going to be a determining factor, Toronto was at a disadvantage. Although all signs pointed to the idea that Shohei was motivated by proving himself here and looking at the long-range rather than by high money in 2018 anyway. Which also would lead him elsewhere.
Toronto could boast of the Rogers Centre and artificial turf which perhaps might remind him a bit of the Sapporo Dome he was used to calling home in Japan, but that’s about it. Like it or not, people growing up in Asia fascinated by America and baseball are probably drawn to New York, the biggest city, home to the biggest names in the game’s history- Ruth, Dimaggio, “Mr. October”. Not to Canada; although neither would they gravitate towards places like San Diego or Tampa either if that’s a consolation.
Or, they are of Otani’s age and probably grew up idolizing Ichiro and watching games from Seattle streamed across the sea. Given that team’s popularity in Japan, and the success Ichiro (and to a lesser extent Hisashi Iwakuma) had there, I fully expected the Puget Sound area to be his preferred site. Right coast, wrong end of it.
Toronto fans shouldn’t feel bad about not signing him. I look at it as a positive. First and foremost, I’m a baseball fan. I love the game and want it to prosper. And while I was disappointed at Toronto’s 2017, it was still enjoyable to watch the playoffs and see players like Jose Altuve go for the glory. I’m excited to see what this kid can do. He may not be Cy Young material, or batting title material, but how cool will it be to see how good a hitter a pitcher can be ? Even if he goes , say 13-9 with a 3.60 ERA and then hits .275 with 15 or so homers, that’s a story. That’s a game-changer, literally! If he can do better than that, for a few years, comparisons to Babe Ruth may not be far off.
And this is good for baseball. Ohtani will bring new interest to the game at home and overseas. Old fans will be more interested and new fans will be made. No less important, he adds a new spark to a relatively moribund franchise. The Angels will demand watching again and may be more competitive after spending this decade without a post-season win so far. This too helps baseball, even Toronto. One can only imagine that it will be much easier for Rogers to sell tickets to games with LA-Anaheim coming in than it was before. Attendance will rise and one can predict that, coupled with Mike Trout there, the Angels will be one of the better draws on the road . All teams benefit from that.
A rising tide lifts all ships. Baseball’s latest high tide just rolled in from Nippon. Welcome to the bigtime, Shohei!