December 8, 2023. Not since Barry Bonds signed with the Giants on December 6, 1992, has there been such an important day in Giants history. (OK, OK: There’s November 1, 2010, October 28, 2012, and October 29, 2014, but work with me here.) Anyway, yesterday Giants fans learned that the much-maligned President of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi, the risk-averse man who before yesterday couldn’t get anything of substance done, had actually delivered a Japanese free agent, a pitcher who’s had two Tommy John surgeries, and…give me a minute…wait, I’m hearing that it’s two different guys? It’s Yoshi Tsutsugo and Daulton Jefferies?
Never mind. Back to our nonstop TWG coverage of a Japanese superstar who was never going to be a Giant.
Yesterday’s comedy of errors began in the morning when MLB Network reporter J.P. Morosi announced that Shohei Ohtani’s decision about where to take his talents next would happen by the end of the day–after all, yesterday was the sixth anniversary of when Ohtani signed his first deal with the LA Angels. Then a Twitter post about a private jet traveling from Orange County (SNA) Airport to Toronto went viral. (If you want to amuse yourself, go to Twitter and search “Ohtani plane.” It got pretty hilarious for awhile.) A few hours later, Morosi tweeted that Ohtani was en route to Toronto but that no decision was official yet.
I think the last time a mode of transport was being this breathlessly tracked, it was a white Ford Bronco on the LA freeways in 1994.
Meanwhile, a Dodgers beat writer named J.P. Hoornstra posted an article confirming what seemed to be apparent: Ohtani had chosen the Toronto Blue Jays over the Dodgers, even though Joe Kelly had already agreed to give up #17 . It was a fairly in-depth piece that among other things clarified that Dave Roberts’ candor at the Winter Meetings hadn’t factored into Ohtani’s decision. (Roberts casually confirmed with reporters that yes, the Dodgers had met with Ohtani–shocking only in that all the other teams rumored to be in the mix had been universally tight-lipped under orders from Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, that any leaks would be held against teams competing for Ohtani’s services.)
Oh, and one more piece of “evidence”: It was reported by a Canadian opera singer (?!) that the Blue Jays’ Yusei Kikuchi had booked an upscale sushi restaurant near the Rogers Centre for a private party for 50 last night.
It all turned out to be false, although I suppose Kikuchi could have hosted a holiday sushi feed last night–who knows, and nobody cares at this point. Ohtani was not on the private jet that was being tracked. A Toronto businessman and his family arrived home on that jet on Friday afternoon. Other beat writers, including the always reliable Jon “Arson Judge to the Giants” Heyman and Bob Nightengale of USA Today, debunked Morosi’s claim that Ohtani had traveled to Toronto and said that he was, in fact, at his home in Newport Beach, having not yet made any decisions about his future. Morosi retracted his statement and apologized for the mistake. While other reporters denied Hoornstra’s report that Ohtani has chosen the Blue Jays, Hoornstra doubled down on it last night.
Here is an awesome timeline of the whole whacky day.
So I think we’re caught up. Has Ohtani chosen the Blue Jays? Maybe, maybe not. Is he in Newport Beach, Toronto, or neither? We don’t really know. All we do know is that it wasn’t him on the jet that was being tracked all day yesterday. What is his dog’s name? Everyone is standing by to be the first to tweet that news.
This has not been a good week for national baseball writers. It started with a three-day snoozefest at the obnoxiously large Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville. From reading tweets and listening to Kerry Crowley’s podcast this week, writers hate it when the Winter Meetings are in Nashville–they much prefer the San Diego or Las Vegas venues–specifically because they can’t stand the Gaylord, which Kerry described as a “hotel in a shopping mall.” Anyway, the writers weren’t in a good mood to begin with, and then the Winter Meetings came and went and pretty much nothing happened. Yes, there was a blockbuster trade this week involving Juan Soto, and free agent pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez signed a four-year deal with the Diamondbacks, but both of these things happened after the Winter Meetings were over. Even the Rule 5 Draft was pretty uneventful, with most teams passing on their picks and only a handful of players being claimed. Probably the most interesting moment, beyond country singer Brad Paisley* doing a stupid turn on the MLB Network set where he performed several songs about where Ohtani would end up, was when both Ohio teams jumped up in the draft lottery to get the #1-2 picks. (Cleveland got the #1 pick for the first time in franchise history!)
*If you don’t follow country music but do watch NFL football, Paisley is the guy who does the Nationwide commercials with Peyton Manning. Those are pretty funny, and I really like it when Peyton sings, “I’m not sure I like your hat” at Paisley.
So the annoyed, bored writers needed to take it out on someone, and they decided to blame: Ohtani. How dare he be so secretive? It’s bad for baseball! He should be doing a goodwill tour through the cities he’s considering and lifting them up, sort of like Taylor Swift did on the stops of her Eras Tour this year. As the logic went, in various articles by ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, and others, the Winter Meetings were boring because no one was signing any free agents or making any trades–and that was because Ohtani not only hadn’t made up his mind (and thus holding up the rest of the market) but also wasn’t allowing enough rumors to swirl around (and giving the reporters something to do). It was a whiny, petulant, bad look on the part of the national writers. Even our own Baggs slipped a bit, in an article about the Giants’ homegrown two-way players, Reggie Crawford and Bryce Eldridge, by referring to Ohtani’s free agent pursuit as “inscrutable,” which instantly evokes a racially-tinged stereotype.
My last thought about this week’s Walk of Shame for baseball writers is to feel bad for Toronto fans. Maybe they’ll still get their happy ending. But as we learned last year when false reports by Heyman and the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser gave us hope that against all odds, Aaron Judge was coming to the Giants–only to wake up the next morning and see that Judge had, as always expected, signed back with the Yankees–a false rumor may turn out to be completely wrong, not just temporarily so. It’s traumatizing, and when you add the last-minute Lucy/football incident with Carlos Correa, we Giants fans have some recent scars. Morosi’s gaffe, coming so soon after Heyman’s/Slusser’s, was honestly a bit triggering.
This Week in Giants: Worse or Better Than Nothing?
After the Winter Meetings came and went with nothing happening for the Giants–and to be fair, nothing happened for most teams–Grant Brisbee wrote a piece that basically said “Take heart, Giants fans! It could have been worse!” And he’s right: see “Arson Judge, 2022.” Ohtani, as of this moment, has not yet rejected the Giants, and neither has top pitching target Yoshinobu Yamamoto or any of the others. They’re all still on the board. By this time last year, not only had the Giants missed out on their ill-considered pursuit of Judge, but other major free agents had signed elsewhere, including Justin Verlander, Jacob DeGrom (yeah, I know), Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, and more. (The Correa debacle began on December 13 and ended on December 20, so we haven’t quite hit those anniversary milestones yet.) So…yeah, Grant is right. Other than not getting Soto in a trade–and it’s a fair question whether the Padres would ever have traded him within the NL West–all of the options are still there to have a good offseason. In that sense, the Winter Meetings, while a “nothing,” were, for the moment, a “better than nothing,” or at least “better than last year” experience.
In moderately good news, the Giants also didn’t lose anyone in the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. As I wrote last week, their most vulnerable targets were two high-A top prospects (outfielder Grant McCray and shortstop Aeverson Arteaga), and AAA reliever R.J. Dabovich. All of them are still Giants. They did lose a couple of players in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, but as Roger Munter observed on Crowley’s podcast, these were guys who were going to be squeezed out in a AA roster crunch anyway, most likely. Meanwhile, the Giants claimed (still in the minor league portion) an interesting infielder, Dariel Lopez, who was the Pirates’ #14 prospect. This McCovey Chronicles article gives a pretty thorough rundown of the players the Giants both claimed and lost in the minor league R5 draft.
As for the additions of Tsutsugo and Jefferies, they’re worth joking about a bit because they were juxtaposed with the Ohtani Flight Tracker drama, but really, they’re typical offseason business, not just for Zaidi but for any team. Tsutsugo is a 32-year-old journeyman 1B who actually finished the 2023 season in the Giants organization. He got a minor league deal with a spring training invitation. That re-signing has been in the works for weeks and likely has nothing to do with Ohtani. Jefferies was a 2016 first-round pick by the A’s and pitched briefly for them in 2020-22. He’s a Northern California guy who went to Cal and played for Bob Melvin in Oakland, but as mentioned, he’s not only recovering from his second TJ surgery (which actually was about a year ago) but also thoracic outlet surgery in June. So he’s a no-risk comeback attempt signed on a minor league deal.
Ohtani Watch, Reprise
I note that other than Morosi’s apology, it’s been crickets on Ohtani since last night. I guess so. If I were a baseball writer, I’d want a text from Ohtani himself before I said anything at this point. So there’s still time for Bailey Crawnik to reach out to Ohtani’s mysterious dog and try to recruit them to San Francisco. As Yogi and Daughtry said, “It’s not over..” Lefty out.