Here's why Mets didn't go after Ohtani

December 12th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo's Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The logic goes a little something like this: Shohei Ohtani is baseball’s best player. Steve Cohen is the game’s richest owner. So why, exactly, isn’t Ohtani a Met?

The reality is that the Mets, by all accounts, never talked seriously with Ohtani, which makes sense for two reasons. First, the industry consensus for years has been that Ohtani prefers to play on the West Coast, which is partially why he signed with the Angels in the first place. If geography truly was a deal-breaker for Ohtani, there’s not much the Mets could have done to combat it. Citi Field doesn’t even sit on the western portion of Flushing Bay.

Then there’s the matter of roster construction. Had the Mets signed Ohtani to a $700 million contract, as the Dodgers did, they would still need to add two more starting pitchers plus multiple relievers. Ohtani alone couldn’t have transformed the Mets from a fourth-place team into an immediate contender; that sort of leap would have required the Mets to spend hundreds of millions more, potentially making this offseason more expensive than the last one. Even for an owner worth billions, that’s no easy check to write.

(The news of massive deferrals in Ohtani’s contract does diminish that last point a bit, but no guarantees exist that he would have been willing to accept a similar deal from the Mets. As Cohen told The Athletic over the weekend, “The agent never reached out to me personally, and I think that’s pretty telling.”)

Those willing to take a step back understand that Cohen has been honest and consistent in calling 2024 a “bridge” year as the franchise looks toward 2025 and beyond. It’s why Ohtani, a 29-year-old who won’t be able to pitch next season while he recovers from right elbow surgery, was never a perfect fit. It’s also why the Mets weren’t an obvious suitor for Juan Soto, a potential one-year rental who would have cost significant pieces from a maturing farm system.

Put together, this mindset is what makes the Mets’ current pursuit of Yoshinobu Yamamoto feel so crucial. Unlike fellow free agents Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, Yamamoto is young enough -- just 25 -- that he’ll conceivably be just as good in five years as he is now. Signing him wouldn’t run counter to Cohen’s goals. He’s the lone top-market free agent who’s a perfect fit in Queens.

To that end, the Mets should have clarity on Yamamoto before Christmas, as previously reported in this space. In some ways, Yamamoto’s free agency carries even more intrigue than Ohtani’s, given that essentially every big-market behemoth -- Mets, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox -- has demonstrated interest in him. That wasn’t the case for Ohtani, despite his obvious greatness. If the Mets can land Yamamoto amidst such competition, their offseason can still be a notable success.