How does Shohei Ohtani’s injury impact next contract, Mets interest in free agency?

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Shohei Ohtani Angels Mets
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws to the plate during the second inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Steve Cohen tempered expectations of the Mets in free agency this upcoming winter after pivoting the organizational focus for the 2024 season

Admitting that he told Max Scherzer that they wouldn’t be going “all in” on free agents in the offseason before trading him to the Texas Rangers, it suggested that the Mets’ long-anticipated pursuit of Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani was grounded before it even began.

Whether or not that was a ploy used by Cohen just to get Scherzer and Justin Verlander’s money off the books ultimately remains to be seen, but the Mets have no other choice but to hit the free agency market to address a thin pitching staff and to potentially plug in the considerable void at designated hitter in a lineup that had received little production from the spot over the last two years. 

Ohtani, naturally considered the holy grail of this upcoming free-agent class, would have addressed both of those issues. His MLB-leading 44-home-run bat would seamlessly fit into a Mets lineup that already has one of the premier sluggers in the game with Pete Alonso. 

Shohei Ohtani Yankees Angels
Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani celebrates as he rounds first after hitting a two-run home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees Monday, July 17, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

But it was his arm that made him the greatest two-way talent in the game since Babe Ruth (he was 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.061 WHIP this year) that was going to earn him the richest player contract in MLB history — one that could have soared over $500 million.

Then Wednesday happened — and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to suggest that the Angels are cursed. 

Shortly after they announced that fellow superstar Mike Trout would go back to the IL 48 hours after being activated, it was revealed that Ohtani suffered a torn UCL after leaving his start early due to what was initially described by the team as arm fatigue.

He’s done pitching for the season and surgery, as of Thursday morning, isn’t off the table yet. But the 29-year-old played in the second game of the doubleheader on Wednesday and could still very well be an offensive force for the rest of the season. He dealt with the very same injury in 2018 and still batted in 2019 despite undergoing Tommy John surgery. 

Still, the value of his contract is due to plummet considering half of his generational arsenal is potentially being taken away for at least the next season. It’s also fair to wonder just how sustainable his arm can be for the term of a long contract if he were to undergo a second operation. 

To protect themselves from such unknowns, the team that ultimately comes away with his signature in free agency this winter could build big-time pitching-based incentives to catapult the deal to where it rightfully should be if Ohtani returns to his top-tier pitching level.

Would this be something that potentially interests the Mets?

Steve Cohen Mets
Mets owner Steve Cohen (Rob Cuni/AMNY)

Ohtani is still going to be worth at least $200 million just based on his bat, which is a hefty price tag for a player that might only be able to DH next season. The Mets already have one more big contract to dole out should they decide to extend the franchise first baseman, Alonso, and the radio silence that has come from Cohen and GM Billy Eppler makes it seem as though they’re wary to do so. 

Of course, the allure of one day having a healthy Ohtani might be too great a temptation for the Mets’ front office to at least explore. But considering the Mets need to sign at least two starting pitchers this offseason — one of them potentially being Ohtani’s compatriot in Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto — and want to make their pipeline of young talent from the farm system a sustainable one, committing exorbitant future funds for a now-injured Ohtani might be unfavorably looked upon in New York’s front office.

For more on the Mets and Shohei Ohtani, visit AMNY.com