The baseball world was in shock and awe on December 9, 2023, when they learned that megastar Shohei Ohtani was signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, concluding one of the most hyped-up free agency periods in recent memory. 

But, in an alternate universe, Ohtani could have been playing less than 30 minutes from U of T, wearing a different shade of blue. 

In a race no one expected the Toronto Blue Jays to be in, they came oh-so-brutally close to landing the most talented player in baseball. For a moment in early December, Toronto and Ohtani seemed like a match made in heaven. Everything was aligning: Ohtani would play in front of an entire country, Rogers Communications Inc. was willing to pay him the big bucks, the Rogers Centre was finishing up its renovations, the Jays were a playoff team, and Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi went to the same high school as him. So why was that not enough? 

As much as it hurts me to admit this, the Dodgers are just a bigger team. They enjoy greater media coverage in the US, are continual big spenders, and have been baseball’s most successful regular-season teams over the last ten years. If you were looking for a bandwagon team, the Dodgers would be it. 

His decision still hit hard in Toronto. Jays fans like me were desperate for some good news from the team after another postseason disaster; instead, the hope of signing Ohtani only made the disappointment hit harder. When I talked to a friend, fellow Jays fan Alaina Hu, she did not take the news well: “The Blue Jays are doomed!” she exclaimed.

Yet, the Jays are not the only thing that’s taken a hit here. Instead, I feel like baseball as a whole has been let down. Sometimes, describing scenarios in basketball terms might make the most sense. Think about Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors in 2016, a team that had just gone 73–9: that move led to two terrible, uncompetitive years of basketball where the Warriors dominated over everyone. Ohtani signing with the Dodgers will likely have the same effect.

Some have argued that the Dodgers — as a historically significant team — would give him the largest platform. But a player of his stature could have sparked huge growth in any other team, creating even larger platforms for the team and himself. If he was on the Jays or any other team, Ohtani would have delivered a much greater impact than he would on an already stacked Dodgers team.

I also cannot help but think about the amount of missed potential growth for baseball. In a time where we just had the least-watched World Series of all time, growing audiences is crucial. There was an opportunity here to enlarge a huge baseball market in Canada.

Reporters and fans can spin this all they want, but at the end of the day, the act of big teams buying superstar players and building super teams in baseball is not exciting. I think that in baseball, everyone already expects that good players will end up in New York or LA, and with Ohtani, that unfortunate cycle continues.

I haven’t even discussed his historic 700 million USD contract, 680 million USD of which will be deferred until after his 10-year contract ends. He is getting paid just two million USD annually in those 10 years, and only afterwards will he receive ten payments of 68 million USD lasting from 2034 to 2043. As a result, Ohtani will be 50 years old when all is paid out in full. 

The historic deferral of nearly all that money might be a genius move by Ohtani but is exactly what could ruin baseball. The deferral of this much of his salary reduced the Dodgers’ annual salary bill and competitive balance tax, leaving room for more spending. The impact of this was felt immediately when the Dodgers signed Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto for 325 million USD.

What’s stopping teams from doing the same, guaranteeing players insane amounts of money and deferring that money into the future? This would only worsen the divide between the rich and the poor teams in baseball. Smaller teams can also sign big stars this way, but for now, this remains primarily a method for big teams — with more money — to get what they want. 

Truthfully, Ohtani is also an outlier — given his extremely unique skill set and superstar appeal, we might not see another contract like this in another 10 or 20 years. Nevertheless, Jays and baseball fans alike should feel disappointed with Ohtani’s decision. 

Let’s see how the fans react to him on April 26, when he comes to Toronto in a Dodgers uniform for the first time. Don’t be surprised to hear a few boos.