NASHVILLE, Tenn.- The Chicago Cubs seem to be pivoting in different directions as Shohei Ohtani continues his stealth process. The Cubs won’t put this message on the Wrigley Field marquee: “We’re in Ohtani.” But after a lot of misinformation and wishcasting on social media, there are signs that their slow offseason is about to accelerate.
Blowing off the usual “no comment,” Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts surprised reporters by confirming he was part of the group that recently met with Ohtani at Dodger Stadium. Roberts called Ohtani “our top priority” at the same time Cubs manager Craig Counsell went through his Winter Meetings media session in the same section of the Opryland Resort and Convention Center. Moments later, when informed of Roberts’ comments, Counsell said he had never met Ohtani. When asked if the Cubs’ front office has met with Ohtani, Counsell also said, “Not yet.”
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, whose arrival in Nashville was delayed due to a personal matter, appeared upset by rumblings that the Cubs were missing out on the Ohtani sweepstakes.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Hoyer said. “There is nothing in the report whatsoever. In all things Ohtani, as I would with any free agent, I will not talk about discussions, meetings or where it is. That’s as quiet as anything.”
Except Ohtani isn’t just any free agent and his team at Creative Artists Agency seems obsessed with controlling information. This led to the madness of “Where in the world is Ross Atkins?” while the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays met with reporters via video conference on the first day of the Winter Meetings and refused to disclose his whereabouts because Ohtani apparently toured the team’s Florida training complex. The Cubs likely want Ohtani to meet with Counsell and understand how one of the game’s best managers can maximize his talents.
“We haven’t been given a status check, so to speak,” Hoyer said.
However, Hoyer acknowledged that “conversations are getting more serious” about various deals the Cubs are considering to improve their team for next year and beyond. That faster pace means it won’t be surprising if the Cubs make a move before the Winter Meetings end. Although the Cubs are always kicking around ideas and thinking through contingency plans, here are some names to consider, based on information from league sources:
• Yoshinobu Yamamoto generated so much interest from teams in New York and other big-market franchises that the Cubs were not expected to continue those lengthy negotiations. Early projections are optimistic because Yamamoto is only 25 years old and pitching is always in demand. But Yamamoto is now expected to get a contract worth close to $300 million, according to Jim Bowden, the former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals and a national writer for The Athletic.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the most sought after free agent on the market based on interested teams. His market started at $200-$220m then went to $230-$250m…now we hear he is close to $300 million. It’s not often that a 25-year-old top of the rotation starter becomes a free agent.
— Jim Bowden⚾️🏈 (@JimBowdenGM) December 4, 2023
• Tyler Glasnow remains a trade target as the Tampa Bay Rays have zeroed in on some young pitchers, mainly from the Cubs’ farm system. It is important to note that the name of Christopher Morel has not been mentioned in any of the current iterations of a potential deal. Weeks ago, the Rays did some research on Morel, but that was more than due diligence knowing he might be available. The Rays, however, do not see him as a good fit for their current roster and their plan is to prioritize pitching.
The Rays have been involved with several teams with interest in acquiring Glasnow, including the Cubs and Reds, and have been gaining some traction in recent days. That’s not exclusive to the Cubs, but as the Rays continue to do their homework, they’re at the point where specific names are being floated, suggesting something could come together quickly.
Glasnow is a risk because of his injury history. His return from Tommy John surgery was delayed last season after an oblique issue slowed his recovery, but he still managed to reach career highs in starts (21) and innings pitched (120). But the injury risk is balanced by his huge upside. In his last 60 starts, Glasnow has a 3.03 ERA with a 35 percent strikeout rate and 7.7 percent walk rate with a 1.01 WHIP and a .529 OPS against.
That’s the kind of performance the Cubs could use at the front of their rotation. While they have depth and some strength in the group, they lack a true ace and enough swing-and-miss stuff. Glasnow can provide both, which could make him a risk worth taking.
• Shota Imanaga is another Japanese pitcher the Cubs have put on their radar. While Yamamoto profiles as an ace, Imanaga is older (30) and likely more of a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter who will bring 1,000-plus innings of experience from Nippon Professional Baseball. Imanaga pitched the first two innings of Japan’s victory over Team USA in the championship game of this year’s World Baseball Classic.
• Rhys Hoskins still makes a lot of sense with the type of “cushion contract” that agent Scott Boras negotiated for Cody Bellinger last offseason. Hoskins is close to Kyle Schwarber and knows all too well the energetic atmosphere around the Friendly Confines. Hoskins and Schwarber played on the Philadelphia Phillies team that reached the 2022 World Series. Hoskins tore the ACL in his left knee during spring training in March and underwent season-ending surgery. Hoskins tried to make a Schwarber-esque comeback last October before the Phillies were eliminated from the playoffs. Hoskins is a right-handed power hitter who can split time between DH and first base while bringing some Schwarber-ish vibes.
“You have to be careful not to get caught waiting for anything in particular,” Hoyer said. “I’ve learned over the years that you have to have a lot of water lines. You can’t assume something is going to work out. Sometimes the dominoes fall like you think they will. But if you think they’re going to fall that way, you can get you’re getting yourself into a lot of trouble waiting. Obviously, we’re working on a ton of different things.”
(Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)