The Cubs were one of the finalists to land Shohei Ohtani in 2017 and they’ve been named among the teams that could trade for or sign him as a free agent, but the cost is likely to set an MLB record. That’s easy to understand when you’re effectively talking about adding two players at once, since Ohtani is an elite DH when he’s not busy pitching at a Cy Young caliber. But is he worth half a billion dollars?
The best answer is that he’s worth whatever a team is willing to pay him, and the folks at OddsChecker say the Angels megastar currently has -400 odds — an implied 80% chance — to top $500 million on his next deal. Doing so would make Ohtani the highest-paid baseball player ever, possibly in AAV as well as the obvious total value. He would need to spread the $500 million over no more than 11 years to beat Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, then it would need to jump to $521 million over 12 years or around $564 million for 13.
While Ohtani already proved he’s not entirely motivated by money when he opted to leave Japan early and subject himself to international bonus pool restrictions, a bidding war will pay him handsomely even if he doesn’t push it. Unless he bucks all convention yet again and opts to sign somewhere based purely on preference, in which case maybe the Cubs can remain in the conversation.
Barring something like that, it’s really hard to believe after the last few years of bargain-hunting that Jed Hoyer would see fit to hand out the third-largest contract in team sports history. Then again, perhaps the Ricketts family’s affinity for European soccer will see them splurging after all. Rather than joining a conglomerate to make a multi-billion-dollar purchase, they can simply pay a player like the top soccer clubs do.
Cristiano Ronaldo has a deal with Al-Nassr valued at around $536 million over just 2.5 years and World Cup hero Lionel Messi earned a staggering $674 million over four years from Barcelona. Messi’s current deal with Paris Saint-Germain is for a mere $41 million guaranteed with another $34 million or so in bonuses, not bad for a guy who was 34 when he signed it. For what it’s worth, Ronaldo is about to turn 38. Soccer money is different, and Saudi money is, well…that’s a whole ‘nother issue.
Back to Ohtani, who is an absolute unicorn and quite possibly the most talented baseball player in history. He provides monster power from the left side, he’s a flame-throwing pitcher with some of the nastiest stuff you’ll ever see, and he is a huge draw in terms of both ticket sales and eyeballs on broadcasts. The Cubs could not create a more perfect player through Weird Science, though plenty of other front office nerds are sitting around with bras on their heads hoping to find a way to land the two-way star.
Some of those nerds also likely have less compunction when it comes to spending money, and you have the think the Cubs’ Ivy system will ding the valuation of a player who turns 29 in early July. It’s easy given all the factors to rule the Cubs out of a possible Ohtani pursuit, but can we see them realistically being in on Rafael Devers? What about Manny Machado?
Hoyer will definitely have room under the CBT threshold for at least one of those moves, though his actual budget might be another issue even if it shouldn’t be. The Cubs are currently around $18.5 million below the first penalty level and could have as much as $102 million falling off the books based on contract expirations and opt-outs. Even with a more conservative estimate of $81 million — Marcus Stroman could choose to stick around at $21 million — we’re looking at tons of space.
Without getting further into the weeds by trying to account for a $4 million CBT threshold increase, arbitration raises, or how actual payroll factors in, I do think it’s reasonable to believe ownership will want to spend more next season. They structured the salaries of Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon, and Cody Bellinger to divert money to future seasons, which was surely due in part to the anticipation of reduced revenue from ticket sales and Marquee Sports Network’s continued poor ratings. That would put even more impetus on the team to make a big splash.
When Crane Kenney announced to the world that the Cubs had money to spend, it wasn’t simply a matter of throwing Hoyer under the bus to take heat off of ownership. I mean, yeah, it was largely that. But it may also have been a cry for help as the business operations side struggles to make chicken salad out of something even less appetizing. Then you’ve got the idea of dangling a carrot for those fans who were on the fence about whether to renew their season tickets.
Now that I’ve waxed serious about this for 800 words or so, I guess it’s time to wrap this up and ask what you think about the idea of spending $500 million or more on Ohtani. As of the time this was published, the response is overwhelmingly in favor of it.
Let's say Shohei Ohtani will earn $500M+ in free agency. Should the Cubs do that deal?
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) January 4, 2023