Next moves for Cubs after jumping into Tanaka sweepstakes

Next moves for Cubs after jumping into Tanaka sweepstakes

January 10, 2014, 1:15 pm
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Greg Maddux made about $153 million during his Hall of Fame career, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. That’s also a rough estimate for what it will cost to sign Masahiro Tanaka to his first major-league contract.

[RELATED -- The making of Greg Maddux: For Cubs, it's what could have been]

It’s another sign of hyperinflation in an $8 billion industry that’s waiting on Tanaka, who was expected to meet with several teams, including the Cubs and White Sox, by the end of the week in Southern California. 

Swinging and missing here won’t automatically change the course of franchise history, the way it did when the Cubs let Maddux sign with the Atlanta Braves after a Cy Young season in 1992. That shortsighted, pennywise move got replayed all over again once Maddux answered the call to Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Cubs are prepared to make a nine-figure investment in Tanaka, according to a source familiar with the team’s thinking. A 25-year-old Japanese ace would fit into the long-range business/baseball plans at a renovated Wrigley Field and a future TV network. But multiple officials have predicted the money is going to get “silly” and another desperate, free-spending team will blow them away with more years and dollars. 

[MORE: Cubs will make their pitch to Masahiro Tanaka]

A $20 million “release fee” will be tacked onto the final bill, a free-agent tax paid to Tanaka’s Japanese club as part of the new posting agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball.

Tanaka’s representative is Casey Close – the agent for New York Yankees icon Derek Jeter – and their camp is trying to keep the process confidential. They have a 30-day negotiating window that closes Jan. 24 and the polished right-hander wants to prove himself at the highest level after going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season.

The dominos will start falling once Tanaka makes “The Decision.”

With all the Tanaka gridlock, top free-agent pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo still remain unsigned. At this point, a major-league source said the Cubs are planning to hold onto Jeff Samardzija until closer to the July 31 trade deadline, hoping to change the supply-and-demand dynamics.

[RELATED: Samardzija wants to see how Cubs attack next rebuilding phase]

Maybe it’s an injury to another frontline pitcher, a surprising, out-of-nowhere team that needs to show something to its fan base or a go-for-it front office that feels like it’s one piece away from October.

Those market forces don’t exist now. But remember how last summer the Cubs were able to turn two months of Garza into four prospects from the Texas Rangers.

Industry sources say the Cubs and Samardzija remain far apart on a long-term deal, though there’s mutual respect on both sides and hope they can eventually find common ground. The likely Opening Day starter is two seasons away from free agency, but the clock is ticking for team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

[MORE: Samardzija ignores the noise, hopes his future will be with Cubs]

In terms of a Plan B, a major-league source said the Cubs are not planning to go after Santana or Jimenez, two pitchers who would require draft-pick compensation. The Cubs already have their No. 4 overall pick protected, and it’s not just about preserving 2014 bonus-pool money.  

The Cubs considered buying low on Santana last offseason, when he was coming off a down year in which he posted a 5.16 ERA and gave up 39 homers in 178 innings. The Los Angeles Angels were weighing options with Santana and Dan Haren and discussed both pitchers with the Cubs.

A deal that would send Haren to the Cubs for Carlos Marmol fell apart, and the Angels shipped Santana to the Kansas City Royals, where he went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA and accounted for 211 innings.

The 31-year-old Santana is the kind of buy-high pitcher the Cubs are trying to avoid now.

[KAPLAN: Cubs will not be out-bid on Tanaka]

Jimenez, who will turn 30 this month, has been too inconsistent, winning 19 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and losing 17 games for the Cleveland Indians in 2012. But after a strong walk year in Cleveland (13-9, 3.30 ERA), he will get paid somewhere.

As entertaining as it might be, a Garza Show Reunion isn’t happening.

So if the Cubs don’t fire their bullet this winter, they could potentially roll the savings over to next December, when a high-profile group of pitchers could be free agents: Clayton Kershaw; Max Scherzer; Jon Lester; Justin Masterson; Homer Bailey; and James Shields. 

But first the Cubs have to take their shot at Tanaka, who will be the guy everyone’s talking about at next week’s fan convention in downtown Chicago.