Buster Olney Provides More Credence to Cubs’ Potential Pursuit of Shohei Otani

It’s no secret that the Cubs are likely to be somewhat frugal in this year’s free-agent market, a strategy based primarily in the knowledge that they’ve still got most of the core pieces of a team that played pretty well in 2016. Not to mention having a healthy Kyle Schwarber and a (fingers-crossed) resurgent Jason Heyward is kind of like picking up a couple new players, thus eliminating the need or desire to spend big.

The team continued to make good on their stated strategy when they announced the signing of Jon Jay to a one-year, $8 million deal Tuesday evening. But does it really make sense to shop for off-brands at Aldi when they seemingly have plenty of cash to pick up a nice Dexter Fowler from Whole Foods? The real answer to that question may lie beyond just the 2017 season, as Ken Rosenthal reported when discussing the Cubs’ appetite for Kenley Jansen earlier in November.

The last thing the Cubs want to do is overspend on a closer when it might cost them the chance to make a run next winter at Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani – or pursue other opportunities in the future.

At the time, that idea seemed like little more than an ethereal fever dream that you don’t even want to acknowledge for fear that doing so will cause it to dematerialize. But a new report from Buster Olney lends credence to the idea that the pursuit of the 22-year-old Japanese phenom might be a very real possibility.

The Cubs could have gone after one of the pricier bats in the market, but there is already heavy expectation that Chicago is holding its dollars for something bigger — the cost of restocking the pitching, for example, and perhaps a potential run at the multitalented Shohei Otani, the MVP of Japan’s Pacific League. A star pitcher and designated hitter, Otani will be the most sought-after player next winter, and rival executives believe the Cubs will be all-in on that pursuit when the contracts of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are set to expire.

Now, if you’re done wiping the drool from the corner of your mouth, allow me to deliver a little more cold reality. Though multiple reports linking the Cubs to Otani may make it seem that the mirage is indeed an oasis, said life-giving pool of awesomesauce is still a long way off through a treacherous desert. Banking money now to use on a future free agent can be risky, even for a player of Otani’s immense potential. Or perhaps because of Otani’s immense potential.

For more on the uncertainty of this speculation, let’s turn to Bleacher Nation’s Michael Cerami:

Secondly, Otani doesn’t actually *have* to be posted next offseason, as his team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, can continue to get all they can out of him before posting him just before in his final season under contract, as we’ve discussed before. With the posting fee capped at $20 million (for now), they have no incentive (other than avoiding injury) not to wait.

With that said, Otani would probably have a significant preference to be next offseason as opposed to the next year, given the huge 2018 MLB free agent class. Despite how awesome he is, there will be far more options that year that could theoretically depress the overall price of his expectedly enormous contract. Furthermore, there’s already been an air of inevitability floating around when folks discuss Otani coming to MLB after the 2017 season, for whatever an “air” is worth.

One more thing: the rules governing the posting system could change as soon as next year, for all we know. If, for some unexpected reason, the posting cap is eliminated or lifted, the calculus on the posting timing could change. In short there are a ton of unknown variables surrounding Otani’s potential posting.

For what it’s worth the “First of all” that necessitated the “Secondly” dealt with the nature of Olney’s sources. Given the early stage of the process, this could amount to nothing other than rumor-mongering and banter from said “rival executives.” There’s also the idea that the Cubs are going to be far from the only team involved, particularly given the low posting fee. Yes, $20 million is low.

Remember when the Red Sox bid $51,111,111 for Daisuke Matsuzaka back in 2006? Man, what’s that idiot of a GM doing these days? Probably off on a month-long bender somewhere, is my guess. Six years later, the Rangers bid nearly $52 for the ability to negotiate with Yu Darvish. And those two guys who were only pitchers. Otani was named a Pacific League (NPB) All-Star as both a pitcher and DH, which means his posting fee under the old system would probably approach eleventy billion dollars or so.

So of course the Cubs are going to be in on Otani, who would help to round out a rotation that will be in need of restocking prior to the 2018 season. But even in the face of all the uncertainty and the various caveats, I get the sense that they’re going to be really in on this kid.

I’ve always been big on the relationship between proverbial smoke and fire, and that’s what I see in the reports above. Though I don’t know exactly what’s going on in Theo Epstein’s mind, I do know that he’s a competitive SOB and that he will doggedly pursue a target he’s set his sights on. Something tells me the presence of these rumors, the smoke, is a sign that Epstein is indeed carrying a big torch for Otani.

Whether that’s really the case or not, it’s not as simple a matter as saying the Cubs are saving money now for the pursuit of a single player. Rosenthal said as much in the blurb above. Rather, they know the market for free-agent starting pitchers this year is hot garbage and they’re not going to be buyers.

A more likely immediate scenario has the Cubs going after a cost-controlled starter in a trade this winter, a move that would help for the coming season and beyond without adding much to the payroll. Should Otani not be posted, they’ve still got Mike Montgomery waiting in the wings, along with the likely ascension of pitching prospects like Dylan Cease, Tom Hatch, et al. Then that excess money could be spent on extensions for their young hitters or next year’s free agent market.

But don’t be surprised when these rumors and reports persist over the next year and the Cubs continue to be involved in all of them.


At this point, the details of the new CBA are coming out, but it looks as it has imposed a requirement that international players must be at least 25 years old AND have six years of experience in their respective league. The latter isn’t too big a deal for Otani, since 2017 will be his fifth season. And, as noted above, it was entirely possible that he wasn’t going to be posted until after the 2018 season anyway.

The age factor, though, that might be a problem. If it’s based on player age as of June 1, Otani will still be considered a 24-year-old in 2019 (25 on July 5 of that year). That means he would not be eligible to sign with an MLB team until after that season. In that case, it makes no sense for the Cubs to save up at this early juncture. The good news is that it heightens the likelihood that they aggressively pursue a starter via other means.

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