Yankees blow away Cubs in Tanaka sweepstakes

Yankees blow away Cubs in Tanaka sweepstakes
January 23, 2014, 3:30 am
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For all the Twitter buzz and wishing thinking by Cubs fans, the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes had a predictable ending.

Tanaka will be wearing pinstripes after agreeing to a seven-year, $155 million megadeal with the New York Yankees, sources confirmed Wednesday, giving the Evil Empire a top-of-the-rotation piece to build around in The Bronx.

The Cubs made a final bid at six years and $120 million, according to a source close to the negotiations. That did not include the $20 million release fee that must be paid to the Rakuten Golden Eagles, the franchise that watched Tanaka go 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and save Game 7 in the Japan Series last season.

[MORE: Masahiro Tanaka signs with Yankees]

Leading up to Friday’s deadline, agent Casey Close had kept the process exceptionally confidential. The Cubs had viewed the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers as their primary competition, believing those big-money teams would make Tanaka an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The Cubs do not see Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza as a Plan B, according to a source familiar with their thinking. But they will likely sign another lower-level free-agent pitcher or two – think someone like Jason Hammel – when a market frozen by the Tanaka negotiations begins to thaw.

That’s not what the fan base wants to hear, especially after sitting through those Cubs Convention speeches that made it sound like the Ricketts family was about to green-light the $500 million Wrigleyville project.

Those marathon negotiations with the rooftop owners are nowhere close to “the finish line” president of business operations Crane Kenney mentioned last weekend. By Wednesday morning, City Hall reporters framed talks between the team and its rooftop partners as collapsing.

[RELATED: Cubs hit another roadblock in dispute with Wrigley rooftops]

This was bad timing for an organization that talks a lot about the business and baseball plans lining up in the future.

With a payroll now projected to come in significantly under $100 million, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had acknowledged keeping “our powder dry” for a major move this winter, while also preparing to shift that money to next offseason and another class of free agents when Tanaka signed elsewhere.

Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Homer Bailey and James Shields are among the frontline pitchers positioned to become free agents after the 2014 season. While the Cubs have stockpiled a deep group of position players – headlined by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora – that elite farm system lacks immediate-impact starting pitchers.

[RELATED: Hahn liked Tanaka process even though White Sox came up short

During a recent meeting in Southern California, the Cubs tried to sell the 25-year-old Tanaka on how he would fit into the long-range business/baseball plans at a renovated Wrigley Field.

Chairman Tom Ricketts, general manager Jed Hoyer and new manager Rick Renteria joined Epstein for the sit-down, explaining through interpreters where the organization is going after 197 losses in the last two seasons and four consecutive fifth-place finishes.

The Yankees responded to missing the playoffs for only the second time since 1995 by blowing up their plans to get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold. Fox Sports, which first broke the news, also reported Tanaka will be able to opt out of the contract after his fourth year with the Yankees, when he would still be an under-30, in-his-prime free agent.

[ALSO: David Ortiz believes Theo will bring a World Series to Cubs]

That would have been an impossible give for the Cubs, who are likely projecting at least two more bridge years before becoming real contenders. A major-league source said it never got to the point where the Cubs were asked to change their policy of not giving out no-trade clauses.

This timeline means the Cubs will likely move Jeff Samardzija around the July 31 trade deadline. Samardzija will be a free agent after the 2015 season and had viewed landing Tanaka as a sign the organization would be serious about winning sooner rather than later.

Tanaka joins Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran as part of a massive spending spree that will cost $458 million and counting. That clubhouse already includes Japanese stars Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda.

In the end, the Yankees usually get what they want. They now have another box-office draw for Yankee Stadium, a prime-time attraction on their YES Network and a realistic shot at their 28th World Series title.