Remember the other day when we said the Cubs could have little advantages in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes due to Wrigley Field’s dimensions and their relatively light travel schedule? Many have also pointed out how hiring Craig Counsell signals an intent to compete in a big way, though Jed Hoyer’s clandestine courtship of the manager might be just as important.
Ohtani shuns the public spotlight, to the point that his initial tour of teams was conducted under a veil of secrecy in which suitors were required to keep their visits under wraps. He quietly signed a $30 million deal to avoid the arbitration process this past season and is expected to move quickly in his search for a new team this winter. That’s where Hoyer’s penchant for stealth may come in handy.
“If there is one thing to know about Shohei Ohtani’s free agency, it’s that you are unlikely to know much about it until he signs somewhere,” ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote. “If visits between Ohtani and a team are reported publicly, it will be held against the team, so the circles will be tiny and tight.”
This is of particular note because we’re starting to see reports about how the Cubs or other teams are preparing offers for Ohtani. It’s not so much that the reports are wrong, just that they’re more like seeing dark clouds on the horizon and predicting rain. Whatever your opinion of Hoyer as an executive, he has proven more than capable of keeping his circle tiny and tight.
Just look at the Counsell deal, signing Marcus Stroman just ahead of the lockout in late 2021, luring Seiya Suzuki from what just about everyone thought would be a deal with the Padres, or working out extensions for Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ. None of those came together in the space of a few hours, yet that’s all the informational runway anyone outside the organization really had. Hell, the Counsell deal remained totally unreported for more than a day after it had been completed.
To be fair, trying to wrangle a unicorn is quite a bit different from taming a more pedestrian equine species. The attendant hype following Ohtani’s every move — even his dog became an internet sensation during Thursday’s MVP announcement — means holding a completely covert conference might be a bit too much to ask. Or maybe it’s not and making good on such a requirement is just as important as being willing to step up financially.
Unlike the first time around, Ohtani has a much better sense of the cities and teams he prefers. For all we know, he’s already made his decision. Or perhaps this is like the plot of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, with teams being cast off one at a time because they weren’t worthy. Whatever happens, I’d love to see the whole thing wrapped up by early December so we can all move on.