As the days dwindle down to a precious few before Masahiro Tanaka decides where he's going to play, rumors are beginning to fly from every direction. The line gets blurred between fact and speculation. You get tugged in one direction, such as the optimistic reports from Bruce Levine about the Cubs being in the lead, then get tugged in a completely different direction by Gordon Wittenmeyer, who calls the Cubs a "long shot".
There is reason to be skeptical about the Cubs chances. The Cubs are not a good team at the MLB level at this point and, despite being in a large market, they are just the 3rd largest market in this particular race. They are also not in an ideal location if we are to believe the rumors about Tanaka's geographical preferences. Then there is a part of us that expects the worst when it comes to the Cubs. We have seen them come close but lose out in the very recent past, such as they did with Hyun-Jin Ryu and Anibal Sanchez. So I get it. There is some reason to worry. When you are a Cubs fan, that comes with the territory.
One thing that can give Cubs some hope is this tweet from Levine,
Japanese source said Tanaka loves a challenge and wants to be the man. All that is waiting for him at Clark and Addison.
Some people, including Theo himself, are wired that way. That is one of the primary reasons he came here. If this is also true of Tanaka, then you have to think there is no better place than Chicago for him to be the man. There is no greater challenge out there than the one that faces the Cubs over the next few years.
When I try to think of players who embrace that sort of challenge, I think of guys like Michael Jordan, who stuck with a bad Bulls team and led them to unprecedented greatness. This is a unique quality in sports today. Other players, like LeBron James, prefer a ready-made contender to ensure their success.
I also thought of Quentin Richardson, who could have went anywhere as a high school prep but chose struggling DePaul because he wanted to put them back on the map. He wanted to be the guy who brought others to the once proud basketball school -- which he did, though unfortunately for DePaul, Richardson went pro after his 2nd season. There is no doubt, however, that he helped turn things around during his time there.
Then there is Bo Jackson, who was reportedly told by then Alabama coach Bear Bryant, "Son, if you go to Auburn you will never beat Alabama." Well, Bo did go to Auburn and they did beat Alabama. Auburn went from an also-ran in the SEC to one of the top football programs in the country. Instead of joining an already great team, he helped rebuild a new one.
I'm not going to compare Tanaka to Jordan, Jackson or anyone else in terms of impact ability, but if he truly has that kind of mentality, then I am certain he will come to Chicago and be a difference maker. And if he leads the Cubs to a title, he will indeed be the man. In fact, he'd be a legend in the U.S. like no other player to come out of the NPB.
Hopefully what Levine said of Tanaka is true, but there is at least good reason to think Tanaka is the man from the Cubs side of the equation. There are things we do know. We know the Cubs have been scouting Tanaka for a long time -- and have been doing so with more than just your garden variety due diligence type of effort. There has been an intensity and focus here similar to the kind of long term focus the Rangers had on Yu Darvish. The reports I've heard indicate that the Cubs believe Tanaka can be an impact pitcher. They are serious about his ability to be a top of the rotation guy for the net 5-7 years.
Some have expressed financial concerns, but there are solid reasons to believe this won't be an obstacle. Ricketts has said on numerous occasions that the money will be there when the front office needs it. Both Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have both confirmed this recently.
I've heard figures and I've seen some numbers thrown around. Though all of it is just speculation, one part has been consistent: the Cubs are willing to spend big. If Tanaka doesn't choose the Cubs, it won't be because the Cubs didn't want to spend money. We can lay that particular concern to rest about any player the Cubs truly feel they need to have -- hopefully for good.
But Tanaka is going to be a wealthy man no matter where he signs so there has to be another reason he comes to Chicago. For the Cubs to have a chance, that reason isn't going to be about going to be about going to a ready-made contender, the biggest market, or the nicest weather. It is going to have to come from a burning desire within Tanaka to accept the greatest possible challenge and be at the center of baseball history.
That can only happen in Chicago.
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