ORLANDO, Fla. — Intrigued by his star power, and emboldened by new rules that will leave him within their financial reach, the Mets are weighing a pursuit of two-way Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, multiple sources told Newsday.
Ohtani, 23, is regarded as a hard-throwing righthanded ace on the mound and a feared lefthanded slugger in the outfield. His long-awaited departure to Major League Baseball has been delayed by a dispute surrounding the posting fee his Japanese team would receive in exchange for his rights.
But if that roadblock is removed and Ohtani is made available — meaning a $20-million posting fee for the Nippon Hokkaido-Ham Fighters — sources said the Mets have not ruled out making a pitch for his services. Doing so would take advantage of rules that will depress his signing bonus, even if landing Ohtani still appears to be a longshot.
A supreme talent, Ohtani would have been in line for a nine-figure payday under baseball’s old international rules. And with the Mets’ payroll coming down from $155 million, they would have been priced out. Instead, new rules mean his signing bonus must come from a team’s international bonus pool, which effectively caps his compensation to $3.5 million on top of a minor-league deal. It’s a price range that the Mets can afford.
Because Ohtani’s salary will be limited — at least initially — the bulk of his initial compensation will be tied to endorsements. New York, the nation’s largest media market, would be particularly attractive.
Ohtani’s decision to have CAA represent him in negotiations also may create an opening. The agency already has a strong relationship with the Mets. Its clients include mainstays Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom.
The other wild card in the equation is Mets general manager Sandy Alderson. The former Marine and longtime executive has a reputation for discipline, but those who have worked with him insist he also has a showman’s side.
While running the Oakland A’s, Alderson offered a major-league contract to Michael Jordan, preparing to give a roster spot to the NBA superstar even though he never had played professional baseball. More recently, Alderson signed former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow to a minor-league deal, a move he admitted was made with an eye toward marketing. Tebow is also a CAA client.
Ohtani, of course, would be more than a publicity stunt, and sources said the Mets were among the teams to have scouted him.
The competition figures to be fierce. Ohtani almost certainly will be sought after by the game’s most well-heeled teams. That group includes the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. Others also will come forward with pitches because typical financial barriers will not apply.
The Mets would have their own hurdles to clear. Should they decide to pursue Ohtani, they would need to make trades to replenish their international bonus pool money.
Still, Ohtani would provide a creative solution for the Mets, who want to bolster their pitching and add a middle of the order bat despite limited payroll flexibility.
The Mets continued work on other fronts at the general manager’s meetings. A source confirmed that team officials met with agents for centerfielder Lorenzo Cain and first baseman Carlos Santana. But a source categorized both as “preliminary” and part of a larger effort to discuss multiple clients with agents.
The Mets likely will target a second baseman, probably in a trade. But assistant general manager John Ricco left open the possibility of adding a third baseman, with Asdrubal Cabrera shifting to second if the deal is right. Said Ricco: “There’s a lot of options on the table that if we fill third base in some other way, maybe we move Asdrubal.”
Sources said teams have approached the Mets about trading for some of their young, controllable arms, among them Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. All could be used as trade chips to fill other needs.
As for bolstering the bullpen, perhaps the team’s top offseason priority, sources said the Mets are willing to entertain the kind of three-year deals that Alderson traditionally has shied away from offering to relievers. It’s a concession that would put the Mets in play for a class of free-agent relievers that includes Addison Reed, Mike Minor and Brandon Morrow.