What would the Cubs look like with Shohei Ohtani in the mix?
All the attention this week has been on which team will land the Japanese superstar, a stellar pitcher and hitter who has met or will meet with seven teams this week. The Cubs, who reportedly met with Ohtani on Tuesday, are competing with six fellow finalists: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.
The North Siders could be facing an uphill battle, with reports Sunday indicating Ohtani would prefer a smaller-market team on the West Coast. But what if the Cubs do land Ohtani? What comes next?
Well, most notably, he'd slide into a starting rotation that could certainly use him after losing two arms to free agency after the end of the 2017 season. With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey presumably gone, the Cubs' starting staff has just three locked-in names at the moment in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. Adding Ohtani, however, would erase a lot of the uncertainty behind those three returning pitchers. Based on the makeup of their roster, it figures the Cubs would covet Ohtani's arm more than his bat, and he's a guy that can throw a 100-mph fastball. That's always welcome in the big leagues. While, of course, it's still unknown how his game will translate from Japan to Major League Baseball, if the Cubs were to sign Ohtani, it would go a long way toward taking care of their offseason to-do list when it comes to starting pitching.
And really that would be enough, but the 23-year-old Ohtani is unique in his success as both a pitcher and a hitter. He supposedly really wants to bat and play the field on days when he's not pitching. While you might think an American League team would make more sense, allowing him to DH four out of five days and not risk injury while playing the field, four of the seven finalists are National League clubs, including the Cubs.
Ohtani's addition as a four-days-out-of-five outfielder would create a much more difficult puzzle than his addition as a pitcher. Fortunately for the Cubs, that's the kind of puzzle Joe Maddon likes. After watching Maddon tinker with versatile position players for the past three seasons, it makes sense that he'd love to have someone like Ohtani, who he could even move between the pitcher's mound and the outfield throughout the same game. Remember, this is the skipper who put Travis Wood in left field.
For Theo Epstein's front office, though, things might be a little trickier. The Cubs' outfield is crowded enough as it is, with Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist all candidates for those three outfield spots - and obviously Happ and Zobrist can log time on the infield, too. There's been plenty of speculation that the Cubs might try to trade one of those younger guys, such as Schwarber or Happ, for starting pitching help this offseason. But an Ohtani decision to come to the Cubs would undoubtedly impact that, as well. Maddon likes to rotate those guys around, too, and Ohtani's addition would still allow him to do just that, with Ohtani leaving the outfield to pitch every fifth day.
It's unknown how much playing time Epstein, Maddon and the Cubs would want to give Ohtani in the field, who is about to embark on his first season in the majors and who as a pitcher would carry an increased worry about injury. Are they looking at him as an everyday outfielder, an infrequent outfielder or just the team's No. 1 pinch hitter when he's not pitching? That would all remain to be seen. But if Ohtani chooses the Cubs, it's unlikely he would do so without some assurance that he could hit and play the field on a regular basis, even if not every day.
There wouldn't be too much pressure on Ohtani to be the team's top hitter, what with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras hitting in the same lineup. But his addition would be an important one to a lineup that went quiet during this year's postseason series against the Washington Nationals and aforementioned Dodgers. As for where he would bat in that lineup, who knows, with Maddon constantly moving his pieces around. Could Ohtani even fill the Cubs' need at the top of the order?
One thing's certain, though, when it comes to Ohtani's bat: On the days he pitches, the Cubs would have the best top-to-bottom, 1-through-9 hitting lineup in the NL. Cubs pitchers have been fine at the plate in recent seasons, but adding an actual hitter to that group would be something else entirely. Ohtani would be far from the automatic out most pitchers are viewed as.
The dual-threat Ohtani is being billed as the future of baseball. And while the baseball world waits for him to pick a team, it's fun to think about how he could alter the future of the Cubs.