That Shohei Ohtani would change the structure of the Cubs' rotation is obvious, and whatever he might add on offense would really be gravy. The Cubs are surprise finalists in the Ohtani sweepstakes, and despite some valid strikes against their case, there are also plenty of reasons why he would fit nicely with the Cubs.
There is, of course, the fact that he would readily join an already very talented stable of starters and give them the necessary fourth member of the rotation that all postseason teams need. There's also the fact that, despite a fleet of outfielders already on the roster, Ohtani could spend ample time in the lineup on the days when he is not pitching. For as much of an asset as he is on defense, Jason Heyward probably isn't a must-start anymore, so right field could be an easy place for Ohtani to play in between starts on the mound. Otherwise, Joe Maddon has proven that he is not flustered by the task of rotating a large group of talented players into the lineup.
But the Cubs are not unique in this. Of the seven teams Ohtani has left on his list, they are just one making the same claims about letting him play both ways. Doubtless the other six teams have told him a lot of the same things that the Cubs did.
Even last night, as the Mariners and Angels both made trades with the Twins to free up more international slot money to sweeten a potential signing bonus for Ohtani, those efforts seemed potentially in vain:
Fwiw, I’ve heard Ohtani’s annual endorsements in Japan are worth at least double the Rangers’ max bonus offer. https://t.co/vkI3Q1fXLV
— Dennis Lin (@sdutdennislin) December 7, 2017
— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) December 7, 2017
If it's not only the money, then geography makes sense as a possible factor. Coming from Japan, the distances traveled grow considerably in the United States, especially in the AL West. Travis Sawchik suggested yesterday that this works in favor of the Cubs, who have some of the shortest travel distances in the NL Central.
But what great advantage do the Cubs really have? It's unquestionably been a surprise for the Cubs to have made it this far in this process, and a lot of that is simply a testament to Theo Epstein's ability to sell players on joining the Cubs, something he was able to do successfully even before they were World Series champions. Consider his success in bringing Jon Lester to Chicago prior to the 2015 season. The wearer of 2007 and 2013 World Series rings thanks to the Red Sox had just spent a half season in Oakland in Billy Beane's latest attempt to eclipse the limitations of being the general manager of the Athletics. Lester was hardly ready to suffer fools and a return to Boston would have made a lot of sense at the time, instead of the team that had just lost 89 games and was still just pimping its rebuild. But Epstein convinced him, and a year later he convinced Heyward to leave the Cardinals right after they had won 100 games and the division.
The greatest selling point for Ohtani, who clearly values more than just being a star and making the most money possible, seems to have a lot to do with the culture of the team he is joining. And this is something the new ownership and front office have heavily invested in, and it has paid off already. The appeal for Ohtani is not quite the same as Lester in late 2014, but he has the opportunity to be one of the final pieces in what makes the Cubs a dynasty.
Ohtani is just 23, and the Cubs are still plenty young, especially on offense, but he has a maturity that belies his years, and it probably helps us to understand why he was not immediately swayed by the opportunity to play for a team like the Yankees and just take the largest contract in the largest market.
Take a look at the list of goals he made while he was still in high school:
- -Age 18: Join an MLB team
- -Age 19: Master English and reach AAA
- -Age 20: Called up to the Majors, make 1.5 billion JPY (~13 million USD)
- -Age 21: Starting rotation, 16 wins
- -Age 22: Win the Cy Young Award
- -Age 23: Member of Japan WBC team
- -Age 24: Throw a no-hitter and 25 wins
- -Age 25: Throw fastest pitch in the world 175 kph (~108 mph)
- -Age 26: Win the World Series and get married
- -Age 27: Member of Japan WBC team & MVP
- -Age 28: 1st son is born
- -Age 29: Throw 2nd no-hitter
- -Age 30: Get most wins by a Japanese pitcher (in 1 MLB season?)
- -Age 31: 1st daughter is born
- -Age 32: Win 2nd World Series
- -Age 33: 2nd son is born
- -Age 34: Win 3rd World Series
- -Age 35: Member of Japan WBC team
- -Age 36: Break the strikeout record?
- -Age 37: 1st son starts baseball
- -Age 38: Stats drop, start to think about retirement
- -Age 39: Decide to retire at end of next season
- -Age 40: Throw no-hitter in my very last game
- -Age 41: Return to Japan
- -Age 42: Introduce the American system to Japan?
The Cubs are easily a good fit to help him realize some of this, but what's probably more important is that it helps to indicate that Ohtani is looking for more from his career playing baseball in the United States than simply making himself a star and cashing in on a large contract as soon as possible. If he's most interested in a comfortable fit, quality culture, and winning the World Series, the Cubs are a fantastic landing spot.
The drought may have already ended, but Ohtani can be the last cog in fully revolutionizing the franchise.