Cubs

Meet the competition: Cubs up against six other finalists in chase for Shohei Ohtani

Meet the competition: Cubs up against six other finalists in chase for Shohei Ohtani

The Cubs are in the running for Shohei Ohtani. But they're not the only ones.

According to multiple reports, the Japanese superstar has narrowed his list of possible destinations down to seven teams: the Cubs, the Texas Rangers and five teams that play on the West Coast β€” the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners. Ohtani is expected to meet with all these teams this week.

It sounds like the Cubs could be facing an uphill battle, with Sunday night's report-a-palooza including the interesting tidbits that Ohtani prefers to play on the West Coast and in a smaller market. But the Cubs still being in the mix is obviously good news for Theo Epstein's front office, which according to NBC Sports' David Kaplan has poured a lot of time and money into scouting Ohtani and is pulling out all the stops in order to bring him to Chicago.

The Cubs obviously have a lot to sell to the 23-year-old phenom who has dazzled as both a pitcher and a hitter and wants to keep doing both things as a major leaguer. For one, the Cubs have a wide-open championship window with all their young talent, including some of the best hitters in the game in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and a stellar three-fifths of a starting rotation in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. Plus, they have a recent history of bringing in Japanese players and a famously creative manager in Joe Maddon who loves utilizing players' versatility and would surely come up with something crazy to do with a guy that can pitch and play outfield.

But the other six teams have selling points, too. Money likely won't play a huge factor, what with international-singing rules that mean Ohtani β€” not yet 25 years old β€” will need to sign a minor league deal. The most he can make is $3.5 million with the Rangers. The Cubs can offer only $300,000.

And of course Ohtani, with his immense talent, is a fit for all of these teams. He can throw a 100-mph fastball, sliding him right into anyone's rotation, and he can hit and hit with power, a boost to any of these teams' lineup. He hit .332 with eight home runs in 65 games this past season.

There's one school of thought that argues an American League team would be a better fit for Ohtani because he could DH on days when he's not pitching, fulfilling his desire to keep hitting and the team's desire to not see one of their top pitchers risk injury. If Ohtani is bent on playing the field over DH-ing, or if an NL team is fine with that injury risk, then maybe this isn't a big deal. But you could argue that an AL team could have an upper hand. But then again, only three of the seven finalists are AL teams.

So, with those things in mind, here's a look at what each of the Cubs' competitors has going for it in the chase for Ohtani.

Dodgers

Talk about a wide-open championship window. More than any other team on the list besides the Cubs, the Dodgers can pitch the potential to win a title right away. They are the defending National League champions and could team Ohtani with Clayton Kershaw in the rotation and guys like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner in the field. They obviously fit Ohtani's reported West Coast preference but don't count as a smaller market.

Angels

Despite boasting baseball's best player, the Halos have made the postseason just once during Mike Trout's career. Adding Ohtani could certainly change that, though. The Angels could pitch Ohtani on playing alongside Trout in the outfield. They fit the West Coast bill but still count as that Los Angeles media market, even though they play in Anaheim.

Padres

The inclusion of teams like the Padres and Mariners show that the current ability to win a championship might not be one of Ohtani's most important criteria. The Fathers haven't been to the postseason since 2006. But they do check off those West Coast and smaller-market boxes. And, per a Monday tweet from Jon Morosi, Ohtani is "familiar and comfortable" with the team's spring training complex, which it shares with the Mariners.

Giants

The Giants are an interesting option here. It's not a small market at all, though it's certainly smaller than New York (it was Ohtani turning down the New York Yankees that sparked this whole small-market business in the first place). It is on the West Coast. But more importantly, perhaps, the Giants could be in line to have one of the biggest offseasons ever. Not only are they on Ohtani's list of finalists, but they are reportedly attempting to bring NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Bay Area in a trade with the Miami Marlins. Though if Ohtani wants to avoid a media circus, then maybe the Stanton element hurts the Giants' chances. Who knows.

Mariners

This would seem to be the most logical landing spot for Ohtani given his preferences for a smaller market on the West Coast. Plus, the Mariners have a noteworthy history with Japanese players, most prominently the 12 years Ichiro Suzuki spent in the Pacific Northwest. The M's have an even longer postseason drought than the aforementioned Padres, without a playoff appearance since 2001. But Ohtani would be able to play alongside fellow stars like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez, meaning the Mariners, who were in that crowded AL Wild Card race till late last season, could suddenly be World Series contenders. And, per a Monday tweet from Jon Morosi, Ohtani is "familiar and comfortable" with the team's spring training complex, which it shares with the Padres.

Rangers

The Rangers have the most money to offer Ohtani, and typically you'd think that would be the No. 1 priority. But that doesn't seem to be the case, what with Ohtani's stated preferences. Dallas is a big market by population numbers, but the Rangers have rarely been one of baseball's more talked-about teams. And though Texas is nowhere near the West Coast, the Rangers play in a division that constantly sends them out there to play the Angels, Mariners and Oakland A's.

Cubs reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation

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USA TODAY

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 β€” who's expected to miss the entirety of the 2018 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery β€” 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 β€” not to mention the team's previously reported connections to free-agent starter Alex Cobb β€” 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 β€” the Red Sox β€” 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 β€” then, the largest in franchise history. The Cubs had their leadoff hitter β€” fresh off becoming the fourth member of the 40-40 club β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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.