Cubs Are ‘Sleeper Pick’ in Fierce Competition for Shohei Ohtani

There isn’t really much more that needs to be said about this, especially since a good chunk of fans will get one look at the title and just respond that Tom Ricketts is cheap. While I’ve lobbed my fair share of criticism at the Cubs’ chairman, it would be foolish to overlook the financial impact Shohei Ohtani would have on the organization at a time when it needs a superstar in a big way. Marquee Sports Network’s streaming service stands to turn massive profits if MLB indeed eliminates blackout restrictions and territorial limitations.

Imagine what would happen if the Cubs signed Ohtani and then had the ability to sell Marquee around the country and the world. Even the largest contract in baseball history would look like a bargain.

That’s part of the reason the Cubs are considered the “sleeper pick” to sign the two-way star, according to what several GMs have told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. This comes with the requisite warning to consider the source, plus I have to note that it’s a slog to get through a piece that makes my comma usage look sparse in comparison. I guess Gannett saves money by not using copy editors.

Anyway, the competition for Ohtani is expected to include all the usual suspects in a group that could exceed 12 teams. Seeing how the Rangers and Diamondbacks were able to reach the World Series so soon after being downright bad may create an environment in which nearly every team is actively trying to win. While you’d like to think that would always be true, MLB has typically seen a not-insignificant number of orgs mailing it in each year.

Nightengale puts the Angels right there at the top of the list of teams that could land Ohtani, citing their decision not to trade him. I don’t really agree that a reunion is among the most likely possibilities, but I guess we can’t dismiss them out of hand. As for the Cubs, well, we need to remember that they were right there in the final running when Ohtani first came over from Japan.

The money was different back then because he was limited by international signing rules, so the competition was even broader than it will be this winter. Jed Hoyer was a part of that courtship and the Cubs have always done a great job when it comes to showcasing their organization and city to prospective free agents. That’s going to be just as important as their willingness to spend in a big way, especially since money isn’t the only factor here.

Ohtani is going to land a massive contract no matter what, but he and agent Nez Balelo aren’t simply seeking out the highest bidder here. After toiling in futility for the Angels throughout his career, Ohtani wants to go where he feels he has the best chance to win. That has always been his goal and it was cemented by Japan’s World Baseball Classic title over Mike Trout and Team USA.

So while a huge contract offer is going to be necessary just to get in the door, what really matters is how committed a given team is to building a team Ohtani can lead to a title. The Cubs have a little more money freed up now that Marcus Stroman has opted out of his $21 million for 2024, but that and the long-awaited expiration of Jason Heyward‘s deal only put them around the AAV it’ll take to land Ohtani. As such, they’ll need to make other moves either before or after this hypothetical monster splash.

I tend to think it’s still very much a pipe dream that they’ll actually be able to make it work, though I don’t think a legitimate pursuit should be scoffed at.

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