For once there was nothing the Yankees could do to sway a free agent.
Their money couldn’t help them. Their championship tradition didn’t matter. Their location in the great city of New York turned out to be a non-starter because Shohei Otani apparently wants to play on the West Coast.
So this was the rare case when the Yankees must have felt a little bit like the Kansas City Royals or the Minnesota Twins, helpless to land a player they desperately wanted.
They had to be shocked and probably a little bit insulted: the guy wouldn’t even take their meeting.
All of this should do wonders for Otani’s popularity around the rest of the country, of course, and the rest of baseball too, considering he couldn’t be so much as tempted, never mind seduced, by all that the Evil Empire has to offer.
In the Bronx he might get the Pedro Martinez treatment now, yet his rejection of the Yankees is bound to create even more mystique about a player who already has been labeled the Babe Ruth of Japan, and seems to be determined to prove he can be a star at the plate and on the mound in the big leagues.
Shohei Otani eliminated the Yankees from his list of teams.
As it is, Otani has baseball people wondering why he wouldn’t wait two more years, until he’s 25, when he could sign for perhaps $ 200 million rather than the couple of million he’s restricted to now from a team’s international signing pool money.
Those restrictions were one reason so many in the game considered the Yankees a favorite — their brand is so popular in Japan it would assure Otani of cashing in on for millions more in endorsements.
But now it seems Otani is being guided by his own personal choices, starting with a preference for the West Coast, apparently to be closer to Japan.
And if it’s true that he also would prefer a small-market team, as GM Brian Cashman indicated while telling reporters on Sunday night that the Yankees were out of the running, then perhaps he’s not looking for the easiest route to a championship, either.
It all makes for great intrigue, just not so much around here now. The Mets were informed on Sunday they were out of consideration as well, according to a source, but they were never getting their hopes up at the prospect of hitting the lottery on Otani, getting a potential No. 1 starting pitcher at such a bargain price.
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman speaks during a news conference in which he addressed the team’s trades and acquisitions in New York, Monday, July 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
No, this was about the Yankees, because it seemed to make sense that the Babe Ruth of Japan would want to play in the upgraded version of The House That Ruth Built — and more to the point, add his youthful star power to an organization loaded with young talent in an effort to win championships for years to come.
Slot him between Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka at the top of the rotation, in fact, together with Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery and perhaps CC Sabathia again, and the Yankees could have boasted the best, deepest pitching in all of baseball.
Indeed, his arrival would have made it seem all the more likely they could take that next step to a championship in 2018, after getting to Game 7 in the ALCS this year.
Obviously they knew it, too. Cashman made an on-camera pitch to Otani while hanging off the side of a building on Friday, while practicing for his annual holiday rappelling act in Stamford, Conn., as a way of letting him know how much the Yankees wanted him.
And they were already prepared for an elaborate in-person presentation, which they expected to make this week.
The Babe Ruth of Japan will not be coming to New York.
Instead, Cashman will have to turn to Plan B, which primarily means adding more starting pitching. That probably makes it more likely the Yankees offer Sabathia a chance to return next season, though it’s still hard to see them offering him more than a one-year deal.
Or they could be concerned enough about Sabathia’s age and well-documented knee injury that they decide to spend on a younger free-agent pitcher such as Alex Cobb, a 30-year-old righthander who was one of the top pitchers in the American League the second half of last season for the Rays.
Even if Cobb costs $ 16 million-$ 17 million a year over four years, the Yankees can spend that type of money and still get under the luxury-tax threshold of $ 197 million next season, thanks to the $ 70 or so million coming off the books in expiring contracts.
Or they could hope Chad Green makes a successful transition from his great year in the bullpen back to a starting pitcher.
And they have more power arms coming from the likes of Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, Albert Abreu, Domingo German, and Domingo Acevedo.
In short, missing out on Otani isn’t going to wreck the bright future the Yankees are building in the Bronx.
The shock of rejection, however, might take some getting over.