Shohei Ohtani may help one of those teams do that.
Baseball fans are restless in New York, eager to see changes that would bring a World Series back to a baseball-mad city. The two fanbases are eager to see championships and both are eager to see the Yankees and Mets do what big-market teams are supposed to do in the offseason by signing the biggest free agent available.
Baseball’s most intriguing offseason in years begins Tuesday with the general manager meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. Whether or not either team plans to pursue the game’s unicorn is still unclear, but both should, at the very minimum, attempt.
Even if the former Los Angeles Angels two-way star can’t pitch next season because of Tommy John surgery, even if he’s still a risk for injury and even if he comes at the cost of a draft pick, it’s still a worthwhile pursuit. Aside from his prolific production on both sides of the ball, the revenue he brings in based on ticket sales and concessions, and the increased attention he commands worldwide make it worthwhile in and of itself.
A player like the 29-year-old Ohtani could change the future of a franchise, but expectations of that are quite tempered considering his injury history, plus the fact that he played alongside Mike Trout for six years and still never made it to the playoffs. It shows just how little is guaranteed in baseball.
But this race isn’t an easy one to handicap. Vegas oddsmakers can try all they want, but the reality is that we still don’t know what, exactly Ohtani is looking for in his next situation. The Mets have money, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have the location. The Yankees have prestige, but the Seattle Mariners play in a city that doesn’t get much of the spotlight and boasts a large Japanese community. Maybe the Texas Rangers have jumped onto his radar with their World Series win.
The only thing we can do is try to read the tea leaves. Ohtani is likely seeking a record amount of money and a chance to win a World Series. He also may be seeking a team that will let him call his shots, much like he did in Anaheim.
The Angels allowed him to pitch and hit when he came over from Japan for the 2018 season, something that other teams did not want him to do at the time. The Halos often let Ohtani dictate when he was going to pitch, letting him skip starts or delay starts when he felt his body needed rest. The amount of stress he put on his body was tremendous and the fickle nature of the elbow always threatened to take him off the field.
The Angels also let him dictate when he would talk to the media. They could do that as the secondary team in the Los Angeles market. While Orange County and the surrounding Inland Empire boast a devoted fanbase, the reality is that the team lags in popularity to the Dodgers and the Lakers. Talking to the media helps with popularity. Staying on the field does as well. But communicating plans happened on Ohtani’s terms, leaving fans to wonder what was going on.
He mostly spoke only after days he pitched, which meant hearing from him only once a week, if that. After he was shut down from pitching in August, he didn’t speak for the rest of the season. His agent, Nez Balelo, spoke on his behalf in September.
Ohtani may not be allowed the same freedoms on the East Coast. They may want to keep him on a more regular schedule both on the field and off of it. The country’s largest media market isn’t a place where players can shrink from the spotlight, and media plans would need to be put in place.
The Mets have considered this, and every other team likely has as well.
There is a possibility that Ohtani just isn’t a fit for New York. He did spurn the two teams in 2017 when he left Japan for Anaheim. The New York teams will check the salary boxes, but it’s unlikely they’ll give him the complete autonomy that the Angels gave him, especially when it comes to doing media. But then again, this market is made for the biggest stars in sports. Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, David Wright, Eli Manning and countless others have shined on sports’ biggest stage. Does he want to be a part of it?
What Ohtani does and where he goes will dictate the rest of the market. In the coming weeks, we’ll find out what exactly is that he’s looking for and whether or not the Mets or the Yankees can provide that for him.