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The ripple effects of Shohei Ohtani’s contract are impacting the Cubs’ offseason

2 months agoAndy Martinez

Shohei Ohtani continues to impact the Cubs’ offseason, even after choosing to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The trickledown effect of his contract allowed Los Angeles to swipe one of the Cubs’ trade targets from underneath them.

Ohtani’s insistence to defer $680 million of his $700 million in his 10-year contract means the value of the contract against the luxury tax will be roughly $46 million per year, instead of $70 million had he chosen not to defer. That creates around $24 million per year more in payroll flexibility for Los Angeles — and they’re using that to acquire Tyler Glasnow from the Rays to augment their rotation. Glasnow agreed to a 5-year, $135 million dollar extension with the Dodgers, per reports

Glasnow had long been linked to the Cubs as a potential trade acquisition, but it never materialized and instead Tampa Bay is sending him to Los Angeles, along with outfielder Manuel Margot for pitcher Ryan Pepiot and outfielder Jonny Deluca. Tampa Bay, looking to shed salary, traded established players in a move they’ve been accustomed to doing over the years.

Had the Cubs acquired Glasnow, it would’ve provided a boost to the Cubs’ rotation that lost Marcus Stroman to an opt-out earlier in the offseason. Now, the Cubs will have to look elsewhere to augment their rotation, a situation they were planning for.

“You gotta be really careful not to get caught waiting on anyone particular thing,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at the Winter Meetings. “I think I’ve learned over the years you gotta have a lot of lines in the water and you can’t assume anything’s gonna get done. Sometimes the dominoes fall as you think, but if you assume they’re gonna fall that way, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble waiting.

“Clearly, we’re working on a ton of different stuff.”

That could still come in the trade market.

The Cubs have been linked to Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, who won the 2020 AL Cy Young Award and has posted a 3.27 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 6 big-league seasons. He’s a free agent after 2024 and the Guardians, like the Rays, operate on a tighter budget and often trade players before they hit the open market to recoup some value.

Cleveland’s right-hander has some question marks, though.

Bieber made just 2 starts in the second half of 2023, both in September, as he dealt with an elbow injury. His four-seam fastball velocity has dipped nearly 3 mph (94.1 mph in his Cy Young winning season to 91.3 this season), his strikeout rate dropped to a career-low of 20.1% and he’s projected to make around $12.2 million in arbitration, per MLBTradeRumors.com. 

Despite all that, he still continued to show the ability to perform at a high level. He posted a 3.80 ERA in 128 innings across 21 starts in 2023 and if the Cubs wound up acquiring him, he would be a solid, front-of-the-line addition to complement Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon and Kyle Hendricks, provided he can stay healthy.

Beyond those three in-house options, the Cubs have a number of other arms to fill out the rotation — Drew Smyly will be stretched out in spring, but he struggled for most of 2023. Javier Assad, Jordan Wicks and Hayden Wesneski all made starts for the Cubs in 2023 and could be in the mix, too.

But that’s a lot to count on for a team hoping to contend in 2024.

The free agent market doesn’t provide too many clear-cut solutions, either. Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and Japanese free agent Yoshinobu Yamamoto represent the high-end of the market, but it seems unlikely the Cubs would target Snell or Montgomery and Yamamoto seems likely to head elsewhere. The next tier finds names like Stroman, Lucas Giolito and Japanese lefty Shōta Imanaga. Imanaga has been linked to the Cubs and could offer depth to the Cubs. 

“The hard thing with pitching is you need a lot of it. There’s a world where those guys come up and have a huge impact, but you also have to realize that like you’re gonna need a lot of guys to get through the season,” Hoyer said. “Writing out your 5 guys in your rotation — it feels like those days have gone away as an industry, as a team you just don’t do that anymore.

“You just gotta have a lot of guys and realize that we gotta 1,400 quality innings somehow and that’s kinda how we focus on it.”

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