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 — 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.
Shohei Ohtani is considering only these teams: Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Giants, Mariners, Rangers and Cubs. There are NO other teams that are still in it according to sources.— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) December 4, 2017
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.
Cubs have poured considerable time + money into their recruitment of Shohei Ohtani. According to an executive of a rival team that was eliminated they are a major threat to sign him. However, others I spoke with still believe West Coast teams have the advantage.— David Kaplan (@thekapman) December 4, 2017
MLB executive just told me that Theo and Jed are pulling out all of the stops to impress Ohtani. “Theo and Jed are being incredibly creative with their pitch. They’ve thought of everything. And I mean everything. Still going to be tough to land him but they are in there hard.”— David Kaplan (@thekapman) December 4, 2017
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 — not yet 25 years old — 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.