The Cubs May Want a Big Free Agent Like Masahiro Tanaka, but Will the Money Be There?

wallet cashIf I’ve learned anything from watching the Cubs front office work – and from talking to people in baseball – it’s that this group will always spend money on players if they believe they’re getting good value for the talent. I expect that to be the case once again this offseason.

That quickly rules out Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both are tremendous talents with MVP-level seasons in their past. They’d undoubtedly improve a punchless Cubs lineup and take pressure off the current and future youth from being expected to be offensive saviors. But the fact is those contract negotiations are going to get out of control. Those two stars are going to get too many years and a lot of money. It doesn’t make sense for the Cubs to make those kinds of long-term, over-spending deals at the moment. Yes, I believe there are times when teams should overspend a little to get certain players. This is not that time for the Cubs, and Cano and Ellsbury aren’t those players.

As far as Shin-Soo Choo is concerned, however, he’s exactly the type of player this team loves. He can play multiple positions in the outfield, has a great plate approach that leads to a robust OBP, and hits from the left side, something the Cubs are definitely seeking. If he can be had at the right price for the right number of years, the Cubs should, and will, be very interested.

But, at 31, it’s Choo’s first time hitting the open market. He’s still young enough to cash in on a great season, and I expect him to quickly price himself out of the Cubs’ range. But if somehow the market isn’t as high on him as I believe it will be, and if he’s willing to take a Michael Bourn-like deal (especially if he’s willing to take three years instead of four), then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that the Cubs would be interested.

The fact of the matter is, if the Cubs spend, it will not be for just 2014. Instead, like with the Edwin Jackson signing, they will have 2015-16 in mind. Combine that with the knowledge that the Cubs love the bats in their system, a few of whom are expected to arrive at Wrigley in 2014, and signs point to the Cubs once again making a splash by signing a pitcher.

So then, who would they target? Matt Garza’s not coming back. Hiroki Kuroda and Bartolo Colon would be nice additions, but they’re older and likely looking to catch on with teams that have a higher likelihood of competing immediately. Ervin Santana will be coming off a great year, so it’s doubtful he will come at a price that the Cubs will find as a value (read that as: someone will overpay him).  Josh Johnson, Phil Hughes and Tim Lincecum may end up being nice buy-low names, but their health and/or recent performance hardly makes their potential signings a ‘splash’. Although, I suppose you could argue Lincecum would be a splash based on name recognition alone. (But then I’d counter that he’s not a good candidate to bet on bouncing back and regaining much value.)

If you follow Cubs rumors at all, you probably know where I’m headed with this: Masahiro Tanaka. First let’s reiterate what many have said and what I’ve been told by numerous scouts about the Japanese righty, who will presumably be made available to MLB teams this offseason. Tanaka’s not going to make the same impact as Yu Darvish. That’s not necessarily a knock on Tanaka; it’s just that Darvish is one of a handful of true aces in baseball. That’s a pretty high standard to reach. But by all accounts, Tanaka has the makings of a very good number two in the big leagues and he would fit beautifully near the front of the Cubs rotation.

And yes, the Cubs are very interested. Whether the posting system stays the same this offseason or not, it appears that the Cubs have made Tanaka their primary free agent target. The real story here isn’t whether they will pursue Tanaka. I’ve gotten a pretty strong impression that will happen. The real issue at hand is their ability to spend.

On that end, while I don’t believe the Cubs’ monetary situation is as dire as some have portrayed, I have heard enough whispers that I know the concerns are not non-existent. Right now, I fully believe that these issues are directly tied to the pending Wrigley renovations, but only time will tell if that’s the case.

The Cubs aggressively pursued Anibal Sanchez last December, reportedly going as high as five years at $77.5 million, before he accepted the Tigers offer for $2.5 million more. They then turned their attention elsewhere and spent a decent amount on Jackson.

Did they refuse to go any higher on Sanchez because they no longer felt it would have been a ‘value’ for them, or were they handcuffed by monetary restraints? I tend to lean towards the former, but will admit that it’s very possible, even likely, that the latter had at least some effect on their decision to bow out at that point.

The most frustrating thing about this situation is that we still may not get our answer to this question this offseason. The Cubs have very legitimate reasons not to spend on Ellsbury and Cano, Choo may price himself out of their ‘value’ range, and, with the posting process still not very transparent, if the Cubs don’t land Tanaka, we may never really know just how much a lack of funds may have impacted that decision.

However, a change making the posting system more transparent might allow us to keep tabs on just how aggressive the Cubs are in their pursuit of Tanaka. And if they like him, but are not able to compete with the likes of the Dodgers, Angels and Red Sox monetarily, it could be viewed as a blow to the organization’s rebuild.

It’s one thing not to spend because the front office doesn’t believe that allocating those funds in a particular player isn’t a wise investment. I, as should the fans, embrace such a philosophy. But if Epstein and company want to spend on a player and the money just flat out isn’t available to them, that means they’re being inhibited in their attempt to rebuild this team the best way they know how.

If spending becomes an issue, the reasons why funds are unavailable don’t really matter. Maybe it’s because the Ricketts Family really doesn’t have the money to spend. Or maybe they do, but won’t spend until they’re assured that the revenue generators from the renovation won’t be blocked for whatever reason. The bottom line is, under this scenario, the front office won’t be getting money it believes is necessary to make the franchise competitive in a timely fashion.

That’s what may be most disconcerting about the delays in the renovations process. Whether you believe the Ricketts’ claim that the team needs the ad revenue to spend like a big market team isn’t of concern. The fact is, the owners are saying that’s the case. So not only is the process of improving Wrigley being stunted, but it’s possible the product on the field may be slower to improve as well.

We may get more information this offseason. We may not.

Sahadev Sharma is, among other things, a contributor at Bleacher Nation. Follow him on Twitter @sahadevsharma.

110 responses to “The Cubs May Want a Big Free Agent Like Masahiro Tanaka, but Will the Money Be There?”

  1. wilbur

    This is also the other wilbur. Having money to spend on free agents like tanaka does’t mean you want to be used as leverage in a bidding war, or to overspend by gettng caught up in some bidding war, or even that unlike some teams like the dodgers and maybe the yankees, there is actually pressure for you to overspend based on your known revenues. The cubs don’t have that pressure and don’t need to spend to appease or justify anything. That doesn’t mean they won’t be players in contention for players, and in the upper echelon of teams that can do this. Just means they don’t have to make bad deals or wasteful signings that wind up settnig back their rebuilding efforts. If they think Tanaka is the real deal and will translate to the mlb, then I would expect them to be bidders. But if the Dodgers go after him too then the cubs may not outspend them. They don’t have billions of tv money burning a hole in their pocket. Who knows maybe Tanaka prefers the dodgers and wouldn’t be as signable by the cubs.

    I believe that when the cubs try to acquire their TOR pitcher it will be by trade, at least in the near term. Post stadium redo, and post media deals, that may all change. I could also see them doing something like going extra after Tanaka and trading Shark for another pitcher. the thing is they are likely to be considering making these types of moves now, not in two or three years, that makes getting a different manager less of a problem for a rebuilding team.

  2. stevie

    This offseason all i want is for us to trade for Cargo, sign Lincecum, and Sweeney, maybe grab somebody who’s value goes down through the free agency period like Bournes did last offseason. Lincecum’s value won’t be as high as it once was, so we should get good value there. We’ll have to give up a bit to get Cargo, but it’ll be worth it to get a bat like that in the lineup. I’d like to see us grab another decent hitting OF, who’s value drops as the offseason wears on. With these additions, plus maybe Baez around June, we could be a decent to good team, IMO.

    I do think that Shark will be moved, maybe in the Cargo deal. But a rotation of Lincecum, Wood, Jackson, Arrieta, and maybe Rusin, we should have a decent rotation, the bullpen will be improved with the guys we’ve added this season. The lineup should be improved as well. I expect both Castro and Rizzo to bounce back, Lake should continue to hit, and Baez will add some thump when he comes up, add Cargo to the lineup and we’ll be better. I think Olt will be at 3rd, and i expect he’ll be at least an improvement over what we’ve had at the position, with more power. We could have a lineup with good power, and improve offensively.

    1. Eric

      No thanks on Lincecum. He’s obviously not the pitcher he once was and will likely be overpaid. If the front office believes in Tanaka’s talent I’d rather they go all in on him. Fits the rebuild much better.

      For those who keep suggesting the Cubs leave Wrigley, let it go. It’s not going to happen nor should it.

    2. Drew7

      “I think Olt will be at 3rd, and i expect he’ll be at least an improvement over what we’ve had at the position, with more power.”

      What makes you think that? They got a .727 OPS and 3.4 WAR from 3B this year, while Olt posted a .684 OPS in the minors.

      1. Mike F

        Yeah, Mike Olt is a case in point, pencil him in or pencil him out of the organization. Olt once he we supposedly was better came to the Iowa Cubs hit nothing struck out consistently and didn’t generate power. Point in fact they sent him home early, rather than do as they did with Jackson. No one can say he won’t, but similarly no one can say Vitters or Jackson won’t be here next year either. He is a big time project, and if you get enough of them you end up with a junk yard.

  3. jt

    Cubs 2013 OPS by position through 9/26
    Implied form of 0.xxx
    c 786
    1B 739
    2B 578
    3B 751
    SS 620
    LF 749
    CF 738
    RF 749
    Catcher only maintained to that level if Navarro resigned
    1B Most believe Rizzo will improve
    2B Ridiculous
    SS Most believe Castro will improve 100 points
    3B Scrap heap will not be as nice; steep decline
    LF Probable decline with present options
    CF Probable decline with present options
    RF Schierholtz decline RH platoon increase…about the same

  4. Theo Epstein

    Cue Scotti boy saying that the budget for Ricketts’ team is primarily Theo’s decision.

  5. another JP

    I don’t doubt that Tanaka would be a great pick-up, but not for this team right now. If I’m Ricketts and I want to know what will bring fans to Wrigley would a FA that might be worth a couple extra wins from Japan be someone to pay and see? And that leads to my next point- who ARE the guys that will draw fans to the park? Even though the Cubs teams sucked in the 70s they always had some entertaining players or announcers that could keep me interested. I like Pat Hughes, but Keith Moreland bores the hell out of me. The TV announcers need a couple more years together to develop viewer loyalty IMO. Would Giancarlo Stanton bring people to Wrigley?? Perhaps- but how many top prospects do we give up for that luxury? Pay $20-25M/yr. for Cano or another high-priced FA and you’ll end up with Soriano level performance in 4-5 years and an immovable contract. It’s my feeling our best coming attractions are Javy Baez & Kris Bryant. If they come anywhere close to doing what they’ve accomplished thus far, Cub fans will return to the park. The wins are necessary but these guys look like future stars– I definitely would pay to see them both play.

    1. Professor Snarks

      I hope the FO doesn’t have to do anything just to increase attendance. They need to stay the course, at least through 2014. If they don’t, it could set us back. Getting young talent, like a Stanton or Tanaka, is fine. that fit’s the plan. Overpaying for a few ‘name’ free agents just for attendance purposes will only delay the rebuild. Same goes for their manager decision. if they feel someone else fits their needs more than Sveum, I’m okay with them making the change. If they do it just because Girardi, or whoever, will bring in more in attendance, then we are in trouble.

  6. Mike F

    One thing that has been consistently overlooked in Heyman’s article is that he indicates they may be ahead of where the public perceives and more ready to compete than most expect. I think they are actually with what they have done at least a year and if you include the 2011 draft maybe 2 ahead. The major league roster holes in the 1-5 hole slot. You could argue 1,3, and 4. Seems to me, the thing most here and elsewhere fail to come grips with is just how horrific the top of the line-up is. It might the worst of modern Cub history. But a leadoff hitter and legitimate 3 or 4 hole hitter would change that in a hurry. Jacoby would fit a lot better in the 1 or 3 hole than people here give him credit for. And in add in a trade for a legitimate bat this team could legitimately compete, not necessarily contend, but compete. Then again if we refuse to budge and put our eggs in the Castro / Rizzo basket, don’t expect a lot more.

    One more thing, I think people unfairly criticize them on the international front. They went the huge posting fee and big $ on dice k and we know the results. They were reasonable on Darvish, Cespedes, Puig and others. I don’t fault them on any of them. And we expect way too much too early from Soler, he is still a legitimate great prospect who has incredible natural power and bat speed.

  7. Ivy Walls

    I first heard of the possibility from a close friend of a MLB retired manager who said that Girardi would give his “left” acorn for the right deal to return, it goes well beyond the professional obvious, in that most MLB believe that after this rough spot the Cubs future is very strong. There are big family and post MLB career considerations.

    Now I see the stars aligning.

    As for next years roster don’t assume anything.

    1. ssckelley

      I think the Cubs should be able to work out a deal where he gets to keep his left acorn and still manage the Cubs.

      1. kscubfan

        That made me laugh thanks needed it this morning

  8. Lukewarm Stove: Tanaka, Ellsbury, Arroyo, Scherzer, Saltalamacchia, Price, Cano, More | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    […] pitcher Masahiro Tanaka – the 24-year-old righty who could be posted this offseason, and who makes a lot of sense for the Cubs – they’re going to have serious competition. George King says the Yankees will be big […]

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