When Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer last week told Dave Kaplan that the Cubs would be “involved in the process” of Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka, should he be posted by his team in Japan, there was necessarily a certain level of circumspection. Although Tanaka, what with his free availability, his age (25), and his ability, is certainly a fit for the Cubs, he is a fit for many teams for the same reasons. Teams with deeper pockets. Teams that don’t lose out on bidding wars.
But Hoyer didn’t back down when he arrived at the GM Meetings last night, telling ESPN and CSN that the Cubs “wouldn’t [scout Tanaka] for nothing,” and they plan to be a part of the process. And, to put it in Hoyer’s parlance, I don’t think Hoyer would be saying this publicly for nothing. The Cubs are legitimately interested in making a real attempt to get Tanaka. We can all accept that now. Groovy.
That said, we don’t yet know what the posting process is going to look like (or when it will be resolved). A source tells MLB.com that MLB has submitted a proposal for a revamped posting system to the NPB (the pro league in Japan), and they are simply awaiting a response. (Ken Davidoff reported overnight that the possible resolution will still have the top bidder winning the post (and only the top bidder), but the price will be the average of the top two bids). Until the system is settled, there will be no movement on Tanaka. And, until there’s movement on Tanaka, a number of other offseason moves could be held up.
I can’t help but wonder if the Cubs are hoping the posting process changes sufficiently that there isn’t just one winner of the post. Perhaps, as some have speculated, three teams can “win” if their bid is among the top three, and then each will have the opportunity to negotiate with the player. If that’s the setup, I could see the Cubs being in the top three bids.
But, man, it’s not a lock.
First of all, you’ve got the Yankees, who are – in my mind – the prohibitive favorite for Tanaka. With a posting fee that doesn’t count against the luxury tax cap, the Yankees have infinite money with which to make the posting bid. I see no reason that they will not bid sky-high. The Yankees need pitching as much as the Cubs.
Then you’ve got the Dodgers, who have shown since new ownership took over that they’ll pay any amount for any player. They also want another starting pitcher (because their rotation is so crappy … ), so you can expect a second sky-high bid.
Even if you forgot about the Dodgers and Yankees, there are also the Rangers and Red Sox, who are deep-pocketed and willing to go big on guys like Tanaka. And there’s always another team or two lurking. All of these teams will want Tanaka just as badly as the Cubs. So, if it’s a three-team process, the Cubs might have a chance. But they might not.
That is all to say, I totally buy the Cubs’ involvement in the Tanaka process. And if the posting system changes dramatically, I could even buy the Cubs having a chance to sign him. But, absent an extreme, out-of-pocket commitment by ownership to spend big on the posting fee, I don’t see the Cubs being the top bidder. Imagine that the posting fee is $100 million (not out of the question) – that’s 1/3 the price of the Wrigley Field portion of the renovation plans. Think about that. It’s hard to see ownership making that kind of up-front commitment, given where the revenue streams are right now.