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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."

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 — 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 — 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.

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.

Nicky Delmonico's walk-off homer took him back to high school

Nicky Delmonico's walk-off homer took him back to high school

He’d only done it once before, but the instant Nicky Delmonico hit his walk-off homer on Wednesday night it took him right back.

The White Sox rookie added another highlight to a strong first season when he lifted his club to a 6-4 victory in 10 innings over the Los Angeles Angels with a two-run homer. Delmonico’s round-tripper off pitcher Blake Parker eliminated the Angels from the wild-card race. He said the moment was similar to when Delmonico blasted a game-winning home run in the 2010 Tennessee high school state title game.

“It’s pretty high up there,” Delmonico said. “Obviously, the biggest moment was being called up. But to be able to do that is something you dream about in the backyard.

“It kind of felt something similar (to the high school championship). Same pitch, too. It brought back memories.”

Delmonico has created a number of new memories in this his first season with the White Sox. He made his major league debut on Aug. 1 and reached base in a Sox record 13 straight games and 21 of 22 overall. While he had slowed down recently  -- he was 10 for his last 63 (.159)  in his previous 21 games -- Delmonico has turned in several nice plays in the field of late.

But his bat has begun to pick up again in the final week. Delmonico, who had two hits and two RBIs in Monday’s win, finished with three hits on Wednesday, including an RBI double in fourth inning.

None was bigger, however, than his two-run shot off Parker. Delmonico got ahead 2-1 in the count and with Avisail Garcia on second ripped a split-fingered fastball out to right.

“It was a nice moment,” manager Rick Renteria said.

Delmonico last accomplished a similar moment during his junior season at Farragut High School (Knoxville, Tenn.). On May 28, 2010, Delmonico lifted Farragut to a 3-1 victory over Houston High with a two-run shot in the seventh inning. While this one meant far more to the Minnesota Twins than his own team, Delmonico enjoyed the moment as well as the follow-up ice bath and beer shower equally.

“I can’t even describe it in words,” Delmonico said. “It’s awesome. It’s something you dream about and I guess it doesn’t really feel real right now. It was just an awesome moment for my teammates and me.

“It was just one of those where you just hope it goes out. I thought I got it good enough but I didn’t know until it went out.”

“It definitely felt like that moment in high school.”