If the Cubs are going to land free-agent pitcher (and hitter) Shohei Ohtani of Japan, they’ll need to employ the full-court press they used to sign Jon Lester three offseasons ago.
With Lester, the Cubs wined and dined him, and even made a video depicting the team winning the World Series with him.
For fun’s sake here, the Cubs can show Ohtani a video of manager Joe Maddon yanking him from the mound in Game 7 of the World Series in the fourth inning but leaving him in the game to play left field and having Ohtani hit a game-winning home run.
The Cubs are reported to be among seven teams that hold the interest of Ohtani and his representatives. The others are the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants.
Some reports have the Mariners as the favorites. That shouldn’t be surprising, given the success enjoyed in Seattle by future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki as well as the Mariners’ location in the Pacific Northwest.
Ohtani’s list of preferred teams has a decided West Coast weight to it (five teams), and the Rangers aren’t a surprise because of their experience with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.
Even as a big-market team in the Midwest, the Cubs should have reason to feel somewhat optimistic. Ohtani has turned down the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, both of whom have made significant forays into Japan. But Ohtani, according to reports, did not seem interested by the huge East Coast markets.
Ohtani’s representatives have said money will not necessarily be the single determining factor in where he plays. That’s a good thing for the Cubs, who have a signing bonus of only $300,000 to offer because they exceeded their international signing-bonus pool money in the last collective bargaining agreement with the players. The Rangers can offer about $3.5 million.
Ohtani was “posted” Friday, and he has until Dec. 22 to sign with a major league team, which must agree to a $20 million posting fee.
For his batting career with the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan, the left-handed hitter has a line of .286/.358/.500 with 48 home runs. As a right-handed pitcher, he is 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings pitched.
An American League team can satisfy Ohtani’s desire to both pitch and bat because the AL employs the designated hitter, whereas a National League team would have to use Ohtani in the field when he doesn’t pitch.
The Cubs will give Ohtani their best pitch. Teams will be meeting this week with Ohtani and his crew on the West Coast. Among the selling points that team president Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer can bring to Ohtani are:
• The team’s history of accommodating Japanese players and making them feel comfortable, dating to the previous regime’s treatment of outfielder Kosuke Fukudome. In recent years, the Cubs also have had Japanese players So Taguchi, Kyuji Fujikawa, Tsuyoshi Wada and Koji Uehara on the roster. None of these players did particularly well for the Cubs, although a hot start for Fukudome in 2008 landed him on the NL All-Star team.
• The core group of young players on the team, which has taken the Cubs to three straight NL Championship Series and to a World Series title in 2016.
• First-class clubhouse and training facilities both at Wrigley Field and at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, where the Cubs hold spring training. All of the clubs on Ohtani’s preferred list hold spring training in Arizona.
Epstein did not return a call seeking comment.
All 30 big-league teams were asked to complete a questionnaire requested by Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo. Among the topics on it were the team’s evaluation of the player as a hitter and pitcher, the organization’s player-development program and medical training.
If Ohtani and his people can get past the limitation on the bonus money available, the Cubs would seem to check all the boxes for the two sides to make a deal.