Once upon a time, the Chicago Cubs narrowly missed out on landing Shohei Ohtani – who is on his way to American League MVP honors after turning in one of the most remarkable seasons in baseball history. Instead, he joined Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels and the rest is, as they say, history.
Or is it?
Ohtani was recently asked about sticking around long-term with the Angels and the two-way superstar had some interesting comments that should undoubtedly pique the interest of Cubs fans everywhere.
"“I really like the team. I love the fans. I love the atmosphere of the team,” Ohtani told the Los Angeles Times. “But, more than that, I want to win. That’s the biggest thing for me. I’ll leave it at that.”"
The Angels and October seem to go as well together as peanut butter and anchovies. We’re all well aware of Mike Trout’s lengthy postseason drought – and Ohtani seems determined to not look back on his career in the same way; tremendous individual success and accolades overshadowed by not only the lack of a World Series ring, but even the chance to chase one.
Los Angeles enters play Monday at 74-82 under former Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who flat-out told the media last week that without one or two front-end starters, the club will be mediocre for years to come. That terms applies perfectly to a team that hovered around .500 all season before turning in a 9-15 mark here in the final month.
You certainly can’t drop any of that on Ohtani’s doorstep. He’s hit 45 home runs, led the league with seven triples, seems likely to eclipse 100 RBI and carries a .966 OPS entering the season’s final week. On the mound, he’s made 23 starts, working to a 3.18 ERA and limiting opponents to a .207 average. So it’s pretty easy to see why he’s frustrated. There’s little else he can do individually to help the Angels return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.
"“It’s hard to say,” Ohtani said when asked if he felt he could win with the Angels. “We were putting up a good fight through like July or August, sticking around .500 and waiting for the guys to come back. That was our motivation. But the guys didn’t come back, so it was hard to keep that motivation up … If nothing changes on the team, I think it’s going to be pretty hard to be in playoff contention.”"
Of course, it’s intriguing to think what Ohtani – and the Cubs – might have accomplished together in recent years, protected by a core that included the likes of former NL MVP Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo. Without the designated hitter, it would have been a challenge, to be sure, but given the team’s relative success without him, it’s easy to make the case he could have been the missing piece on both sides of the ball.
Chicago Cubs rebuild could align perfectly with Shohei Ohtani hitting free agency
But that’s all in the past. And we’re looking toward the future here. Clearly, Ohtani isn’t going to stay in Los Angeles unless the team starts winning. And it’s not like the organization hasn’t been willing to spend, either. They’re always big-time players when they have a guy on their wish list. Even so, it hasn’t all added up to success – and that’s where Jed Hoyer and the Cubs have a chance to capitalize.
After hitting the reset button over the last 10 or so months, Chicago is focused on the future. Hoyer expects the Cubs to be ‘very active’ in free agency this year, but also noted his front office will spend ‘intelligently’. While fans undoubtedly want to see the team back in the postseason in 2022, a more likely scenario is a return to October baseball in 2023 or even 2024.
That timeline aligns perfectly with Ohtani’s potential return to free agency. He’s under team control through 2023 – which could give the Cubs just enough time to turn this thing over, let young guys like Brennen Davis, Brailyn Marquez and others get their feet under them at the big league level.
Throw in some quality free agent pick-ups and the continued success of guys like Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal and (hopefully) Willson Contreras and it’s very easy to see why Ohtani could be lured to Wrigleyville – a place he almost called home in his first free agency go-round.