Shohei Ohtani Race May Be Down to 4 Teams, Price Could Reach $600M

With all the Shohei Ohtani talk swirling, it can be difficult to separate planted rumors from actual reports when it comes to which teams are still in and which have fallen out. While the safest option is to simply ignore all of them, there are ways to discern fact from fiction with reasonable confidence. The main rule is that if the rumor says the Cubs are favorites, it’s true.

But seriously, the first step is to consider the source. It’s possible for a totally unknown rando to break news, even the hugest of the huge like an Ohtani deal, but it’s not just about follower count or notoriety. Since Twitter changed to X and started charging for blue verified checks, you have to be a little more skeptical of the folks who have them. Even more important is checking on the rumor-monger’s livelihood.

It’s no surprise that a lot of what you’re seeing out there comes from people who operate or have relationships with sports betting platforms. Generating increased engagement from a tweet about Ohtani spurning the Dodgers and favoring the Cubs could see more money laid on Chicago with sportsbooks. Another rumor had the Cubs falling out of the race with the Blue Jays favored, which coincided with an improvement in Toronto’s betting odds.

Many of these “reports” are just a grift perpetuated by people who will suffer no negative consequences for putting out false information. Given how many fiends are out there seeking rumor fixes to feed their addiction, veracity hardly even matters in many cases. For those looking for information that hasn’t been stepped on four or five times on its way to the street, however, the sources are more limited.

That’s why we opted to review a note from Michael Marino of Fantrax that said the Cubs were still in the running and that the Rangers and an AL East team had fallen out. It didn’t smack of an ulterior agenda, and now it’s been largely corroborated by ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Here’s the thing about Passan: He considers information to be sacrosanct, so he’s not putting it out there if he doesn’t believe it.

In his Winter Meetings preview piece for ESPN+, Passan confirmed that the Rangers, Red Sox, and Mets have “turned their attention to other players.” He also noted that the Cubs, Dodgers, Angels, and Blue Jays — the four teams Marino named — are the only teams known to still be in the bidding. The Giants’ status is unknown, though it’s hard to imagine they’ve bowed out completely.

As difficult as it’s been for a lot of folks to wrap their minds around this, the Ohtani sweepstakes isn’t purely a matter of which team offers the most money. I actually think Ohtani would take a lower offer if it meant getting a better overall fit, though it’s also possible for the most money and best fit to be in the same place. Either way, Passan has heard from sources who believe the contract will exceed $550 million and could push as high as $600 million.

We’re probably looking at some really creative maneuvering to structure a deal that pays Ohtani in accordance with his status as the most talented player of this or any generation while also protecting against the fear of him not pitching as well when he returns. His latest procedure was reportedly not as extensive as the full UCL reconstruction he underwent a few years ago, but whether it was the increasingly popular internal brace or something else isn’t clear. Though concerns are largely mitigated by his transcendent stardom, it’s not beyond reason to build in a little security.

As strange as it sounds, Ohtani might even be intrigued by something like that. We have to remember that this is a man who’s motivated by doing things no one else has done, as we saw when he left for MLB early even though it meant foregoing a bigger payday through full free agency. He could relish the notion of having to prove himself as a pitcher upon his return to the mound, something I feel like Jed Hoyer and the Cubs could find a way to leverage to some extent.

Jon Morosi talked a little while back about how Ohtani might be driven by trying to win the triple crown next season as a DH-only, something the Cubs are ideally suited to help him do. The Cubs also have a lighter travel schedule than the other teams reportedly in the mix for Ohtani, which could be a mark in their favor.

It’s become almost trite at this point, but I’ll repeat it because many still don’t believe or understand it: This is the one player for whom Tom Ricketts is willing to break the bank. The Cubs are very well positioned with Marquee Sports Network to capitalize on Ohtani’s international acclaim, so this would be a different investment than any other contract. That said, Ohtani isn’t a savior and isn’t being viewed as the only addition required to build a winner.

We saw how the Angels were unable to win with two all-time greats, so the Cubs don’t see this as a singular fix. Rather, signing Ohtani is just a huge part of a more holistic roster upgrade, not all of which will be conducted with an eye on winning in 2024. And hey, maybe they don’t end up with Ohtani at all. It’s anybody’s guess at this point where he’ll land, I’m just saying it’s unwise to count out the Cubs until the dust has settled.

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