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HomeBaseballCubs eyeing second probability to signal Shohei Ohtani

Cubs eyeing second probability to signal Shohei Ohtani


CHICAGO — If solely the designated hitter rule had come to the Nationwide League previous to 2022. It may have modified the course of Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani‘s profession — in addition to the trajectory of the Chicago Cubs. Not less than that is what the Cubs had been considering after they pursued him again in 2017, earlier than he signed with the Los Angeles Angels.

“It was fairly clear he wished to do each [hitting and pitching], and DHing was the best choice for that,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer mentioned final week on the normal managers conferences. “Nearly as good because the assembly with him went, we all the time knew it was going to be an uphill climb.”

The Cubs had been one in all seven finalists for Ohtani’s providers again then — and one in all two not situated on the West Coast. On the time, Chicago was in the midst of a profitable window, having made the NLCS three straight seasons, taking residence a World Collection championship in 2016.

“We had issues rolling fairly nicely at that time,” Hoyer mentioned. “I believe he was intrigued.”

So had been the Cubs.

Ohtani, now the most important free agent within the historical past of the game, is deciding the place he desires to play subsequent, and the Cubs are once more excited by courting him, based on sources accustomed to the state of affairs.

Ohtani is predicted to win his second American League Most Beneficial Participant Award when winners are introduced Thursday night. Everybody knew he may pitch, however what he is completed on the plate over the previous six seasons has been eye-opening — for followers and executives alike.

“There have been zero questions on his means on the mound,” Hoyer recalled. “The offensive a part of his recreation was underestimated.”

There will probably be loads of competitors for Ohtani this winter, however a minimum of Chicago has the DH to supply this time round. It additionally simply employed broadly revered supervisor Craig Counsell to take over an 83-win workforce that simply missed the postseason in 2023. Moreover, the workforce has payroll coming off the books within the type of Jason Heyward ($21 million) and Cody Bellinger ($17.5 million), leaving cash for an enormous deal. The Cubs had been underneath the luxurious tax threshold in 2023, rating 11th in payroll, making it rather less undesirable to exceed it, if mandatory.

The timing may lastly be proper for a Cubs-Ohtani union.

“Ohtani would personal Wrigley Subject, actually,” one NL scout joked about his potential wage. “He’d personal Chicago, for positive.”

What Ohtani pursuit means for Bellinger

Bellinger was a 2023 success story. Signed to a one-year deal by Chicago earlier than the season, he gained a Silver Slugger Award, together with Comeback Participant of the Yr honors after compiling a 133 OPS+. And he performed nice protection, each in heart discipline and at first base. He achieved what he got down to do in coming to Chicago: Rebuild his worth and head again to free company.

“There’s broad curiosity in Cody Bellinger,” his agent, Scott Boras, mentioned lately. “Cody had an amazing expertise in Chicago. He can play nicely anyplace. Loads of this has to do with possession. It has to do with their dedication.”

The Cubs appear dedicated to spending cash this offseason, particularly after signing Counsell to a five-year, $40 million contract, a document for a supervisor.

“I noticed shortly that the group is in nice well being,” Counsell mentioned. “There may be momentum occurring right here.”

However whereas a pairing of Ohtani and Bellinger can be a dream situation for followers, it is unlikely. A number of sources suppose the Cubs usually tend to signal Ohtani than convey Bellinger again on his personal large deal.

“I believe Bellinger is pretty much as good as gone,” one supply accustomed to the state of affairs mentioned initially of the offseason.

Circumstances and historical past are two causes the Cubs and Bellinger could not reunite. First, there probably will probably be groups not within the combine for Ohtani which can be determined for the next-best left-handed bat obtainable. The New York Yankees had been excited by Bellinger on the commerce deadline and will probably be once more, based on sources accustomed to their dealings. The Toronto Blue Jays have been lacking a harmful left-handed hitter as nicely. The San Francisco Giants are also amongst Bellinger’s suitors.

Beneath Hoyer and proprietor Tom Ricketts, the Cubs have been measured of their dealings with free brokers. Setting Ohtani apart, the group is not the sort that will get into bidding wars. And it will not for Bellinger, based on sources accustomed to the state of affairs.

One other facet to the narrative includes Boras and Ricketts personally. They do not have the kind of relationship the place the agent can decide up the cellphone and negotiate with the proprietor like Boras has completed in different conditions.

To wit: The Cubs haven’t signed a Boras shopper to a multiyear deal in a really very long time. That features gamers on the free agent market, ones they’ve drafted who’ve gained an MVP (Kris Bryant) or these they’ve traded for who’ve gained a Cy Younger Award (Jake Arrieta). They’ve all moved on. Bellinger is more likely to as nicely.

Boras was requested if the timing of a Bellinger deal is said to Ohtani, who’s represented by a distinct company.

“Bellinger is a place participant, Shohei is a DH, so these platforms of demand are very completely different,” Boras mentioned. “Groups which can be approaching Cody are groups that need him to play on daily basis within the discipline. They could go for a DH and Cody, however their [paths] do not cross due to that motive.”

Ohtani is not the one lacking piece

Whether or not Ohtani turns into a Cub or not, the workforce has different holes to fill, together with doubtlessly at first and third base, in addition to its beginning pitching. They will dip down into their farm system for a commerce, if mandatory, because it’s as sturdy because it’s ever been, rating second in ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel’s newest evaluation.

The workforce additionally has power-hitting infielder/outfielder Christopher Morel enjoying first base throughout winter ball in an try and discover a residence for him across the diamond. If the New York Mets had been to make Pete Alonso obtainable for a commerce, the Cubs may very well be a match, with Morel as a centerpiece participant in return, based on sources accustomed to their considering.

However Alonso lately switched brokers to Boras — who can be San Diego Padres outfielder Juan Soto‘s agent. Each gamers will probably be free brokers after 2024, and whereas a trade-and-sign deal for both participant sounds wise, it is unlikely.

“I do not suppose any participant desires to play in a corporation that he doesn’t know,” Boras mentioned. “That is the conventional course.”

In different phrases, enjoying out the yr, then testing the free agent waters is greater than probably for Alonso and Soto — except they signal again with their present groups. New Mets president David Stearns additionally mentioned he expects Alonso to be his beginning first baseman on Opening Day — although, loads can change between from time to time.

At third base, a Cubs reunion with veteran Jeimer Candelario would not appear probably, based on a supply accustomed to the state of affairs. Curiosity in Candelario needs to be excessive coming off a career-type yr, with Toronto and his outdated workforce, Washington, already exhibiting some. Former second baseman Nick Madrigal performed admirably at third for the Cubs when he was wholesome final season, however he most likely is not the on a regular basis possibility there transferring ahead.

The Cubs are additionally in on Japanese pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shota Imanaga — the latter has already hung out in Chicago — based on sources accustomed to the state of affairs. Additionally they have a watch on Milwaukee starter Corbin Burnes, in case the Brewers start to subtract — and Milwaukee is prepared to commerce with the workforce that simply pilfered its supervisor. The Cubs want to purchase a starter after Marcus Stroman opted out of his deal lately — although younger pitching is a sudden power for the group. Minor league righty Cade Horton may find yourself being the highest pitching prospect in baseball subsequent yr, based on McDaniel.

However the massive fish remains to be Ohtani. Like all his suitors thus far, the Cubs are protecting their technique near the vest.

“It did not shock me ultimately, he picked an AL workforce,” Hoyer mentioned concerning the 2017 sweepstakes, “however want we may roll again the clock and take a shot at it once more.”

Generally second probabilities by no means materialize, however six years after trying to woo him the primary time, the Cubs are getting one other shot.

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