NEW YORK — The New York Yankees’ pursuit of Shohei Ohtani is over before it started. Ohtani, the pitching and hitting sensation from Japan, has told the Yankees he will not sign with them.
General manager Brian Cashman revealed the news to reporters Sunday night in Stamford, Connecticut, before his annual rappel down a building for the city’s Heights & Lights event. Cashman said Ohtani’s representatives had told him there was nothing the Yankees could do, because Ohtani prefers to play in a smaller market.
Cashman added that he would be excited if he were a team in a smaller market on the West Coast. So, not surprisingly, news quickly surfaced that the Boston Red Sox were also out of consideration. General manager Dave Dombrowski told The Boston Globe that he had been informed that Ohtani would not play for the Red Sox.
The bidding for Ohtani is intriguing because of the restrictions on how much teams can pay. Because Ohtani is only 23, with just five years of professional experience, he is subject to baseball’s international bonus pool system, which limits him to a bonus of around $3.5 million and a rookie contract at the major league minimum of $545,000 next season.
The team that signs Ohtani must pay $20 million to his Japanese team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters. But the low cost for a potential two-way superstar — with six years of club control — makes Ohtani a consideration for nearly every team, though only American League teams could offer him a chance for regular work as a designated hitter.
Ohtani, who also has experience as a corner outfielder, hit .322 with 22 home runs in 104 games in 2016; his career slugging percentage is .500. In his pitching career, he is 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings.
On the surface, the Yankees had seemed to be appealing for Ohtani, considering their success with Japanese stars like Hideki Matsui, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka; their status as a perennial winner; and the marketing potential for a prominent New York athlete. But Ohtani’s decision not to even meet with the Yankees underscores just how little is known about his preferences.
Two AL teams that could clearly use Ohtani — and fit the description of a smaller market on the West Coast — are the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Both finished far behind the World Series champion Houston Astros in the AL West but want desperately to win while their best players — the Mariners’ Robinson Cano and the Angels’ Mike Trout — are still in their primes.
The Mariners have a long history of Japanese stars, and when the Angels acquired more than $1 million in international bonus money last week in a trade with the Atlanta Braves, general manager Billy Eppler said he would apply it to a pursuit of Ohtani.
Then again, the Mariners and the Angels have veteran designated hitters (Nelson Cruz for Seattle, Albert Pujols for the Angels), which could complicate their pitch to Ohtani. The Oakland Athletics have finished in last place in each of the last three seasons, but they traded their primary designated hitter, Ryon Healy, and have a history of creative player moves.