You probably didn’t need a sourced report to know that the Chicago Cubs would be seriously investigating the possibility of bidding on Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka if he’s posted by his team this offseason. Tanaka is expected to be posted, and is expected to command a post and a contract in the range of what Yu Darvish received two years ago ($51.7 million post, six-year, $56 million contract).
If you did need a sourced report to know the Chicago Cubs would be seriously investigating the possibility of bidding on Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka if he’s posted by his team this offseason, Phil Rogers has it for you. Rogers says Major League sources indicate Tanaka is the “top priority” for the Cubs this offseason. Bruce Levine has also said in the past that he’s heard Tanaka is the Cubs’ top target, for what it’s worth.
Tanaka, who turns 25 later this week (we share a birthday! … and he’s seven years my junior … le sigh), has dominated the NPB for the past few years, recording a sub-2.00 ERA each of the past three season. This year, including the playoffs, he’s 25-0, which is going to get much more play than it merits (because, you know, W/L record sucks). In 212 regular season innings, he struck out 183 (which is actually a healthy drop in strikeout rate from recent years), and walked 32. His ERA was 1.27. He will be the “top priority” for a great many teams, I’d expect.
As for the actual process of landing Tanaka, it could be substantially different this time around than posts in the past. You’ll recall that, previously, when a Japanese team wanted to “sell” a player to a team in MLB, they would go through the posting system. In that system, interested MLB teams would submit a blind bid for the right to negotiate with that player. The winning team would have a certain period of time to negotiate a contract, and, if completed, the Japanese team would then receive the posting bid. If no deal is worked out, the money is returned to the MLB team.
As constructed, the system was designed to get MLB teams to bid against themselves (look no further than the Yu Darvish post, which exceeded $50 million by the Rangers, but for which the teams in second and third were believed to have bid somewhere in the $20 million range), thus transferring more money to the Japanese team. I get it. If I were that Japanese team, I’d love this system.
The players, however, as you might expect, hate the system. It reduces their negotiating ability, and shifts money that would otherwise go to them instead to their home team. MLB teams also don’t much care for the rule, for obvious reasons.
We’ve heard for months now that the system might be revisited this offseason, and Joel Sherman reports that one possibility – just a possibility – would have as many as three teams “winning” the post, and the player would then be able to choose one of those teams with which to negotiate. A system like this would not only give more teams an opportunity to land the player, but would also artificially drive down posting bids (if you knew you had to fall only in the top three, you’re not going to bid quite as outrageously as you would if you knew you had to have the top bid).
(It seems to me that the best system could involve the Japanese team setting a posting price, and any team that is willing to meet it can have the right to negotiate with the player. Then, whichever team – of the teams that met the posting price – actually signs the player will pay the posting price to the Japanese team. The losing teams do not lose their money. Alternatively, you could have a posting system where the posting bids go to the Japanese team regardless of who wins the post. The winning team is the only one that can negotiate with the player, though. In this system, posting bids would go way down, but the total yield to the Japanese team could be comparable to what it is in the past. The winning team could get a bargain (but the second place team could lose a whole lot of cash for nothing). I like it.)
Pending those changes – which could dramatically alter the bidding approach – I don’t see a scenario where Tanaka does not command a total commitment nearing or exceeding what Darvish did. No, Tanaka is not believed to be the ace-level pitcher that Darvish has proved to be, but the market has changed dramatically in the last two years. To deny that fact and cling to your old assumptions of what kinds of contracts are reasonable is to bury your head in the sand and be passed up. As we’ve watched what has happened to contracts over the last two offseasons – in tandem with the new CBA’s changes to free agency, and exploding television revenues – there is a clear, upward trend. It was striking after 2011. It was shocking after 2012. And after this season? How would you describe the Tim Lincecum contract? I would call it paradigm-shifting. There is a new normal now, and elite, prime age talent like Tanaka is going to command huge dollars, even if he doesn’t compare to Darvish.
The Cubs should come ready to pay the price of poker, or bow out early. I’m not particularly interested in hearing that they lodged a bid that no one expected would be competitive.