Powell: Theo Epstein and the Cubs Still in Pursuit of Shohei Ohtani

In this Nov. 19, 2015, file photo, Japan's starter Shohei Otani pitches against South Korea during the first inning of their semifinal game at the Premier12 world baseball tournament at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)

By Kevin Powell

Somehow, the Cubs are a finalist for Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani. On the surface, of course you’d figure the Cubs –smack dab in the middle of their Golden Era – would be a likely destination for any top international free agent. Who wouldn’t want to play for an iconic franchise that should compete for another World Series title this season? But it’s more complicated than that.

You have to credit Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the entire front office for keeping the Cubs alive in the Ohtani sweepstakes. According to multiple reports the Mariners, Giants, Angels, Padres, Dodgers, Rangers and Cubs are the seven finalists. The obvious outliers on that list are the Cubs and Rangers. But look at a little closer, and you’ll realize the Cubs are the oddity here.

The Rangers have the largest international signing pool bonus money available at $3,535,000. The Cubs? Just $300,000 due to international signing rules. The five other finalists all make sense, since they’re West Coast teams.

Yet, here the Cubs are. In the hunt for a guy some believe can be a revolutionary type player with his ability to light up the gun as a pitcher and to smack a baseball 450 feet. According to Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago, the Cubs produced a multi-page booklet that showed off the Cubs’ core of Rizzo, Bryant, Hendricks etc. It also featured details on their spring training facility and ongoing Wrigley renovations.

ESPN’s David Kaplan tweeted this a few days ago:

The Cubs have bullied their way to the front of the classroom and made their voice heard. The Yankees? Nope, dismissed in the early going by Ohtani. The Red Sox? Nowhere to be found in the sweepstakes. The Cubs? It’s probably an outside shot they do land the 23-year-old phenom, but there’s still a chance.

If they do pull off the unthinkable and convince Ohtani to come to the Midwest, the Cubs would probably be forced to clear an outfield spot. Do they trade Kyle Schwarber? Recent reports have indicated the Yankees have strong interest in the lefty slugger. How about Jason Heyward? Would the Cubs be able to find a suitor for that hefty contract?

Again, it’s a slim chance the Cubs do sign Ohtani (who has until Dec. 22 to choose a team). He’s expressed interest in signing with a small market West Coast team. Some believe he’ll sign with an American League team because of the DH, but Ohtani has made it clear that he wants to play the field, so I’m not sure how much that pitch would benefit an organization.

Whether the Cubs sign Ohtani or not, Theo & Co. have made it clear once again that they’re a powerhouse in baseball. No free agent is too big. No trade seems impossible. The Golden Era of Cubs baseball.

Kevin Powell covers Chicago baseball for WGN Radio and anchors sports on The Roe Conn Show with Anna Davlantes, M-F/3-7p. Follow on twitter @kpowell720