Cubs reportedly in the running for Shohei Ohtani as Japanese star narrows list of possible destinations

Cubs reportedly in the running for Shohei Ohtani as Japanese star narrows list of possible destinations

The Cubs are reportedly in the running to land this offseason's top target.

Shohei Ohtani narrowed his list of possible destinations Sunday night, and the Cubs made the cut, according to a report, meaning they'll meet with the Japanese star to make their pitch for a potential deal.

Earlier Sunday night, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman — whose team fell out of the running to sign Ohtani — told reporters that Ohtani was looking to head to a smaller-market team on the West Coast. So, with the Cubs meeting neither of those criteria, it looked like bad news for those hoping to see him on the North Side.

But a later report indicated the Cubs could be an exception to that, and it turned out they were.

The 23-year-old Ohtani has dazzled as both a pitcher and a hitter in Japan, with his pitching prowess likely of greatest interest to the Cubs, who have holes to fill in their starting rotation with both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey hitting free agency. But Ohtani also wants to hit on a regular basis, and the Cubs could certainly use an influx of offense after their bats went quiet during recent playoff series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers.

One school of thought argues that an American League team would have an easier time selling Ohtani on regular hitting duties. After all, a team would figure to be far more likely to play Ohtani as a regular designated hitter rather than risk an injury to a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher by playing him regularly in the field. But if Ohtani's bat is as valuable as it has seemed — he hit .332 with eight home runs in 65 games this past season — than a National League club would most definitely want a hitting pitcher who bolsters the lineup every fifth day and might be willing to take that injury risk by sticking him in the outfield on days when he does not pitch.

According to NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan, who wrote extensively about the Cubs and Ohtani last week, Theo Epstein's front office has invested plenty of time and money into scouting Ohtani in Japan. Whether their familiarity with him translates into his wanting to come to Chicago remains to be seen, as the rest of Ohtani's list of finalists features mostly teams on the West Coast. As of this writing, the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres — all West Coast teams — were among the other reported finalists.

Money likely won't be a factor in the pursuit of Ohtani: There's a $20 million posting fee, but he can only sign a minor league contract worth a maximum of $3.5 million because of international-signing rules that govern players under age 25. It's a unique occurrence that made it so every team in the game was in on Ohtani to begin with.

And so now come the in-person meetings. The Cubs have plenty to sell as a team whose World Series window remains wide open. Though with teams like the Padres and Mariners — teams that haven't been to the postseason since 2006 and 2001, respectively — still in the mix, too, winning right away might not be at the top of Ohtani's wish list. But the Cubs have other strong selling points, such as a recent history of Japanese players (Kyuji Fujikawa, Tsyoshi Wada, Munenori Kawasaki, Koji Uehara) and a manager in Joe Maddon known for utilizing versatile players in numerous different positions.

And according to Kaplan, the Cubs are pulling out all the stops.

Stay tuned. Baseball's biggest offseason drama continues to unfold.

As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus


As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus

With less than a week until Opening Day, the Cubs' roster is all but set.

Joe Maddon told reporters in Arizona Friday the Cubs will roll with eight relievers to open the season, which doesn't come as any surprise. 

Left-handed pitcher Randy Rosario was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving Eddie Butler and Shae Simmons as the two most likely guys to take the final bullpen spot.

Butler, 27, is out of minor-league options, which means if the Cubs do not keep him on their big-league roster, they risk losing him on waivers. Simmons still has two options remaining.

Butler also represents more starting pitching depth for the team beyond their five-man rotation and Mike Montgomery. Theo Epstein's front office likes to enter a season with 8-10 starting pitching options in case of injury, so it'd be hard to see the team getting rid of their No. 7 guy on that depth chart.

This spring, Butler has pitched 10 innings over five games with a 4.50 ERA and five strikeouts. He made 11 starts and two bullpen appearances with the 2017 Cubs, posting a 3.95 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.

Simmons, 27, signed with the Cubs as a free agent Feb. 16 and pitched nine games with the Seattle Mariners last year. He's appeared in four games for the Cubs this spring, pitching to a 2.45 ERA with five strikeouts in 3.2 innings.

In carrying eight relievers, that only leaves one position player spot available (backup catcher). Outfielder Peter Bourjos is expected to start the season in the minor leagues.

Veteran backstop Chris Gimenez will probably get the nod on the big-league roster over youngster Victor Caratini.

Gimenez comes with experience and a knowledge and relationship with Yu Darvish and we do have confirmation Darvish is making the Opening Day roster:

The Cubs really like Caratini and he's arguably their top position player prospect, but at age 24, he needs to play every day and see regular at-bats, which he wouldn't get backing up Willson Contreras in Chicago.

With that, here's the projected Cubs' Opening Day roster:


Willson Contreras
Chris Gimenez


Anthony Rizzo
Kris Bryant
Addison Russell
Javy Baez
Tommy La Stella
Ben Zobrist


Ian Happ
Kyle Schwarber
Albert Almora Jr.
Jason Heyward

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks
Yu Darvish
Jose Quintana
Tyler Chatwood


Brandon Morrow (closer)
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Justin Wilson
Steve Cishek
Brian Duensing
Mike Montgomery
Eddie Butler

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Braves are coming (but not yet)


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Braves are coming (but not yet)

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Atlanta Braves

2017 record: 72-90, 3rd place in NL East

Offseason additions: Preston Tucker, Charlie Culberson, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Peter Moylan, Chase Whitley, Grant Dayton, Chris Stewart, Anibal Sanchez

Offseason departures: Matt Kemp, R.A. Dickey, Jason Motte, Matt Adams

X-factor: Ozzie Albies

One of the youngest players in the league, Albies just turned 21 in January. He carries with him the pedigree of the game's No. 11 overall prospect entering last season and got his first taste of big-league life toward the end of 2017.

He hit well, posting a .286 average and .810 OPS while showing an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and providing some pop and speed.

Assuming he can avoid any sophomore slump and take another step forward, the Braves could actually surprise some people this year. But without Albies providing Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman some lineup support until a certain phenom gets to town, it's hard to see Atlanta contending.

Projected lineup

1. Ender Inciarte - CF
2. Ozzie Albies - 2B
3. Freddie Freeman - 1B
4. Tyler Flowers - C
5. Nick Markakis - RF
6. Preston Tucker - LF
7. Dansby Swanson - SS
8. Rio Ruiz - 3B

Projected rotation

1. Julio Teheran
2. Mike Foltynewicz
3. Brandon McCarthy
4. Sean Newcomb
5. Scott Kazmir


The Braves are coming, you guys. 

Maybe not now, but they'll be here soon enough.

2018 will feature growing pains for a young group of up-and-comers including the aforementioned Albies, plus Tucker (a powerful outfielder acquired from the Astros), Swanson (the 2015 No. 1 overall pick who's since fallen on tough times) and Newcomb.

Oh and there's some guy named Ronald Acuna coming up next. You may have heard of him.

The 20-year-old phenom has absolutely torn the cover off the ball everywhere he's gone the last 14 or so months and we'll see the game's No. 1 overall prospect in the big leagues in mid-April, God willing.

Once Acuna does come, it adds another level to a lineup that frankly comes up a bit short right now, even with Freeman (one of the best hitters in baseball) and Inciarte (one of the game's most underrated players). 

The Braves have a solid bullpen, plenty of rotation depth and a decent bench. It wouldn't be shocking to see them challenge for the second wild card spot, but true contention will probably come in 2019 for this bunch.

Prediction: 3rd in NL West, no playoffs

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves