By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) Why has there been no movement in MLB offseason marketplace? It’s because there are a few major dominoes waiting to fall that have put the market on hold as December approaches.
Shohei Ohtani, the two-way phenom from Japan, is set to become a big league free agent by the weekend. He’s of interest to all 30 clubs, and his status was in limbo until last week. Ohtani’s American agents have sent all MLB clubs criteria for signing the unique pitcher-outfielder.
“The Ohtani situation has a uniquely talented player out there in the open market,” Orioles general manager Dan Duquette said on Inside the Clubhouse on 670 The Score. “Teams have certainly wanted to see where that goes.”
Ohtani won’t be allowed to sign for more than the international bonus maximum of about $3.5 million. The team he chooses must pay a posting fee of $20 million to his Japanese club, the Nippon-Ham Fighters. Ohtani, 23, will want assurances that he can play a position or designated hitter when he isn’t pitching, which favors American League teams. The Cubs and White Sox will both be extremely aggressive in the pursuit of Ohtani.
Ohtani has been the main cause of an offseason slow-down in free agent signing progress. The Yankees and Twins have the max of $3.5 million in international money to offer Ohtani. The Cubs have only $300,000 to offer. That initial contract figure doesn’t necessarily determine where Ohtani will want to go. Franchise viability, marketing opportunities and city livability are factors for Ohtani in his final choice of team.
Then there’s Scott Boras, the super-agent who has four of the top free agents in the marketplace. Jake Arrieta is arguably the top starting pitcher available, and he also represents J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, each of whom round out the Boras power-laden free agents available.
Martinez hit 45 home runs in 119 games in 2017, making a major impact after being traded from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks. The first price rumored for him was a $200-million contract. Moustakas is a third baseman who hit 38 home runs, while former Royals teammate and first baseman Hosmer hit 25 homers in 2017.
Boras certainly doesn’t have a reputation for taking the first deal offered. He’s so good at analyzing the marketplace and could hold players on the market until early 2018. Clubs will do all they can to get other players signed before the Winter Meetings, which start Dec. 10. Boras will have full media attention at the Winter Meetings, where he can try to and manipulate to his clients’ best interests.
National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton – he of 59 homers and 132 RBIs last season – is also dictating the market. The new owners of the Miami Marlins have made it clear they will happily trade the top home run hitter in the game.
Stanton is owed $295 million over the next 10 seasons. He owns a full no-trade clause in the contract language. The conversations can continue between the Marlins and clubs like the Giants, Cardinals and the Dodgers.
Ultimately, Stanton will determine where he ends up. He’s a native of Sherman Oaks, Calif., and in the eyes of some, you can see him ending up in Los Angeles.
The Cubs have a few offers on the table for starting pitching and relief specialists, sources said. Free-agent right-hander Alex Cobb is believed to be mulling over offers from the Cubs and other clubs on multi-year proposals. Cobb, 30, was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.22 WHIP last season and is a couple years removed from Tommy John surgery.
With former Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey joining the Cubs and familiar with Cobb, that should be an edge for the Cubs to sign Cobb if all offers are about the same. Cobb also pitched for manager Joe Maddon from 2011-’14 in Tampa Bay.
Lance Lynn and Darvish are pitchers to watch with the Cubs and other teams in need of front-line starting pitching. Top bullpen free agents like Brandon Morrow and Bryan Shaw are possible Cubs targets.
The Cubs would also love to bring back closer Wade Davis, but they apparently won’t be the club that establishes the marketplace for closers.
“Once you see a couple of pitchers sign, you will see teams become more active and players start to fall,” Duquette said. “I think the Cubs are looking for pitching, and so are we. I am not sure we match up (for a trade).”
Duquette did admit he talked to the Cubs about a deal for a relief pitcher in July, a trade that would have been for closer Zach Britton. That possibility could be revisited after the teams make some initial moves the next couple of weeks.
Britton was limited to 38 games last season due to injury. He was the top closer in baseball during 2016 with an MLB-leading 47 saves.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.