Cubs

After playoff run, Shohei Otani could be the next big thing on Cubs’ radar

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AP

After playoff run, Shohei Otani could be the next big thing on Cubs’ radar

MILWAUKEE – Shohei Otani is supposed to be Japan’s Babe Ruth, a potential top-of-the-rotation starter with a 100-mph fastball and a left-handed slugger who hit 22 homers last year for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Imagine what kind of mad-scientist moves Cubs manager Joe Maddon could make with a talent like that.

“If he’s that freakin’ good, there’s a lot of things you could do,” Maddon said. “If he’s that good, it presents a lot of unique situations.”

Yes, the Cubs will be in on Otani, because any team that can afford the $20 million posting fee would be foolish not to make the recruiting pitch to a two-way player who’s only 23 years old and apparently willing to work for around the major-league minimum ($545,000) next season.

The Cubs want to be known for playing in October on an annual basis and won’t stop after the second straight National League Central title that feels inevitable after this playoff-atmosphere weekend against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

Otani will be the big name on MLB Trade Rumors this offseason. The Cubs are capped under this collective bargaining agreement and could only offer a maximum $300,000 signing bonus. But if money had been the No. 1 priority, Otani would presumably just wait out Major League Baseball’s system for two more years and cash in with a $200 million megadeal.

“He’s not available right now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “There was a story that came out that said that he would request a post. I’m not going to talk about any player that’s not available.”

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was among the group of officials who recently traveled to Sapporo to scout Otani in person. San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy watched Otani highlights on a laptop and told Bay Area reporters: “I absolutely would play him every day.”

“There’s always the exception to the rule,” Maddon said. “I think the day after, the two days after you pitch, maybe not. You’d have to give your arm some kind of breather.

“He’s a perfect fit for an American League team then. When he’s not starting, he DHs. For an American League team to find a player like that — where you don’t have to go spend all that dough on a good DH and get this starting pitcher and a guy that can actually hit — kind of intriguing.

“If he’s that good, you can go National League (rules) when he pitches. If he’s that good, for one day, you would have an extra player on the bench. You could do whatever you want.”

There are a lot of ifs and unknowns with Otani, a low-cost, high-upside option that would fit with just about any team’s vision, from the defending World Series champs, to San Francisco’s rebuild, to the bright lights at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park or Dodger Stadium.

“On the surface, I would say American League, easy, National League, get creative,” Maddon said. “But if he’s not pitching, you don’t want him like moving his arm that much, even throwing the ball in from the outfield.

“If he’s used to doing it, that might be something different entirely, too.”

The Cubs are loaded with position players and already have a good idea of what their Opening Day lineup could look like through 2021. But next year’s rotation should be dramatically reshaped with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey about to become free agents.

“It’s interesting,” said Maddon, thinking back to his years in player development. “But I think that can be done more in the minor leagues. If you have the DH and you have a young guy with a good arm — but you’re not sure and you see he runs well or he has exceptional pop, something that’s a really exciting offensive tool — let him DH a couple days a week in between his starts.”

Who knows? That pretty much sums up the Otani sweepstakes. The Cubs can sell their built-to-win foundation, iconic Wrigley Field, a world-class city and an international brand that will guarantee off-the-field endorsement money — and wait to see if that would be enough for baseball’s next big thing.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB and NFL Commotion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB and NFL Commotion

Anthony Herron, Scott King and Jason Goch join Kap on Tuesday's SportsTalk Live panel.

0:00 - Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame while Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens remain out. Will they get in next year? Do they deserve to get in at all?

12:00 - Yadier Molina is still mad that Kris Bryant called St. Louis "boring." Why can't The Best Fans in Baseball let it go?

15:00 - Yu Darvish posts a throwing video on Instagram. Who's excited?

16:30 - Saints fans are suing the NFL. But will they have to settle for the league changing its instant replay guidelines or is that too much video review?

22:30 - Patrick Mahomes watches from the bench as Tom Brady drives down the field in overtime. Does the league need to adopt college style OT?

29:00 - The Bears get two more players in the Pro Bowl pushing their total to 8. Is making the Pro Bowl still a big deal?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Searching for the next Cubs Hall of Famer

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AP

Searching for the next Cubs Hall of Famer

The 2019 BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results were released on Tuesday. No Cubs were elected, so why not take the time to look at the Hall of Fame cases of six former Cubs!

The criteria? Play for the Cubs in at least one game. The number of games played in a Cubs uniform among my six candidates ranges from three to 1,124. Hey, like I said – at least one game.

I avoided Sammy Sosa, who’s still on the BBWAA ballot. I also didn’t bother reviewing Rafael Palmeiro’s case. Both of those players’ cases depend heavily on what your stance is on alleged PED use. I chose to keep it limited to players who might be on a ballot (be it BBWAA or an Era Committee) in the next few years.

Note: rWAR is baseball-reference WAR, fWAR is Fangraphs WAR

Alfonso Soriano (BBWAA - 2020)

412 HR, 1,159 RBIs, .270/.319/.500, 28.2 rWAR, 39.1 fWAR, 111 wRC+

Alfonso Soriano is one of only 55 players in MLB history with 400 or more home runs, and his 412 rank 53rd all-time. He is the fourth (of four) players in MLB history to hit 40 HR and steal 40 bases in a season (2006). Soriano’s total of 54 leadoff home runs ranks second only to Rickey Henderson. He was a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Silver Slugger winner.

Will he get in? It’s doubtful. He had a late start; Soriano wasn’t a regular until he was 25, then once he joined the Cubs he tailed off considerably. In 889 games with Chicago, he was worth 8.1 rWAR (1.5 per 162 games) or 18.3 fWAR (3.3 per 162 games). His .319 career OBP was subpar, as was his defense.

Rick Reuschel (Modern Baseball Era Committee – possibly 2020)

214-191 W/L, 3.37 ERA, 3,548 1/3 IP, 2,015 K, 69.7 rWAR, 68.2 fWAR, 114 ERA+

Rick Reuschel had a sneaky-good career. He spent many years toiling for mediocre teams but had success because he was able to keep the ball in the park and was relatively stingy with the base on balls. Even without huge strikeout totals, “Big Daddy” was able to turn in a strong Major League career. There are 27 pitchers in MLB history with at least 214 wins, 2,015 strikeouts and 68 pitching WAR; 24 are in the Hall of Fame. The others are Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Rick Reuschel.

Will he get in? Likely not, but he’s probably better than you think.

Aramis Ramírez (BBWAA - 2021)

386 HR, 1,417 RBIs, .283/.341/.492, 32.6 rWAR, 38.7 fWAR, 115 wRC+

Ramírez is fifth all-time in career home runs as a third baseman, with 381 (the other five were either as DH or PH). In his first five full seasons with the Cubs, he averaged 32 HR and 105 RBI, hitting an excellent .302/.366/.554 (131 wRC+). With the third base position being considerably underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, Ramírez starts to look a little more interesting.

Will he get in? It’s doubtful. He put up big offensive numbers in an era where many players did the same. His defense was underwhelming and his high MVP finish was 9th (in 2012 with the Brewers).

Joe Nathan (BBWAA - 2022)

377 SV, 2.87 ERA, 923 1/3 IP, 26.7 rWAR, 19.4 fWAR, 151 ERA+

Nathan pitched three games for the 2016 Cubs. Did you forget already?  He’s 8th on the career saves list with 377 and he brought quality as well as quantity. Of the 50 pitchers with at least 200 career saves, he’s eighth with a 151 ERA+.

Nathan's peak run was 2004-09 – his first six seasons with the Twins. He put up a 1.87 ERA and 0.934 WHIP with 518 K to only 271 hits in 418 2/3 IP over that span.

Will he get in? Probably not. Billy Wagner was clearly better yet only managed 16.7 percent of the BBWAA vote in 2019.

Fred McGriff (Today’s Game Era Committee – possibly 2022)

493 HR, 1,550 RBIs, .284/.377/.509, 52.6 rWAR, 56.9 fWAR, 134 wRC+

McGriff received 39.8 percent of votes from the BBWAA in 2019 – his final year on the ballot. His case now goes to the Today’s Game Era Committee.

The Crime Dog’s case has had some recent momentum – with good reason. McGriff was consistent and he had a clean reputation, which will help him going forward. The work stoppage of 1994-95 likely cost him a shot at 500 career home runs, which would probably been enough to get him elected via BBWAA in the first place.

By the way, who was the last Cubs lefty prior to Anthony Rizzo to hit 30 HR in a season? It was Fred McGriff in 2002.

Will he get in? I think he’ll get elected the first time he goes on the Today’s Game Era ballot.

Kenny Lofton (Today’s Game Era Committee – possibly 2024)

Lofton played only 56 games with the Cubs – all in 2003 – after coming over from Pittsburgh along with Aramis Ramírez. When considering leadoff men from 1980-present, Rickey Henderson was the best. Then there’s Tim Raines. After that, it just might be Kenny Lofton.

  Games Runs HR RBIs SB BA/OBP/SLG wRC+ rWAR fWAR
Player A 2,651     1,420 117 780 509 .311/.355/.402 104 59.3 57.6
Player B 2,103 1,528 130 781 622 .299/.372/.423 109 68.3 62.4
Player C 2,616 1,610 149 900 938 .293/.343/.410 109 45.3 43.2

Player B is Lofton. Player A is Ichiro. Player C is Lou Brock.

Lofton earned six All-Star selections and four Gold Glove Awards in his career. He’s one of five players in MLB history with 100 triples, 100 home runs and 600 stolen bases. The others are Tim Raines, Lou Brock, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. From 2002-07, Lofton played with nine different teams, which may hurt his case a bit.

Will he get in? I think Lofton will get in eventually through the Era Committee, though it might take a while.

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