There is an argument that Tanaka will sign with the Yankees over the Cubs.
It goes something like this: It's because they're the Yankees and they have money.
Those things by themselves are indeed pretty formidable but the positives for the Yankees pretty much begin and end right there. Let's put the money issue aside for now because the Cubs have money to spend too. So do other teams.
So what about the part about them being the Yankees?
There is no question that there is an aura and a mystique with the Yankees. No team can match it's history. But if you're a 25 year old pitcher, are you looking more toward history or the future?
The Yankees were an 85 win team last year who outplayed their Pythagorean record by 6 games, meaning they really played more like a 79-83 team.
But it's not just any 79 win team -- it's an old, past their prime, overpaid 79 win team. Sure they signed Jacoby Ellsbury, but they also lost Robinson Cano. Yes, the signed Carlos Beltran -- but they also lost Curtis Granderson. They gained Brian McCann but lost Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera.
Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki are 39. Alfonso Soriano is 37. Ace C.C. Sabathia will be 34 by the middle of the season while Hiroki Kuroda will be 39 by the time the season starts. Only Eduardo Nunez is under 30 years old and received substantial playing time last year.
Does this look like a team on it's way up or does it merely look like it's just treading water?
There are no reinforcements on the way. The Yankees farm system is iffy at best. The pitchers haven't stayed healthy and there are questions about all their best position players.
This is not a team you would call the team of the future.
Of course, they have money and they can spend it. But the money they spend on Tanaka or any other players may be more expensive than it seems. As a team that has been over the luxury tax repeatedly, they must now pay 40% tax for every dollar they spend above the limit. Seeing that they are already over the limit, they will have to pay that amount on top of whatever they give Tanaka. so while they can pay $20M per year for Tanaka, they are really paying $28M. That's not to mention that whatever raw figure they pay in New York is worth less than pretty much everywhere else in terms of cost of living. So maybe they have to chip in a little extra.
Is that worth it for them? Maybe.
The same could be said of the Dodgers, of course, and they have to sign players such as Clayton Kershaw going into next year. If you think money is no object for them, then you should ask yourself why they should bother considering unloading Matt Kemp's salary. Why are they so willing to dump Andre Ethier for what amounts to salary relief?
The Dodgers also have 3 top level starters -- do they pay a premium for a 4th and make one of their other current highly paid rotation members less relevant come playoff time? How much are they willing to pay to add a 4th good starter, especially when you factor in the luxury tax penalty? Can they afford him? Of course, they can. But is it a wise allocation of resources for them? I'm not so sure.
The Cubs have no such problems. They are well below the luxury tax threshold. When they pay Tanaka $20M, that's exactly what they are going to pay out. They have plenty of room at the top of their rotation for an ace.
And for them, the signing can mean a lot more. This is one rare instance where the business and baseball part of the equation line up perfectly. The front office wants in prime players at premium positions -- and if they can get those kinds of players without reaching into their long term assets, even better. Tanaka checks all those boxes.
We'll assume ownership also wants to win but even if you believe they are only concerned with money, then Tanaka still makes sense.
Well, one thing we know the Cubs are looking to do from a business standpoint is find ways to generate revenue. What better way than a star player from Japan who will drive media attention plus merchandising and advertising dollars just when the Cubs need it most?
Ownership also wants to boost sagging attendance. Is it not plausible that Tanaka alone will drive fans to the park in droves every 5th day? If it helps make the team more competitive overall then it should also have a ripple effect on the other days as well.
Tanaka will be costly but he will also produce revenue -- that will be music to Rickett's ears and ultimately, to those of Theo and Jed because it means they'll have more to spend later. Moreover, being able to recoup some money from Tanaka makes the deal less financially risky for the Cubs -- even if he doesn't pitch at an ace-like level. The team will generate big revenue right from the start and will continue to do so as long as Tanaka is healthy and pitching every 5th day.
Then there is the Cubs team itself. They are not as good as the Yankees, of course, but they aren't that much worse either -- just 8 games last year if you go by Pythagorean record. Just 66 runs if you go by run differential.
But unlike the Yankees, the Cubs arrow is pointing upward. Tanaka will be in his prime in 2-3 seasons from now, about the same time most of us expect the Cubs to be serious perennial contenders. It lines up pretty nicely.
They also have a better infield defense than the Yankees so it may be better for Tanaka's career. He is not a pure strikeout pitcher, having struck out less than 8 batters per 9 IP last year and that figures to go down in the MLB.
Is he better off pitching in front of a Cubs infield defense or a Yankees one that potentially includes an aging, injury plagued DP combo of Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts? It's likely that a pitcher like Tanaka will put up better numbers with the Cubs than he will with the Yankees, where I would expect him to pitch well below his peripherals.
Chicago is still a large market and revenues should start flowing next year for what should be a much better free agent class, so the Cubs could get the jump on the market by going all out to sign Tanaka now and then build on it for next year's class when they will still have plenty of room to spend without fear of luxury tax reprisal. They may actually be in better position to vie for a title -- and sustain that competitiveness -- right at a time when Tanaka will be at his peak.
On the surface at least, it appears the Cubs have more going for them than the Oakland A's did when they surprised the big market teams by landing Yoenis Cespedes.
And while I have no doubt the Yankees and Dodgers would love to add Tanaka to their respective rotations, I think they'll have a harder time than you might think fending off the challenge of the younger, less bloated, up and coming Cubs.
And also consider this: The Yankees and Dodgers may be just as happy to drive up the market price of Tanaka so that, at the very least, their competitors will have to pay big and compromise their own payrolls if they want to acquire him. It's in their best interests to get involved big -- win or lose -- and if they had to lose, it would be much less painful to lose him to the Cubs than it would be to say, the Red Sox or the Diamondbacks. It is not implausible that if the remaining bidders are the Cubs and the Yankees and/or Dodgers, that the latter team(s) could bow out given their own financial situations. They could still consider that scenario a victory if their main competitors on the field were priced out by a potential bidding war.
If it is true that the Cubs say they won't be outbid, then I think they have a realistic shot at landing Tanaka even if it will almost certainly mean they'll have to overpay in terms of raw talent alone. But in the Cubs case, this signing will be more than just acquiring talent. Signing Tanaka would be a win for everyone in Wrigleyland-- ownership, the front office, the fans -- and of course, the team itself.