By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes have been narrowed down.
Ohtani, the 23-year-old Japanese phenom who can pitch and hit, appears to have seven teams that he’s choosing from after being posted last Friday for free agency. The Cubs remain in the chase, according to sources, and have reason to be optimistic. The Mariners, Giants, Padres, Angeles, Dodgers and Rangers are six other teams that Ohtani is still considering, per reports.
Ohtani won’t be choosing a team based on hefty monetary reasons, as clubs are limited to offering $3.55 million as he’s subjected to international signing rules for players under 25 years old. Most teams can’t even offer that, including the Cubs, who are limited to a $300,000 because they exceeded their signing bonus pool in the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Ohtani will be picking the organization that best represents the environment he wants to play in for the next six years. Market size, player development plans, ballpark facilities and medical training will be factors in his decision. Ohtani’s agency, CAA, recently asked teams to submit presentations explaining why their organization would be the best fit, and interested teams responded with their best sales pitch.
The Cubs’ initial sales pitch included a multi-paged booklet with illustrations and projections of how Ohtani could easily mesh with a young group that won the 2016 World Series and lost in the National League Championship Series this past season, sources said. It explained how the Cubs already have a core of premium talent under contract control for years to come in the form of Jon Lester, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, Willson Contreras and Jose Quintana. The Cubs’ state-of-the-art spring training facility and renovated Wrigley Field were also highlighted in the presentation.
Surprisingly, the Yankees have already been informed they aren’t in the mix for Ohtani. They had been thought to be a favorite to land him.
“We put forward everything we were about here,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told New York reporters on Sunday. “If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit. I wish him the best of luck. He is an exciting young player. Some fan base is going to be excited about it.”
Of the teams reported to have made Ohtani’s initial cut, the Rangers have the most money available to offer with $3.55 million.
In 2016, Ohtani had his best season, hitting .322 with 22 homers and 67 RBIs in 104 games and going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA as well. His desire is to pitch every fifth day and regularly get at-bats. In the American League, that would likely come in the form of being the designated hitter. In the National League, he’d be expected to play a corner outfield spot.
Ohtani has until the end of Dec. 22 to choose a team, after which his posting eligibility runs out. The team that signs him must give the Nippon-Ham Fighters, Ohtani’s current team, a $20 million posting fee. Ohtani will then be under team control for six years before he’s eligible for free agency.
The league has warned teams that they can’t make an under-the-table deal to offer him more money in the first year of his deal, as losing his rights would be a possible sanction. In recent years, there’s been a bit of a trend to sign players on initial minor league contracts to long-term deals to buy out their arbitration-eligible years and push back their free agency.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.