Earlier this week, we wrote about the Rakuten Eagles making a decision on Masahiro Tanaka by Christmas. It appears that the decision was made tonight, and you can follow all the madness on Yakyu Night Owl's Twitter timeline. The announcement was made by the club's president himself, so that's as official as it comes. While this is Christmas Eve for us in North America, it's Christmas Day in Japan (thanks, International Date Line!) and so even though one lucky team in MLB is going to get a sweet Christmas present, NPB fans are going to be sorely disappointed as Tanaka realizes his dream of pitching at the highest level.
UPDATE Christmas 2:52 PM: Tanaka has a new agent. And Bruce Levine just tweeted something similar to what I discussed yesterday (see below):
Tanaka signing could impact Samardzija negotiations. Both sides may take new approach if Cubs can out bid the field .
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) December 25, 2013
As the best free agent pitcher on the market not named Matt Garza, Tanaka is expected to command a salary north of $100MM. There are whispers of loopholes and shenanigans that MLB clubs can try with Rakuten to make sure that they are compensated beyond the $20MM post cap, but at this point all 30 clubs can bid the $20MM and have a shot at convincing Tanaka to pitch for them. Dave Kaplan's timeline suggests that it's not the money the Cubs will throw at the pitcher and his agent (assuming Tom Ricketts will back his front office financially so they can actually make a strong offer), but rather whether Tanaka even wants to pitch for the team. There are other clubs in the fray, like the Yankees, Dodgers and possibly the Rangers (even after splurging to get Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo), that are built to win sooner rather than later. Given that Tanaka has a reputation for being competitive, he may turn down the big money from the Cubs to pitch for a team that might actually win during the meaty part of his contract.
This will necessitate a major investment from the Cubs not just financially but in their time table to win. There are rumblings that the Ricketts family is limited in its spending ability due to their sale arrangement with Sam Zell and the Tribune, but it sounds like Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are dead serious when they say they want to throw their muscle into securing Tanaka's services. This was, after all, the team that spent the most on both the amateur draft and the international free agency signing period. So there is some money lying around.
The question remains: how much is enough to convince Tanaka to come to Chicago? My guess is that it will take a combination of salary and a fast-tracked plan to contend very soon. If I were to make a very early guess, I'd say that the Cubs would need to offer at least $10MM more than the second-place suitor. In addition, they would have to ensure that they either acquire another quality starter or keep Jeff Samardzija in the fold. The front office has already worked pretty hard on building depth in the bullpen, so we have some initial confidence that there won't be as many blown games next season. A strong rotation plus a bounceback offense may actually make this team more competitive. That comes with a lot of "ifs" but it could definitely happen. Who knows how much random money the Dodgers have lying around, or whether the Yankees really care about staying under the luxury tax threshold, or if the Rangers are really done spending?
Now we wait and see whether the Cubs can sell that to Tanaka's camp. Merry Christmas, folks.