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December 2013

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How "In" Will the Cubs be on Masahiro Tanaka

Written by , Posted in General

Yesterday, Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball League agreed to a new posting agreement. Previously, teams made blind bids to the Japanese team posting the player, and the highest bidder won exclusive rights to negotiate with the Japanese player. For example, when the Rangers signed Yu Darvish, they paid a $51.7 million posting fee to the Nippon Ham Fighters. At that point, Darvish had two options: (1) sign with the Rangers; or (2) return to Japan. He eventually signed with the Rangers for 6 years and $60 million.

Under the new system, the maximum posting fee is $20 million, but every team willing to pay the posting fee can then negotiate with the player as if he were a free agent. While the posting fee will be lower, presumably the salaries will get higher for the premier posted players. As a note, only the team that actually signs the player pays the posting fee.

This offseason, the premier Japanese player is right handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Now, no talent evaluator thinks Masahiro Tanaka has the same ceiling as Yu Darvish, who is a true ace no matter your definition of “number 1 pitcher.” Tanaka is likely more a guy who tops out as a 2, which is still immensely valuable. Despite that, most thought Tanaka’s posting fee plus salary would total more than Darvish’s even if the old system was still in effect for three reasons. First, the total Darvish money was depressed because of the debacle that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s contract became after the injuries piled up. Second, Darvish’s success will have the reverse effect on Tanaka’s deal. Third, there is just more money in baseball now than two years ago due to new television deals.

Whether the new system will reduce the total money has yet to be seen, but it is unlikely. While the posting fees will be lower, having multiple teams compete against each other to sign the player after the posting phase will increase the player’s salary. Despite Tanaka not having the Darvish ceiling, as an at least solid mid-rotation pitcher who is available via quasi-free agency with a significant history of success against the best players in the world who are not in the Major Leagues, he is still a rarity in baseball as a 25 year old who can be obtained through free agency. Most believe that, on top of the posting fee, Tanaka will obtain a contract for 5 to 6 years for around $100 million, and potentially exceeding that amount.

Once the new posting agreement and Tanaka’s likelihood of being posted hit the news wires on Monday, Buster Olney quickly Tweeted that the Cubs are expected to be heavily in on Tanaka. But what exactly does “heavily” mean in this context? Will the Cubs honestly open up the checkbook to that extent?

They very well could. First, the new posting system helps the Cubs, at least to the extent it will limit the ability of the Yankees to get involved. Posting fees do not count towards the luxury tax, but salary does. Second, Tanaka is precisely the sort of player the Cubs have said they would spend money on: someone who will still be in his prime when the Cubs are ready to compete.

I’m not saying the Cubs will get Tanaka, but we all know a lot of Cubs fans will, rightly or wrongly, judge the success of this offseason on whether or not the Cubs sign Tanaka. To some extent, the Cubs may be looking at it the same way.

  • Doc Raker

    Let’s look at his stats so we have an idea of what we are really talking about. Tanaka just turned 25 in November. He has pitched for 7 years in Japan averaging about 180 innings per season while toping 200 IP twice in 2013 and 2011. He had an outstanding year in 2013 going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. He is 6-2 205. He likes sushi, summer drives to the beach in convertibles and romance movies, he always brings kleenex to the movie theatre.

    I certainly would not want the Cubs to tie their financial hands over him but he may be worth a serious run. This free agent feeding frenzy most probably means a club will over pay for him and I never like to over pay for players, see Soriano A, Zambrano C. If he will sign for $15M per for 4 years I would sign him, $100M for 5 years no.

    • Noah_I

      While I don’t necessarily disagree with you (if the total deal including posting fee ends up being something like $100-$120 million over 5-7 years, that’s a lot of money to put towards one player who is not viewed as a potential ace), there is a rarity issue that comes into play here, being that you don’t often have a chance to sign a free agent to a deal that should solely, or nearly solely, encompass his prime years. The Soriano deal started in Soriano’s age 31 season, and it should have been known that for at least the last half of that deal Soriano was likely to be in decline (the fact that the decline started in year 3 made it hurt more, despite his somewhat resurgence in the last 2 seasons). The Zambrano deal, to me, was a misread of Zambrano’s actual talent as a pitcher. He really never got above a 2/1 strikeout ratio, and his 2006 was only mediocre and showed signs of a decline starting. Zambrano was really an innings eating 3 in a good rotation at that point, and he got paid like a fringe 1. I trust the current organization’s ability to evaluate which players are worth the big deals and which aren’t more than the last, but as with Dice-K (very good his first two seasons, very injured after that), these things are unpredictable.

      Let me put it this way: if the deal gets near or in 9 figures, and the Cubs do sign Tanaka, I’ll be excited to have him but concerned about the effects the contract could have on the future. If the deal gets near or in 9 figures and the Cubs don’t sign him, I’ll be slightly bummed in one way because I think he would make the team significantly better throughout the course of the contract (barring injury), but also will be glad the Cubs will have retained the payroll flexibility for 2015, 2016, 2017 and beyond.

      • Doc Raker

        True, he is young and in his prime which is rare for a FA, especially out of Japan since previous Japanese FA’s had to play for 9 years before earning GA status. Tanaka has played 7. He will be grossly over paid which means the Cubs will not get him.

        Did someone mention Rich Hill? He can develop into a nice lefty, let’s bring him up along with Hee Sop Choi for left field.

    • Doug S.

      Sorry, romance movies and kleenex are the deal breakers.

  • Doc Raker

    Let’s look at his stats so we have an idea of what we are really talking about. Tanaka just turned 25 in November. He has pitched for 7 years in Japan averaging about 180 innings per season while toping 200 IP twice in 2013 and 2011. He had an outstanding year in 2013 going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. He is 6-2 205. He likes sushi, summer drives to the beach in convertibles and romance movies, he always brings kleenex to the movie theatre.

    I certainly would not want the Cubs to tie their financial hands over him but he may be worth a serious run. This free agent feeding frenzy most probably means a club will over pay for him and I never like to over pay for players, see Soriano A, Zambrano C. If he will sign for $15M per for 4 years I would sign him, $100M for 5 years no.

    • Noah_I

      While I don’t necessarily disagree with you (if the total deal including posting fee ends up being something like $100-$120 million over 5-7 years, that’s a lot of money to put towards one player who is not viewed as a potential ace), there is a rarity issue that comes into play here, being that you don’t often have a chance to sign a free agent to a deal that should solely, or nearly solely, encompass his prime years. The Soriano deal started in Soriano’s age 31 season, and it should have been known that for at least the last half of that deal Soriano was likely to be in decline (the fact that the decline started in year 3 made it hurt more, despite his somewhat resurgence in the last 2 seasons). The Zambrano deal, to me, was a misread of Zambrano’s actual talent as a pitcher. He really never got above a 2/1 strikeout ratio, and his 2006 was only mediocre and showed signs of a decline starting. Zambrano was really an innings eating 3 in a good rotation at that point, and he got paid like a fringe 1. I trust the current organization’s ability to evaluate which players are worth the big deals and which aren’t more than the last, but as with Dice-K (very good his first two seasons, very injured after that), these things are unpredictable.

      Let me put it this way: if the deal gets near or in 9 figures, and the Cubs do sign Tanaka, I’ll be excited to have him but concerned about the effects the contract could have on the future. If the deal gets near or in 9 figures and the Cubs don’t sign him, I’ll be slightly bummed in one way because I think he would make the team significantly better throughout the course of the contract (barring injury), but also will be glad the Cubs will have retained the payroll flexibility for 2015, 2016, 2017 and beyond.

      • Doc Raker

        True, he is young and in his prime which is rare for a FA, especially out of Japan since previous Japanese FA’s had to play for 9 years before earning GA status. Tanaka has played 7. He will be grossly over paid which means the Cubs will not get him.

        Did someone mention Rich Hill? He can develop into a nice lefty, let’s bring him up along with Hee Sop Choi for left field.

    • Doug S.

      Sorry, romance movies and kleenex are the deal breakers.

  • Jedi

    Jim Hendry finally got Brian Roberts.

    • PLCB3

      LMAO. Only 5 years too late. When he could have been had for Rich Hill and Ronny Cedeno. Oops.

      • Noah_I

        Although, in fairness, Hendry probably would have immediately given Roberts a 6 year extension upon signing him, so at least we dodged that bullet.

        Outside of my sad attempt at humor, however, I’m not positive how much of a difference Roberts would have made to the 2008 Cubs because they got very good production at 2B (DeRosa and Fontenot combined for 6.9 fWAR that season, although at least a win or so of DeRosa’s value probably came at other positions.) For 2008, it’s all speculation that Roberts could have done anything to make the series against the Dodgers any different. In 2009, though, he would have made a significantly bigger difference, when Cubs’ second basemen were right about replacement level and Roberts was worth 3.4 wins, according to FanGraphs. That would have put the Cubs at 86 or 87 wins, which on its own would not have been enough to make the playoffs, but could have resulted in some other moves that would have made the Cubs more competitive down the stretch and could have alleviated some of the issues related to Ramirez’s injury that season.

      • PLCB3

        I blame it on Hasbro. We were in first place in August that year and Hasbro ended up destroying the team.

      • Jedi

        Those months with .911 OPS & .427 OBP will kill ya.

      • Noah_I

        Yeah, I think Milton Bradley is an easy scapegoat in some ways. Was he a bad decision at that contract? Completely. Was he a clubhouse cancer? Totally. But the real difference in the Cubs from 2008 to 2009 were: (1) Alfonso Soriano went from a 4 win player to a replacement level player; (2) the cubs got about 6 wins less in value from second base in 2009 than they did in 2008; (3) Ramirez’s injury; and (4) Geovany Soto was worth 2.5 wins less in 2009 than he was in 2008. Even without adding the loss from Ramirez’s injury, that’s about 12 wins off the board from the 2008 team to the 2009 team.

      • PLCB3

        Do you think Adam Dunn would have been better than Hasbro?

      • Noah_I

        I think the extent to which Adam Dunn would have been a disaster in right field cannot be overstated. Was Dunn a better hitter at that point? Yes. Was and is Dunn a better clubhouse presence? Yes. Would Adam Dunn have turned the 2009, 2010 or 2011 Cubs into a playoff team? I doubt it, although at least in 2011 the Cubs could have shifted him to 1B, where he is just terrible defensively as opposed to awful to epic proportions.

      • Are you saying Detroit needs one more arm or one more bat? Which was it?

      • PLCB3

        Homer, Lenny, Carl, Barney, Sam, and Larry, 6 guys who cause 91% of all traffic accidents in Springfield has the answer

  • Jedi

    Jim Hendry finally got Brian Roberts.

    • AC0000000

      LMAO. Only 5 years too late. When he could have been had for Rich Hill and Ronny Cedeno. Oops.

      • Noah_I

        Although, in fairness, Hendry probably would have immediately given Roberts a 6 year extension upon signing him, so at least we dodged that bullet.

        Outside of my sad attempt at humor, however, I’m not positive how much of a difference Roberts would have made to the 2008 Cubs because they got very good production at 2B (DeRosa and Fontenot combined for 6.9 fWAR that season, although at least a win or so of DeRosa’s value probably came at other positions.) For 2008, it’s all speculation that Roberts could have done anything to make the series against the Dodgers any different. In 2009, though, he would have made a significantly bigger difference, when Cubs’ second basemen were right about replacement level and Roberts was worth 3.4 wins, according to FanGraphs. That would have put the Cubs at 86 or 87 wins, which on its own would not have been enough to make the playoffs, but could have resulted in some other moves that would have made the Cubs more competitive down the stretch and could have alleviated some of the issues related to Ramirez’s injury that season.

      • AC0000000

        I blame it on Hasbro. We were in first place in August that year and Hasbro ended up destroying the team.

      • Jedi

        Those months with .911 OPS & .427 OBP will kill ya.

      • Noah_I

        Yeah, I think Milton Bradley is an easy scapegoat in some ways. Was he a bad decision at that contract? Completely. Was he a clubhouse cancer? Totally. But the real difference in the Cubs from 2008 to 2009 were: (1) Alfonso Soriano went from a 4 win player to a replacement level player; (2) the cubs got about 6 wins less in value from second base in 2009 than they did in 2008; (3) Ramirez’s injury; and (4) Geovany Soto was worth 2.5 wins less in 2009 than he was in 2008. Even without adding the loss from Ramirez’s injury, that’s about 12 wins off the board from the 2008 team to the 2009 team.

      • AC0000000

        Do you think Adam Dunn would have been better than Hasbro?

      • Noah_I

        I think the extent to which Adam Dunn would have been a disaster in right field cannot be overstated. Was Dunn a better hitter at that point? Yes. Was and is Dunn a better clubhouse presence? Yes. Would Adam Dunn have turned the 2009, 2010 or 2011 Cubs into a playoff team? I doubt it, although at least in 2011 the Cubs could have shifted him to 1B, where he is just terrible defensively as opposed to awful to epic proportions.

      • Are you saying Detroit needs one more arm or one more bat? Which was it?

      • AC0000000

        Homer, Lenny, Carl, Barney, Sam, and Larry, 6 guys who cause 91% of all traffic accidents in Springfield has the answer

  • I think this is a no-brainer. These guys bought the international draft thing this year.. this is seems like another way to get young talent without losing young talent.

    • Jedi

      But signing Tanaka is the convergence of the stated goal (signing as much young talent as possible) and the repeated excuse that has forced us to suck at the MLB level (not enough money to make a serious run at competing with free agents). So if they do sign Tanaka, goodbye to the days when the FO argued that the money wasn’t available to reload through free agency.

      • Not necessarily. The Jackson contract shows they are willing to whip out the checkbook for pitchers. Either that was a divergence, or this makes sense.

      • Jedi

        4 years, $52M simply isn’t a major move on a pitcher anymore. Ricky Nolasco just got a similar deal from the Twins – I don’t think that signals that the Twins are wading into the deep end of the free agent pool.

        If the Cubs sign Tanaka it’ll almost certainly cost $100M in total. Could be close to $150M when finished. It would likely be one of the top 3 deals handed out in club history. You can’t be a trade deadline dumper after shelling out $100M+ for a single pitcher.

      • PLCB3

        How about when they offered 75M to Annibal Sanchez? The Cubs shouldn’t spend money for the sake of spending money. What free agents could the Cubs have signed last winter or this winter that wouldn’t be bad deals overall?

      • Jedi

        Do you think that if they’d dumped $75M on Sanchez, they’d also have been ready to break up a rotation of Wood, Sanchez, Samardzija, Garza after 8 weeks?

        “The Cubs shouldn’t spend money for the sake of spending money” – who has said this? I mean ever…no one here. You crusade this false cause against profligate, purposeless spending. It has never happened. No one is proposing that the checkbook merely be opened simply so it can be said that it was opened.

      • Noah_I

        I think the question is if the Cubs ever explicitly said that, if the right player comes along, the money is not there. I have always taken their statements, which have been intentionally vague, to say that most MLB free agents don’t fit their model, but they MIGHT be in on players who do fit their model. We’ll be getting a better idea as to what the Cubs’ intent is through the Tanaka situation.

      • PLCB3

        This. That would go along with the reasoning to offer 75M to Sanchez

      • Jedi

        “We’ll be getting a better idea as to what the Cubs’ intent is through the Tanaka situation.” Pretty much exactly what I said.

        It is always vauge, but the implication is also obvious. Theo has moved slowly, in part, because the Cubs need financial flexibility. Whether you believe that or whether he’s just blowing smoke – that’s a matter of opinion.

      • Noah_I

        I agree the Cubs have financial flexibility problems, I just think that a reasonable argument could be made as to why the Cubs could be in to this extent on Tanaka but weren’t on the recent big name MLB free agents (Pujols, Fielder, Cano, Hamilton, CJ Wilson) and did not make the winning bids on Darvish, Cespedes and Puig (Puig everyone but the Dodgers was wrong on, and the Cubs are significantly closer to financial flexibility now than they were when these three were available).

        I also agree that there have been implications to this point, and Tanaka could signal a shift in those.

  • I think this is a no-brainer. These guys bought the international draft thing this year.. this is seems like another way to get young talent without losing young talent.

    • Jedi

      But signing Tanaka is the convergence of the stated goal (signing as much young talent as possible) and the repeated excuse that has forced us to suck at the MLB level (not enough money to make a serious run at competing with free agents). So if they do sign Tanaka, goodbye to the days when the FO argued that the money wasn’t available to reload through free agency.

      • Not necessarily. The Jackson contract shows they are willing to whip out the checkbook for pitchers. Either that was a divergence, or this makes sense.

      • Jedi

        4 years, $52M simply isn’t a major move on a pitcher anymore. Ricky Nolasco just got a similar deal from the Twins – I don’t think that signals that the Twins are wading into the deep end of the free agent pool.

        If the Cubs sign Tanaka it’ll almost certainly cost $100M in total. Could be close to $150M when finished. It would likely be one of the top 3 deals handed out in club history. You can’t be a trade deadline dumper after shelling out $100M+ for a single pitcher.

      • AC0000000

        How about when they offered 75M to Annibal Sanchez? The Cubs shouldn’t spend money for the sake of spending money. What free agents could the Cubs have signed last winter or this winter that wouldn’t be bad deals overall?

      • Jedi

        Do you think that if they’d dumped $75M on Sanchez, they’d also have been ready to break up a rotation of Wood, Sanchez, Samardzija, Garza after 8 weeks?

        “The Cubs shouldn’t spend money for the sake of spending money” – who has said this? I mean ever…no one here. You crusade this false cause against profligate, purposeless spending. It has never happened. No one is proposing that the checkbook merely be opened simply so it can be said that it was opened.

      • Noah_I

        I think the question is if the Cubs ever explicitly said that, if the right player comes along, the money is not there. I have always taken their statements, which have been intentionally vague, to say that most MLB free agents don’t fit their model, but they MIGHT be in on players who do fit their model. We’ll be getting a better idea as to what the Cubs’ intent is through the Tanaka situation.

      • AC0000000

        This. That would go along with the reasoning to offer 75M to Sanchez

      • Jedi

        “We’ll be getting a better idea as to what the Cubs’ intent is through the Tanaka situation.” Pretty much exactly what I said.

        It is always vauge, but the implication is also obvious. Theo has moved slowly, in part, because the Cubs need financial flexibility. Whether you believe that or whether he’s just blowing smoke – that’s a matter of opinion.

      • Noah_I

        I agree the Cubs have financial flexibility problems, I just think that a reasonable argument could be made as to why the Cubs could be in to this extent on Tanaka but weren’t on the recent big name MLB free agents (Pujols, Fielder, Cano, Hamilton, CJ Wilson) and did not make the winning bids on Darvish, Cespedes and Puig (Puig everyone but the Dodgers was wrong on, and the Cubs are significantly closer to financial flexibility now than they were when these three were available).

        I also agree that there have been implications to this point, and Tanaka could signal a shift in those.

  • At the end of the day, we just don’t know what will happen with this. We do know that Raker is advocating being in, but just a little bit. Just the tip, as it were.

  • At the end of the day, we just don’t know what will happen with this. We do know that Raker is advocating being in, but just a little bit. Just the tip, as it were.

  • Chuck

    Since a refundable $20M is the cover charge to get into this particular party, pay the cover charge (you have nothing to lose because you get the money back if you don’t sign him) and see what the bidding is like. If the Dodgers start throwing money around like a drunken NFL linebacker making it rain, bow out. However, if the bidding stays reasonable, then the Cubs should go after him. If they make no effort at all to get him that bodes ill for the future. To me, it means that the Cubs plan on being the Marlins for quite some time.

  • Chuck

    Since a refundable $20M is the cover charge to get into this particular party, pay the cover charge (you have nothing to lose because you get the money back if you don’t sign him) and see what the bidding is like. If the Dodgers start throwing money around like a drunken NFL linebacker making it rain, bow out. However, if the bidding stays reasonable, then the Cubs should go after him. If they make no effort at all to get him that bodes ill for the future. To me, it means that the Cubs plan on being the Marlins for quite some time.

  • KC Cubs Fan

    I have pitched this a few times, want to get some other thoughts…

    Winning the Tanaka sweepstakes, if he is posted, may significantly increase the value of Samardzjia in a trade. If we can keep him from Seattle, Arizona, Toronto, New York and LA the Cubs command a higher price for Samardzjia. Arizona and Toronto may meet the Cubs price and Seattle, New York and LA will start bidding up the price on the FA on the market.

    Of course, I would love to go into 2014 with Samardzjia, Tanaka and Wood at the top of the rotation as well, but if we are only going to have Samardzjia for two more years, I would rather go out and get our future #1 via a trade. We aren’t competing in the next two years.

  • KC Cubs Fan

    I have pitched this a few times, want to get some other thoughts…

    Winning the Tanaka sweepstakes, if he is posted, may significantly increase the value of Samardzjia in a trade. If we can keep him from Seattle, Arizona, Toronto, New York and LA the Cubs command a higher price for Samardzjia. Arizona and Toronto may meet the Cubs price and Seattle, New York and LA will start bidding up the price on the FA on the market.

    Of course, I would love to go into 2014 with Samardzjia, Tanaka and Wood at the top of the rotation as well, but if we are only going to have Samardzjia for two more years, I would rather go out and get our future #1 via a trade. We aren’t competing in the next two years.