I joked in the Bullets this morning that the Cubs had failed to trade for Shohei Ohtani 36 hours into the offseason, but my sincere thought was that I’m not so sure Ohtani will be traded. With a sale of the Angels underway, I just have a hard time seeing the front office being given the green light to trade Ohtani before new ownership gets a chance to extend him. Heck, his presence in the organization is probably a big selling point in the first place.
Then again, if Ohtani is not interested in extending no matter what (talks haven’t progressed before, and he offered some unhappy comments on the season recently), maybe everyone involved will understand that it’s better to get a massive return this offseason than wait things out and see him leave? The Nationals were willing to trade Juan Soto in similar circumstances, after all.
So, all that said, the folks at The Athletic did some speculating today on what nine teams might try to trade for Ohtani, and what it might cost them:
At the top, The Athletic’s writers (the byline is “Andy McCullough, Corey Brock, and more”) suggest that a return package for Ohtani would be “more significant” than what the Nationals got for Soto. I’d have to take issue with that, not because Ohtani isn’t more valuable than Soto, but instead because teams acquiring Soto were getting 2.5 seasons. With Ohtani, you’re getting just one season at $30 million. There’s value there. Huge value! But it’s not really apples to apples.
Though that’s not to say a realistic Ohtani trade package wouldn’t be eye-popping.
Anyway, the writeup features nine plausible suitors for Ohtani, with an accompanying trade offer from that team’s local beat writer. There appear to be widely-varying degrees of being realistic in these offers.
Yes, the Cubs are included, and here’s what Sahadev Sharma offered up for Ohtani: LHP Justin Steele, OF Brennen Davis, OF Owen Caissie, SS Cristian Hernandez, LHP Jordan Wicks, and RHP Nazier Mulé.
Yo. Wow. You certainly can’t accuse Sharma of being unrealistic …
So, I’m about as Gung ho about landing Ohtani as anyone out there, but even I would have to pause at that one, especially if it didn’t come with a guaranteed long-term extension. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it, or that it’s not what it would cost; I’m saying only that, yes, you do have to at least think for a moment about whether you’re doing long-term damage in service of a shorter-term addition. That said, if Ohtani were willing to sign an eight-year, $400 million extension (or whatever absurd amount he requires), it would be hard for me to say no to a deal like that. Ohtani is just that special.
Sharma tends to think this wouldn’t get the deal done, though, because it’s more volume than impact:
Similarly to the offer made at The Athletic for Juan Soto in July, Cubs fans probably won’t love this, but it’s also likely not enough. However, even though only a few months have passed, the Cubs system feels a bit different now than it did in the middle of the summer. The Angels would get a starting pitcher they could put in their rotation immediately, an outfield prospect who should be ready to contribute early next season, another pitching prospect in Wicks who could be ready as early as late 2023, plus three other young, high-upside prospects.
It’s also important to remember that Soto had two and a half years left on his deal and Ohtani will be a free agent after the 2023 season. So in theory that means the offer should be significantly less, one could even use the Mookie Betts deal as a yardstick. But that ignores the two-way value of Ohtani and the fact that his presence would be a dream for the team’s marketing department.
This offer is also fluid. The Cubs system is deep enough to switch players out. Prefer James Triantos to Caissie? No problem. Rather have Jackson Ferris than Mule (both of whom have impressed onlookers thus far)? Probably not going to haggle there. The Cubs would surely love to do this without including Pete Crow-Armstrong, but there are probably iterations of this deal that could include him too. There’s maybe even a version of this deal where the Cubs take on Anthony Rendon’s contract to lessen the prospect cost, but it seems silly for the Angels to reduce their return to free up cash when you have a player like Ohtani to trade.
Ultimately, the reality is the Cubs system may not have the true impact stars (yet) that some other farms do, but it’s as deep as any in baseball and they can be creative and aggressive as Jed Hoyer looks to transition his rebuilding team into true contenders.
If the Angels prefer a deal with a couple top 30 types and more, the Cubs would have a hard time beating that. From where I sit, the offer looks maybe a touch heavy, but then again, if you’re going volume, it’s going to seem like a lot.
For now, I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds of trade analysis, because, like I said, I’m dubious that a trade happens at all. But you better believe, if there’s even the tiniest whiff of Ohtani being made available for real, I will start obsessing about how the Cubs can make it happen without COMPLETELY eviscerating their organization, and how monstrous of an extension they can offer up. Ohtani is worth more than any player in baseball.