If the Toronto Blue Jays are going to make a serious run at landing Shohei Ohtani, the Rogers ownership group might be able to help tip the scales
I know, I know. Rogers is cheap. But, for the fun of it, go with me on this one. The Toronto Blue Jays ownership just might be able to help out on the baseball side of things. There has been a lot of specualtion around what it would take to land the Japanese star, Shohei Ohtani and those covering the Blue Jays have tried to figure out if it is possible for Canada’s team to actually be successful in the sweepstakes. What follows is a look at if there is anything the team’s ownership group can do anything to help.
A lot has been written about the parameters within which teams will have to work in order to sign the international free agent. Firstly, they’ll have to work within whatever bonus pool money they have. The Blue Jays, thanks to the mid-summer trade of Lane Thomas, have just over one million to work with, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. That is a far cry from what other teams will have to play with. So, it will be difficult for Toronto to straight up beat an offer to Ohtani right out of the gate.
But, thanks to some very clever thinking, the initial signing amount is not all that will be involved with this particular deal. At Fangraphs, Dave Cameron presented an excellent breakdown of possible situations where money can be used elsewhere. Basically, a team (we’ll say the Blue Jays) could look to sign him to an extension early to buy out any number of the team control years, which figure to be six years. Now, a team could keep him in the minors for a few weeks to start the 2018 season, which would add an extra year. But, basically, Ohtani would be making the league minimum, or you can think of it as a minor league deal.
That’s for the first year, which might be OK with the player, since he’s willing to enter MLB now and be subject to the whole international signing rigmarole instead of waiting two years and enter as an unrestricted free agent where he would command a boat load more. As Cameron notes: “there’s little reason to believe that he’ll choose his next destination based on whether a team can offer him $10 million or $300,000”. Money doesn’t seem to matter as much as peddling his wares on the biggest stage. At some point, money will come into play, obviously. His people will surely make it important. So, his signing team would be able to work out a lucrative extension that would be like buying out years.
The problem is that MLB will keep a close eye on whether this is part of discussions before he signs. Any team thinking about this is not allowed to use it as a negotiating tool. So, they’ll have to do so and deny it was part of anything. If teams and Ohtani’s representatives understand the microscope they would be under, they’ll have to get used to using nudges and winks. Then, after his first year, his team could look to extend him based on his performance, which could be risky for him. But, it doesn’t seem like he’s concerned with the financial risk. This also assumes that the extension is logical and matches what past players have seen when being extended in these situations. If it looks like the team is giving him obscene money, perhaps because of a previous agreement, MLB will take issue with it and there would be consequences. It is worth noting that around that time, the Blue Jays would have significant expiring contracts, which would free up money.
It has also been said that Ohtani would be looking to sign on with a team that would allow him to pitch and hit. Ross Atkins has said that the Blue Jays would be able to provide this. In that regard, Toronto does look like a good fit. They could use a starter and an outfield bat. But, just saying there is opportunity would not be enough to impress anyone. They would have to be able to show that they want him to be able to make a real go of this. They’ve done the legwork leading up to this, perhaps better than anyone. It has told them one thing, according to Davidi: “Everything we’ve learned about Otani is that it’s baseball and baseball first. He’s thinking about how he can be one of the best athletes in the world.” For his part, Ohtani echoed this: “There are still so many things I’m lacking and I want to put myself in an environment where I can improve. Hopefully I can go to a club that suits my way of thinking.” One way to show that you are the best athlete in baseball is to be on both sides of the game.
But, how can there be any guarantee that this is not just lip service? Well, one way would be to show that you know how you can make it happen. The Blue Jays feel confident that they can offer something in that regard: “I think we’re as well equipped as any organization in baseball. Our emphasis on recovery, our emphasis on preparation, our emphasis on what it takes to realize all of your potential and understanding what that means is at the forefront.” Setting aside the fact that Atkins has to know this would get back to Ohtani and it smells of negotiating before negotiations begin…like getting a head start, there is a lot we can take away from this. Obviously, the Blue Jays feel that their work in the High Performance division will provide an advantage. Imagine the impact something like this would have: ‘So, Shohei, we have figured out how to prepare your body to pitch and hit as well as a way to maximize your workout program to allow you to recover so you stay healthy and can be in a position to continue on both sides of the ball for a long time’. That could very likely suit the player’s way of thinking.
This (finally, I know) is where Rogers can have an impact. We know that there are high hopes for their training facilities in Dunedin. If you listen to Mark Shapiro tell it on Jays From the Couch Radio, the goal is to create the opportunity to have league leading health facilities. ‘Come train with us in our state of the art digs in Florida’. Rogers can approve money for the necessary upgrades and have an indirect impact on the Ohtani negotiations. In short, they can help make it possible for the team to live up to the above health boasting. Obviously, this might be a grasp at how the ownership group can help, but it has to be mentioned. There is a more direct way.
Let’s return to money. Even if Ohtani is concerned with losing out on money, it has been said that perhaps the promise of endorsements can be worked out, which would not interfere with the any financial terms of his contract negotiations. I went looking to see what could be done to offer money in the form of marketing, etc. The obvious answer is that marketing yourself as a two way player and the ‘best athlete’ in Toronto is a good place to start.
But, is this even realistic? First of all, since MLB will be scrutinizing this deal, one has to wonder if endorsements are even allowed. Well, Jasper Berg of Royal Sports Group answered this very question in March of this year. Essentially, the only real rule is that a player has to have his team’s consent to do endorsements. Well, that should be pretty easy to do. The Blue Jays would likely not have an issue with Ohtani doing endorsements, since it would only help their profile. That would be especially true if said endorsements are with Rogers. Imagine: Ohtani pitches a perfect game and hits the winning walk off home run. What does he do first? Makes a long distance call to his family in Japan on his Rogers phone with his Rogers plan. If I can think of a commercial that quickly, imagine what marketing professionals can do. There would be tremendous possibilities.
What is funny is that endorsements aren’t always the cash cow that some are making them out to be. In fact, according to Tim Marcin of the International Business Times and Zach Bergson of the National Center for Business Journalism, baseball players may make a lot of money, but not since Derek Jeter has anyone made a significant amount via endorsements. Bergson says that it has to do with the individuality of baseball players. Often, the best players in the game struggle with recognition. Mike Trout might be the best player in the game, but he is a pretty average looking guy who is but one person on a field of 50 to impact a game from day to day.
Bergson has a good point, but the counter to that is that since he wrote that two and a half years ago, baseball has put a lot of effort into marketing its stars. This might be even easier for a guy who already has this much hype AND could impact a day to day game more than Trout. Pitching, hitting and defending leads to more coverage. You can’t think that the Blue Jays and Rogers wouldn’t jump at the chance to have their respective logos seen, to have their name said, to have their brand on a larger scale…an international one.
Some might think that Rogers could even use this to perhaps attempt to extend their reach into the Japanese market, something that Rogers CEO, Guy Laurence, dismissed outright in August of 2014 by saying: the company is “absolutely not focused on that. Why on earth would I expand outside the borders?” Current President and CEO, Joseph Natale could see things differently. Perhaps, having this Japanese superstar on board is a way to start in roads.
The bottom line is that the Toronto Blue Jays will have to have a very intelligent plan in order to sign Shohei Ohtani. Ross Atkins believes that they are well prepared to do that. That preparation could be helped by appealing to the higher ups for some help. Rogers Communication might be in a unique position that teams with an individual owner might not be in. They have the ability to use money and other resources to sweeten the pot for Ohtani without having a direct impact on negotiations, thus not violating any procedural rules, etc. The cynical fans will say that Rogers is cheap and they’ll never use their many billions to help the Blue Jays.
They might not. But, whether it is through endorsements or through funding facilities designed to maximize his potential, Rogers Communications looks to have the potential to be quite helpful in the Blue Jays’ pursuit of Shohei Ohtani.
*Featured Image Credit: Open Grid Scheduler Under CC BY-SA 2.0
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