Cubs

Shohei Ohtani fallout: How Cubs got a seat at the table with baseball's hottest commodity

Shohei Ohtani fallout: How Cubs got a seat at the table with baseball's hottest commodity

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Shohei Ohtani Sweepstakes will go down as one of the wackiest — and most fascinating — free agent courtships in the history of Major League Baseball.

The fact the Cubs were even in the conversation down to the end is fascinating in its own right.

As he whittled down teams to a Final 7 before ultimately choosing the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani made his terms public: He preferred a West Coast team to make travel to his home country of Japan easier and an American League team made the most sense because it had been several years since he had played the field, serving as a designated hitter/pitcher in Japan.

The Cubs obviously cannot meet either of those requirements, yet Theo Epstein and Co. found themselves in the conversation, as the Eastern-most team left alive.

How?

"First and foremost, I think the Cubs have a lot to offer any player," Epstein said at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort Monday during MLB's Winter Meetings. "It's a really strong brand right now, it's a great environment, our fans are amazing, Wrigley is a great place to play and we're the only team in baseball that's made the Final 4 the last three years.

"Just a really bright outlook. And beyond that, we pulled many all-nighters just to get this document done and created a pretty substantial document that we submitted that was really thorough and detail-oriented that I think got his attention so he wanted to hear more about it."

Epstein is proud of how the Cubs banded together to get such an impactful pitch to Ohtani ready in rather short notice after the 23-year-old pitcher was posted last month.

"A lot of people worked really hard on it," Epstein said. "No regrets. It reinforced some great bonds in the organization. A lot of people pulled together under a pretty difficult deadline to make something really impressive happen.

"It got us to the final table and it didn't turn out our way, but I think we overcame a lot in the process. We're all glad we went through it, despite the result."

Epstein wouldn't — and couldn't — get into too much detail about the Cubs' pitch, but Kyle Hendricks and Joe Maddon were there among uniformed Cubs members. Epstein and Co. also did not give Ohtani a virtual reality tour of life as a Cub like it was initially reported.

The Cubs spent two hours talking baseball with Ohtani and came away feeling OK about their chances despite the limitations they had no control over (geography, lack of DH).

Epstein admitted he didn't come out of that meeting rationally thinking the Cubs had a shot, but he did think they increased their odds with the final presentation.

"I was so proud of the work the organization had done and I had felt so passionate about the fit that I probably fooled myself into thinking we had a real chance," Epstein said. "It was a great process and I have no regrets. I certainly wish him well; he was a really impressive kid.

"I think health-permitting, he's gonna do really, really well and have a long career. He'll be fun to follow."

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

Addison Russell doesn't have time to think about whether or not Javy Baez is coming for the starting shortstop gig.

Russell is too busy making sure he's able to perform at his physical peak for as much of 2018 as possible after a rough few years in that regard.

The soon-to-be-24-year-old only played in 110 games last year as he missed more than a month with a foot injury. He also has a history of hamstring injuries (including the one that kept him out of the 2015 NLCS) and a sore throwing arm that has cropped up at times throughout the last few years (though whether the arm is an issue or not depends on who you ask).

Russell admits his arm has been an issue and he has a new plan of attack this winter that will carry into the spring.

"I've been doing a throwing program," Russell said. "I feel like in the past, with my arm, I started throwing a little bit too early in spring training.

"This year, in the offseason, just kinda ease into it a little bit. In the offseason last year, I feel like I threw a little bit too much. Once midseason hit, it was all the downward effect of me throwing too early in the offseason.

"Having that in mind, taking things easier in the offseason and then going into spring training and then once the season's here, maybe around a quarter of the way through the season, start revving it up and that way, I'll be able to last with both my foot and my arm."

Russell had a bad case of plantar fasciitis last summer that also affected his ability to throw the ball to first base.

He joked he feels like an old man because he is happy he can now wake up without any pain in the foot, but still makes sure he rolls his foot on a golf ball to keep things loose.

With regards to his offseason workouts, Russell is prioritizing quality over quantity and he's taken full advantage of the longer offseason that featured far less distractions than a year ago when the Cubs were coming off the first World Series championship in 108 years.

"I'm getting a little bit older and I think a little wiser when it comes to training and knowing my body," Russell said. "With that being said, it's just kinda being in tune to my body more than pounding out weights.

"Definitely running and cardio is something that has been beneficial to my career in the past. I'm keeping up with that."

Between the foot and arm modifications to his training regimen, Russell is hoping to cut down on some of his throwing errors that plagued him in 2017 and try to get back to the hitter he was when he clubbed 24 homers and drove in 108 runs in 168 games between the 2016 regular season and postseason.

"Definitely I want to be in the All-Star Game this next year," Russell said. "I feel like with the type of skillset that I have and the type of guys around me, I think that could be a goal that I could hit.

"Smaller goals as far as staying consistent with my workouts. Remaining flexible is a huge goal that I wanna hit this year. I see a lot of veteran guys after ballgames stretching and they've been playing for quite a while, so it definitely works out for them.

"Just taking something from veteran guys and kinda incorporating it into my game and picking their ear and listening to how they prepare and how to keep your body in shape is beneficial, for sure."

To make the All-Star Game, Russell would need to get out to a hot start, which is something the Cubs and their fans would love to see. His steady presence in the lineup and as a defensive anchor contributed to the inconsistencies of the 2017 Cubs.

Entering a pivotal season in his development, Russell has emerged as one of the biggest X-factors surrounding the Cubs entering 2018. 

The entire Addison Russell 1-on-1 interview will air Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.