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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets should show Shohei Ohtani the Citi

Mets’ push for the Japanese Babe Ruth makes sense on many levels.

Japanese pitcher-outfielder Shohei Ohtani arrives for a press

Japanese pitcher-outfielder Shohei Ohtani arrives for a press conference at Japanese National Press Center in Tokyo, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Koji Sasahara

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Mets captured the city’s imagination with their improbable World Series run in 2015 but have been chasing that feeling ever since, and stumbled badly last season to the brink of becoming totally irrelevant.

Want to know how to change all that? A way to restore the damaged pride of a franchise looking to instantly matter again?

Sign Shohei Ohtani.

Easy for us to say, right? We’re not putting up the $20-million posting feel. But don’t take our word for it. The Mets have internally discussed Ohtani and are not ruling out a potential push for the Japanese megastar, according to multiple sources familiar with the team’s thinking, as MLB clubs wait for a resolution to the expired posting agreement.

At this stage, everything is preliminary. Other than the Nippon-Ham Fighters saying they will indeed post their ace pitcher, a two-way threat described as the Japanese Babe Ruth, and Ohtani stating his desire to come to the States, the process itself remains in a holding pattern. While it’s believed that Ohtani will be grandfathered into the old system, which allows any team to pay $20 million for the right to negotiate with him, MLB still has to hammer out a new agreement to free him up, presumably by next month’s winter meetings.

But here’s why this is a unique opportunity for the Mets, who, as we know, can get a little preoccupied by payroll. After putting up that $20-million release fee, Ohtani becomes a steal, as teams can only pay him whatever they have in their international bonus pool, due to the restrictions on players under the age of 25.

The Mets would need a trade or two to raise funds in their own pool, but when you consider that the Rangers lead the pack at $3.535 million, followed by the Yankees at $3.25M, it’s safe to say Ohtani isn’t picking a team based on the cash. As for other motivating factors, the Mets can compete with plenty of clubs in that arena.

For instance, only two teams out of 30 call New York home, and if a star athlete is looking to pump up his income through marketing opportunities, it doesn’t get any more lucrative than the Big Apple. Despite coming off a 70-win season, the Mets’ popularity rarely wavers, due to an extremely loyal fan base stretched over the tristate region.

The Mets also can give Ohtani the chance to hit on a regular basis when he’s a starting pitcher, by virtue of being in the National League, and could allow him to play the outfield on occasion, as he’s expressed a desire to do. Of course, Ohtani is going to want to sign with a contending team, so the Mets — who have pledged to be aggressive this offseason — must present him with a blueprint that shows a believable path back to the playoffs.

It all makes for a credible sales pitch. As for what Ohtani would bring to Flushing, the benefits far outweigh the cost, and we could see GM Sandy Alderson maybe laying in the weeds to make a big splash here. He’s already renovated the coaching staff with a pitching-minded manager in Mickey Callaway, so why not transform this into a next-level offseason by employing Ohtani’s magnetism to pull the spotlight back onto Citi Field?

Alderson enjoys creating this kind of sizzle when the opportunity presents itself. Remember, this is the GM who tipped the baseball world upside down by signing Tim Tebow, a move straight from the P.T. Barnum playbook — and yet one that broke attendance records in the South Atlantic and Florida State leagues.

Ohtani is no Tebow, obviously. He’s a No. 1 caliber pitcher — with a 100-mph fastball and video-game breaking stuff — that would rejuvenate a Mets rotation forever falling short of its elite potential. Adding Ohtani also would allow Alderson to perhaps trade a coveted arm or two for a positional need that otherwise figures to be too pricey on the free-agent market. Offensively, Ohtani has a .973 OPS over his last 169 games — he was limited last season by an ankle injury — so that’s a useful bat for a Mets lineup needing a boost.

Frankly, the odds of the Mets luring Ohtani away from the Yankees or Dodgers feels like a long shot. This would be an upset of ’69 proportions. But count them among the teams at least discussing Ohtani, and that’s all we’re asking for at this point.

New York Sports