John Tomase

Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, and a potential Red Sox nightmare scenario

Boston could be facing a steep uphill battle in the AL East.

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Sitting out the Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto sweepstakes may be prudent in the long run, but the results still could be devastating for the 2024 Red Sox.

While only in the percolating phase at the moment, there's a nightmare scenario brewing where the two biggest stars on the market end up in the American League East. As new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow tries to chart a path out of last place, the idea of Ohtani choosing Toronto and Soto landing in New York could delay that project for at least a year, which is exactly where the Red Sox cannot afford to be.

This is all subject to change, of course, but the news out of Nashville and the winter meetings so far is not good. The Padres and Yankees reportedly remain engaged on Soto, a generational offensive talent whose left-handed swing was tailor-made for Yankee Stadium.

So far, the rumors have not advanced beyond the petulant "they're asking too much/we're being completely reasonable" stalemate that often precedes a deal, but the fact that no one else has so specifically been connected to the young slugger should be of obvious concern to the Red Sox, even if Soto is a one-and-done in pinstripes before hitting free agency next fall.

That the Yankees would engage on Soto is to be expected. The Ohtani and Toronto news qualifies as a shocker. The secretive MVP has remained a complete and utter mystery since undergoing September elbow surgery, which, incredibly, remains unspecified. Was it Tommy John or something less? We still don't know.

In any case, word out of his camp is that press leaks will be considered cause for dismissal from the sweepstakes. So that's how we end up with reports that Ohtani "is believed" to have met with the Blue Jays in Florida, per Ken Rosenthal, as well as the absurd visual of Toronto GM Ross Atkins conducting his scheduled media availability via Zoom from an undisclosed location in front of a nondescript, unidentifiable white wall, without revealing his location. Perhaps it's a safe house, because the pursuit of the two-time MVP has become a cloak-and-dagger operation.

We've already made the case that the Red Sox would be wise not to pursue either player. Ohtani is simply too big an injury risk to pay $600 million, and Soto is almost certainly a rental.

Were the Red Sox closer to contention or blessed with more young talent, a case could be made for either guy. But they're not a realistic World Series aspirant, and their farm system lacks starting pitching, which means they can't yet effectively fill in around another superstar salary.

The Blue Jays, by contrast, see their window rapidly closing. The ballyhooed young core built around Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is suddenly only two years away from free agency, and even though Toronto has taken some big swings in free agency (George Springer, Kevin Gausman) and via trade (Jose Berrios, Matt Chapman), it continues to play below the sum of its parts.

Signing Ohtani would be an acknowledgement that the future is now, even if he doesn't pitch again until 2025. It would also give a serious boost to a team that won 89 games last year despite itself and secured a wild card berth before being swept by the Twins.

The Red Sox were already going to have a tough time competing with the Jays. Adding Ohtani might take Toronto off the board entirely.

Soto could make a similar impact in New York, though the Yankees' problems run deeper than one bat. New York's rotation beyond Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole was abysmal and their offense nonexistent when Aaron Judge was injured, but the Yankees still finished four games ahead of the Red Sox, who can't relish the possibility of facing a Judge-Soto pairing in the middle of the lineup.

With the Orioles coming off a 101-win season, and the Rays doing Rays things while anonymously winning 99 games, the path out of the basement is already incredibly challenging.

Ohtani and Soto could make it a lot worse.

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