SAN DIEGO — It was here, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego, during the 2014 winter meetings that Joe Maddon landed the ace he coveted for his new team. The team was the Chicago Cubs, and the ace was Jon Lester. Maddon got word late on a Tuesday night, just as he was returning from dinner.
“Several glasses of wine later,” he said.
“We need something like that,” Maddon said. “I anticipate something like that.”
The winter meetings began on Monday with Stephen Strasburg‘s agreeing to a seven-year, $245 million deal, a higher-than-anticipated contract that could push Cole into the area of $300 million. Maddon has already spoken with Cole, Strasburg and Zach Wheeler, who joined the Phillies on a five-year deal worth $118 million — one on the phone, the other two in person.
He found Cole, the Angels’ primary target from the onset, to be “very bright.”
“He’s very bright, and he’s not afraid to ask you a question,” Maddon said. “… And he has definite ideas on what it takes to be successful, and it’s really apparent in his game also. This guy really knows what he wants to do and how he wants to do it, and what you see in the World Series was no joke and was not an accident. He was prepared to do that. So, I really enjoyed the conversation. I really enjoyed his intellect. Hopefully, I’ll get to enjoy it more consistently every fourth or fifth day.”
Cole would be joining a rotation that also includes Shohei Ohtani, who is expected to return to a two-way role next season.
Ohtani, now more than a full year removed from Tommy John surgery, was shut down toward the end of his throwing progression to undergo knee surgery in mid-September. But he threw a bullpen session on Monday and was observed by new pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who texted Angels general manager Billy Eppler the following message:
Shohei looked pretty darn good today. He does it very easy, and we worked on some things in regards to his tempo. Everything synced up really well. I like this guy.
“Thanks, Mickey!” Eppler said, laughing, after reading the message.
Ohtani has been off the mound only a couple of times since returning from his most recent surgery, but the plan is for him to stop throwing by the end of the month and then be ready to do so again when spring training begins so that he doesn’t fall too far behind the only starting pitchers.
Ohtani posted a 3.31 ERA while striking out 63 batters in 51 2/3 innings in 2018 and has amassed an .883 OPS through 792 career major league plate appearances. Maddon is open to the possibility of getting rid of the designated hitter when Ohtani starts so that Ohtani could also hit on those days, which was not the case during his rookie season two years ago.
“Why wouldn’t you?” Maddon asked. “That’s another 50 at-bats a year that you’re going to get out of the guy that you wouldn’t get otherwise.”