The Cubs appealed to the ego, telling Anibal Sanchez he would be their primary building block – and not just another guy behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer with the Detroit Tigers.
The Cubs likely read from a similar script during their sales pitch to Masahiro Tanaka.
Last winter, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts sat down at a Miami restaurant with Sanchez, his wife and his agent. The same day, general manager Jed Hoyer and then-manager Dale Sveum met with Edwin Jackson in Newport Beach, Calif.
Cubs fans already know how that turned out, and it’s worth remembering with Friday’s deadline approaching for Tanaka to make The Decision.
Tanaka’s camp, led by agent Casey Close, has instructed teams to keep this a confidential process. After a false report leaked on Twitter that the Cubs had made a deal with Sanchez (five years, $75 million), the Tigers stepped up with a five-year, $80 million contract in December 2012.
When the Tigers visited U.S. Cellular Field last August, Sanchez refused to talk about that sit-down, which only reinforced the perception he was using the Cubs for leverage.
Inside a visiting clubhouse filled with All-Stars, Sanchez brushed off his Boston Red Sox connections. (Hoyer helped engineer that Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell trade with the Florida Marlins during Epstein’s leave of absence in 2005.) Sanchez also dismissed a question about the long-range business/baseball vision at Wrigley Field.
“If they have some plan or not, I don’t know,” Sanchez said.
After getting traded from Miami to Detroit in July 2012, Sanchez had become curious enough to ask at least one teammate about the electric atmosphere weeks earlier, when the Tigers visited Wrigley Field. Detroit fans took over Clark and Addison, turning it orange, as the Cubs sold 124,782 tickets for that three-game interleague series.
Players understand Chicago is a great city where Cubs players always get taken care of – plus there is a strong Japanese community for Tanaka’s family.
The industry consensus is that the Cubs have built an elite farm system and should cash in with a renovated Wrigley Field and new television deals (though all those timelines are a bit hazy).
Privately, multiple sources inside and outside the organization have echoed some version of the Scott Boras stump speech – Why won’t the Cubs spend like a big-market team? – just without one-liners like “Meet the Parents” or “All-Day Sucker.”
The sense is that a free-spending team like the New York Yankees will view Tanaka as the missing piece. Or the Los Angeles Dodgers could load up on pitching the way the Tigers did, putting Tanaka with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, trying to buy their way to the World Series.
Epstein made that broader point last week at the opening of a Cubs Convention that generated zero buzz – when asked why it’s been such a slow offseason and how frustrating it must be sitting on the sidelines.
“It’s a tough market,” Epstein said. “There was tremendous financial escalation in the marketplace this year. And when you are in a position to acquire those household names, usually it’s long contracts with very significant dollars and clubs are really hoping for a pay-off in the first few years of the contract.
“Teams that are right on the cusp of playoff contention (look at) the two- or three- or four-win impact that player might make. (And) sometimes those wins mean even more to that team that’s right on the cusp. So you’re competing against teams that have maybe more payroll flexibility and with a more immediate need for impact.
“Whereas our plan, by definition, because we’re not there yet, has a little bit of a longer time horizon. We’ve been aggressive with trade talks. We’ve been aggressive in the free-agent market where we see fit. But there’s a time and a place for everything.
“We hunt and hunt and hunt for things that make sense given our roster situation, given our timetable, given our payroll situation. There’s going to be times when we deliver and times when we don’t. But we’re never going to lose sight of our plan. We’re never going to sign a player just to appease the fans or the media.”
In the end, the Cubs believed Sanchez felt comfortable in Detroit and wanted the chance to win a World Series right away – they reached their ceiling at five years, $77.5 million. He led the American League in ERA (2.57) last season and got to pitch in October again.
Epstein, Ricketts and Hoyer – along with new manager Rick Renteria and video coordinator/Pacific liaison/interpreter Nao Masamoto – recently met with Tanaka’s camp at a home in the Los Angeles area.
Tanaka is only 25 years old and put up video-game numbers (24-0, 1.27 ERA) last season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. We’ll soon find out what he wants for his next challenge.