Cubs

What would the Cubs look like if Shohei Ohtani decides to come to Chicago?

What would the Cubs look like if Shohei Ohtani decides to come to Chicago?

What would the Cubs look like with Shohei Ohtani in the mix?

All the attention this week has been on which team will land the Japanese superstar, a stellar pitcher and hitter who has met or will meet with seven teams this week. The Cubs, who reportedly met with Ohtani on Tuesday, are competing with six fellow finalists: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.

The North Siders could be facing an uphill battle, with reports Sunday indicating Ohtani would prefer a smaller-market team on the West Coast. But what if the Cubs do land Ohtani? What comes next?

Well, most notably, he'd slide into a starting rotation that could certainly use him after losing two arms to free agency after the end of the 2017 season. With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey presumably gone, the Cubs' starting staff has just three locked-in names at the moment in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. Adding Ohtani, however, would erase a lot of the uncertainty behind those three returning pitchers. Based on the makeup of their roster, it figures the Cubs would covet Ohtani's arm more than his bat, and he's a guy that can throw a 100-mph fastball. That's always welcome in the big leagues. While, of course, it's still unknown how his game will translate from Japan to Major League Baseball, if the Cubs were to sign Ohtani, it would go a long way toward taking care of their offseason to-do list when it comes to starting pitching.

And really that would be enough, but the 23-year-old Ohtani is unique in his success as both a pitcher and a hitter. He supposedly really wants to bat and play the field on days when he's not pitching. While you might think an American League team would make more sense, allowing him to DH four out of five days and not risk injury while playing the field, four of the seven finalists are National League clubs, including the Cubs.

Ohtani's addition as a four-days-out-of-five outfielder would create a much more difficult puzzle than his addition as a pitcher. Fortunately for the Cubs, that's the kind of puzzle Joe Maddon likes. After watching Maddon tinker with versatile position players for the past three seasons, it makes sense that he'd love to have someone like Ohtani, who he could even move between the pitcher's mound and the outfield throughout the same game. Remember, this is the skipper who put Travis Wood in left field.

For Theo Epstein's front office, though, things might be a little trickier. The Cubs' outfield is crowded enough as it is, with Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist all candidates for those three outfield spots — and obviously Happ and Zobrist can log time on the infield, too. There's been plenty of speculation that the Cubs might try to trade one of those younger guys, such as Schwarber or Happ, for starting pitching help this offseason. But an Ohtani decision to come to the Cubs would undoubtedly impact that, as well. Maddon likes to rotate those guys around, too, and Ohtani's addition would still allow him to do just that, with Ohtani leaving the outfield to pitch every fifth day.

It's unknown how much playing time Epstein, Maddon and the Cubs would want to give Ohtani in the field, who is about to embark on his first season in the majors and who as a pitcher would carry an increased worry about injury. Are they looking at him as an everyday outfielder, an infrequent outfielder or just the team's No. 1 pinch hitter when he's not pitching? That would all remain to be seen. But if Ohtani chooses the Cubs, it's unlikely he would do so without some assurance that he could hit and play the field on a regular basis, even if not every day.

There wouldn't be too much pressure on Ohtani to be the team's top hitter, what with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras hitting in the same lineup. But his addition would be an important one to a lineup that went quiet during this year's postseason series against the Washington Nationals and aforementioned Dodgers. As for where he would bat in that lineup, who knows, with Maddon constantly moving his pieces around. Could Ohtani even fill the Cubs' need at the top of the order?

One thing's certain, though, when it comes to Ohtani's bat: On the days he pitches, the Cubs would have the best top-to-bottom, 1-through-9 hitting lineup in the NL. Cubs pitchers have been fine at the plate in recent seasons, but adding an actual hitter to that group would be something else entirely. Ohtani would be far from the automatic out most pitchers are viewed as.

The dual-threat Ohtani is being billed as the future of baseball. And while the baseball world waits for him to pick a team, it's fun to think about how he could alter the future of the Cubs.

Brandon Morrow deal becomes official, Cubs add another intriguing arm in Drew Smyly

Brandon Morrow deal becomes official, Cubs add another intriguing arm in Drew Smyly

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Brandon Morrow is officially official as a member of the Cubs pitching staff, and the team also added another intriguing arm Tuesday night at the Winter Meetings.

The Cubs announced a two-year deal for Morrow with a club/vesting option for 2020.

They also signed left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly on a two-year deal worth a reported $10 million, though the 28-year-old pitcher had Tommy John in June and likely won't contribute much in 2018.

The Cubs are looking toward the future with Smyly as a possible 2019 rotation piece. If he's able to return at all in 2018, it will probably be as a bullpen option.

Smyly did not pitch at all in 2017 and was non-tendered by the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 1. He made 30 starts for the Tampa Bay Rays (and new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey) in 2016, going 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA.

Smyly was one of the pieces that went from the Detroit Tigers to the Rays for David Price at the trade deadline in 2014. In his first 19 starts with the Rays between 2014 and 2015, Smyly went 8-3 with a 2.52 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 114.1 innings.

With Smyly not expected to impact 2018's rotation, the Cubs might still be in the market for another starting pitcher this winter, or they might choose to honor Mike Montgomery's wishes and insert him into the rotation full-time (and subsequently look for a potential swingman for the bullpen and rotation depth).

It'd be hard to just hand Smyly a spot in the 2019 Cubs rotation, but the Cubs committing somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million on a two-year deal indicates they're serious about his long-term potential. Plus, he won't turn 30 until June 2019.

The Cubs also have their other four starters — Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood — all signed through the 2020 season, so either they won't be in hard on long-term free-agent signings like Alex Cobb or would just stockpile pitching and sort out any possible six-man rotation issues a year from now.

Morrow is expected to be in the mix for closing duties for the Cubs but could also serve in an Andrew Miller-esque role and be a jack of all trades as a high-leverage option.

The Cubs still figure to be in the market for relief pitching even after the Morrow signing.

With Cubs' rotation still in flux, Mike Montgomery reportedly wants to start or go somewhere else

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USA TODAY

With Cubs' rotation still in flux, Mike Montgomery reportedly wants to start or go somewhere else

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Cubs' starting rotation has yet to be finalized for 2018. But if they want Mike Montgomery to hang around, they might want to think about putting him in that five-man staff.

According to a Tuesday night report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, Montgomery wants to start with the Cubs or go somewhere where he can start. The Cubs have used Montgomery as a swingman the past two seasons, plugging him in as a starter when another starter got hurt and also using him in various roles out of the bullpen.

The somewhat complex wording of that tweet makes it seem like Montgomery isn't exactly demanding a trade or anything like that, but his desire to be a big league starter seems strong.

As for what the Cubs will settle on remains to be seen as the rest of the offseason plays out. They lost Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency, creating a couple big holes in the rotation, but they've since added Tyler Chatwood on a free-agent deal and have been connected to other pitchers such as Alex Cobb.

Montgomery started 14 games last season, posting a 4.15 ERA as a starter. As a reliever, he had a 2.49 ERA in 61.1 innings of work out of the bullpen.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has always talked glowingly about Montgomery and has suggested he could be a full-time starter in the past.

Again, even if the Cubs fill their starting rotation with guys not named Montgomery, it doesn't mean Montgomery won't be in the bullpen next season. But for a guy under team control for another four years, it's interesting to see how both Montgomery and the Cubs react if he doesn't get a rotation spot.