Cubs move on after Tanaka chooses Yankees
Japanese pitcher would have accelerated 'rebuilding' phase, but club undeterred
CHICAGO -- Maybe if Masahiro Tanaka had watched the Arizona Fall League game on Oct. 9, he might have picked the Cubs instead of signing with the Yankees.
On that day, Albert Almora was 4-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs, Jorge Soler drove in three runs, Kris Bryant was 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs and Wes Darvill added a pinch-hit two-run homer for the Mesa Solar Sox.
It was an example of the bright future the Cubs see regarding the prospects in their system.
However, the Cubs do need pitching, which is why president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had hoped to add Tanaka to the mix. Instead, the Japanese pitcher has signed a seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees that includes an opt-out clause after four years.
According to Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network and FoxSports.com, who first reported the deal, the Yankees did separate themselves on Tanaka but not by much, and the Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox and Astros all made offers. All of the bids were believed to be for more than $100 million over six years. Comcast SportsNet Chicago reported that the Cubs offered a six-year, $120 million contract.
Epstein and new manager Rick Renteria were part of the Cubs' contingent that met with Tanaka and his representatives in Los Angeles earlier this month. Epstein did have experience with Japanese pitchers. When he was the Red Sox general manager, Epstein signed Daisuke Matsuzaka. At that time, Boston had to pay more than $51 million in posting fees and then signed Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million deal. The posting fee for Tanaka was $20 million, to be paid over two years.
The Cubs have not spent heavily on free agents this offseason as the team continues its rebuilding process and waits for impact prospects such as Almora, Soler, Bryant and Javier Baez to arrive. Losing out on Tanaka does not mean they now will pursue free-agent pitchers Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza, but they'll most likely shift their focus to who is available after the 2014 season.
Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta headline the Cubs' rotation, with Chris Rusin, Justin Grimm and Carlos Villanueva competing for the final spot. None of them have the glossy stats Tanaka, 25, posted with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, where he was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 212 innings last season.
Last Friday, Samardzija and the Cubs exchanged salary figures as part of the arbitration process. The team offered $4.4 million, while Samardzija asked for $6.2 million. There will be more discussions regarding a long-term deal. Samardzija has made it clear he wants to be part of the Cubs' rebuilding process, even if he doesn't like using that word. Adding Tanaka would've stepped up the process.
"Obviously, it changes that timeline," Samardzija said last Friday about the possible addition of Tanaka. "I've mentioned my frustration with that 'R' [rebuilding] word before. You bring him in and that 'R' word essentially disintegrates."
Epstein hasn't thrown in the towel on the 2014 season.
"This season starting, we don't show up in Spring Training saying, 'Hey, let's get ready for 2000 whatever year down the road,'" Epstein said. "We're trying to compete and win as many games as we can in 2014. We want to show improvement, and we'd love to show a lot of improvement. There's room for improvement.
"We have a lot of talented players on the roster who didn't have their best years last year, and I know they're really committed with the work they've done this offseason to doing better next year," he said, "and we have guys who did make breakthroughs last year, and they want to sustain that progress and build from there."
After losing 197 games over the last two seasons, the future can't come soon enough for the Cubs.
"Being a part of that building process and saying you had your hands in molding it is exciting, too," Samardzija said.
They'll just move on without Tanaka.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.