Cubs Again Connected to Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Jeff Passan’s sprawling offseason preview has more than enough content to keep you occupied for a while, so I’m going to do my best to keep this really short so you’ve time to check everything out. Assuming you’re an ESPN+ subscriber, that is. Given the length of this piece, I have to wonder whether contemplating his mortality while rehabbing a broken back earlier this year made Passan think he was Stephen King. Let’s all just be thankful we’re not discussing Dreamcatcher.

Ed. note: Just want to be clear that I hold Passan in very high regard as both a reporter, writer, and Wu-Tang Clan aficionado. He let me know that his back is doing very well and he said he did not actually contemplate his mortality after the tree branch fell on him. Also, be warned that my best was not very good when it came to keeping it short.

Anywho, back to the Cubs and the work they have to do this winter. It’s not just about courting superstars because they’ll need to fill gaps with lower-cost transitional deals, but we’re focusing on huge names for now.

Though there isn’t any indication of where Ohtani will end up, Passan notes that he’s the exception for an organization that has never spent more than $184 million on a player. The Cubs and any number of other teams stand to benefit immensely from Ohtani’s “gravitational pull,” so he can’t be viewed like any other player we’ve ever seen before.

There’s a sense that he doesn’t want to drag this whole process out either, so it’s possible Ohtani could spur the market rather than stall it. Passan doesn’t necessarily say as much, that’s more the sense I get from this and other reports.

Ohtani would have been the top available pitcher had he not suffered that UCL injury late in the season, so that honor now goes to 25-year-old righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Passan includes the Cubs among seven teams expected to be involved in bidding that could enter the realm of the largest contracts ever awarded to pitchers. Yamamoto is far and away the best pitcher in Japan right now, maybe ever, and he’s bringing his five-pitch mix to MLB amid growing hype.

The Mets may have an inside track after landing Kodai Senga last year, especially now that there doesn’t seem to be as much cultural conflict when it comes to the Japanese hierarchical structure of respect. The Yankees have a strong track record of landing stars from NPB, but GM Brian Cashman may have just scuttled his chances with ill-timed comments about Giancarlo Stanton.

“He’s going to wind up getting hurt again more likely than not because it seems to be part of his game,” Cashman quipped during the GM Meetings.

That didn’t sit well with Joel Wolfe, the Wasserman agent who reps Stanton and many other players.

“I read the context of the entire interview,” Wolfe told Ken Rosenthal. “I think it’s a good reminder for all the free agents considering signing in New York, both foreign and domestic, that to play for that team you’ve got to be made of Teflon, both mentally and physically, because you can never let your guard down even in the offseason.”

This hits even harder when you realize that one of those other players in the Wasserman stable just happens to be Yamamoto. That context takes Wolfe’s comments from merely sharp to downright barbed, though I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of him ruling the Yankees out because that would be deleterious to his own business. Rather, it’s a matter of creating maximum leverage by making Cashman grovel a bit and maybe getting other teams to pounce.

Passan added that the Yamamoto bidding could come down to which team is willing to give him an opt-out in order to make the most of his youth and potential. Since Jed Hoyer took the reins, the Cubs have shown a greater willingness to include options and no-trade protection in order to sweeten contracts. And even though Tom Ricketts might have to be cajoled to pony up the significant posting fee in addition to any competitive balance tax overages the Cubs could face, players like this don’t come along often.

Signing Yamamoto to a massive long-term deal wouldn’t necessarily put the Cubs in a bind in terms of the future since Marcus Stroman opted out and Kyle Hendricks is just on a one-year option. However, the mere pursuit of a presumed ace in free agency means they’re willing to move at least one starting pitching prospect — among other positions — in order to swing the kind of big trade so many are expecting them to make.

That brings us to Juan Soto, who literally everyone believes will be traded this winter as the Padres look to reduce costs and increase contractual control. Passan notes that San Diego is intent on “acquiring near-major league-ready starting pitching,” which the Cubs, Yankees, and Mariners all have to offer. Though Cade Horton is the closest thing to untouchable the Cubs have in their system, Passan lists Ben Brown, Jordan Wicks, and Hayden Wesneski as potential capital.

There’s a two-pronged misconception out there that says the Cubs (or any team) need to have an extension in place in order to trade for Soto and that you can’t give up multiple big prospects for a rental. I guess those are kind of the same thing, but I separated them because Soto isn’t signing an extension. You have to throw out some of the normal rules when talking about generational superstars, even those who may only be with your team for one year.

The pessimists among you will simply brush this all aside as yet another series of fruitless rumors that see the Cubs connected to everyone only to end up with a bunch of spare parts. Even if such sentiments border on intellectual dishonesty, it’s true that the rumored pursuits of megastars have always fallen short. They’ve been pretty successful when it comes to signing that next tier of stars, however, and I think the time may have come for one of the largest markets in the game to act like it.

Am I saying the Cubs will go out and land all three of the aforementioned whales? Of course not. But getting two of them, particularly if one of them is Soto and his abbreviated contract, might be more realistic than most of you care to believe at this point. We’re still talking about pretty small odds, so it’s not like I’d be willing to bet on it or anything.

If practicality is more your jam, all the Rhys Hoskins talk seems to have merit. Tyler Glasnow is probably going to be moved, and he’d give the Cubs a very different look in the rotation. All we can do at this point is deduce and discuss.

To that end, I’d just like to throw something out there as I wrap up. Hope may be a really crappy strategy, but it’s the most powerful currency we possess as fans. It seems like some folks out there live under dark clouds and just go around looking for parades to rain on. But while we’re sitting here and waiting for the offseason to truly get going, maybe consider letting other folks have a little fun.

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