With one eye still on Ohtani, Cubs sign Tyler Chatwood for rotation

In case anyone wasn’t sure, right-hander Tyler Chatwood made it clear Thursday that the Cubs’ latest addition to the rotation isn’t the guy who wants to start in the outfield on the days he doesn’t pitch.

“No, I’m good watching,” said Chatwood, the Rockies free agent who signed a three-year, $38 million deal to fill one of at least two Cubs starting rotation vacancies.

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But even as Chatwood, 27, talked about how excited he was to play in Chicago and be part of a World Series contender, the specter of Japanese free agent Shohei Ohtani hung thick in the air of the second-floor conference room at the Cubs’ office building.

Tyler Chatwood is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts at Wrigley Field (13 innings pitched). That included this 4-1 victory in June.

The Chatwood announcement came two days after the Cubs had their face-to-face meeting with Ohtani at his agency’s Los Angeles office – one of seven teams to make that cut.

Once considered a long shot to land the so-called Babe Ruth of Japan, the Cubs’ chances have improved enough that a Japanese reporter following the 23-year-old’s move to the major leagues flew into Chicago from L.A. after the seven meetings on the chance that Ohtani could show.

Team president Theo Epstein was emphatically tight-lipped when asked about the pursuit of Ohtani, who boasts a 100-mph fastball from the right side, a powerful bat from the left and excellent speed in the outfield and on the bases.

“That’s our choice, but I think we have a lot of respect for the player and the process,” said Epstein – who got asked by media about Ohtani before Chatwood. “We’ll let the information come from their side.”

The Cubs are allowed to offer only $300,000 in bonus money because of penalties for overspending their international bonus allotment last year. And the Mariners and Angels both traded for more international bonus money this week, pushing Seattle’s total it can offer to $3.55 million (most among finalists); the Angels’ to $2.31 million.

But Ohtani has made it clear that top dollar isn’t his top priority, and Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon’s embrace of the two-way player concept along with the Cubs’ state-of-the-art facilities and relatively low-mileage travel play in their favor.

And if the Cubs win the Ohtani sweepstakes, the smaller bonus and major-league minimum salary ($545,000) make it much more financially feasible for the Cubs to put together a six-deep rotation of competitive starters – something that fits Ohtani well (he pitched once a week in Japan) and that Maddon wanted to employ much of last season (resisted by since departed veterans and pitching coach).

That’s where Chatwood comes back in.

“There are times to strike quickly and times to wait back and get value, and starting pitching is an area where we felt like there was more demand than supply,” Epstein said. “And maybe certain areas of the relief market there’s a lot of supply.

“We felt if we could get the right starter on a reasonable deal before the winter meetings it was something we’d like to do. It wasn’t something we felt we had to do. But this is somebody we’ve had a lot of interest in for a long time. When it was clear the interest was mutual and the contract would be in this range it was something we felt great about doing.”

Chatwood is two years removed from Tommy John surgery and said he feels stronger. His numbers (8-15, 4.69 ERA in 2017) haven’t looked great, but his splits away from Coors Field have been strong, along with his ground-ball rate and weak-contact rate.

“His curveball is a big pitch for him, and that’s obviously a really tough pitch to throw with any consistency at Coors,” Epstein said. “We’re excited. His stuff is top-notch, and he’s a bright kid who can think his way through a game and is always looking for ways to improve.

“He’s a guy we’ve been after for a while.”

Ohtani? Chatwood’s all in.

“I can’t see why anybody wouldn’t want to play here,” he said. “Obviously, the facilities here and in Arizona and also they’re a proven winning team. That says a lot.

“That’s everybody’s dream to win a World Series and go deep in the playoffs every year, and these guys have proven they’re ready to do it and built to do it for a while.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com