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Cubs free agent target: Shohei Ohtani

The proverbial elephant in the room.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Now that MLB free-agent season is officially underway, I’m going to take a look at various free agents who might interest the Cubs.

Shohei Ohtani is, clearly, the top free agent on the market this year. This is true even if you take into account the fact that he won’t be pitching in 2024, and his pitching role could change in 2025 and later years.

You might have thought Ohtani was out of the Cubs’ price and payroll range, but the surprise signing of Craig Counsell to replace David Ross as Cubs manager has, presumably, put the Cubs in a situation where they intend to be a strong competitor in 2024 and beyond.

That, perhaps, puts Ohtani in the Cubs’ radar. It certainly would be a bold move to sign him when he won’t pitch until 2025 and thus would serve strictly as a DH in 2024. Even that is worth tremendous value. Ohtani hit .304/.412/.654 with 44 home runs in 2023, leading the A.L. in home runs and SLG, and leading the major leagues in OPS. This was accomplished in just 135 games, as Ohtani was shut down after an oblique injury and elbow surgery in mid-September. The offensive performance was worth 6.0 bWAR, which ranked fourth in the A.L. among position players.

MLB Trade Rumors says Ohtani will get a 12-year deal for $528 million, which would be an AAV of $44 million, the richest contract in MLB history both in per-year and total dollar amount.

Is he worth it? If he can come back and pitch the way he did previously — including in 2023 before the shutdown — absolutely, because you are getting both a top hitter AND at least a No. 2 type starter for that money. Ohtani posted 4.0 bWAR as a pitcher in 2023, after 6.2 in 2022. The 4.0 number was also fourth in the A.L. — even though he didn’t pitch after late August.

Would I do this deal for the Cubs? There are a number of factors to consider, including the amount of marketing money that would likely come back to the Cubs as a result. Of course, you don’t sign a player for marketing purposes, but signing Ohtani would make the Cubs a top draw in Japan, especially with also having the popular Seiya Suzuki on the team. Could the Cubs make back half of that $44 million a year in Ohtani-related sales? Maybe. On the other hand, paying this much money to one player might prevent the Cubs from improving in other areas.

It would be a bold move. I’m on the fence. MLBTR says he’s signing with the Dodgers, and that’s the conventional wisdom. But remember that the Cubs were the only non-West Coast team Ohtani spoke to when he originally came to MLB from Japan. It’s possible that the only thing preventing him from signing with the Cubs in 2017 was their lack of a DH. (Also, don’t say, “They could have him play the outfield!” No, they could not. First, the Cubs likely have a full outfield, and Ohtani has played exactly zero games as an outfielder in MLB. The last time he played outfield — at all — was nine games in NPB in 2014 at age 19. He’s a DH/pitcher, period.)

Would you sign Ohtani to that contract?


Shohei Ohtani...

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to the contract as proposed by MLBTR
    (445 votes)
  • 33%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but to a deal for a different amount of dollars and/or years
    (444 votes)
  • 32%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (426 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (9 votes)
1324 votes total Vote Now