masahiro tanakaAs you no doubt now know, the Rakuten Golden Eagles have decided to allow 25-year-old ace Masahiro Tanaka to come to the United States. The team that signs him will owe Rakuten a $20 million posting fee, but, outside of that, Tanaka is free to sign with any team in MLB. Mark Feinsand reports that the posting will begin today, and the entire process must be concluded by January 24.

Before turning to the actual news and rumors at the outset of the Tanaka chase, I want to discuss the Chicago Cubs’ involvement in the process at a broad level. I also want to be very clear about how likely, or unlikely, the Cubs are to actually sign Tanaka.

The Cubs may have had Tanaka earmarked as their top offseason target since day one. The Cubs may have been squirreling away birthday money and searching in couches for quarters for a year just to save enough money for Tanaka. The Cubs may be set to put on a full-court blitz in selling Tanaka on Chicago and the team. The Cubs may do everything a team can possibly do to land a guy, including offering the most money, and they still might not get him.

In fact, it’s far more likely than not that the Cubs will not get Tanaka.

Even if you believed that the Cubs had a better chance than any other team in baseball to land Tanaka – a stretch – you’re still not going to say that they’ve got a better than 50% chance. That means, even the most optimistic among you should have the Cubs as more likely to fail to get Tanaka than to land him. That’s simply the reality of having many, many interested teams. Although the Cubs are now frequently mentioned as primary suitors, even in national reports, you also regularly see the Yankees, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Angels, Mariners, Red Sox, and Rangers.

If you were spitballing some chances, you might say that the breakdown based on early rumors and perceived attractiveness of destinations is something like:

Yankees – 20%
Dodgers – 20%
Cubs – 15%
Diamondbacks – 10%
Angels – 10%
Mariners – 5%
Red Sox – 5%
Rangers – 5%
Others – 10%

That’s an 85% chance that the Cubs don’t get Tanaka, even if they really, really want to land him and are prepared to step up with a competitive offer.

The front office, assuming they’ve got the money they need, will have its salesmanship tested in this one. Chicago doesn’t offer the glitz of Los Angeles or the prestige of New York. The Cubs have sported terrible teams in recent years, and feature rapidly falling attendance. They’ve got an historic ballpark, but one that isn’t exactly friendly from a player facilities standpoint.

The Cubs will have to lean on things like the tremendous farm system, poised to bear fruit. The history of the organization and the ballpark. The dedication of the fans. The upcoming renovation. The chance to be a part of the team that finally does it. And maybe a little bit more money than the next team. Will that be enough?

Let me ask you: if you were headed to Japan to play ball, how would you choose your team? If the money were in the same ballpark, would you choose the one that everyone knows? The one with the history of winning? The one in the fantastic coastal city? The one with a stacked roster that looks like a sure winner, especially with you on the team?

There are absolutely reasons that the right kind of guy would want to come to the Cubs over the other suitors. But he’s going to have to care about a lot of things that other folks don’t seem to focus on, and he’s going to have to not care about a lot of things that just about everyone says are important.

None of this is to dampen your hopes for Tanaka, or to say that the front office has ahead of it an impossible task. Convincing guys like Tanaka – who perfectly fit The Plan – to sign on, assuming the money is there, is a huge part of their job (and I have a suspicion that they’re among the best at it). I just want to make sure, at the outset of this chase, that everyone has a realistic perspective on the Cubs’ chances here and the headwinds they face.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to obsess about Tanaka over the course of the next month. He’s the top free agent on the market, a perfect fit for the Cubs, a player they’ve said they’ll pursue, and the kind of addition that can mark the start of something new. His story is enormously important – not only for those reasons, but also because his presence is dictating the entire pitching market right now – and I’ll be covering it closely.

(And while we’re being realistic, it’s important to remember: if the Cubs do manage to land Tanaka, he doesn’t make the team a winner in 2014. Even with Tanaka, the Cubs are probably a sub-.500 team in 2014. But they’re potentially looking much, much better for 2015 and beyond.)

  • since52

    I think we can all agree a Tanaka deal would be a blockbuster. Therefore, if I’m Ricketts, I don’t greenlight a Tanaka deal until/unless I know what other blockbuster options I have. I make two columns of 3-4 players/prospects including Shark, Castro,Rizzo, Castillo and shop them for a #1or 1a starter plus other(s). Personally, the first call I’d make would be to the White Sox re Sale. Pulling off a major move like this would create just as much or more buzz than a Tanaka get AND improve the Cubs competitive position. Which I don’t hear much about here.

    A long term (6-8 yrs) expensive (somewhere north of 160 million) Tanaka contract puts the Cubs in pretty much the same boat for 2014 they were in when Theo arrived. We’re still chasing the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates, while we wait for the phenoms. Tanaka gets us somewhere near .500, which means no more top 5 draft picks. Plus, anyone considered if the Cubs did land Tanaka, the cost of re-signing/extending him 4 years down the road?

    If I’m Ricketts, I want to pursue a “last to first” strategy AND long term competitiveness. I DO NOT want gradual improvement and maybe/maybe not sustainabliity. I also don’t want to see my team stuck (again) with bloated contracts negotiated by a FO likely to b working elsewhere.

  • jmc

    I do not care what the Cubs spend or not spend. I would just like to see a winning and interesting team on the field. If they have to spend a gazillion dollars on tanaka fine if the prospects turn out and hustle and remember how many outs there are that’s a plus. The Ricketts family does not care what money I spend on or not spend

    • DarthHater

      Actually, I’m pretty sure the Ricketts family would love for you to spend lots of your money on TD Ameritrade brokerage fees, Cubs tickets, and Wrigley concessions.

  • Willo

    Hi my name is Willo and I am a Cubaholic. Already feeling better getting that off my chest. Last year I fell off the wagon and tried not to be a Cub fan. So, I found BN……such a great site. Now I am a registered Cub fan with BN. Great group therapy sessions. Well anyway….it would be cool if Tanaka signed with the Cubs.

    • DarthHater

      Step One: We admitted we were powerless over the Cubs, that our fandom had become unmanageable…

  • Senor Cub

    Brett – your whole premise is flawed. Your breakdown of chances for the Cubs don’t make much sense either. The Cubs according to you have a 15% chance of getting him while the top team according to you has a 20% chance. This isn’t the NBA lottery where your chances increase by having more balls with your name on it. The chances for any team are 100% chance divided by the # of teams bidding for that player. You are of the assumption that the Yankees and LA have the same equal chances to land him but differentiate every other city. That’s based on what? You don’t know what his trigger points are ( largest Japanese population goes to LA), Coldest City( that would be Chicago), the other big name from Japan( Yu Darvish – Texas). In other words, you have no clue what makes this guy tick.

    Love your stuff but this one I disagree with 100%. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

    • Brett

      I explained where those spitballed percentages came from – they aren’t designed for you to cling to as fact. They’re rough numbers designed only to make the point that the Cubs’ chances, even if they love him, are extremely low. I think the point (which is quite distinct from the “premise”) was well-made – sorry you don’t agree.

      • cub2014

        interestingly MLB rumors did a poll on where
        Tanaka might end up and it was:
        yankees 40%
        dodgers 15%
        cubs 15%
        angels 8%

        • Brett

          Those are fun, but they are the very definition of selection bias.

    • josh

      so you’re THAT guy huh?

  • Moe C

    Yanks have prestige Dodgers have Glitz and Cubs have money hungry owners. If the Cubs had sign Free Agents even if the team has been bad and rebuilt at the same time it shows players, you know what we arent willing to give up a season even if we know we are gonna be bad. It makes it attractive to want to play there cuz then we would be on the verge of turning it around. A successful ballclub is built with prospects/rookies and Veterans. A well balanced team. The Cubs could have done this even if we are rebuilding. Now, even if we throw bags full of money players wont want to come here cuz they know that we arent winning soon and management is all over the place. Look at how many posts brett had of the Cubs looking at certain players, Choo, Ellsbury, Hart, a million relievers and not one wanted to come here. And I feel thats sadly whats going to happened with Tanaka.

    • Voice of Reason

      If the Cubs had money hungry owners then why didn’t they stick with the same formula that worked for the Tribune Company for years?

      That formula was to buy or get a big name bat like Sosa or Soriano and let them hit home runs and lose, BUT still fill the stands. The fans came in by the bus loads and the park had 3 million plus a year! They printed money.

      Why do you think they are turning their back on all those people coming to the ballpark to watch a home run hitter hit home runs? It worked for years?

      Why aren’t they doing that? The Tribune Company made a ton of money with that formula yet the Ricketts are doing it differently and rebuilding. They’re not being cheap at all. It’s costing them millions and millions of dollars.

      • Jon

        Unless they get Tanaka, the Cubs will have a bottom 5 payroll and top 3 ticket prices. Even with lost attendance they are still making money hand over fist.

        Tom Ricketts is Frank McCourt minus the divorce

      • ClevelandCubsFan

        Different day, different post, different response. I agree with you(!); that is a voice of reason.

  • Playoffs!

    I remember reading somewhere that Tanaka was making around 4million per year. If this is the case he wants a big payday and I believe the team that pays the most will sign him.

  • jmc

    I too am a Cubs a holic but I don’t go to meetings because I heard meetings were for quitters.we never quit here at bleacher nation

  • Deacon

    I guess what I find interesting is the ‘comfort level’ factor. Is having fellow Japanese players on the team a pre-requisite? If so, do we know anything about whether he has any past history with Cubs potential teammates like Wada and Fujikawa?

    Would he WANT to be on the same team as Darvish or would he feel like he’s constantly being compared and overvalued?

    Would playing with Ichiro and Kuroda seem appealing or would he view them more as aging players who don’t contribute much to competitiveness?

    Apologize if this has already been addressed on the board.

  • Aaron

    Cubs just found some money in their old pants pockets from 2007. Looks like we can now afford to sign Tanaka. A Christmas miracle!

    • Jon

      This new posting system could not have worked out more perfect for the Cubs. On Monday I’m sure Muskrat will report the Cubs have submitted the 20million entry bid. And they will knowing they will never have to pay it. Then they can half ass an offer and when they lose out brag about how lose they were and award themselves the “participation” trophy

      • Brett

        Given that this will play out like glorified free agency, rather than an opaque, winner-take-all bidding process as in the past, I think you’re quite mistaken about the Cubs’ ability to hide if they don’t seriously pursue.

  • Kevin

    Do we expect to know the exact amount each team is offering during the negotiations?

  • 5412


    The Cubs have something big to offer. Go to the Yankees an win, no big deal. Come to the Cubs and break the curse you will be enshrined.



    • Jon

      Players don’t care about breaking the curse. What a bunch of nonsense

      • mjhurdle

        Every player is different and has different priorities.
        That being said, winning the first World Series with the Cubs in over a century will make a player’s legacy a little more revered than winning somewhere else.
        So while a player may not care specifically about a curse, to some players it may seem attractive to them to be part of the group that finally wins a World Series for the Cubs.
        I’m not sure how much of a selling point that is right now seeing as the Cubs appear a couple years off at least, but i think it does exist.
        At the least, it is debatable and not “nonsense”.

      • TK

        You KNOW this?

        Tanaka has already “made it” as he is an NPB pro, NPB WS hero, earning $4m, etc… in Japan. Why do you think is he coming to MLB???? I think he wants to be challenged. I think he wants to as “great” as possible. I think wants to see just how great he can be, and MLB is the place to find out.

        If that be the case, why would it not be possible for him to be intrigued by what it mean to be one of the key pieces to the Cubs winning a WS. There is no living person who can say they won a WS for the Cubs. Thats a heckuva challenge. Too bad, according to you, he would have no interest in the enshrinement that would along with that feat.

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  • Matthew Buckman

    I’m not sure I agree with the draw to the Yankees. Is there prestige? Sure, of course. But this is an old team with a bad farm system that has had to add a bunch of old free agents just to stay relevant in the east. This team has no clear direction 2-3 years down the road. If I’m a young ballplayer, I question that. The Dodgers have a lot going for them, can’t argue with that. But I do believe the Cubs front office with Ricketts, Theo, and Jed are an excellent team of salesmen and can sell a young phenom on a team with a number of up-and-coming players. And the Cubs have no ace in their farm system, and we’ve seen over the last couple of years that it’s not easy to find an ace, so if the opportunity is presenting itself now, then we’ve got to pounce on it. Why pass on this just to stay in last place and collect a high draft pick? Tanaka is worth more to me than a high draft pick.