Shohei Ohtani’s camp at CAA has done a good job keeping his free agency a relatively silent endeavor, but there have been occasional indicators that his market is beginning to narrow. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported last week that the Red Sox, Rangers and Mets had shifted their focus to players other than Ohtani, not believing themselves to be strong contenders to land him. Today, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Cubs are in a similar position. Chicago’s “optimism of landing Ohtani has now significantly waned,” per Nightengale, citing a high-ranking team executive.
Known suitors for Ohtani generally include the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Angels and Giants. (Others have surely expressed interest throughout the offseason.) If the Cubs are indeed pessimistic and/or turning their attention elsewhere, that makes four teams in the past four days that are now said to be increasingly doubtful about their chances of landing the two-time AL MVP. Given the secretive nature of Ohtani’s market, it’s always possible there are additional, surprise suitors lurking, but to this point there’s little to no indication of the ever-popular “mystery team” joining the fray.
As a major market club with long-term needs in the rotation and an immediate gap at designated hitter, the Cubs made plenty of sense as an Ohtani suitor. Chicago’s projected $178MM payroll is a ways of from the franchise-record $203MM Opening Day mark, and for a player like Ohtani it stands to reason that most clubs would be comfortable stretching beyond their previously established comfort levels. Ohtani could’ve slotted into the 2025 rotation alongside Justin Steele and would’ve added a thunderous left-handed bat to a lineup that could well lose resurgent Cody Bellinger, who is also a free agent.
Over the past few days, reports have emerged of in-person meetings between Ohtani’s camp and a few clubs. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported yesterday that the Blue Jays are “believed” to have met with Ohtani at their spring complex on Monday, when GM Ross Atkins was noticeably absent from the site of the Winter Meetings in Nashville and conducted his media availability via Zoom. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle similarly reported that there were “indications” of a weekend meeting between the Giants and Ohtani at Oracle Park in San Francisco.
Suffice it to say, most teams have been quite wary of tipping their hand and perhaps harming their chances of hammering out a deal with Ohtani, who clearly wants a free-agent experience that does not play out in the public eye. While there was originally hope that Ohtani might make a decision at this week’s Winter Meetings, over the past 48 hours each of Nightengale, Jon Heyman of the New York Post and others have begun to suggest that Ohtani could continue conducting meetings with teams after this week’s event.