The Cubs will make their pitch to Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese ace who could shake up their competitive timeline and instantly become a marquee attraction at Wrigley Field.
It’s definitely a long shot, with insiders doubting the Cubs will have the big-market resources and all-out desperation to beat the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers in a bidding war.
The Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks have also been linked to Tanaka, but almost all 30 teams would have interest in a 25-year-old pitcher who profiles like a No. 2 starter and doesn’t cost a draft pick or prospects.
Sources say Tanaka’s camp hopes to keep the process confidential – the Cubs will be involved – and the player wants to meet teams in the United States (and not hear recruiting pitches in Japan). The details will be sketchy during the Tanaka sweepstakes. But on Tuesday, Comcast SportsNet’s Luke Stuckmeyer reported Tanaka is expected to meet with the Cubs and White Sox this week on the West Coast.
The White Sox also once wanted Kosuke Fukudome, the Japanese outfielder who wound up signing with the Cubs and turning out to be a $48 million bust. Even if Tanaka doesn’t quite live up to all the hype – he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season – the consensus is his game will translate.
Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball unveiled a new posting agreement last month that capped the “release fee” at $20 million, which doesn’t come close to the $51.7 million the Rangers paid Yu Darvish’s Japanese club in a blind bid.
So that essentially becomes a $20 million tax on the kind of nine-figure megadeal the Cubs have avoided for years while operating like a small- or mid-market team, getting eclipsed by the White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in the final 2013 payroll calculations. That number is projected to be south of $100 million in 2014.
The Cubs can sell a great city – Fukudome was said to appreciate Chicago’s strong Japanese community and bought a condo overlooking Lake Shore Drive – as well as an elite farm system stocked with position players and a National League where the learning curve might not be so steep for a rookie pitcher.
It’s unclear how much a sense of history – or the idea of being on the Cubs team that finally wins a World Series – would appeal to a player like Tanaka.
Also remember Tanaka’s right arm has already accounted for more than 1,300 innings in Japan’s Pacific League and the Cubs don’t figure to be serious contenders until 2016 and beyond.
Tanaka – who could still fit as a long-term piece foundation piece at Clark and Addison – has until Jan. 24 to make The Decision.