This should generate some fun responses. According to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, one of a number of people to weigh in with similar sentiments, the Cubs are indeed interested in pursuing Shohei Ohtani. Rogers went so far as to say that, “Multiple sources think the Cubs are more likely to sign Ohtani than bring Bellinger back.” That’s probably not as wild as it might seem on the surface simply because a Cody Bellinger reunion has seemed less likely for a while now given a number of different factors.
At the risk of further belaboring a point that probably won’t land well for those who disagree, there is logic behind the Cubs being willing to sign Ohtani for more than twice what they’d consider to be an overpay for Bellinger. Production and projection are part of that, even if Ohtani’s associated risks are greater. Bellinger isn’t exactly a sure thing, especially since his anemic batted-ball results could portend a drop in his 2023 numbers.
Even if you argue that his two-strike approach suppressed the data a little, you don’t get to the 10th percentile in hard-hit rate from that alone. Bellinger is also a big pull-middle hitter, so the potential diminution of his power could show up a little sooner into a long-term deal. Ohtani, on the other hand, has a more balanced spray chart that would play really well in the NL Central.
Rogers also noted the Cubs’ somewhat contentious relationship with Bellinger’s agent, Scott Boras, with whom they’ve not worked out a long-term deal in a long time.
But the real key here when it comes to the Cubs and Tom Ricketts doing something that many think doesn’t make sense given their track record is that it’ll make dollars. Like, a lot of dollars. As good as Bellinger was in Chicago this past season, no one’s showing up to Wrigley or subscribing to Marquee Sports Network just to watch him. Conversely, people will flock to the ballpark early just for the opportunity to watch Ohtani take BP.
What’s funny is that the people arguing that Ricketts won’t spend what it takes to lure Ohtani because the bottom line is too important are actually wrong for the right reason. The best way to maximize Marquee and the sportsbook and the rooftops, all of which took hundreds of millions of dollars to build or buy, is to pay whatever it takes for a main attraction.
The Cubs have had plenty of stars over the years, but never a transcendent presence like Ohtani. That’s why a pursuit is likely, even if actually luring him to Chicago is somewhat less so.