How Do Cubs Factor in Shohei Ohtani Sweepstakes: Sleeper or Shocker?

We’re just over a week into the season and the Cubs are playing more or less to expectations, but one of the biggest topics of conversation remains how they plan to attack the offseason. After a bunch of will-they-or-won’t-they as far as an Ian Happ extension, it appears the left fielder will either be traded or allowed to walk. The latest round of smoke, however, comes from the idea that they could pursue a much bigger target.

Shohei Ohtani talk is nothing new, of course. We’ve been tracking rumored connections between the Cubs and the most talented ballplayer on the planet since he came over from Japan several years ago. There were rumblings of him being on the trade block until Angels owner Arte Moreno opted not to sell the team and declared that he had no intentions of moving Ohtani.

At least not over the winter.

In any case, these splashes have led to little ripples that tend to lap the shore when things get a little slow on the national stage. Thus we got USA Today’s Bob Nightengale calling the Cubs a “sleeper” for Ohtani over the weekend. Citing predictions from “several baseball executives,” Nightengale used the same argument we hear every time this topic comes up.

They were the only team outside the AL West and NL West that were on Ohtani’s original list when he left Japan six years ago, and certainly, they have plenty of money stored up to pay Ohtani whatever he desires.


“That’s the team no one talks about,’’ one AL executive said. “I’m telling you, that’s the team to watch out for. I could easily see him going there. We’ll see what happens, but that’s my call.”

Why he saw fit to include that toward the end of his recent column is anyone’s guess, but it effectively becomes a lob serve in tennis that simply must be returned by every other talking head in the industry. During his weekly appearance on Mully & Haugh on Monday morning, Jon Heyman pushed back against the idea that the Cubs would really be a player for Ohtani.

“I think (Ohtani is) going to get 500 million-plus, so I don’t see Cubs ownership (going there) – I’m not ripping them, I don’t see a lot of ownerships going to 500 million-plus, even for a player who is an all-time great and a marketing gem and all that,” Heyman said. “I’d be surprised.

“I don’t think he’s about the money anyway, I think he’s about the winning, and the Cubs have been up and down. I don’t know if he buys into that traditional loveable loser thing, he wants to win. So, I’m going to be surprised if he’s not a Dodger or a Padre. Those are the teams that spend, they’re on the West Coast, they look like they’re about to win for a long time. Anybody could be called a sleeper team, but I’d be shocked.”

This feels like a duel in which both combatants are blindfolded and firing blanks, even if some of the logic in play here tracks. First is the idea that the Cubs were Ohtani’s top choice outside the West Coast, which is true even if it’s both played and outdated. However, we’ve seen the organization do a good job of wooing Japanese players and we know they’re great when it comes to selling the team and the city.

Next is the idea Heyman presents that Ohtani isn’t all about the money, which we saw when he chose to forego the typical posting process and sign under the restrictions of the international bonus pool. Money will certainly factor just because it has to, but this may not be a matter of him signing with the highest bidder. Not that the Cubs should be viewed as a franchise that needs to have players take steep discounts to join them, mind you.

What should be an easy sell is convincing Tom Ricketts to open the checkbook and write whatever figure is necessary to land the most marketable star in the game. Landing Ohtani would add instant credibility to the team and, more importantly, the cost to attend its games. Marquee Sports Network wants to launch a stand-alone streamer, so what better way to grow that service at home and overseas than by making a huge splash in free agency?

Many believe Ohtani will command a contract in the neighborhood of $500 million, a total that can easily be justified by the amount of additional revenue he’ll generate. While that might be a stretch for a team that has never even done a $200 million deal, it makes all the sense in the world to set a new precedent for Ohtani.

Again, though, this may come down to the player’s belief in the team’s ability to win more than the team’s willingness to spend on the player.

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