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.

Cubs reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation


Cubs reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation

The Cubs aren't expected to bring back Jake Arrieta. But what about adding the other top pitcher on the free-agent market?

According to a Saturday report from The Score's Bruce Levine, the Cubs are showing interest in Yu Darvish, who they recently saw in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Darvish joined the Dodgers in the middle of last season after spending five and a half years as a Texas Ranger. He pitched Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs, holding that unusually cold lineup to just one run in 6.1 innings at Wrigley Field, helping the Dodgers reach the World Series. Darvish pitched twice in the Fall Classic against the Houston Astros, taking losses both times and twice failing to get out of the second inning against his old division rivals, including in the decisive Game 7.

The 31-year-old Darvish has been excellent since coming over from Japan ahead of the 2012 season. He's been named to four American League All-Star teams and finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in each of his first two seasons. He missed the entirety of the 2015 campaign with an injury.

Darvish has a 3.42 career ERA in his five big league seasons and three times has struck out more than 200 hitters in a season, including a baseball-leading 277 in 2013.

Along with Arrieta, Darvish is expected to fetch a huge payday this offseason. The Cubs' reported interest could show that they're not finished adding to their pitching staff despite signing four arms in recent weeks. Tyler Chatwood was a free-agent addition to the starting rotation, bringing the number of spoken-for spots there to four, with Chatwood joining Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana as rotation locks. Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek were added to the bullpen, while Drew Smyly — who's expected to miss the entirety of the 2018 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery — was signed with eyes on 2019.

After Mike Montgomery's desire to be a starter or go somewhere where he could be was reported during the Winter Meetings, there was a thought he could be the answer at the No. 5 spot on the starting staff. But this reported interest in Darvish — not to mention the team's previously reported connections to free-agent starter Alex Cobb — could mean the Cubs are still looking to add a big name to make the rotation more closely resemble what it looked like in recent seasons with Arrieta in the mix.

The Epstein's front office certainly has options, and the team has frequently voiced its confidence in Montgomery as a starter. But the team, for all its additions, has yet to make a splash this offseason. Stay tuned.

Jon Lester: The most important signing in Cubs history

Jon Lester: The most important signing in Cubs history

Jon Lester became the most important signing in Cubs history when he agreed to a six-year, $155 million contract to be the ace of the Cubs.

He spurned his old team — the Red Sox — along with a handful of other teams ready to pony up the nine-figure deal necessary to acquire the frontline starter. By choosing the Cubs, Lester accelerated Theo Epstein & Jed Hoyer's famous "Plan," legitimizing Chicago as a free agent destination and as an up-and-coming perennial playoff team.

"This signing really marks a transition of sorts for the Cubs, the start of a period where we are clearly very serious about bringing a World Series to the Cubs and the people of Chicago," Epstein said back on Dec. 15, 2014.

Inking Lester to a megadeal was a calculated risk, but all $100 million contracts are. Here's a closer look at the Cubs 100 million dollar men:

Nov. 30, 2006 - The Cubs introduce Alfonso Soriano

Back in 2007, the Cubs needed to make a splash and did so by signing the top free agent hitter on the market.

The Cubs inked Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million dollar contract — then, the largest in franchise history. The Cubs had their leadoff hitter — fresh off becoming the fourth member of the 40-40 club — to go along with a new manager in Lou Piniella. Soriano made two All-Star teams for the Cubs in 2007 and 2008 while playing a key role on both division-title winning teams.

However, his time with the Cubs will often be remembered by his offensive decline, his subpar play in the outfield, and his eventual trade to the Yankees. While his overall body of work was statistically respectable, his output did not match the $136 million the Cubs invested in him.

Dec. 15, 2014 - The Cubs introduce Jon Lester

Like the signing of Soriano, the reeling in of Lester to Wrigley Field was paired with the hiring of another new big name manager, Joe Maddon.

Three years into his megadeal, Lester is 43-25 with a 3.33 ERA in 96 starts. The 2016 All-Star and Cy Young runner-up has done some of his best work in the postseason, where he's 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in his last nine postseason appearances — three of which came in the 2016 World Series.

Lester's tireless work ethic off the field and his veteran influence in a young Cubs clubhouse has made this signing a smashing success. 
Dec. 15, 2015 - The Cubs introduce Jason Heyward

One year to the day after introducing Lester, Jason Heyward met with the Chicago media after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract — the richest in franchise history.

Heyward was coming off one of his best offensive seasons (.289, 13 HR, 60 RBI with the Cardinals) and his third Gold Glove in four seasons but the prized free agent struggled from the start in Chicago. Taking Heyward away from the Cardinals and signing baseball's top free agent prize ended up creating an outfield log jam in Chicago.

Heyward's speech during the rain delay in Game 7 against the Indians will most likely end up being the highlight of his Cubs career. The post-World Series championship offseason storyline of Heyward rectifying his broken swing was entertaining to follow on social media, but his 2017 slash line of .259/.326/.389 is clearly not worth the $184 million he signed for.

The future is now

"I believe in the plan that they have in place for the future of the Cubs."

That's what Lester said back on Dec. 15, 2014.

That statement still holds true today. Lester remains the anchor of the Cubs staff surrounded by Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana with reinforcements on the way. Regardless of any additions or subtractions, the Cubs will again be one of baseball's World Series favorites entering 2018 and the reliable lefty will be at the center of it all.

Halfway home, the $155 million deal has been "smart money" spent on Lester, the most important signing in Cubs franchise history.