Over the weekend, Cubs fans were treated to the news that their favorite team was among the seven remaining finalists for the two-way Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani.
And although we were all pleased to hear it, the report came as a relative surprise, given Ohtani’s clear preference for the West Coast, the Cubs heavily restricted bonus budget, and the NL’s overall lack of a designated hitter. We’ve since surmised that the Cubs must be distinguishing themselves in some other way. And it’s fair to wonder if Joe Maddon didn’t have something to do with that.
As we all know, Ohtani is not just capable of playing both ways in MLB next season, he’s prioritizing organizations that will allow him to do just that. And, while every team is likely to claim that they’ll let him do it (you pretty much have to if you want a shot), the Cubs manager can offer more than just words.
Indeed, he’s tried to create a true two-way player before: “When I was in the minor leagues with the Angels, I wanted to do it with a kid by the name of Deshawn Warren in 1992,” Maddon recalled in an interview with Matt Spiegel and Danny Parkins on 670 The Score. “A left-handed pitcher from Alabama, high school kid … Deshawn was the fastest guy we had. I asked … the GM, Danny O’Brien, if I could, if we could work out a schedule for Deshawn to pitch and then DH and play some outfield and take batting practice, etc. Because the tool was that good, the tool of running.”
Maddon went on to explain that he was denied his request at the time, but that he’s always been intrigued by the concept. In fact, he thinks it might even be the “wave of the future,” and that’s something that could serve the Cubs well in their pursuit of Ohtani.
If Maddon is known for anything it’s his creativity and forward thinking. He was among the early adopters of advanced analytics and defensive shifting as a manager, and already moves players around as if the concept of a defensive home is outdated. In other words, his reputation, alone, should help the Cubs out in their pursuit. But if they can also point to a real-world example of actually trying to promote a two-way player, they can probably get a leg up on the competition.
And don’t skate by Maddon’s “wave of the future” comments, either. When asked why he thinks he could succeed as a two-way player in MLB when it’s almost unheard of, Ohtani said that it wasn’t heard of in Japan until he started doing it, implying that it’s now seen as an option.
Eventually, his team and the league adjusted to the new reality he created, and it was his courage/talent paving the way. Perhaps, in Maddon, Ohtani can find an ally for yet another new path and kickstart the new wave of two-way players in MLB with the Cubs.
Or maybe they can at least tell him that. Either way.
In case you missed it, the Giants and Dodgers have already met with Ohtani, and the Rangers are expected to meet with him today. That means the Cubs meeting is likely coming soon, and you can bet they’ll be discussing their plans for Ohtani’s future.
How about starting on the mound once a week, starting in the outfield two times per week (based on match-ups, rest requirements, and accommodating other hitters), and being one of the top pinch-hitting options off the bench? Sound like a plan? It sure seems like Joe Maddon would be on board, and would have the creativity to make it all work.