Cubs

The Cubs are a perfect fit for Shohei Ohtani

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AP

The Cubs are a perfect fit for Shohei Ohtani

Let's get a disclaimer out of the way first: Every single team in baseball is a fit for Shohei Ohtani.

Who wouldn't want a 23-year-old pitcher who can touch triple digits with his fastball, provide quality at-bats (and power) from the left side and only costs a few million of payroll (plus a $20 million posting fee)?

But the Cubs may be the best fit in Major League Baseball for the young Japanese phenom.

Because the money is so reasonable — Ohtani could've made hundreds of millions and would've incited a bidding war unlike anything we've seen if he waited to be posted until he turned 25 — dollar signs aren't going to sway his decision in choosing where he spends the next few years of his life.

Which is something he acknowledged in Jorge L. Ortiz's article at USA TODAY earlier this week:


Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, asked teams not to submit financial terms. More significantly, restrictions on international signings will limit Ohtani’s bonus to a maximum of about $3.5 million, depending on the club he chooses, and allow him to sign only a minor-league deal.

That makes him affordable to all teams, although they would also have to put up a posting fee of $20 million for the right to negotiate with him.

The letter asks the teams to provide information, in English and Japanese, on matters such as their player-development and medical staffs, their facilities, resources to ease Ohtani’s assimilation and the desirability of the franchise, city and marketplace. It also requests the clubs’ evaluation of Ohtani as a hitter and/or pitcher.


Let's start with player development and medical staffs — the Cubs have done a remarkable job of keeping pitchers healthy over the last few seasons even as they've played far more games than anybody else in baseball (though it will be interesting to see if that health continues with pitching coach Chris Bosio gone). The Cubs also have arguably the best young core in the game, so player development is a serious check in the Cubs' favor.

The Cubs' facilities are also top-notch in spring training and now in Chicago as well with the two-year-old state-of-the-art clubhouse and utilities.

Players have also raved recently about how the Cubs organization takes care of the players and their families off the field, treating them as more than just assets and making everybody in the player's family feel comfortable. Under Theo Epstein's regime, the Cubs have hosted a handful of Japanese players — Kyuji Fujikawa, Tsyoshi Wada, Munenori Kawasaki and most recently Koji Uehara — and the young clubhouse has created and environment of acceptance, regardless of background.

It doesn't get much more desirable than Chicago in the summer (I'm biased as a Chicago native, of course) plus historic Wrigley Field, a franchise with title expectations every season and a young core that should be competing in October every fall for the next few years. Only New York or Los Angeles could offer more in terms of a market than Chicago.

The Cubs front office and Joe Maddon's coaching staff are also very open-minded to bucking conventions, so they should have no problem with Ohtani playing both ways.

What manager would be better at maximizing Ohtani's two-way abilities than Maddon? He's always looking for the next "Madd Scientist" experiment to go against the grain.

The Cubs need a starting pitcher and if they trade from their core of young position players this winter, that would open up some playing time in the outfield for Ohtani.

Conceivably, the Cubs could pitch Ohtani on a Monday, sit him on Tuesday, start him Wednesday or Thursday or both in the outfield, then sit him again Friday and have him take his regular turn in the rotation Saturday. On his days off, Ohtani could also be utilized as a bat off the bench at the most opportune time late in a game.

Ohtani will have his choice of where he wants to play, but the Cubs certainly appear to check all the boxes.

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.