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Winter Meetings: Cubs not yet out of Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes

Ryan Herrera Avatar
December 6, 2023
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani (17) celebrates at the end of the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Angel Stadium.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, rumors started swirling. Word started spreading on social media. Cubs fans’ worst fears had come to fruition — the team’s optimism of landing Shohei Ohtani had waned, and then later, they were out of the sweepstakes altogether.

At least, that’s what a report from USA Today had said. But when officials from all 30 MLB teams met with the media in a ballroom at the Gaylord Opryland Resort on Tuesday, the Cubs’ brass was ready to refute it.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “There’s nothing to report whatsoever.”

In expected fashion, Hoyer didn’t have much of a comment on Ohtani and any pursuit of the two-way superstar besides disputing that report. The only other thing he had to say was that the Cubs had not received any status updates from Ohtani’s camp about where they stand.

There’s no doubt Ohtani’s free agency has gone on as secretly as possible. It’s to the point that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ comments to reporters during his availability Tuesday — confirming that Los Angeles had met with Ohtani — was the first public confirmation of any meetings between Ohtani and his suitors.

“I don’t feel like lying is something that I do,” Roberts told reporters. “I was asked a question, and yeah, I think to be forthright in this situation, we kept it quiet, but I think that it’s going to come out at some point that we met, and it obviously already has. So, I don’t think myself or anyone in our organization would want to lie about it.”

His Cubs counterpart Craig Counsell, only three weeks after officially being introduced as Chicago’s new skipper, didn’t budge much when presented with anything related to Ohtani.

Asked “as a baseball fan” his thoughts on the frenzy surrounding Ohtani’s free agency, Counsell said, “It’s deserved, because he’s very unique. It’s really cool what’s happening, and I think as a baseball fan, we all want to know where the great players are going to play.”

But when asked if the Cubs had met with Ohtani, Counsell responded, “I have not.”

What about the front office?

“I have not,” he repeated.

Is that supposed to be an indication of the team’s interest in Ohtani?

“Look, I don’t think this is my spot to talk about individual player,” Counsel said. “It’s a great question, but not the spot to talk about it.”

Despite what other teams are doing, the Cubs are clearly keeping things under wraps. Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, have sought privacy in this process, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan even reported recently that leaks of any meetings would be held against that team.

So, even with Roberts’ decision to speak publicly, it seems as though the other teams still hoping to land Ohtani are respecting those wishes.

“The truth is that with this free-agent pursuit and others, very few people are aware of what’s being discussed or what’s going on — on purpose,” Hoyer said. “All sides have kept it that way, and I think I’ll stay that way.”

Added Hoyer: “I feel like in this case, yeah, there’s real secrecy, but everyone knows there’s secrecy. I think there’s been others that are really secret that no one knew about. I think I’ve seen this kind of secrecy before, but it wasn’t necessarily, like, public secrecy.”

But all that secrecy is what makes it even harder to know what the truth really is.

If Ohtani’s side wants to keep things quiet, and if teams don’t want to risk upsetting him to the point they won’t leak any information, then who is talking? Who is the one saying the Cubs are out of the running, when the team president — at least publicly — is outright denying that report’s accuracy.

Now, Hoyer saying what he said doesn’t mean the Cubs are absolutely still in the race. Word is that the price for Ohtani might still be rising, and Hoyer’s history and the Cubs lead baseball operations executive doesn’t lead one to believe he’d be willing to go through a bidding war. Hoyer’s comments could very well just mean the Cubs haven’t been told that they’re out yet.

Of course, they’ll continue to be in conversations with other players and their representation. It’d be unwise to put all their in the Ohtani basket, especially when there are a number of holes on the roster they have to fill.

“You’ve got to be really careful not to get caught waiting on any one particular thing,” Hoyer said. “I think I’ve learned over the years that you’ve got to have a lot of lines in the water, and you can’t assume anything is going to get done. Sometimes, the dominoes fall as you think, but if you assume they’re going to fall that way, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble waiting. So, clearly, we’re working on a ton of different stuff.”

But at the same time, the market is held up waiting for Ohtani to make a decision. And until it becomes known where he’s going — or until it becomes know that he’s not going to Chicago — expect the Cubs to operate as if they’re the destination.

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