The Cubs continue to stockpile pitching while waiting to answer the big offseason questions that revolve around Masahiro Tanaka and Jeff Samardzija.
The Cubs announced minor-league deals with left-handers Tsuyoshi Wada, Jonathan Sanchez and Tommy Hottovy in the middle of Thursday’s echo chamber. That had American media outlets running with a New York Times translation of Japanese newspaper reports: The Rakuten Golden Eagles are supposedly waiting at least another year before releasing Tanaka. Maybe.
Wada – who went 107-61 with a 3.13 ERA and 36 complete games in Japan – didn't live up to the two-year, $8.15 million deal he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and hasn’t made it to the big leagues.
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The Orioles declined a $5 million option for 2014 after Wada went 5-6 with a 4.03 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Norfolk. He will turn 33 in February and go to camp as a starting pitcher.
At the age of 31, Sanchez is trying to reinvent himself as a reliever. He threw a no-hitter for the San Francisco Giants in 2009 and made 31 starts a year later, going 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA and winning a World Series ring. But he’s bounced around five different organizations in the last three seasons.
Hottovy, 32, has made 17 career major-league appearances with the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals. Outfielder Mitch Maier, 31, also got a minor-league deal with an invitation to major-league spring training.
The Cubs have spent this winter waiting to make a run at Tanaka while putting Opening Day starter Samardzija on the trade block. Those are likely the only areas where the Cubs could make a splash.
“We’re obviously focused on trying to time things well and make sure that we have a long continuous winning streak/era,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Trying to ramp that up too quickly (could) be something that really negatively impacts us. And I do think that historically there’s been a lot of moves that have been made for that reason: ‘This is what the fans want.’
“You want to excite the fans in December, (but) you look back over the teams that quote-unquote ‘won the offseason’ and they almost always lost the offseason. I think that’s usually a pretty safe rule. So we’re trying to do what we feel is right for the long-term picture. There’s obviously things we will certainly do for the short-term. But as far as trying to create headlines – trying to win the winter – that’s almost always a fool’s errand.”
The Cubs aren’t going to be this year’s Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Angels or Toronto Blue Jays. But Tanaka – who’s 25 years old and went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season – would be a great long-range fit.
It’s a long shot that could take the Golden Eagles giving in, a nine-figure contract and a $20 million release fee. But Cubs fans will still want to check Google Translate for the latest in Tanaka Watch.