STAMFORD, Conn. — New York once was good enough for the real Babe Ruth. But on Sunday, the Big Apple didn’t make the cut for the Babe Ruth of Japan.
Shohei Ohtani’s camp informed the Yankees and Mets on Sunday afternoon that the two-way star will not be playing for either franchise.
The Yankees had long been considered the favorites to sign him. Under baseball’s international signing rules, Ohtani’s compensation will be severely limited, so much of the money he earns will be made up of off-the-field sources such as endorsements. Within the industry, it was believed that New York’s standing as the nation’s media capital would be an advantage.
They were wrong — yet another curveball thrown by Ohtani, who would be in line for a nine-figure deal if he chose to wait two more years to bring his talents across the Pacific.
“It’s already an odd circumstance for someone to come over, to forgo all that money, to come over two years before being in a completely different situation,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. “So when he did get posted under these circumstances, I think the whole industry [thinks], ‘That’s a little different.’ So I can’t be surprised that the decision-making might also be a little different.”
Ohtani, 23, who both pitches and plays the outfield, was formally posted by his current club, the Nippon Ham Fighters, on Friday. He has until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 22 to sign with a major-league club. The team that signs him will pay a $20-million fee to the Fighters but will be restricted as to how much money it can offer Ohtani.
The Yankees could have offered a $3.5-million signing bonus, more than 28 other teams. The Rangers lead the pack and can offer $3.53 million.
Cashman said he had “a sense” that Ohtani favors a smaller market on the West Coast, but he also said he was “surprised that, at the very least, we didn’t have the chance to make an in-person presentation.”
The Giants and Mariners are finalists for Ohtani’s services, Yahoo Sports reported Sunday. The Padres remain in the hunt, according to Fan Rag Sports.
“I started getting a feeling that wasn’t good a few days ago,” Cashman said. “I know that our presentation was excellent. The feedback was outstanding, but . . . I can’t change that we’re a big market, and I can’t change that we’re in the East. That was something that, presentation or not, might be a difficult thing to overcome. Then I got the unfortunate news today that we were out of the picture.”
Cashman said the Yankees’ presentation to Ohtani was “pretty extensive” and added, “I told our staff when we filed it, ‘If it’s not going to be us, it’s not going to be because of us.’ We’ve scouted him since 2012, and unfortunately one thing you can’t do is get in the house and get a chance to know the person, so you’re flying blind a little bit. All you can do is educate them about who you are and what you are. And the brand stands for itself, too. We did that.”
The Mets weren’t nearly as aggressive. Their scouting presence with Ohtani was relatively light, and the idea of pursuing him did not take root until relatively recently. General manager Sandy Alderson said last month that he was intrigued by the idea of a two-way player in the big leagues, though team officials considered themselves long shots in the sweepstakes. Still, sources said the Mets put together a multimedia presentation for Ohtani’s camp. It wasn’t persuasive enough to bring forth an in-person meeting.
In five seasons with the Fighters, Ohtani, who throws righthanded and bats lefthanded, had a .286/.358/.500 slash line and hit 48 home runs in 1,035 at-bats. He also posted a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA in 543 innings.
The collective-bargaining agreement limits how much money major-league teams can offer Ohtani. Because he is 23, he can receive only a minor-league contract, and any signing bonus he receives will count against a team’s international bonus pool money. International players need to be at least 25 with six years of professional experience to qualify for major-league contracts, according to the CBA.
“He’s an exciting young talent, so some fan base is going to be excited about it,” Cashman said. “Was it disappointing? Yes, because I think we have as much to offer as anybody. This is a great situation. We have tremendous ownership, a great young team, an amazing fan base and as good a city to live in as any place in the world.”