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

Social Navigation

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

Chicago Cubs

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.

Author: Sahadev Sharma

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