I think most people would consider me an optimist. I think that's true to some extent but I must make some clarification here. I'm an optimist who is always prepared for the worst. I don't go into these kinds of things blindly and then have the world crush down on me when it doesn't happen.
So when I say I'm optimistic about Masahiro Tanaka, that doesn't mean I have no doubts that the Cubs will sign him. It means that, unlike other publicized free agents, I believe that they have a legit shot at signing him -- as legit as any other team out there.
But yes, I'm prepared for the Yankees to sign him or for the Dodgers to decide they need a 4th top of the rotation starter and pay him in gold bullion for the privilege.
Let's suppose that happens, what's next for the Cubs?
After the initial heartbreak, it has to be back to business. For those of you hoping the Cubs to turn around and sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, I would say to prepare yourself for another disappointment. If you think the Cubs will turn to Matt Garza, I'd say that's an extreme long shot as well. I've always thought he'd land with the D'Backs, though the Angels remain a possibility.
What we can expect the Cubs to do in the event they do not sign Tanaka is to regroup and keep their eye on the long term.
I would expect he Cubs to approach Paul Maholm and Jason Hammel. Perhaps they still have interest in someone like Chris Capuano, a guy the front office pursued in their very first season. They could offer Scott Baker that MLB deal he's seeking. In fact, I wouldn't be surprise if they signed a couple of pitchers on short term deals, especially if one is a versatile arm like Jerome Williams who can transition easily to the bullpen if needed.
It's certainly not as sexy as a Tanaka signing, but it will give the Cubs another guy they can hand the ball to every 5th day who can at least give them a chance to win.
Meanwhile, the Cubs will have saved a lot of payroll space for the crop of next year's free agent pitchers and while we haven't seen them spend heavily on free agents, that could change if the Cubs have some breakthroughs from their core as well as the emergence of a prospect or two.
There will be disappointment, yes. But there won't be panic. There's no time for that. Just move on to plan B. I believe the Cubs will do everything within reason (and perhaps even a step or two outside of reason) to sign Tanaka. But ultimately, they do not control their own fate here. We can speculate as to what motivates Tanaka and what might bring him to Chicago, but nobody knows for certain. In the end, it will be about what Tanaka values most as he transitions to a new league, a new country, and a new culture.
But I feel confident that the Cubs have done their homework on this and that they understand that this is a rare opportunity for them that they cannot afford to pass up. The Dodgers will be set in their rotation anyway. The Yankees are built for the short term, so they may do just as well signing Santana, Garza, and Jimenez -- perhaps even more than one of them -- something they can do for less money than signing Tanaka alone. The Cubs don't have that same luxury.
So while panic is not an option, I do feel there is a sense of urgency on the Cubs part and I can't help feeling just a little bit optimistic on this one. I can only hope Tanaka feels equally optimistic about the Cubs.
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