Three winters ago, the Cubs made a big splash in the free-agent market when they signed Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract. They were able to do this despite the fact that Lester got offered more money by other teams; in addition, Lester received a personal visit from Giants catcher Buster Posey in which Posey told Lester, “I want to be your catcher for the next six years.”
How did the Cubs do this? First was the obvious connection between Theo Epstein and Lester from their time together in Boston.
But something else might have been a factor, and that’s the recruiting video the Cubs marketing department came up with:
The video, voiced by broadcaster Len Kasper, extols the great things happening in the Cubs organization. Video of the two-year-old Dominican Republic facility for players and the new Cubs Park complex in Mesa, Ariz., are featured along with the state-of-the-art improvements mock-up for iconic Wrigley Field. The young Cubs players making their way through the system and All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are highlighted.
“In the video they did a nice job of showing you that they are the ‘team to be with’ going forward,” said one agent who has talked to the team about his client. “Really, the whole thing was informational and interesting. They appear to have a lot to offer players like my guy.”
Beyond all that, the video showed Lester what it would be like if he were the starter in Game 7 of a Cubs World Series:
On the first day of free-agency, the team sent Lester a video showing the Cubs winning Game 7 of the World Series. Chicago famously hasn't won the World Series since 1908, but the team got creative: Some of imagery came from a 2012 Playstation ad. The DVD showed Wrigley Field's famous marquee with, "CUBS VS. YANKEES. GAME 7. LESTER VS. PINEDA." It also showed the fake pandemonium afterward, including celebrations on the field and media coverage from outside the stadium.
It didn’t happen quite that way, but Lester did pitch in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and played a key role all the way through the Cubs’ World Series run. The Cubs did the same thing when trying to recruit Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward before the 2016 season:
Several other teams pursued Heyward and Zobrist in the offseason, and most general managers went the conventional route, letting the monetary offer do most of the talking. The Cubs' video was something Heyward and Zobrist did not expect.
"They showed the celebration and the stadium and the fans and the atmosphere in Chicago," Zobrist said. "And former players were on there talking about their experiences in Chicago ... Kerry Wood and (Ryan) Dempster talking about playing for the Cubs and how that was different from playing with any other team."
The star of the video was the city itself, Chicago in its best summer pose.
"It was just letting you know what the city could do for you overall, what the team could help you with," Heyward said. "You know what the city is like, but (the video showed) for every walk of life, this is what it's like."
Heyward’s quote here is most important, I think. Ohtani has narrowed his choices down to five West Coast teams, plus the Cubs and Texas Rangers. The West Coast is obviously attractive to Ohtani as it’s the closest you can get in the USA to Japan, and that would make it easier for his family and friends to come see him, not to mention closer for Japanese fans.
But the Cubs and their marketing people can certainly show off the city of Chicago well in the video and help Ohtani understand why Chicago is the best place to play. Those of us who live in Chicago already know how great the city is and what its neighborhoods can offer. One thing the Cubs could put in the video is the fact that many players live in the neighborhood near Wrigley Field and how they’ve been embraced by their neighbors and that makes it an easy and quick ride (or walk, or even ride a bicycle) to work.
The Cubs obviously know what they’re doing regarding these sorts of things, and I’d certainly include everything mentioned above, along with trying to find out what makes Shohei Otani tick and try to include some things that would be meaningful to him.
The Cubs can’t offer a chance to help break the World Series drought, since that’s been done. The chance to help do it again would surely be attractive to any free agent, I’d think; the Cubs can include snippets of the celebration outside Wrigley, the chalk messages left on the bleacher wall, etc. Like this one, perhaps:
What would you include in a recruiting video for Ohtani?