ORLANDO, Fla. — Mets officials know that the competition will be fierce for Japanese megastar Shohei Ohtani. They begin the process with the understanding that they’ll likely be long shots to win a battle that includes most every other team in baseball.
Yet, general manager Sandy Alderson on Wednesday did not hide his level of intrigue in Ohtani, the pitching and hitting dual-threat star who has been hailed as the Japanese equivalent of Babe Ruth.
“There’s still a lot to be learned to be in his situation and how it potentially will unfold,” Alderson said before departing the general managers’ meetings. “But to sit here today and say ‘no, we’re not interested,’ would be foolish.”
As first reported by Newsday, the Mets have interest in making a push for Ohtani. According to a source, internal conversations are expected to ramp up within the week. The goal is to map out specific strategies to lure a player the Mets believe to be an immediate game-changer.
The Mets had not been counted among the large-market teams expected to jump into the race for Ohtani. Unlike some of his counterparts, Alderson did not watch Ohtani pitch live. When reports trickled out earlier this season about rival clubs sending large scouting contingents to Japan, the Mets were conspicuously absent.
Industry sources described the Mets’ presence as light in comparison to other teams, adding to the perception of tepid interest.
But Alderson said Mets scouts believe Ohtani, 23, to be an impact player on the mound and at the plate. Ohtani hit .332 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 65 games, and went 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA in five starts this past season for the Nippon Ham Fighters. A source said that the Mets quietly have been laying groundwork for making a pitch, with the ultimate goal of formulating a firm strategy to entice Ohtani.
Alderson’s interest has been piqued, no surprise given his history.
As A’s GM, Alderson once attempted to give a big-league contract to Michael Jordan during his hiatus from basketball. With the Mets, Alderson spearheaded the signing of Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
When discussing Ohtani, he used many of the same words that he used to describe that move. He talked of a “novelty factor” and “uniqueness.” He referred specifically to Ohtani’s skills as a hard-throwing ace and a power-hitting slugger, and the intrigue of watching him attempt to star in both areas.
“This is an entertainment business,” Alderson said. “The foundation is baseball, but it’s entertainment. To see someone with that kind of talent potentially do what others have not been able to do, that’ll be an exciting experience for the team involved as well as the rest of baseball. I think it will be fascinating.”
Hurdles remain in the pursuit of Ohtani. First, the players’ union and Major League Baseball must hash out a dispute in posting system rules, though baseball’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said on Wednesday that a resolution is expected by early December.
Then, interested teams must pay what’s expected to be a $20- million posting fee. And because new rules effectively limit Ohtani’s first bonus to $3.5 million, virtually every team in baseball could enter the sweepstakes.
With actual salary less of a factor than other ways to generate income, the Mets may have some advantages just on market size alone.
New York’s status as the nation’s media capital provides easy access to the lucrative endorsement deals that will make up the bulk of Ohtani’s early compensation. Of course, the Yankees can claim the same, and the Dodgers bring a similar allure.
Also, the Mets have a strong working relationship with Ohtani’s agency, CAA. The firm represents Tebow along with Mets mainstays Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes.
“I don’t think there’s a downside in looking into it,” Alderson said. “I think the only downside is creating a false set of expectations on the part of fans, which I think have to be tempered. This guy could go to any one of 30 teams. As I said, at this stage, almost everybody has to be somewhat interested.”
Juan Lagares and Tim Tebow are working with the same swing coach who hastened J.D. Martinez’s transformation into an elite hitter. Rival clubs have brought up Lagares in trade discussions, but the Mets have not engaged, according to a source . . . T.J. Rivera’s recovery from Tommy John surgery may linger into midseason, which is why he hasn’t been considered a contender to play second base . . . The Mets officially announced their coaching staff for next season: Gary DiSarcina will be the bench coach, Dave Eiland will be the pitching coach, Pat Roessler will be the hitting coach, Glenn Sherlock will return as the third-base coach, Ruben Amaro Jr. will serve as first-base coach, Ricky Bones will return as the bullpen coach and Tom Slater will join the staff as the assistant hitting coach . . . Mets individual game tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m., the club announced.