The Cubs are trying to sell Masahiro Tanaka on The Plan with a long-shot bid that could accelerate their timeline and energize a frustrated fan base.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria broke the cone of silence surrounding the Tanaka negotiations on Thursday, confirming he recently met with the Japanese pitcher. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer made their recruiting pitch during the sit-down with Tanaka’s camp in California.
The Cubs hired Renteria for his communication style, a bilingual background and an ability to connect with Latin American players. But it might be time to diversify his language skills again.
“We had a very good conversation,” Renteria said. “We had an interpreter, but I actually ordered Rosetta Stone, Japanese version. I’m going to be prepared if it does (happen). I’m going to try and learn a little Japanese and if it happens, good for us.
“And if not, there are a lot of Japanese players that are quality players that maybe come through the organization at some point in time. And I hope I’m able to at least say ‘Hello’ and ‘Good night’ and ‘Can I do anything for you?’”
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The front office could do a first-year manager a huge favor by signing Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Either way, Renteria will stress the positive message he brought to a caravan stop at Casals School of Excellence in Humboldt Park.
Renteria explained how team officials laid it out for Tanaka. You’ll hear some of the same talking points at this weekend’s Cubs Convention.
“We’re a club that is on the upside,” Renteria said. “We’re a club that has a lot of talent. Besides the guys that we have here presently, (there’s) a quality of player coming up that’s going to significantly impact the organization.
“The question is: In the end, what are we trying to do with these players? Do we want them to believe that they’re going to come in here just to be here? We want them to come here and know that they have to perform. They have to execute. They have to play a winning ballgame. And it takes a lot of different pieces for us as an organization, as a club, to come together. It’s going to take a lot of people to do it.”
The Cubs are believed to be comfortable making a nine-figure investment in the 25-year-old Tanaka, who would still be in his prime when an elite farm system is supposed to start producing big-league players. The final bill would also include a $20 million release fee paid to Tanaka’s Japanese club.
The Cubs have been quiet all winter, trying to remain financially flexible so they can make an aggressive run at Tanaka. The smart money would still be on big-market, win-now teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.
[KAP: Cubs 'sitting at the table with the heavyweights' on Tanaka]
Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, just finished negotiating Clayton Kershaw’s seven-year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers, a landmark deal that again showed the skyrocketing price of pitching.
Tanaka’s competitiveness and the breakdown risks associated with a megadeal were highlighted last year in the Nippon Series, where he threw 160 pitches in a Game 6 loss and came back to save Game 7.
Would Tanaka want to sign with a last-place team that’s years away from contention? Given the attrition rate with pitchers, does it make sense to pay top-of-the-market prices during those seasons?
But at a renovated Wrigley Field, a rotation fronted by Tanaka would balance a lineup built around Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. Sources say the Cubs are also in talks with Fox about their next television deals, which could reignite what has become a mid-market payroll.
“I don’t think any player gets wrapped up in that, because everything’s a rumor and who knows what’s going to happen,” Rizzo said. “So you don’t really look into that too much. But we’ll see what happens. I’m sure whatever team lands him will be fortunate.”
Signing Tanaka would also be a huge boost to a clubhouse that has lost 197 games across the last two seasons, dealing with questions about the trade deadline as soon as pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
“I have no idea who he is – I just know he’s a good pitcher,” Rizzo said. “It’s obviously another piece we’d like. But if not, we roll with what we have. It’s just all about being a team.”