March 3, 2024

MediaBizNet

Complete Australian News World

How Shota Imanaga ended up around Chicago before the Cubs landed the free agent

How Shota Imanaga ended up around Chicago before the Cubs landed the free agent

Shota Imanaga heard the roar of the crowd during the national anthem, and captured the scene before one of Connor Bedard's first home games with the Chicago Blackhawks. Imanaga later returned to the United Center to buy a Michael Jordan jersey and take a photo next to the famous statue.

It was early November, a few weeks before Imanaga entered the publishing system set up by Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball. Imanaga, who played for the Yokohama DNA Bay Stars and was the winning pitcher in Japan's win over Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last year, wanted a new challenge.

As the 45-day negotiating window began to close, Imanaga returned to Illinois at Christmastime to be available for meetings and re-evaluate his options as a free agent. Octagon, the agency that represents him, has an office on Michigan Avenue and a network throughout the Chicago area. The central location made sense for a potential traveler ahead of Thursday's deadline to sign a contract with a top club.

Imanaga and his buddies work at a suburban hotel and get comfort food at Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese grocery store in Arlington Heights. Imanaga trained at Bo Jackson's indoor facility near O'Hare International Airport. Imanaga's group now has a collection of tourist photos around Chicago that can best be described as “Where's Shota?”

Imanaga felt so comfortable that he wanted to stay. He wasn't sure the interest was mutual.

“Every team is different, and it's a long process,” Imanaga said. The athlete on Thursday through an interpreter. “At one point I mentioned, ‘I hope the Cubs make me an offer.’ I was just kind of kidding because at that time the Cubs were out of the picture.

Cubs executives Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins are patient, logical and calculating. Throughout December and into mid-January, the Cubs did not sign a free agent to a major league contract or make a trade to improve an 83-win roster that floated Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman. Hoyer personally scouted Imanaga during a trip to Japan in September and has kept in touch with his representatives, though the Cubs did not jump in as a top candidate until the late stages of negotiations.

The rest of the offseason will be shaped by that ability to pounce. The Cubs have the financial resources and wherewithal to make a deal happen at any moment. That reality became harder to fathom during the two months of inactivity between Hoyer's hiring of Craig Counsell as the highest-paid manager in the sport and Imanaga's signing of a four-year, $53 million contract with options to extend the deal to five years and $80 million. But the Cubs are very good at recruiting when they focus on certain free agents, creating custom stadiums that previously resonated with Japanese players like Yu Darvish and Seiya Suzuki.

The Cubs showed more creativity in Thursday's trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, waiving two talented but far-fetched prospects (Jackson Ferris and Zyher Hope) for a reliever who will immediately step into Council's bullpen (Yenis Almonte) and a left-handed hitter who He crushed a Triple-A pitch (Michael Busch) but was blocked by the All-Stars at Dodger Stadium.

Suddenly, the talk in the Cubs conference this weekend will shift toward action and away from moves that haven't been made. Imanaga will be presented Friday afternoon at Loews Chicago. When Imanaga went to the Schaumburg Mall on Wednesday — to buy a new tie in the right shade of Cubbie blue for the news conference — an employee recognized him and double-checked him by looking at the name on the credit card. Anonymity is already fading.

“Cubs come in,” Imanaga said. “Their level of intensity made me feel like they really wanted me.”

(Photo: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)