Cubs reportedly in the running for Shohei Ohtani as Japanese star narrows list of possible destinations

Cubs reportedly in the running for Shohei Ohtani as Japanese star narrows list of possible destinations

The Cubs are reportedly in the running to land this offseason's top target.

Shohei Ohtani narrowed his list of possible destinations Sunday night, and the Cubs made the cut, according to a report, meaning they'll meet with the Japanese star to make their pitch for a potential deal.

Earlier Sunday night, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman — whose team fell out of the running to sign Ohtani — told reporters that Ohtani was looking to head to a smaller-market team on the West Coast. So, with the Cubs meeting neither of those criteria, it looked like bad news for those hoping to see him on the North Side.

But a later report indicated the Cubs could be an exception to that, and it turned out they were.

The 23-year-old Ohtani has dazzled as both a pitcher and a hitter in Japan, with his pitching prowess likely of greatest interest to the Cubs, who have holes to fill in their starting rotation with both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey hitting free agency. But Ohtani also wants to hit on a regular basis, and the Cubs could certainly use an influx of offense after their bats went quiet during recent playoff series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers.

One school of thought argues that an American League team would have an easier time selling Ohtani on regular hitting duties. After all, a team would figure to be far more likely to play Ohtani as a regular designated hitter rather than risk an injury to a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher by playing him regularly in the field. But if Ohtani's bat is as valuable as it has seemed — he hit .332 with eight home runs in 65 games this past season — than a National League club would most definitely want a hitting pitcher who bolsters the lineup every fifth day and might be willing to take that injury risk by sticking him in the outfield on days when he does not pitch.

According to NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan, who wrote extensively about the Cubs and Ohtani last week, Theo Epstein's front office has invested plenty of time and money into scouting Ohtani in Japan. Whether their familiarity with him translates into his wanting to come to Chicago remains to be seen, as the rest of Ohtani's list of finalists features mostly teams on the West Coast. As of this writing, the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres — all West Coast teams — were among the other reported finalists.

Money likely won't be a factor in the pursuit of Ohtani: There's a $20 million posting fee, but he can only sign a minor league contract worth a maximum of $3.5 million because of international-signing rules that govern players under age 25. It's a unique occurrence that made it so every team in the game was in on Ohtani to begin with.

And so now come the in-person meetings. The Cubs have plenty to sell as a team whose World Series window remains wide open. Though with teams like the Padres and Mariners — teams that haven't been to the postseason since 2006 and 2001, respectively — still in the mix, too, winning right away might not be at the top of Ohtani's wish list. But the Cubs have other strong selling points, such as a recent history of Japanese players (Kyuji Fujikawa, Tsyoshi Wada, Munenori Kawasaki, Koji Uehara) and a manager in Joe Maddon known for utilizing versatile players in numerous different positions.

And according to Kaplan, the Cubs are pulling out all the stops.

Stay tuned. Baseball's biggest offseason drama continues to unfold.

The list of Cubs players eligible for the Hall of Fame this year will make you feel so old

The list of Cubs players eligible for the Hall of Fame this year will make you feel so old

This morning, Major League Baseball announced the 2019 Hall of Fame ballot, and that sound you hear is the overwhelming rush of Cubs fans nostalgia:

Juan Pierre! Ted Lilly! Pierre spent three of his 14 seasons in Chicago, spending one season (2006) with the Cubs and two (2010-2011) with the White Sox. Lilly pitched for the Cubs from 2007-2010. The two join Sammy Sosa, Fred McGrith (a stretch) and Manny Ramirez (a STRETCH) as the Cubs' representation on the ballot. 

Speaking of Ted Lilly, former Cubs GM Jim Hendry was recently on the Cubs Talk podcast, where he talked about signing Lily from his hospital bed. It's worth checking out! 

Jim Hendry recounts the time the Cubs nearly signed Jim Thome in free agency


Jim Hendry recounts the time the Cubs nearly signed Jim Thome in free agency

Could you imagine Jim Thome wearing a Cubs uniform?

What about Raul Ibanez? Pudge Rodriguez?

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry stopped by the CubsTalk Podcast recently with David Kaplan and Luke Stuckmeyer and the current New York Yankees executive dropped a couple of big names when asked who he wished he could've signed.

The most notable player was Jim Thome, a Hall of Famer revered by White Sox fans for his time on the South Side.

Thome was a free agent in the winter before the 2003 season and according to Hendry, the Cubs would've signed him if not for Hee Seop Choi.

"Oh yeah," Hendry said. "Well Jim and I were old friends — for how well you could be. I mean, he grew up in Illinois and I had gotten to know him over the years. Love Jim Thome. And Jim Thome, I'm convinced today, if we didn't have [Choi], would've been a Cub. ... I remember having a couple chats with Jim over the years and I know part of him would've really wanted to."

Hindsight is 20-20 so it's funny to look back and think Choi — a failed prospect who was out of the majors before his 27th birthday — was the reason the Cubs couldn't get one of the greatest sluggers of the decade. But at the time, Choi was looked at as a potential star — a 23-year-old ranked by Baseball America as the No. 22 prospect in the game.

And like Hendry said, neither Choi nor Thome could play anywhere else.

Thome ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and would've made a major difference on the 2003 Cubs (he led the NL with 47 homers and drove in 131 runs with a .958 OPS), but it all worked out pretty OK for the Cubs. The next offseason, Hendry traded Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee and the big first baseman wound up having a fantastic career with the Cubs.

"Obviously Derrek played great for us and if it weren't for Albert Pujols, Derrek would've been MVP once or twice," Hendry said. "But yeah, who wouldn't have wanted Jimmy? If it was an American League team, I would feel comfortable saying that could've happened."

Thome played for the Phillies for three years before being traded to the White Sox, where he became an instant fan favorite. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Among the other moves that he wished he could've pulled off, Hendry — who served as the Cubs GM from July 2002 until August 2011 (shortly before Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over) — threw out a 2008 trade for Raul Ibanez that fell through.

The veteran outfielder/DH was already 36 in 2008, but hit .293 with an .837 OPS, 23 homers and 110 RBI in 162 games for the Mariners. Part of the issue, Hendry said, was the crowded outfield the Cubs already had at the time — including Alfonso Soriano, Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukudome.

The Cubs led the league in runs scored that year en route to 97 wins but they failed to win a single postseason game, scoring only 6 runs against the Dodgers in a three-game NLDS sweep. L.A. needed only 7 pitchers in that series - all of whom were right-handed - while the Cubs' top 6 hitters were all right-handed as well, illustrating the major problem in Hendry's eyes.

Hendry also confirmed the Cubs were never close to signing Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez prior to the 2003 season, but did say the Hall of Fame catcher came to Wrigley Field for lunch and a meeting (though the two sides never even exchanged numbers).

Rodriguez ultimately signed with the Florida Marlins...who came within five outs of being eliminated by the Cubs in the NLCS only to rally back to win the series and then claim a championship over the Yankees.

But you knew that already...