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Cubs can dream big about landing Ohtani

Getting two-way talent would bolster Chicago's roster
MLB.com @philgrogers

CHICAGO -- None of us know what Shohei Ohtani is going to do.

Nor do we know what president of baseball operations Theo Epstein will do with the Cubs' roster this winter.

CHICAGO -- None of us know what Shohei Ohtani is going to do.

Nor do we know what president of baseball operations Theo Epstein will do with the Cubs' roster this winter.

But should these two items happen to intersect, we can safely say the possibilities are wild.

The signing of Tyler Chatwood on Thursday to a three-year deal -- big in its own right given that Chatwood is heading into his age-28 season, the point in his career when Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta asserted themselves -- could wind up as merely the first in a series of moves that will give manager Joe Maddon the best, deepest rotation in the Major Leagues.

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As one of two non-West Coast teams in the Ohtani hunt, the Cubs have been called an outlier. After all, they have $300,000 in international slot money available, while teams like the Mariners ($3.557 million), Rangers ($3.535 million) and Angels ($2.13 million) rate substantially higher.

:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::

But there's something about the Cubs that intrigues Ohtani, agent Nez Balelo and those around them. It's probably this: They've been the winningest team in the Majors the last three seasons, and all of the key ingredients to their lineup -- many of them moving parts and all of them buying into the model of unselfishness set by Anthony Rizzo and other veterans -- are until control for four more years.

There's no end in sight for the team that was once a sleeping giant. Its goal is to win 100 games and the World Series every year, and both Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts will do everything in their power to get to that goal.

Imagine if Ohtani says he wants to be a part of that big picture.

He'll carry huge expectations wherever he goes, given his triple-digit fastball and his desire to be a two-way regular, but he's not going to make or break the Cubs like he would some other teams on his list.

He's got front-of-the-rotation stuff but he'd likely open 2018 working behind Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana in a modified six-man rotation that will include Chatwood and at least one starter likely to be acquired in the next few weeks.

Knowing Epstein, you shouldn't rule out him still making another big starter move even if he does get Ohtani.

The Cubs are in great shape to land any free agent on the market, although Epstein insists he's dealing with limited resources, like every other baseball executive.

"We have some financial flexibility,'' Epstein said Thursday. "Our job is to put it to good use. Also [to] keep one eye on the 2018 team but one eye on the future as well, make sure we're positioned for future free-agent markets, impact players when they might become available and put ourselves in a position to retain the talent we already have.''

Video: MLB Now chats about Ohtani's final meetings

The Cubs have shed significant payroll between the Miguel Montero trade last July and the recent decision to non-tender Hector Rondon. Their list of current free agents includes Arrieta, John Lackey, Wade Davis, Jon Jay and Koji Uehara, who earned between $6 million (Uehara) and $16 million (Lackey).

Chatwood's agreement for $38 million leaves the Cubs with an estimated payroll below $140 million. That's more than $40 million less than their Opening Day number last season (including the cost of player benefits) and almost $60 million below the Competitive Balance Tax limit of $197 million.

Ohtani will make the Major League minimum the next three years. If the Cubs land him, they could still take a run at the top end of the free-agent market, attempting to add Yu Darvish or re-sign Arrieta.

Imagine a six-starter mix that has Darvish/Arrieta and then Hendricks, Lester, Quintana, Ohtani and Chatwood, with swing man Mike Montgomery available as a seventh man?

Have I gone too far? Probably but only because it feels like overkill, not because it's impossible.

Video: Rogers on Cubs being involved in Ohtani sweepstakes

Epstein says he expects to talk to agent Scott Boras about Arrieta at the upcoming Winter Meetings. If he adds Ohtani, he probably won't want to add a starter on a four-, or five-year contract, even Darvish or Arrieta, but he could if he felt like being greedy.

It's more likely the Cubs would use their financial flexibility to re-sign Davis or sign Greg Holland to fill the closer's hole. They will probably add a set-up man or two as well, with the ability to win bidding wars as they develop.

Ohtani, a left-handed hitter projected as a corner outfielder when he isn't pitching, would make it at least a little easier to deal young position players for a significant pitching piece -- starter or closer.

Kyle Schwarber is the obvious choice but the Cubs don't want to give up on him. It's seems more likely they'd keep him for 2018 and, if necessary, trade from their group of middle infielders/utility men (Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ian Happ).

Chatwood has been wild and inconsistent throughout a career that included lost seasons (most of 2014 and all of 2015 due to elbow injury and Tommy John surgery). He's been good away from Coors Field, got a nice uptick in his velocity last season and is also throwing his secondary pitches for strikes more often.

Chatwood slots in nicely at the back of the rotation, like Arrieta when he arrived at Wrigley Field as a 27-year-old. It's going to be fun to see how he develops as a project for Jim Hickey, who is reuniting with Maddon as the Cubs' pitching coach.

And if the Cubs add Ohtani, it could make for another big season for the Cubs.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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