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updated: 1/22/2014 2:55 PM

Chicago losing Tanaka no big deal — for now

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  • Japan's Masahiro Tanaka and the New York Yankees agreed Wednesday to a $155 million, seven-year contract. In addition to the deal with the pitcher, the Yankees must pay a $20 million fee to the Japanese team of the 25-year-old right-hander, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

      Japan's Masahiro Tanaka and the New York Yankees agreed Wednesday to a $155 million, seven-year contract. In addition to the deal with the pitcher, the Yankees must pay a $20 million fee to the Japanese team of the 25-year-old right-hander, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
    Associated Press/2013 file

 
 

In the short term, this is no big deal here.

If, that is, a seven-year, $155-million deal can be termed anything but a big deal.

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That's what the Yankees gave Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, albeit with a player opt-out clause after four years.

In the long term, maybe this is a big deal here.

At some point years from now, all those promising Cubs' minor leaguers will be major-league free agents and White Sox pitcher Chris Sale's current contract will run out. Then money will become a huge deal for our local teams and all sorts of questions will beg expensive answers.

The Cubs and Sox reportedly were among five finalists -- including the Dodgers and Diamondbacks -- to acquire Tanaka.

You can't lose something you never had, right? The Sox and Cubs never had Tanaka, and it was folly to think either ever would have him. Outbidding the Yankees and Dodgers in a package of dollars, lifestyle and potential to win figured to be pure folly.

Neither the Sox nor the Cubs will be pennant contenders next season anyway, much less World Series contenders. That wouldn't have changed even if either of Chicago's teams signed Tanaka, unless perhaps he matched his 24-0 record in Japan last year.

So in the short term losing Masahiro Tanaka is no big deal, but the long term is problematic.

Like, what does this mega-transaction mean for the Sox and Cubs over, say, the next decade? What are their chances of competing with the likes of the Yankees and Dodgers? Isn't it one thing if the Chicago teams can't pay for other teams' free agents, but what if they can't pay for their own?

Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein intends to keep adding on to what appears to be their list of impressive prospects, and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn intends to keep making what appears to be astute moves.

That's the addition part of the equation; the trouble could be the subtraction part.

The Sox can afford $68 million on Cuban free agent Jose Abreu. The Cubs can splurge on scouting, signing and developing players of the future. Where it becomes a bit iffy is when the really big money comes into play, as if $68 million isn't really big.

After missing the 2013 playoffs, the Yankees have committed $471 million this offseason for reinforcements such as Tanaka, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury. Meanwhile, the Dodgers seem to be the rare team that sets an unlimited budget and then exceeds it.

The danger for the Cubs and Sox is if they continue to build methodically, eventually become competitive, finally begin contending

And then Javier Baez becomes a superstar, the Yankees' attempts to replace Derek Jeter fail and the Steinbrenners decide to offer stupid money to the player who could, by then, be the Cubs' shortstop.

Or let's say Clayton Kershaw blows out his elbow, the Dodgers need a quality left-handed pitcher and they offer Sox ace Chris Sale stupid money to relocate in L.A.

Will the Cubs' plan to renovate Wrigley Field, build a hotel across the street and negotiate a boffo TV deal provide sufficient cash to exceed any offer to Baez?

Will the Sox finally solve the problem of drawing fans and creating revenue streams so they can match an crazy offer for Sale?

Will Baez, Sale and other projected stars for the Sox and Cubs be loyal enough to agree to a hometown discount?

Those are serious long-term questions posed by the relatively short-term loss of Masahiro Tanaka to the Yankees.

The baseball answers in this town usually are negative, so you draw your own conclusions.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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