Allow yourself to get excited. I don’t think any of this is crazy.
Let me say some things up front.
The Chicago Cubs have been surprisingly solid over the second half of the season. The Cubs also have a whole lot of quality depth in the upper minor leagues and in reserve in the big leagues. The Cubs also are lacking big-time impact players on the roster or in the upper minors. The Cubs also have a lot of capital available – money and prospect – to make additions this offseason.
To me, that means the Cubs should be viewed as a prime team candidate for significant additions this offseason. I get that a lot of folks will take issue with that statement, conjuring vague references to limited spending in the last two seasons (ignoring the payroll levels from 2016 through 2020) and a lack of talent at the big league level (ignore the pockets of talent, the importance of depth, and the fact that if you add impact players over multiple years you can, you know, get better). I think those folks are wrong. Simply put.
Anyway, that’s all prelude to the Shohei Ohtani conversations that are coming this offseason – despite rumors that the Angels, even in the face of a sale, will not trade Ohtani before his last year of team control – and my opinion that the Cubs make as much sense for a trade as any team out there.
I am not alone in that thinking:
After referencing the Chicago Cubs’ initial pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, in which they were among the finalists and “a pretty compelling place” to Ohtani’s camp, Jon Morosi laid out the possibility and the fit:
“(I)t wouldn’t surprise me if Shohei were to be traded to the Cubs, and you look around and this is to me a compelling time to join the Cubs. They’re going to get better. They’ve already been pretty good through the last couple months. There are better days ahead for the Cubs,” Morosi told Parkins & Spiegel. “And I think if Ohtani were to come to Chicago and look around, I feel better about the Cubs’ next five years than I do the Angels’ next five years. And you look at the division, and Milwaukee is sort of in a perpetual cycle of having to make trades like the one they did with (Josh) Hader. The Cardinals, I think you look at their roster, they might turn over here in the next couple years as well. Obviously, there are some prominent retirements happening for them. I think there’s an opening there for the Cubs. I really do. They’re going to be a very compelling team to keep (an eye on).”
I’m sure some of it is my homer-fan desire to see Ohtani on the Cubs, but that all does also strike me as correct. And that’s a national guy laying it out, not a Chicago-centric pundit.
In trading for Ohtani, the Cubs would be hitting two enormous and difficult boxes to check: they need an ace and they need a big-time impact lefty bat. Getting them both in one player is a dream scenario, and is why Ohtani is so uniquely valuable.
That, in turn, though is why the price tag in trade would be significant, even for only one year of team control (and it’s likely to be a pricey year in arbitration, relatively speaking).
Morosi speculated that the Angels would want a quality emerging young talent like Justin Steele plus a haul of prospects on top of that, and, if so, he thought that might be too much to be worth it.
He might be right on that, depending on the prospects in the deal, but let me say this: the Cubs wouldn’t be trading for Shohei Ohtani at this time if they weren’t incredibly intent on trying to extend him right away. You don’t “pay” for that in your trade package, mind you, but if you felt an extension was likely, you might be more comfortable with a trade cost that otherwise makes you squirm.
And here’s where some of you say: just wait a year. Don’t give up a ton in trade. Just wait until after 2023, and sign Ohtani to a monster contract in free agency.
I get the logic, but I can’t shake the feeling – as it was with guys like Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor – that if Ohtani is traded this offseason, he’s not going to reach free agency. Any team ponying up to get Ohtani this winter is going to be hell bent on extending him thereafter. He’s such a transcendent talent that he kind of defies any other logic – you pay him whatever it takes to secure the next, say, six or seven seasons. Heck, if it takes longer than that (it will), then you sign that deal today, knowing that the back-end may be rough if he starts to break down.
Throw in the fact that the Cubs were a previous finalist for Ohtani, and perhaps there is a little more comfort there that he would be interested in an extension? This is sounding very good and realistic to me, even if you could never call something like this likely.
There is risk, of course. Tons of it. And there are nits if you want to pick them. Ohtani is no longer that young, as he’ll turn 29 next summer. He’s already had one major arm surgery, and a lot of his offensive value comes from his incredible speed, which is likely to start to turn. The bat this year has been closer to “great” than “elite.” The Angels have used him as a DH-only, and you might not be willing to even try him in the outfield because of the pitching value. (I don’t have many nits to pick on the pitching, itself, though, as Ohtani has really broken out this year on that side of the ball. He’s such a freaking studly ace.)
Absorbing a lot of risk is the only way to get a player like Ohtani, however. A guy who can impact you SIGNIFICANTLY on both sides of the ball. A guy who should rightly be the MVP any year he’s healthy, since he’s giving you two times the stud in a single roster spot. A guy who is an international MEGA-STAR. A guy who could be associated with your organization forever if he puts together another decade of greatness from here.
I could go on, but you get the point. Something something risk it all for Ohtani something something.
For the Cubs, where they are right now, Ohtani is going to make sense, especially if the designs are there – and the will – to pursue a huge extension.