Chicago Cubs: Shohei Ohtani pursuit contingent on several factors
By Tim Stebbins
Signing Shohei Ohtani could be the biggest bargain move the Chicago Cubs ever make. However, there are many factors that could hinder the team’s pursuit.
Shohei Ohtani will likely be on a MLB roster in 2018. Truly, any big-league team would be foolish not to at least consider signing the 23-year-old Japanese pitcher-outfielder.
Ohtani has absolutely dominated Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League over the past few seasons. While thigh and ankle injuries hindered him during the 2017 season, he still managed to hit .332 in 65 games (202 at-bats).
Ohtani’s impressive 2017 campaign came on the heels of his dominant 2016 season, where he hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs in just 104 games.
Of course, Ohtani’s offensive production alone is cause for any MLB to consider signing him. The fact that he has been even more dominant as a pitcher makes him even more impressive, though.
Ohtani did not truly break out offensively until 2016, whereas he has been a force on the mound since his 2014 season. From 2014-2016, Ohtani made 24, 22 and 20 starts, sporting stellar ERAs of 2.61, 2.24 and 1.86, respectively.
With his success both at the plate and on the mound, MLB teams would be lucky to sign Ohtani. And according to a report, the Chicago Cubs should not be counted out of the sweepstakes for his services.
Be that as it may, there are numerous influencing factors in the Cubs’ pursuit of bringing Ohtani to the North Side. Bigger than anything, though, is how much money they are able to offer him.
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Ohanti faces the same rules other international free agents under the age of 25 face. Most MLB teams have just $4.75 million available in their bonus pools for international free agents each year.
Prior to 2017, MLB teams would frequently spend more money on international free agents than available in their bonus pools and simply pay a penalty fee. The Cubs were one of several teams in 2015 and 2016 to bypass the preexisting cap for signing international players.
The Cubs face penalty in 2017 under the new collective bargaining agreement due to their spending in 2015 and 2016. Rather than paying a penalty fee, they can offer a maximum of just $300,000 to an international free agent this year.
By no means does this mean that the Cubs should not pursue Ohtani. If anything, the penalty is beneficial because the Cubs do not risk overpaying for Ohtani if his skills to not translate well to the MLB.
At the same time, a $300,000 salary could be to tough sell to Ohtani. As a big market team, though, the Cubs have more money to spend than smaller market teams. The Cubs could pay him much more than other teams when he becomes an MLB free agent in a few years.
Ohtani move leads to another?
Outside of financial obligations, the Cubs must consider whether they are comfortable with Ohtani pitching and playing outfield. Realistically, this is a sticking point in negotiations for Ohtani, as he has expressed a desire to continue doing both.
Although Ohtani would be a stellar addition to the Cubs, he has never started 30 games in a season. Essentially, signing him to pitch and play outfield could require the Cubs to have a six-man starting rotation.
Of course, the Cubs used a six-man rotation for a large chunk of the 2017 season. Regardless, they must determine if this is something they are willing to do. If Ohtani comes to the Cubs, they certainly will count on him to perform well. If he were to struggle, the Cubs’ rotation would suffer as a result.
Impact on depth chart
Another factor to consider in regards to signing Ohtani is that the Cubs have a packed outfield as is. As things currently stand, the Cubs have five outfielders capable and worthy of starting game-in and game-out.
With Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist (realistically), Ohtani does not fit right now. However, signing Ohtani could lead the Cubs to trade a young position player.
Such a move would allow the team to a) acquire a young, controllable starting pitcher and b) clear the outfield logjam. The Cubs’ recent success has been due to their extreme position player depth, though. Making such a move would require a lot of thought, as it could hurt the team more than help.
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Ultimately, there are many factors in play for the Cubs in their pursuit of Ohtani. At the very least, they should pitch him an offer, as he could be the biggest bargain free agent signing in recent memory. Things will play themselves out from there if he decides to come to the North Side.