This being the offseason, and the Mets being the Mets, it’s no surprise that we’re simultaneously being treated to A) rumors that the Mets are in on all the hottest free agent commodities, and B) explanations as to why these rumors cannot possibly be true. It’s a tradition about as old as free agency itself, which encompasses names as varied as Michael Bourn, Aroldis Chapman, and Norihiro Nakamura. But this time, it’s different — the rumors are even more salacious than usual, and even more enticing.
It’s hard to look at Shohei Otani and see anything but greatness. He’s 23 years old, has pitched like a superstar in Japan for the last three years, and is an offensive force. He’s been called the Japanese Babe Ruth, but that seems an insult to his physique, if nothing else. Shohei Otani is the real deal — you don’t need to look at a list of suitors (which is, for the most part, just a list of every baseball team) to know that.
That’s why it was disappointing when, during the 2017 season, the Mets neglected to send a scout to watch Otani in person. And it’s also why it was pleasantly surprising, and vaguely electrifying, to wake up to this reporting from Newsday:
Mets officials know that the competition will be fierce for Japanese megastar Shohei Otani. They begin the process with the understanding that they’ll likely be long shots to win a battle that includes most every other team in baseball.
Yet, general manager Sandy Alderson on Wednesday did not hide his level of intrigue in Otani, the pitching and hitting dual-threat star who has been hailed as the Japanese equivalent of Babe Ruth.
“There’s still a lot to be learned to be in his situation and how it potentially will unfold,” Alderson said before departing the general managers’ meetings. “But to sit here today and say ‘no, we’re not interested,’ would be foolish.”
Several things are obvious, right off the bat. There’s no chance, none in the world, that Shohei Otani lands in Queens, except maybe at Laguardia Airport on his way to the Bronx. The Mets have played this game before, recently enough that we can all remember it: as far as I can remember, the Mets have expressed moderate interest in roughly every high-level free agent ever, and as the record will attest, our success rate has been far from optimal.
But I’m a Mets fan — aren’t we all? I’ve learned to get over past disappointments, and forge on into tomorrow still expecting the best. With this team, after all, getting over past disappointments isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. And we know it, and they know it too — why else would this ludicrous, infeasible interest in Shohei Otani be making the rounds just as the winter starts to get cold, if not to jog interest in a fanbase that’s proven itself gullible time and again?
Well, maybe there’s another reason — and here, gullible time and again comes into distinct focus. Maybe it’s real. Maybe, this time, it’s the real thing.
Time for some disclosure: I’m all-in on Shohei Otani. I can’t think of anything I want more than to see him wearing the orange and blue in Queens next March. Do I like the homegrown group of talent we’ve cobbled together? Sure — who doesn’t? But I also liked 2006, when we put together a team of overpaid free agent superstars and kicked opponents to the curb every night. Maybe 2006 was too much of a good thing, as 2009-2014 indicated — but there’s got to be a balance. And in that balance, right in that grey area that’s not too organically assembled and not too dream-teamy, Shohei Otani is waiting.
We can tweet and comment and grouse as much as we like about how we’ll never see the likes of Shohei Otani again, but what we’re unable to do is conceal just how much we want him. How much we want a superstar who’s sold out the stadium before he’s thrown a pitch, a player whose jersey starts appearing all over the five boroughs you can’t help but be excited. An established superstar, with nothing to prove and everything to show off. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those, and I’d say the time is ripe for another.
And I know, there’s no chance in hell that it happens. But consider this my formal plea. Mets management: give us hope. Give us a spark. Give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and give us something to dream about at night. Give us a wing, a prayer, and a rocket powered arm.
Give us Shohei Otani. And let the dreaming commence.