Cubs

The Cubs are a perfect fit for Shohei Ohtani

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AP

The Cubs are a perfect fit for Shohei Ohtani

Let's get a disclaimer out of the way first: Every single team in baseball is a fit for Shohei Ohtani.

Who wouldn't want a 23-year-old pitcher who can touch triple digits with his fastball, provide quality at-bats (and power) from the left side and only costs a few million of payroll (plus a $20 million posting fee)?

But the Cubs may be the best fit in Major League Baseball for the young Japanese phenom.

Because the money is so reasonable — Ohtani could've made hundreds of millions and would've incited a bidding war unlike anything we've seen if he waited to be posted until he turned 25 — dollar signs aren't going to sway his decision in choosing where he spends the next few years of his life.

Which is something he acknowledged in Jorge L. Ortiz's article at USA TODAY earlier this week:


Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, asked teams not to submit financial terms. More significantly, restrictions on international signings will limit Ohtani’s bonus to a maximum of about $3.5 million, depending on the club he chooses, and allow him to sign only a minor-league deal.

That makes him affordable to all teams, although they would also have to put up a posting fee of $20 million for the right to negotiate with him.

The letter asks the teams to provide information, in English and Japanese, on matters such as their player-development and medical staffs, their facilities, resources to ease Ohtani’s assimilation and the desirability of the franchise, city and marketplace. It also requests the clubs’ evaluation of Ohtani as a hitter and/or pitcher.


Let's start with player development and medical staffs — the Cubs have done a remarkable job of keeping pitchers healthy over the last few seasons even as they've played far more games than anybody else in baseball (though it will be interesting to see if that health continues with pitching coach Chris Bosio gone). The Cubs also have arguably the best young core in the game, so player development is a serious check in the Cubs' favor.

The Cubs' facilities are also top-notch in spring training and now in Chicago as well with the two-year-old state-of-the-art clubhouse and utilities.

Players have also raved recently about how the Cubs organization takes care of the players and their families off the field, treating them as more than just assets and making everybody in the player's family feel comfortable. Under Theo Epstein's regime, the Cubs have hosted a handful of Japanese players — Kyuji Fujikawa, Tsyoshi Wada, Munenori Kawasaki and most recently Koji Uehara — and the young clubhouse has created and environment of acceptance, regardless of background.

It doesn't get much more desirable than Chicago in the summer (I'm biased as a Chicago native, of course) plus historic Wrigley Field, a franchise with title expectations every season and a young core that should be competing in October every fall for the next few years. Only New York or Los Angeles could offer more in terms of a market than Chicago.

The Cubs front office and Joe Maddon's coaching staff are also very open-minded to bucking conventions, so they should have no problem with Ohtani playing both ways.

What manager would be better at maximizing Ohtani's two-way abilities than Maddon? He's always looking for the next "Madd Scientist" experiment to go against the grain.

The Cubs need a starting pitcher and if they trade from their core of young position players this winter, that would open up some playing time in the outfield for Ohtani.

Conceivably, the Cubs could pitch Ohtani on a Monday, sit him on Tuesday, start him Wednesday or Thursday or both in the outfield, then sit him again Friday and have him take his regular turn in the rotation Saturday. On his days off, Ohtani could also be utilized as a bat off the bench at the most opportune time late in a game.

Ohtani will have his choice of where he wants to play, but the Cubs certainly appear to check all the boxes.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: