Cubs reportedly in the running for Shohei Ohtani as Japanese star narrows list of possible destinations

Vinnie Duber
NBC Sports Chicago

The Cubs are reportedly in the running to land this offseason's top target.

Shohei Ohtani narrowed his list of possible destinations Sunday night, and the Cubs made the cut, according to a report, meaning they'll meet with the Japanese star to make their pitch for a potential deal.

Earlier Sunday night, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman - whose team fell out of the running to sign Ohtani - told reporters that Ohtani was looking to head to a smaller-market team on the West Coast. So, with the Cubs meeting neither of those criteria, it looked like bad news for those hoping to see him on the North Side.

But a later report indicated the Cubs could be an exception to that, and it turned out they were.

The 23-year-old Ohtani has dazzled as both a pitcher and a hitter in Japan, with his pitching prowess likely of greatest interest to the Cubs, who have holes to fill in their starting rotation with both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey hitting free agency. But Ohtani also wants to hit on a regular basis, and the Cubs could certainly use an influx of offense after their bats went quiet during recent playoff series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers.

One school of thought argues that an American League team would have an easier time selling Ohtani on regular hitting duties. After all, a team would figure to be far more likely to play Ohtani as a regular designated hitter rather than risk an injury to a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher by playing him regularly in the field. But if Ohtani's bat is as valuable as it has seemed - he hit .332 with eight home runs in 65 games this past season - than a National League club would most definitely want a hitting pitcher who bolsters the lineup every fifth day and might be willing to take that injury risk by sticking him in the outfield on days when he does not pitch.

According to NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan, who wrote extensively about the Cubs and Ohtani last week, Theo Epstein's front office has invested plenty of time and money into scouting Ohtani in Japan. Whether their familiarity with him translates into his wanting to come to Chicago remains to be seen, as the rest of Ohtani's list of finalists features mostly teams on the West Coast. As of this writing, the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres - all West Coast teams - were among the other reported finalists.

Money likely won't be a factor in the pursuit of Ohtani: There's a $20 million posting fee, but he can only sign a minor league contract worth a maximum of $3.5 million because of international-signing rules that govern players under age 25. It's a unique occurrence that made it so every team in the game was in on Ohtani to begin with.

And so now come the in-person meetings. The Cubs have plenty to sell as a team whose World Series window remains wide open. Though with teams like the Padres and Mariners - teams that haven't been to the postseason since 2006 and 2001, respectively - still in the mix, too, winning right away might not be at the top of Ohtani's wish list. But the Cubs have other strong selling points, such as a recent history of Japanese players (Kyuji Fujikawa, Tsyoshi Wada, Munenori Kawasaki, Koji Uehara) and a manager in Joe Maddon known for utilizing versatile players in numerous different positions.

And according to Kaplan, the Cubs are pulling out all the stops.

Stay tuned. Baseball's biggest offseason drama continues to unfold.

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