Chicago Cubs: Thinking back on potential of Ohtani-to-Cubs
At one point, the Chicago Cubs were finalists for the services of the two-way star, Shohei Ohtani. But things probably worked out best, just the way they did.
Remember when baseball was abuzz about two-way star, Shohei Ohtani? The Chicago Cubs were among his appointed finalists, a chance at showcasing “The Babe Ruth of Japan.” But it was the Angels that won those sweepstakes.
The chance for all 30 clubs to woo Ohtani was simple enough.
All teams — 27 actually did it — had their homework, as directed by Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, to craft their manifesto pinpointing what each club had to offer the 23-year-old: How he would fit into the teams’ plans, city, culture.
Think about how things have progressed since then, particularly for the Cubs, even with the slow-as-molasses offseason transitioning into Spring Training.
What could have been instead?
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The Cubs have just inked what most consider a final piece to a championship-contender makeover: The addition of Yu Darvish to round out the starting rotation.
But with teams promising Ohtani that he would have the opportunity to pursue his two-way prowess — pitching, hitting, and playing the outfield — do the Cubs land Darvish?
Tyler Chatwood, the other piece to the rotation makeover, signed with the Cubs, just one day before the announcement of Ohtani heading west.
Perhaps the Cubs finalized Chatwood’s deal with an inkling that Ohtani was not going to select them. Or maybe by then, they had already been privately eliminated.
Back up a little further. On that Sunday before the Chatwood signing, and Ohtani decision, the Cubs were left standing as a finalist, as he eliminated clubs from their pursuits. All basically within one hour, one random, December night. The Ohtani version of The Bachelor.
Crowding someone out?
Last season, right before the trade deadline, I wrote about the increasingly –inevitable? — possible scenario in that, eventually, someone was going to have to be traded off the Cubs major league roster.
If for no other reason, than that excess talent is crowding someone out.
But as this offseason played out, by the magic of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s wand, they replenished their club for 2018 without having to take such drastic measures. In just a little over a month, the Cubs look to parade into opening day with Kyle Schwarber patrolling left field, Albert Almora in center field, and Jason Heyward in right.
Javier Baez is at second, with Addison Russell over at shortstop. Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ would be on the bench in that scenario. And of that combination, someone will be available off the bench every other night or so.
Chicago’s cornerstone depth is a welcome problem for most clubs. And it is better to be safe than sorry with regards to injuries, slumps, and rest days. So with the possible addition of Ohtani, someone, among that group, would have been shed to clear Ohtani’s footsteps to the outfield, right?
Theo had a plan, in order to give Ohtani at-bats, and starts on the mound.
But, as is, it’s hard to deny the 2018 version of the Cubs. The group that is breaking camp as we speak, isn’t better than currently constructed. Your concerns about the closer, Brandon Morrow, who’s leading off and Darvish by the end of his six-year contract is duly noted.
A very solid bunch
Maybe Ohtani does fully evolve into a generational, major league, two-way force.
If the Angels get just one of his two-way weapons to blossom at the major league level, it’s money well spent. Even if not, they sacrificed a mere couple million dollars in international bonus pool money. Not including the $20 million posting fee to his original club, the Nippon-Ham Fighters.
The Angels are looking to more than crack baseball’s competitive landscape, and once again head back to the postseason, which has eluded them since 2014 — their last playoff win, in any form, since 2009.
For Chicago, as moves this offseason dictate, it’s all about making good on this championship window. For better, or potentially worse.
Even if the Cubs grabbed Ohtani, and whether or not he worked out, or if they had to trade one of Happ, Russell, or even Baez, the team is still perpetually deep to its core. But they are arguably the deepest with each of those assets in place around the diamond.
And they have Chatwood and Darvish.
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So in retrospect, I’m kind of glad Ohtani did decide on Los Angeles. (Not to mention the elbow). He had his reasons. And I will root for Ohtani to blossom into stardom just as the Angels and Major League Baseball hope.
And Chicago keeps their core intact while avoiding tough roster decisions. For now.