Cubs Have Distinct ‘Midwest Coast’ Advantage in Ohtani Sweepstakes

Until they had been eliminated from contention, all we kept hearing on the Shohei Ohtani front was that the Yankees were heavy favorites to land the two-way unicorn. But the moment the Yankees had been ruled out, there were pervasive reports of Ohtani’s West Coast bias. Much of that was likely Brian Cashman’s remark that his team was too far east (but not Far East) to have merited serious consideration.

There have been other reports that many around baseball felt Ohtani would prefer the Pacific Coast, though that all feels like a lot of revisionist history. Then again, four of his remaining options — the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, and Padres — are in California and another is in Seattle. Only two lie east of the Rockies and only one plays in a division that doesn’t have “West” in the title.

As I have said before, the fact that the Cubs stand alone in comparison to the other teams in the mix makes quite a statement about their possibilities. Whether it’s their dynamic front office, young core, wide-open window of contention, innovative manager, welcoming city, or any number of other factors, the Cubs stack up really nicely. But there’s one other area in which they have a distinct advantage, and it’s one that flies in the face of a widely-held belief.

I’m speaking, of course, about their Midwest Coast locale.

Many have felt that Ohtani would prefer to be as close to Japan as possible, whether for his own travel or for that of family coming over to see him. But is that really a mitigating factor? I mean, the distance from Chicago to Tokyo is roughly 6,300 miles and the flight time is slightly over 13 hours. From LA, it’s 5,500 miles and takes about 11 1/2 hours. Seattle is actually the closest, and it’s just about 4,800 miles and a 10-hour flight.

What I’m driving at is that it’s a long-ass flight no matter which way you slice it, and it’s not as if this would be a weekly thing. Even if Ohtani’s family comes over a few times each season, we’re talking about maybe 12-15 additional hours of travel time between a home base in Chicago and one in Seattle. And that’s assuming they only came to see him during home games.

As for Ohtani himself, the concern could be a bit different. As Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs pointed out, the Cubs have a distinct geographical advantage when it comes to travel during the season. That might prove to be a deciding factor for a player who’s trying to acclimate to a new culture while also focusing on playing both ways.

A quick consultation of Chris Ford’s travel mileage estimates at All My Teams SUCK reveals that six of Ohtani’s potential teams really do suck. All five of those westernmost cities sit in MLB’s top eight when it comes to racking up frequent flyer miles. The Rangers aren’t too far behind in 12th place. And then you scroll waaaay down the list to find the Cubs at No. 29.

Rank Team Miles flown in 2017
1 Oakland 47877
2 Anaheim 46346
3 Seattle 45129
4 Miami 42185
5 San Francisco 41555
6 Houston 38452
7 San Diego 38185
8 Los Angeles 37060
9 Philadelphia 36258
10 Tampa 36178
11 Colorado 33742
12 Texas 33133
13 Boston 33057
14 Arizona 33040
15 Atlanta 32326
16 New York Mets 32311
17 Washington 31405
18 Toronto 29615
19 Cleveland 29209
20 New York Yankees 28359
21 Chicago White Sox 28336
22 Kansas City 27993
23 Minnesota 27017
24 Detroit 26145
25 Milwaukee 25073
26 Baltimore 24045
27 St. Louis 23662
28 Cincinnati 23628
29 Chicago Cubs 23130
30 Pittsburgh 21854

Wow, that’s just over 10,000 fewer miles than the Rangers and less than half what the Angels have to fly. Good thing they have wings, amirite? Seattle, lauded for its relative proximity to Japan, requires its players to fly more than 45,000 miles over the course of a season.

Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just taking off my socks so I can do the math for this next part a little more easily.

The difference in one-way trips to Tokyo from Chicago and Seattle is approximately 1,500 miles, which seems like a lot if you’re driving. But when you consider that you’d have to make the longer flight from Chicago 15 times just to make up the gap between the travel schedules of the Mariners and Cubs, it seems quite a bit more tenable.

Perhaps even more important is all that flight time, which comes out to anywhere from 20 additional hours for the Rangers to 47 hours for the Angels (as compared to the Cubs). How much of that time could otherwise be spent in the batting cage or in the film room? Or better yet, strolling through a new neighborhood and getting acclimated to the local culture.

It might not be the Pacific, but the west coast of Lake Michigan is pretty effing badass through the spring and summer, which is when Ohtani would be spending the lion’s share of his time here. While it’s possible he’ll become a permanent US resident, I’m operating under the assumption that he’ll maintain his offseason home in Japan. The year-round perfect weather of San Diego notwithstanding, you can’t tell me those other cities have an appreciable advantage over Chicago from April through September.

So there you have it, definitive proof that the Cubs are the most logical choice for Shohei Ohtani when it comes to professional development, cultural assimilation, and overall quality of life. Now let’s just hope he sees it that way.

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