Earlier today, a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today said that the Cubs were falling out of the bidding for Shohei Ohtani, saying that their “optimism of landing Ohtani has now significantly waned.” However, the club’s president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer denied that framing at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t know where that came from,” Hoyer said to Maddie Lee of the Chicago Sun-Times. “There’s no nothing to report whatsoever.”
The Ohtani sweepstakes have been notably unusual since he and his camp reportedly prefer a shroud of secrecy over the proceedings. Reporting appears to indicate that the field is down to five clubs: The Dodgers, Angels, Blue Jays, Cubs and Giants. Ohtani is “believed” to have met with the Jays recently and there were “indications” of a meeting with the Giants prior to that. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided not to play the cloak-and-dagger games, straight up admitting that his club recently met with Ohtani.
Overall, information has been tougher to come by than a typical free agency, but Hoyer felt compelled to address today’s reporting. He said they have not been given a “status check” from Ohtani’s reps but wouldn’t discuss the club’s interest beyond that. Earlier today, manager Craig Counsell was asked about having meetings with Ohtani and replied “I have not,” per Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune. When asked if the front office had met with Ohtani, he repeated his “I have not” response.
The Cubs currently have a payroll of $178MM, per Roster Resource. That’s $25MM shy of their franchise high payroll of $203MM, per the figures at Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Ohtani is expected to require a contract with an average annual value somewhere in the $40-50MM range, but it stands to reason the Cubs would probably have some willingness to go beyond previous spending levels for such a uniquely talented player as Ohtani. Beyond his on-field talents, he is a big international star who should be able to provide his next club with extra revenue via increased ratings, merchandise sales and ticket sales.
One club that seems to be in the opposite position is Atlanta. It was reported recently by Jon Morosi of MLB.com that the club was “actively involved” in the Ohtani bidding. But president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos seemed to contradict that in speaking to the media today. When asked about the club’s interest in Ohtani, he said the only position player they’ve pursued this offseason is Jarred Kelenic, per Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They acquired Kelenic earlier this week and Anthopoulos says they are now happy with the lineup and group of position players.
Ohtani would upgrade any team in the world but it’s unclear where his priorities lie. He could go for the largest guarantee or a contract with multiple opt-outs, or perhaps something different like geography or a club’s ability to win, or perhaps a combination of those factors. Given the secrecy around the meetings, it’s also unclear how each club is pitching Ohtani or what kind of offers they are discussing.