A couple of weeks ago I wrote that the Chicago Cubs front office would very much be “IN” on the Shohei Ohtani conversations. There were a couple of issues the team would have to iron out first in order for this to come true. It appears that the team is working to iron out those issues right now.
— Charles the Cat™ (@CharlsMeow) November 25, 2017
Why all the fuss about a 23-year old player that has never proven himself in the American game? Ohtani is already an incredibly gifted hitter. He has power, can hit for average, sprays to all fields. In fact, one scout, when talking to MLB.com, told them he would be able to hit MLB pitching now.
“He’s a big, strong guy,” the second scouting director said. “At 6-foot-5, he’s a long-lever guy. He has shortened up his swing a little and has the chance to hit for some power.”
Shohei Otani’s swing is beautiful. pic.twitter.com/QxESBhTa9B
— Max Wildstein (@MaxWildstein) November 15, 2017
But that isn’t it. Ohtani has a 102-MPH fastball and the stuff to be a true number one pitcher in the MLB.
“He’s every bit of a top-end-of-the-rotation starter,” said another international scouting director who saw Ohtani pitch recently. “He threw well the other day, even if his command was a little off. The stuff is there. He has all the pitches he needs. He’s 23 and everything works. He’s shown he can put it together in the Japan League. For me, he would go straight to the big leagues and figure it out there.”
You will get an ace that will hit 20 or more home runs AND be controlled by the team for six-years at a rookie deal price. This is why the baseball world will be flipped upside down trying to acquire him. But the Cubs are probably working from behind here…
The biggest hurdle the Cubs would have is, how do they get Ohtani consistent at-bats? The team will be fighting against American League teams like the New York Yankees, or Los Angelas Angels. Teams that have a lot of opportunity in the game and potentially more away from the game. Maybe Ohtani, who admires and looks up to Ichiro Suzuki, and goes to the Seattle Mariners?
Then there is that whole question of money. The Texas Rangers have the most money available to them under the international bonus pool, $3.5 million, whereas the Cubs have $300,000. If an American League team like the Rangers can offer more money AND the ability to hit everyday AND pitch… how do the Cubs compete with that?
I don’t think the Cubs have to. With Ohtani electing to come to the states this season, one in which he can only earn a small portion of bonus money and a small base salary – he is telling the world it isn’t about the money to him. See, Ohtani could wait two seasons and come to the states like and be a regular free agent. If he were to do that, he would certainly command a $200 million deal. But instead, he could earn a deal worth around $6.5 million (not including arbitration increases).
If it isn’t money that he is concerned about, it will just have to come down to the pitch.
Well, luckily that’s why Theo Epstein is paid as well as he is. I am sure he can put together a phenomenal package that entices Ohtani to consider the Cubs. This will hinge around the ability to play the field (either corner outfield spot) and pitch. The Cubs pitch will certainly include the fact that they are in a window to win the World Series, and someone like Ohtani can ensure they stay in that window for a long time.
Winning isn’t something a lot of teams can offer, at least not seriously. The other thing the Cubs can offer, that a team like Seattle or Texas or the Minnesota Twins can’t – visibility.
In cities like Chicago, New York, and LA, Ohtani can be marketed to brands all around the world. The potential for endorsements will be aplenty, and Ohtani will have the pick from the biggest companies in any of those three cities.
But ultimately I think his decision will purely be a baseball decision. Which team and which franchise gives him the ability to play baseball and be successful. This is where I think the Cubs have the upper hand.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon has worked with tons of young budding stars, and has helped them realize their potential. The Cubs front office has a lot of experience working with Japanese players, and will be able to assist in any logistical stresses he may encounter.
The Cubs may have an uphill battle when trying to acquire Ohtani, but (and I hate this saying usually) trust in Theo. Oh, and here are some highlights on Ohtani in the World Baseball Classic. Stay till the end… he puts a ball through the roof.
And we got excited when Kyle Schwarber put a ball on top of a scoreboard…