The Mets have filled out the questionnaire sent to teams by 23-year-old two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani and expect to meet with his representatives to make a pitch, reports SNY contributor Andy Martino.
Ohtani, who was officially posted on Friday, has until Dec. 22 to sign with an MLB team. Since he can only receive a relatively small signing bonus from any team who signs him, he is expected to base his decision on factors other than money.
Ohtani's free agency and negotiation with MLB teams will be captivating. He is a unique talent, given his ability to be both an ace and an every day position player.
However, his career goals, approach to transitioning to America, and the circumstances involved with signing him are just as unique as his potential to be an All Star...
Here are answers to questions related to Ohtani and the Mets...
Are the Mets able to sign him?
Yes, because money is not an issue. Unlike the days of Yu Darvish, Ichiro and Masahiro Tanaka, because Ohtani is not yet 25 years old, he must be paid the league minimum salary during his first three seasons in the big leagues -- just like every other rookie in MLB. In other words, assuming Ohtani makes his new team's opening day roster, he'll earn just over the league minimum each of the next three seasons. He'll then be eligible for salary arbitration during 2021, 2022 and 2023 -- only after which he will again be a free agent.
Ohtani is able to ink a signing bonus. However, MLB teams are restricted to giving him only what is left in their current international bonus pool money.
The Twins, Pirates, Marlins, Yankees and Rangers all have the potential to offer more than $3 million, while the Giants, Cubs, Dodgers, and other big-market teams can only offer $300,000. And, in the case of the Mets, Angels and Tigers, they can offer only around $100,000.
The thing is, money is obviously not Ohtani's top priority, otherwise he would have waited two more years to come to MLB when -- at 25 years old -- he could have inked a $200 million deal.
Of course, before inking Ohtani to a deal, his new MLB team must first pay a $20 million fee to Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters. In the current baseball economy, though, $20 million is a small price to pay for a young man that every talent evaluator believes can be a dominant front-end starting pitcher capable of pinch hitting, being a DH or starting in the outfield a few times each week.
Will he choose the Mets?
It's possible, but I don't see it happening. I don't think he'll blow off the Mets because of a lack of interest from Sandy Alderson. Instead, I think it'll be because another city and organization will match up better with his specific career goals.
For instance, I've been told by insiders briefed on his situation that it is very important to Ohtani that he be considered a franchise player on a team with a consistent chance to win. In addition, he is not concerned with a city's nightlife, local marketing opportunities, or team history. Instead, he is focused on becoming a team leader, fan favorite, and a positive influence and reflection of his new city and its local Japanese community.
NPB's Shohei Ohtani pitching in 2017 for the Nippon-Ham Fighters. Credit: Associated Press
Along these lines, and because money is not the driving force, insiders are predicting he will end up in a smaller mid-market city, such as Denver, Seattle, or Kansas City. In these locations, he'll have to deal with less media, yet have a bigger local impact than he might in New York or Los Angeles.
What about the DH vs. Playing the Field?
Insiders say, while he enjoys pitching more than hitting, he wants to play at least a few days each week in the field and not just be a designated hitter or relegated to a novelty pinch hitter.
"I would not automatically rule out teams in the NL," an international evaluator told me Tuesday. "This kid is capable of playing 50 to 60 games in the outfield and getting 300 at bats. He's also an above-average runner. They stopped letting play the field in Japan. He was frustrated and I think it's one of the reasons he's leaving now not later. He wants to be back out there."
If this is accurate, he shouldn't hide his glove and cleats by being just a DH. Instead, going to an NL team would be the best way to assure his fielding and speed are not ignored.
Where will he end up?
Ohtani's agent sent the following list of questions to all 30 teams...
The obvious move would be for him to land in the Bronx. But, it doesn't seem this kid is obvious in any way, which is why I still see him ending up with the Rangers.
Similarly, based on the above second-hand insights and what is being inferred from his questionnaire, I see the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Mariners and -- I hate to say it -- Nationals all making more sense for him than the Giants, Twins, Dodgers and Red Sox, who are everyone's more popular picks.
I can make a case for the Mets, who I would obviously choose over all of the above. But, if Ohtani is choosing New York City, it's hard to see why he wouldn't go to the Yankees, who have Tanaka, Hideki Matsui as a team advisor, a massive global brand, an up-and-coming roster, the potential for $100 million more in payroll, and six postseason appearances during the last nine years.
That said, the Rangers have the most available bonus money, an emerging Asian-American community, their roster has room for another outfielder and starting pitcher, and recently they worked with Ohtani's idol, Yu Darvish, who they're still trying to re-sign to a multi-year deal.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is the host of SNY's MetsBlog Q&ACast and the lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!