We’ve previously discussed the idea that multiple opposing executives believe the Cubs are a “sleeper pick” to land Shohei Ohtani, and at least one NL exec believes they’re the Dodgers’ biggest competition. But those reports are coming from national guys, one of whom isn’t exactly heralded for his accuracy. Now, however, we’ve got a report from Patrick Mooney of The Athletic saying the Cubs indeed “plan to be involved in Ohtani’s process.”
Mooney is quick to temper that with the obvious note that it could mean absolutely nothing in the end. The price alone will be prohibitive for most teams and Ohtani is believed to have a preference for the West Coast, which puts the Cubs at more than a slight disadvantage. But that was also the case back in 2017, when the Cubs were one of only two finalists (the Rangers were the other) for his services not in the Pacific time zone. More than just geography, not having the DH may have been the real tipping point.
Jed Hoyer predictably declined to comment on any future plans regarding Ohtani, or any other free agent, he did take time to reminisce on that earlier courtship.
“It was pretty clear that he wanted to do both and DH-ing was the best option for that,” Hoyer explained. “We couldn’t provide that. The Dodgers and Padres couldn’t provide that. It was four NL teams and three AL teams and I thought we were at a big disadvantage because we couldn’t offer him the ability to DH. As good as the meeting went, we knew that was always going to be an uphill climb.
“It doesn’t surprise me in the end that he picked an AL team. But I wish we could roll back the clock and take a shot at it again.”
The situation was very different six years ago because Ohtani was bound by international signing bonus regulations that capped his bonus at $300,000. As such, all 30 teams threw their hats in the ring. Only seven made the final round, so just getting to that point was impressive. The Cubs rolled out quite a presentation that, legend has it, involved a hologram.
While the DH is no longer an issue, geography still will be unless California ends up sliding off into the ocean in the next month or so. The real hurdle might be the Cubs’ competitive outlook, which can’t match up with that of the Dodgers or Rangers, among others. A willingness to spend like no team ever has on a single player is just the starting point here because Ohtani wants to win.
Hiring Craig Counsell fired a shot across the league’s bow in a big way, but that in and of itself won’t be enough to convince the megastar that the Cubs will do what the Angels never could. Granted, playing in the NL Central offers a much clearer path to the postseason than Ohtani ever had in the AL West. I don’t even think location is actually that big of a deal, though it could very well tip the scales in a tight decision.
Those who dismissed this idea after reading the headline didn’t make it this far, so I guess I’m just preaching to the choir as I reiterate this next point. Even for a team that has repeatedly warned against the evils of long contracts, going huge for Ohtani makes sense. He’s the one player in the league who you can almost guarantee will be worth any deal even if he doesn’t regain his old form following his second elbow surgery.
Now that the regional sports network bubble has burst and streaming services are in total disarray, Marquee Sports Network is poised to make bank if MLB changes its territorial restrictions. Crane Kenney is like Chris Farley’s character in Dirty Work — In the land of skunks, the man with half a nose is king! — which is much better than running biz ops for one of the teams that had a Bally contract.
I still don’t think it’s particularly likely for a variety of reasons, but I do believe the Cubs have learned their lesson after sitting on the sidelines as other superstars signed elsewhere. The last little facet of this that could play in their favor is that Hoyer operates in a manner very similar to Ohtani and his reps. Pitching and landing Counsell without anyone knowing about it speaks volumes about Hoyer and his front office, and that might be the best recruiting pitch of all for a group that prizes privacy.