The Yankees, who shockingly made the ALCS in a year when they were supposed to be in some form of a rebuild, did not even make it to the second round of the Shohei Ohtani derby when they were perceived as favorites.
Brian Cashman revealed Sunday that the Yankees were told they were no longer being considered by Ohtani just two days after he was posted and could begin the process of talking to teams. So that means they did not even make it to a sit-down with the biggest star in Japan.
They will keep the brave public face about that they are still a good team and they will now pivot in another direction. But one Yankees official admitted to being “bummed,” and even that is understatement. For there was such buildup and anticipation for this player coming to The Bronx that it actually feels like they lost the rights to someone who was never even in their employ.
The Yankees felt that they were the perfect fit for Ohtani and because of that he would see it the same way. They needed a starter and did not have an established DH, so that would have provided an ideal place for Ohtani to try to be both a pitcher and a hitter, especially as a lefty power guy with the allure of the short right-field porch.
That would be at the House That Ruth Built for the player hailed as the Japanese Babe Ruth. This would be the Yankees, who had already done well with huge Japanese stars Hideki Matsui and Masahiro Tanaka.
This would be the Yankees, who did go to the ALCS in 2017 and look set up to be strong contenders for years to come. This is the Yankees, who stand with a few other clubs at the forefront of analytics and sports science, which perhaps gives them greater insight into how to keep a combined pitcher/hitter healthy. This would be the Yankees, the most popular major league team in Japan, providing Ohtani a chance to make tons of dough off the field.
And for the Yankees there was the huge — and the huge can’t be overstated — benefit that Ohtani would cost a pittance toward the luxury-tax payroll in 2018 when they have pledged to get under the $197 million threshold. Ohtani would have provided a substantial talent at low costs, solving potentially two roster spots.
Instead, Cashman said that a West Coast team and/or a smaller market should be viewed as the favorite, though pretty much any market — Los Angeles included — is smaller than New York. The Mariners have operated with some confidence and they might now actually be the favorites — though being tabbed the favorites in this mysterious process might not be much of a benefit, as the Yankees learned.
It is worthwhile to remember that, while with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, the 23-year-old Ohtani mainly lived in the dorms with teammates as high school draftees in Japan are required to do for four years. Thus, a big city on his own might not be for him. He also — probably more importantly — turned down the chance to make $200 million or more if he just waited two more years before coming to the majors. Instead, he will receive a bonus of no more than $3.5 million and a minimum salary for 2018.
Those were the bread crumbs to follow on where he might go, not to just assume the Yankees were the favorites.
The Yankees now will have to consider other starting pitching and at higher prices — and probably with far less skill. They can bring CC Sabathia back and feel that with him, Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery they have a solid rotation, with youngsters such as Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield nearly ready to contribute.
But they also will have to check in on free agents, though I suspect that Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta will be out of their price range, and maybe even Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn as the Yanks count every penny toward the threshold. Maybe a trade for someone such as Gerrit Cole becomes more attractive.
No matter what, it is part of a Plan B because Plan A was Ohtani.
The Yanks thought they had a strong chance at him and never even got a face-to-face interview — so now they have to do an about face on their winter strategy.