David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The last time the Mets and Yankees truly butted heads in pursuit of an elite player was during the 2007 winter meetings, when the lobby conversations at the Opryland hotel in Nashville were dominated by Johan Santana trade chatter.
Omar Minaya won that round by pulling off the trade-and-sign with the Twins for the two-time Cy Young winner. But to borrow one of Scott Boras' better analogies, the New York rivals have done their shopping in different aisles of the supermarket since then, with the Mets poking around in the freezer section and the Yankees eyeing the prime steaks.
This offseason, however, finds the teams at the intersection of a top Boras client: Shin-Soo Choo, a high-OBP corner outfielder with some power who would be the perfect fit for either club. Despite the Yankees' surprising number of holes, the Mets, with plenty of their own, have the greater void in terms of talent and star attraction.
That's what fueled the early speculation, as far back as May, about the Mets' interest in Choo, and it intensified as the season wore on. Sandy Alderson is a huge fan of on-base machines such as Choo, whose .423 OBP ranked fourth overall. And as a prominent Korean player, there would be a mutual benefit to Choo performing in New York, with the second-largest Korean population (behind Los Angeles) in the United States.
We'll get back to Choo's on-field stats in a moment. The second part of the equation is important to consider because of how it might affect the price tag for Choo, which is expected to surpass $100 million.
It's pointless to argue whether Choo deserves that kind of money; the market will determine that, and as Boras happily pointed out, it's flush with cash and a desire to spend. Unlike some other players, however, he could give his next team -- with the right level of visibility -- the chance to defray those costs.
"There have been players in markets like Ichiro who brought a tremendous amount of revenues to Seattle because of his origin,'' Boras said. "Certainly Choo is along the lines of the Michael Jordan of Korea, and both he and [Hyun-Jin] Ryu have really taken the country by storm.''
Boras tends to exaggerate -- it's part of his business plan -- and comparing Choo to Jordan is a stretch. But Ryu's impact on the Dodgers in his rookie season, on and off the field, suggests there are financial advantages to be found in high-profile Korean players in the right markets.
The Dodgers took a calculated risk on Ryu, who required a $25.7 million posting fee to secure his rights before L.A. signed him to a six-year, $36 million contract. But shortly after that was completed, the Dodgers locked up multiyear deals with new Korean sponsors, including electronics giant LG and Nexen Tire, with other companies also buying ad space at the stadium.
Ryu ranked 17th among the top-selling jerseys after the All-Star break, ahead of David Ortiz and Robinson Cano. That's not a direct payoff for the Dodgers -- the money is split evenly among the 30 teams -- but it is an indication of Ryu's popularity, which usually translates into a bump in ticket sales and increased revenues from other sources.
The Dodgers declined a request to provide any information regarding Ryu's financial impact on the club.
What that could mean for Choo's next team is difficult to calibrate now. Choo has played seven years in Cleveland and one in Cincinnati, cities with negligible Korean populations and teams that aren't exactly name brands in South Korea.
The Mets and Yankees, with their own networks in the nation's biggest TV market, offer more exposure than anywhere else. At the end of the season, Choo told the Korean media he wanted to play in a city with a big Korean community -- something he noticed when he faced Ryu in L.A. this season -- and on a World Series contender.
Those priorities often tend to be conveniently forgotten in Boras' aggressive pursuit of the top dollar, so we'll see how the market shapes up for Choo. The Mets could satisfy at least one of those requirements next season, but Alderson sounds unwilling to overpay to compensate a player for having to wait on the playoffs for another year or so.
The GM also is very reluctant to go to $100 million, and unless the Choo market comes back to the Mets, it's hard to see Alderson closing a deal for Choo, as much as he likes him.
As for the Yankees, they're not bound by the same financial constraints, only the conflicted goal of getting below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold for next year.
In the grand scheme, Choo's marketability or potential draw at the turnstiles won't help the Yankees in that regard. But for two teams needing an offseason boost as they head into an uncertain 2014, Choo is a multi-dimensional option who could be especially valuable to both.