MLB winter meetings buzz: Shohei Ohtani, Blue Jays meet

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Major League Baseball

Updated
Dec. 5, 2023 4:41 a.m. ET

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — As Shohei Ohtani watch enters a fifth week, MLB’s winter meetings have begun. Will a quiet offseason awaken with them? 

FOX Sports’ Jake Mintz, Jordan Shusterman and Deesha Thosar are in attendance for the yearly showcase to cover every major development. Below is a compilation of their notes, anecdotes and takeaways from the proceedings.

What’s going on with Ohtani and Blue Jays?

Ohtani’s free agency, and the entire winter meetings, had been a rumor desert. And we, the baseball-loving public, were wandering through the heat dying of thirst. Any morsel was sustenance, any semblance of buzz, a flow of water.

So, the clever speculation of an Ohtani-Toronto link from Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein might as well have been a waterfall. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is suspiciously not in Nashville for the game’s annual transaction fest. He held his media availability over zoom on Monday. MLB on FOX’s Ken Rosenthal later reported that Ohtani and the Jays are believed to have met Monday at the team’s Florida complex.

Toronto’s interest makes a ton of sense. Its payroll was only the 11th-highest in baseball last season and, as a truly international city, the Jays stand to gain quite a bit financially from signing the sport’s only true international superstar. If nothing else, this purported meeting gives us something new to talk about. — Mintz

Why E-Rod could be next notable pitching domino to drop

Left-hander Eduardo Rodríguez is in Nashville meeting with teams, which could finally lead to some movement on the starting pitching market. With Yoshinobu Yamamoto not expected to meet with teams until next week, the very top of the market might remain stagnant until he finds an MLB home. 

But the lane is seemingly open for a second-tier starter like Rodríguez to strike it rich with a deal that is still sizable yet more palatable than ones with massive guarantees. Rodríguez occupies an interesting portion of the market relative to his peers. He won’t command a deal on the magnitude of Aaron Nola’s monster re-up with Philadelphia, but at 30 years old, he’s young enough to perhaps land a larger guarantee and longer deal than the likes of Sonny Gray‘s three-year pact with St. Louis

Rodríguez should be a popular target for teams who might not be as interested in breaking the bank for Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery — both of whom are Scott Boras clients — but want to add a proven lefty with legitimate upside. Montgomery’s epic playoff run surely earned him some extra cash down the stretch, though it’s not hard to imagine another version of the 2023 season where Montgomery and E-Rod ended up entering the open market on much more equal footing. 

Instead, Rodríguez could realistically secure a 4-5 year deal for an AAV much closer to $20 million than the $25 million or so Montgomery might command (let alone Snell, who could push $30 million). I saw the Orioles, Cardinals, Braves, Cubs, Dodgers, Tigers and Red Sox as the best team fits at the beginning of the offseason, and all of them could still be in play for his services. — Shusterman

Mets eyeing another starting pitcher, expect Severino to rebound

The Mets are in a better position with their rotation after signing Luis Severino to a one-year deal, but president of baseball operations David Stearns indicated he’s still unsatisfied with his starting five and would like to add at least another arm. Even with Severino, the Mets still need an ace on their staff. A week ago, only Kodai Senga and José Quintana were locks in the rotation. The Mets, of course, will continue to push for 25-year-old Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who has arguably the most upside of any arm on the market and can be offered the largest bid from Steve Cohen. 

That the club is expected to be aggressive in its offer to the young star suggests New York will pursue one of the other elite free-agent hurlers should Yamamoto sign elsewhere. There are multiple alternatives to choose from. When new manager Carlos Mendoza was asked how many starters his club needs to be competitive, the skipper laughed and said there are never enough arms.

That being said, the Mets are confident they can fix Severino after his disastrous season with the Yankees last year. Stearns confirmed the two-time All-Star was a target before Mendoza was hired, placing value in the fact he’s “performed on this stage, in this market” in the past. The Mets believe a lot of his 2023 struggles could be attributed to health and that he’s “on the back end of those.” While it’s early, the club has been encouraged by the work he’s already put in this offseason. 

“I think he’s changing some of his training program,” Stearns said. “He understands the importance of this year in his overall career arc.” — Thosar

Hello Chourio, goodbye Counsell

The Milwaukee Brewers, who were spurned by former manager Craig Counsell earlier this offseason in a managerial shocker for the ages, unveiled the next face of their franchise on Monday morning. Jackson Chourio, a 19-year-old Venezuelan outfielder considered one of the sport’s top three prospects, flew out to Nashville for a celebratory press conference commemorating his historic eight-year, $82 million extension.

During the media session, much of Milwaukee’s front office made the trek down from the club’s suite to witness the watershed moment in the franchise’s history. It was an emotional scene, not just for Chourio, who has gone from an amateur in a country embroiled in political turmoil to generational wealth in three years, but for the coaches, scouts and analysts that helped to acquire and develop the scintillating talent.

The consensus around the industry is that the Brewers made a smart risk. It’s a lot of years and dollars to give to someone who has never played in the bigs. But Chourio has a shot to be generational, and Milwaukee, with its über-plebeian budget, stands a good chance to benefit from this calculated gamble. A good, memorable day for both sides. — Mintz

Mariners ‘less likely’ to deal promising pitcher for impact bat

Though Monday brought little in the way of actual news at the winter meetings, much of the industry remains ultra-curious about what Seattle’s next step (or steps) will be following its fairly stunning salary-motivated trade of three players to Atlanta, most notably young outfielder Jarred Kelenic. Manager Scott Servais addressed the elephant in the room, which is that the lineup as constructed today is markedly worse than it was when the season ended, and how fans should best process moves like this when the bigger picture remains so cloudy.

“We’re trying to do the best with the cards that we’ve been dealt,” he said

This would seem to hint at the notion that such transactions to clear payroll were necessary for the team to make any legitimately impactful additions this winter — an unfortunate reality for a team that already shoulders such pressure to win and soon. For Servais to acknowledge fairly directly that the Mariners are working within certain confines was a sobering reminder of how little we actually know about the budgets that teams often operate under.

More intriguing, though, was what president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto suggested when he met with the media late in the afternoon. With so many holes to fill on offense, the most logical step for the Mariners to take would be to trade from their starting pitching depth — an envy of the industry — to add an impact bat or two, ideally with multiple years of team control. And yet, Dipoto said that after the Kelenic trade, the club is “less likely” to deal another starting pitcher moving forward. 

While it’s true that departed left-hander Marco Gonzales was an important member of the rotation, the biggest void in the Mariners’ roster remains with their lineup. How they will make meaningful offensive upgrades without dealing at least one of Logan Gilbert, Bryan Woo or Bryce Miller is thus difficult to fathom. 

If the intimation is freeing up payroll will go toward free-agent bats, that would be an extreme pivot from how Seattle has approached the offseason in recent years. These were certainly a curious choice of words from Dipoto and perhaps a hint at what direction he goes next. — Shusterman

This story was compiled by: Deesha Thosar (@DeeshaThosar), Jordan Shusterman and Jake Mintz (@CespedesBBQ).

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