On Friday morning, we learned, from Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports, that the Cubs were making a strong push to sign free agent starter Masahiro Tanaka. This news came as a bit of a surprise for a team that probably won't have a chance to win in 2014 or 2015, but has a farm system stocked with some of the best hitting prospects in baseball, namely Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and others. What they are lacking is pitching prospects, with only C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson among their top 10 prospects in the system.
On Saturday morning, we learned from Bruce Levine from sports radio station 670TheScore that the Cubs had made a "real offer" for Tanaka. What "real offer" means is subject to interpretation, but I imagine if they had interest, an offer would have been submitted. It is quite possible the team made him a sizable offer, possibly one that he cannot turn down. Time will tell.
Then we got this tweet from Levine on Saturday afternoon:
MLB source believes Cubs are lead team for Tanaka .— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) January 18, 2014
Signing Tanaka would give the Cubs the starting pitcher that can slot in at the top of their rotation, providing them with a starter who they can build their future rotation around. Current starter Jeff Samardzija is a solid starter, but not someone you can build around, as he is more of a 2-3 starter right now. Samardzija turns 29 next week, so by the time the Cubs are ready to win, he would probably be age 31-32. Meanwhile, Tanaka is only 25 years old, so he would be in his late 20's when the Cubs are ready to win.
I recently ranked Tanaka as my #34 ranked starting pitcher for 2014, behind Johnny Cueto and C.J. Wilson and just ahead of Jon Lester and Kris Medlen. I wrote this article on Tanaka back in early November, comparing his performance in Japan to that of Rangers ace Yu Darvish. Tanaka's performance in Japan was just as good as Darvish's performance, so there is a slight chance, he could be just as good. He doesn't throw as many pitches as Darvish does, but does throw a devastating splitter as his out pitch.
Other teams involved in the Tanaka sweepstakes include the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Yankees and White Sox, among others. We heard earlier this week that Tanaka prefers to play in either New York, Los Angeles or Boston, but it appears the Red Sox are not heavily interested in him at this point. I also heard that Tanaka wants to live in a city with a large Japanese presence, so New York and Los Angeles fit that requirement. In addition, I heard that Tanaka's wife wants to live on the West Coast, so Los Angeles could be seen as the favorite. If Tanaka wants to win right away, Los Angeles and New York appear to be the right fit, with the Diamondbacks as well. If he is willing to wait to win, Chicago also has a real chance to win the bidding.
I fully expect that Tanaka will wait till Friday's January 24th deadline to announce his decision, as you never know if a team enters the bidding at the last minute with a huge offer that he cannot refuse. That, and we will probably hear that several teams have upped their offers, or submitted their final offers, for Tanaka sometime this week.
Whoever wins the bidding will probably be getting him for at least the next six years with an AAV that exceeds $20 million per year.
Who do you think wins the bidding for Tanaka? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Update: Sunday 8:42am
Late last night, Gordon Wittmeyer, Cubs beat writer for the Chicago Sun Times tweeted the following on the Cubs interest in Tanaka:
Beware reports suggesting Cubs have high offer on table for Tanaka or that he's favoring Cubs. Multiple sources say Cubs remain long shots.— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) January 19, 2014
So, it remains to be seen whether the Cubs interest in Tanaka is real or not.