Cubs May Be The Favorites To Land Japanese Ace

Masahiro-Tanaka

Once it became apparent that Masahiro Tanaka was going to be posted it seemed that merely by default everyone on Earth assumed that the deep-pocketed teams like the New York Yankees & Los Angeles Dodgers would far and away be the most likely landing spots for the Japanese hurler.

But over the last few days it has become more & more clear that the Chicago Cubs were going to be serious players in this thing.

First we had Ken Rosenthal telling us that the Cubbies were “pushing hard” for his services:

I know, I know. It’s just one guys “vibe”.

But it is Ken Rosenthal, one of the game’s more respected (and often correct) prognosticators so you have to, at the very least, give it due consideration.

Then came news from Jayson Stark at ESPN that not only was this Rosenthal’s vibe, but that many a GM had told him they felt the same way too:

Obviously, the question then becomes “what the heck is a ‘monster deal?'”

Is it $100M? How about $150M?

I personally think that this kid will be a very solid pitcher in MLB, perhaps even a top-of-the-rotation guy.

Fangraphs, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head with its assessment of the guy late last year with this scouting report:

Some people, surely, are being racist when they draw comparisons between Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda. Some other people, surely, are being not racist, but lazy, failing to look much beyond country of origin. But it is neither automatically racist nor automatically lazy to compare the two starters, because it turns out the comparison is a pretty good one. Masahiro Tanaka has a lot in common with Hiroki Kuroda, and Kuroda has been quite good from the get-go…

The comparison between Tanaka and Kuroda goes beyond just the Japanese thing. Both are right-handed starters. Both have fastballs around the low 90s. Both throw a lot of sliders, both are known for their command, and most importantly, both feature a frequent splitter. There just haven’t been that many splitters among big-league starting pitchers lately, which is one reason why the Kuroda comparison isn’t as lazy as it can seem.

Since 2002, just seven starters have thrown at least 20% splitters. Just 11 more have thrown at least 10% splitters. Included are names like Kuroda,Hideo NomoKenshin Kawakami, and Hisashi Iwakuma. The splitter is a popular pitch in Japan, so Japanese pitchers frequently make for easy comparisons for Japanese pitchers.

Ben Badler has referred to Tanaka’s splitter as being one of the best splitters in all of baseball, everywhere, and there are indications that even by just throwing a splitter pretty frequently, Tanaka could have an advantage in the majors.

I couldn’t agree more with that (or the entire piece for that matter), but in the end, you just don’t know.

Yeah he’s 25, so if he ends up being a beast you have him locked up for his prime years, but he also could end up being the next Dice-K and $125-150M is a ton of money to have tied up in a guy who ends up falling somewhere between being “wildly inconsistant” and “a flat out bust”.

Specifically thinking about the team from the Northside of Chicago the move makes total sense from an “on the field” perspective.

The organization is flush with high-end prospects who are, if all goes as planned, likely to start coming up to the big league club over the next two years or so. Most of these guys are position prospects like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Alberto Almora, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara, but they are very, very thin on standout arms.

They could take a “build from within” approach on the offensive side of things and bring in arms to support Jeff Samardzija via trade or free agency.

So the big question becomes this: Do they think they are on the cusp of being able to compete on a daily basis in a division that is already loaded with quality teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates?

Well, it appears that the team asked itself that very question last night and came up with its answer, because today started off with this bit of news from Twitter:

If the Cubs fearless leader, former wunderkind Theo Epstein is wrong, this will obviously be a huge setback to his rebuilding plans as he is set to tie up that many resources in this guy.

But if he’s right, he could bring a long-sought-after World Series title to yet another  cursed fan base and punch his ticket for Cooperstown in the process.

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