Enough with the criticism of Joe Maddon. The manager Cubs fans love to rail against when it comes to how he uses pitchers could be the key to landing the most coveted one on the free agent market. If having the successful Maddon in the fold three years ago was a factor in Jon Lester’s free agent decision, his importance in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes this week is immeasurable. Ohtani, the so-called Babe Ruth of Japan with a 100-mph fastball from the right side and power bat from the left, surprisingly selected the Cubs among seven teams for meetings this week before making his final decision – possibly before Monday’s start of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla. The Cubs are one of the three teams on the list with the minimum $300,000 to offer as a signing bonus because of overspending international bonus-pool allotments last year (also the Dodgers and Padres). The Cubs also are the only team on his list east of the Mississippi River and one of the two big-media-market teams on his finalist list – after Ohtani told others he preferred the West Coast and a smaller market. Even Ohtani’s desire to be in the lineup as a hitter on the days he doesn’t pitch worked against the Cubs, who expected him to prioritize American League teams over NL teams. To get this far in the process would seem to have surprised the Cubs even a month ago, with one team official joking that the team might have to move to a coast and switch to the AL to be in the running. So how did team president Theo Epstein manage to make a transition to Chicago look as culturally seamless as Seattle or San Francisco, make the Cubs look as low-profile, lifestyle-friendly as the Padres or Angels (of Anaheim), and make $300,000 stack up against the $3.54 million the Rangers have to wave at Ohtani? Maybe he didn’t have to. As good as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have proven to be at holistic sales pitches to free agents, their manager might be their secret weapon in the fight to land the 23-year-old who already has made it clear that top dollar isn’t his top priority.