Tanaka situation impacts the Samardzija market


Sep 17, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher

Jeff Samardzija

reacts after giving up a 2-run home run to Milwaukee Brewers center fielder

Carlos Gomez

(not pictured) in the seventh inning at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

While the attention of many remains locked on the ongoing saga of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and the impact of new posting rules and bid maximums on his potential arrival in Major League Baseball, several promising big league arms – including the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija – are stuck in a holding pattern.

The 25-year-old Tanaka went a perfect 24-0 last season in 27 starts for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, posting an unthinkable 1.27 earned run average. Over the course of seven seasons in Japan, Tanaka has gone 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA, tossing complete games in 53 of his 172 starts.

For obvious reasons, several organizations throughout MLB have been watching the Tanaka situation with increased interest – including the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and – if rumors are true – the Chicago Cubs.

During a recent interview, Theo Epstein said he didn’t like to discuss details of particular players, but said that the organization could pursue Tanaka – or any other player – based on the needs of the team at this time.

As we all know – this team needs a lot.

The changes to the posting system, which were reportedly approved by NPB earlier today, have left a sour taste in the mouth of Golden Eagles President Yozo Tachibana, according to reports by Sponichi – which were reiterated in a recent Los Angeles Times piece by Dylan Hernandez.

“We have an obligation to explain to our stakeholders whether it’s fair,” said Tachibana. When pushed on what the team’s next step could be if it is determined to not be fair, he replied by saying, “There’s a possibility we won’t take the next step.”

So, hypothetically, say Tanaka doesn’t get posted. By the way, this is a very realistic outcome. Prior to the changes to the posting system, the bids to fetch negotiating rights with the right-hander were expected to be in the range of $75 million. Now, the maximum bid is $20 million – which leaves a significant financial shortcoming for Japanese clubs – especially those with prime talent like Tanaka.

Back to where we were; should the Japanese ace not come to Major League Baseball this offseason, the market for the ‘next’ level of pitchers, including Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jeff Samardzija, will likely heat up in a hurry. All three of these pitchers widely regarded as being a notch below both David Price and Tanaka, but in a thin market, are expected to draw interest of several teams.

Samardzija, who is entering his age 29 season, had a down-year across the ‘major’ statistical categories in 2013, going 8-13 with a 4.34 earned run average. That being said, he did make 33 starts – a career high – pitching 213.2 innings and striking out 214 batters, which ranked fourth among National League pitchers.

The two teams that have been tied to the right-hander most often this offseason include the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Toronto Blue Jays. Neither team has been reported to put forward an official offer for the Cubs’ ace, but there is also a sentiment that most of the teams in the market for pitching this winter are  playing the waiting game as the Tanaka situation resolves itself in the coming weeks.

As we head into next week’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, the pitching market could heat up. Expect the Cubs to continue gauging interest in the young workhorse, although they admittedly would like to ink Samardzija long-term.