Because they’ve been so tied up in the secretive pursuit of Japanese phenom Shoehei Ohtani, many had assumed the Cubs were waiting on a resolution there before pursuing other pitchers in earnest. Alex Cobb has been another top target and it’s thought he’ll end up with either the Cubs or Yankees. As it turns out, Theo Epstein’s first big move involved neither of those.
The Cubs went in another direction entirely, scooping up bounceback candidate Tyler Chatwood with a three-year, $38 million contract that was around 50 percent more lucrative than what most experts had guessed he’d command. There are a couple different schools of thought as to what that means, so let’s take a look at them for a minute or two.
The initial reaction was that the Cubs had learned that they were out on Ohtani and/or Cobb and were moving in a different direction. With their two most coveted arms gone, their knees jerked and they threw too much money at Chatwood to ensure that they locked down at least one starter prior to the Winter Meetings. Fair, though probably not accurate.
The other angle is that the Cubs had done their homework on Chatwood and were sufficiently comfortable with an overpay relative to the predictions. More than just a safe choice — in terms of their ability to sign him, since his injury history doesn’t say “safe” at all — Chatwood had been on their radar the whole time and they felt now was the time to strike.
I’m not sure if we’ve got any hold ‘em players out there, but this felt to me like throwing out a big bet early on a mediocre pocket pair. It’s not a great hand, but you want to push people out before they have a chance to catch cards of their own.
“There are times to strike quickly and there are times to lay back and get value,” Theo Epstein told reporters after the signing was announced. “Starting pitching was an area where we thought there was more demand than supply.”
ESPN’s Jesse Rogers also spoke with Chatwood’s agent, who confirmed that the Cubs had indeed been in on his client since Day 1 and that the negotiations went the way they were “supposed to go.” Epstein pushed the timeline back even further, admitting that the Cubs had been after Chatwood for years and that his name had come up in previous trade talks.
So what does this mean about the pursuits of Cobb and Ohtani? Nothing. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. What I mean is that the signing of Chatwood does not in and of itself preclude the Cubs from going out and landing two more starters. There’s been talk in some circles that the Cubs, or any team pursuing Ohtani, might be doing so with plans to employ a six-man rotation.
Will the Cubs stockpile starters in a new six man rotation ? Tyler Chatwood has maxed out at 158 ininngs . Cobb at 179. Ohtani 160 top inning load so far.
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) December 7, 2017
That’s de rigeur in Japan and would give Ohtani more time to play in the field or as a DH while still getting plenty of rest between starts. And as Bruce Levine noted, none of the trio of pitchers discussed here is known as either an innings-eating workhorse or a paragon of good health.
Now, that’s assuming the Cubs are able to pull off a massive coup, the chances for which took a big hit Thursday afternoon. After acquiring $1 million in bonus pool money Wednesday night, the Mariners swung a trade with the Marlins to bring both Dee Gordon and another million bones to Seattle.
Pressure on Dipoto to land Ohtani immense. RHP Nick Neidert was #Mariners’ No. 2 prospect, per @MLBPipeline, SS Chris Torres No. 7. C David Banuelos, sent last night to #Twins for int’l slot money, was No. 10. System not highly regarded to begin with.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 7, 2017
The influx of money pushes the M’s to $3.557 million, just ahead of the $3.535 million the Rangers can offer. But wait, Evan, why are you talking about the value of pool money now after refuting wholeheartedly the notion that such trifles matter at all to Ohtani? You know, I’m glad you asked.
It’s not the money itself that matters, it’s what the pursuit and acquisition of the money represents. In parting with three top-10 prospects, GM Jerry Dipoto has essentially jumped out of the airplane without a parachute and is asking Ohtani to catch him in midair. These moves show that the Mariners have a hell of a lot of faith in the two-way star’s ability to make up for what they’ve given up in prospects.
While we know very little of Ohtani’s specific desires, he has said in at least one interview he “need[s] to have a feeling of wanting to play for [a team].” Perhaps the aggressiveness the Mariners have shown will appeal to Ohtani on a deep emotional level.
Cobb, on the other hand, is probably going to be more about cold, hard cash than warm fuzzies. The Cubs certainly have the money to make it happen, now it’s just a matter of seeing where the market goes.
As for when we’ll start seeing resolution, that’s still unclear. Jon Heyman tweeted that Ohtani could come to a decision by “early next week,” but you’ll want to salt that nugget liberally given the dearth of solid info we’ve had on the matter to this point. That leaves plenty of time for the Yankees, whose $3.5 million bonus pool — that’s a lot of cash, man — is just sitting there, to swing some deals of their own.
One thing we know for sure is that the Winter Meeting are gonna be lit.