by Kent Sterling
The Chicago Cubs will pledge to write a $20-million check to be eligible to bid for Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka, who was an astonishing 24-0 last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Teams with truly deep pockets will engage in the serious bidding while the Cubs will play the game at which they have become more adroit – talking, alibiing, deflecting, projecting, and selling.
Owner Tom Ricketts and president Theo Epstein will say they did everything they could to compel Tanaka to take their bid seriously, and claim that theirs was the highest among the Cubs, Yankees, Rangers, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks, but Tanaka chose to play elsewhere for one of a dozen very good reasons.
They will use the $20 million posting pledge to show their seriousness in improving immediately as justification for keeping ticket prices among the highest in baseball without actually spending a dime to improve the roster, which is delightfully devious even for Ricketts and Epstein.
The game the Cubs are playing is to avoid winning as long as possible while still inspiring hope among the most easily duped fans in sports. Cubs fans can’t be blamed for mistaking activity for progress. They haven’t seen a winner in their lifetime, unless they are 105 or older. The day is quickly coming when the oldest person in America won’t have been alive when the Cubs last won a championship. Hell, my Mom is 72, and she has no recollection of the Cubs last trip to the World Series when she was four.
Tanaka might be a bad risk anyway. Who knows? The Cubs won the bidding for another can’t miss prospect from Japan before the 2008 season. Kosuke Fukudome never hit .300, regularly struck out 100+ times, and was caught stealing as often as he wasn’t (29 times) in his five year major league career.
The point isn’t whether Tanaka is a top line starter or back of the rotation guy. It’s the overt duplicity being used by the Cubs to maintain credibility with fans where none should exist. Signing Edwin Jackson falls into the same bucket. Epstein knew damn well that Jackson is one of baseball’s most average professional starters. He eats innings and wins at a slightly lower rate than the teams from whom he pitches, but the Cubs could point to him and say, “See, we’re trying to win in 2013, so buy tickets!”
Keeping expectations low while maintaining enough hope so fans don’t feel stupid for buying tickets or team-related swag is the blueprint used by the Cubs, and they are pretty good at it. The Cubs are to its fans as Mega Millions is to people who want to become rich. The odds of winning are impossibly small. If you were seated in an arena with 18,499 others, the odds of someone in your arena winning the jackpot would be 14,000-to-1. So you’re saying I’ve got a chance! Cubs fans with hope to see credible major league baseball in 2014 might as well play Mega Millions.
The Cubs will bid, but not because they want him to be a Cub. They will pledge the $20M because it’s worth that effort to claim to fans an honest effort to improve the team in the short term, while having no real desire to actually do it.
It would be a great strategy if the victims weren’t the sadly dopey bastards who were willing to pay the third highest ticket prices in baseball to watch a bottom feeder team in 2013. The Cubs are the Ponzi schemers of MLB. Bernie Madoff is in prison for doing to investors what Rickstein is doing to Cubs fans.
Media in Chicago continue to carry Rickstein’s (the unholy amalgam of two very smart crooks) water, saying that the Cubs will not be competitive until 2016, and that the farm system was in such terrible shape when former GM Jim Hendry was canned that this was the only way to rebuild. That is, of course, abject nonsense, but that absurd company line is being toed by the media like they are Cubs employees.
The question with the Tanaka bid is why the Cubs would bother. There is no chance he would choose to pitch for the Cubs. Everyone knows that. Epstein and Ricketts apologist Dave Kaplan said as much on WGN-Radio Christmas Night, “The Cubs will lose on Tanaka, but not because they get outbid.”
What Kaplan didn’t say is that the Cubs know Tanaka is headed elsewhere, and that they would never post for the right to outbid deep pocketed franchises like the Yankees if there was a chance in hell that he would choose the Cubs.
To the naive, $20 million is a lot of cash to threaten to spend for nothing in return, but the Cubs will get plenty back – plausible deniability.
At some point, the year for the Cubs being competitive will roll over to 2017. When it does, you can tell your friends that you know that Sterling kook – that conspiracy theorist who sees through the shell game the Cubs play with their fans – saw it right all along.