An Honest Look: Tanaka in Chicago


The winter months can be tough on baseball fans.

With no on field action and often little to no activity emerging from the front office of your favorite team, fans are left hungry for relevant baseball content. I feel your pain, fellow Cubs fans.

Amidst all the offseason commotion, Masahiro Tanaka has emerged as the best baseball story for writers and fans alike. The unpredictable nature of the story coupled with high stakes bidding and rumor infested chatter is enough to scratch the itch that so many fans long for during the shadowy winter months.

Dec 12, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer talks with reporters after the Rule 5 Draft during the MLB Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Mandatory Credit:

David Manning


If you keep up with the Cubs and this Cubs blog in particular, you already know that the North Siders are in line to make a serious bid for Tanaka’s services. A quality investment it seems, considering he’s sighted at being a no. 2-3 starter almost immediately.

Of course such investments come with a hefty price tag and this one is no different. Tanaka’s posing fee will certainly hit the $20 million international cap and teams will have to dig deep to afford his $17 million/year asking salary. Suddenly, Tanaka is a little too rich for some team’s blood.

It begs the question: Is Tanaka a viable fit in Chicago? There is no doubt that he would be a great fit in between Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson but the economics need to play out as well. The Cubs are slightly strapped for cash in 2014 and even a looming TV contract, whose value is massively inflated and could see the bubble burst at anytime, does not offer any sort of financial security guarantee for the future.

The Cubs already have $54.5 million committed in 2014, $27 million of which is split between Alfonso Soriano and Edwin Jackson. That’s almost a third of the Cubs projected payroll in 2014 (which I don’t see exceeding $105 million) sunk, half of which to a player who is now in Yankee pinstripes. When you add another $17 million for Tanaka in 2014, you’re now in the $70 million dollar range which doesn’t leave a ton of wiggle room in the budget.

What about an MLB source’s comments that the Cubs would “not be outbit” for Tanaka’s services? Doesn’t this hold any klout?

The Cubs could certainly afford Tanaka’s services on paper, but when you consider the nature of the Cubs’ front office, it seems like a “compete now” type of move. The Cubs aren’t quite in “compete now” mode and wont be until they see some of their core prospects flourish in to MLB starters. To go and buy up such an illustrious player at such an exorbitant price seems to be a bold move which doesn’t fit “the plan”. It’s not impossible for the Cubs to have Tanaka, but the opportunity cost is massive.

These comments could be a ploy to drive the price on Tanaka through the roof. If you can get your competitors to blow their cash, there’s more breathing room in the market for yourself later on. Who knows – Tanaka could be another “Dice-K” and fizzle out after a few years, leaving his team with a tainted contract. The Cubs fit the buyer model for Tanaka and to play such a devilish cash game, posing as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, also seems a little farfetched.

Regardless of your beliefs, the Dodgers and Yankees both have the cash to sign Tanaka without hesitation, whereas the Cubs will go in to negotiations without the same weight to throw around. Factor in the rumors that Tanaka wants to be part of a competing team on the west coast and suddenly Chicago isn’t a front runner for his services. If the Cubs have to pay more than other teams for Tanaka’s services simply because he doesn’t want to be here, is the value in the deal still there?

I would love to have Tanaka on this roster but I’m not holding my breath.