Chicago Cubs – Reason for Bidding on Masahiro Tanaka Even More Nefarious Than I Thought

by Kent Sterling

Why is Tom Ricketts always smiling?  It's not about the Cubs prospects of winning in 2014.

Why is Tom Ricketts always smiling? It’s not about the Cubs prospects of winning in 2014.

The Chicago Cubs are supposedly putting their best foot and checkbook forward in trying to lure Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka to ply his wares on Chicago’s North Side, but there is no chance at all that he accepts – and the Cubs know it.

On its face, the bidding is idiotic.  The Cubs have no chance to win in 2014 and 2015 – zero.  Why would the Cubs spend $20+ million per year for a pitcher who might help them win 73 games instead of 64?

After purging tens of millions from a payroll loaded with expensive mediocrity, the Cubs now boast a roster filled with cheap mediocrity, and that’s the way owner Tom Ricketts likes it.

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With 2,642,682 fans willing to spend the third highest average ticket price to watch a team incapable of winning 70 games for the third straight season in 2013, Ricketts has no disincentive for continuing to avoid meaningful investments.

But he doesn’t want fans to see him as a greed-driven profiteer trying to milk the Chicago baseball fan’s discretionary dollar teet dry, so he loudly and publicly engages in the charade of bidding for this Japanese wunderkind who posted an incredible 24-0 record last season.

Not only does that give Ricketts a platform to claim he’s willing to pay for excellence, even more nefariously it allows him a plausible excuse for a lack of movement elsewhere.  The Cubs have done nothing at all to improve their roster as rivals like the Cardinals have spent big on free agents like Jhonny Peralta, and they can justify their inactivity by claiming they reserved the resources needed to bid against the Dodgers and Yankees for Tanaka.

If nothing else, Ricketts is a shrewd businessman.

Cubs fans would like to believe that the Cubs have an owner as committed to winning as they would be given the opportunity, but families like the Ricketts don’t make billions by suppressing profits in order to achieve a goal non-stakeholders embrace.

The Ricketts bought the Cubs for one reason – to make money, lots of money.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Business owners don’t play a zero-sum game.  They want to find the magic formula for building value while extracting cash, and if nothing else, Ricketts has proved adept at that.

The Cubs haven’t won a championship in 105 years while they have continued to build its fan base, so winning needn’t be part of the equation.  The most valuable employee for the Cubs from 1982-1998, and arguably beyond his death, was Harry Caray, who gave Cubs fans something to look forward to regardless of whether the team was in the playoff hunt or sucked.

It’s the Wrigley Field experience that fans pay for – not the quality of the baseball product.

Tanaka will sign with a team that consistently demonstrates a desire to win, and the Cubs take a backseat to no one in their aversion to onfield success.  The Cubs will publicly lament their loss, but privately celebrate another offseason of reducing payroll under the guise of building the farm system.

Fans will pay outrageous ticket prices to drink beer at Wrigley Field, sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and then roll out to the Cubby Bear or Harry Caray’s for more beer.  The Cubs will lose many more games than they win, but no one will care because Javy Baez and Kris Bryant are only a year or two away, and are tearing the cover off the ball for the West Tennessee Smokies.

Hope sells in Chicago.

Brighter days are ahead for the Cubs, or so Rickett and Cubs president Theo Epstein say.  How could they not be?

The brightest days belong to the vastly overpaid Epstein and Ricketts, who will host 81 great parties that occur simultaneous to a bad baseball game being played.

21 thoughts on “Chicago Cubs – Reason for Bidding on Masahiro Tanaka Even More Nefarious Than I Thought

  1. Kevin Lynch

    I was a Cubs season ticket holder for a year in 1991, and I viewed it as a cover charge for afternoon drinking, with a ball game instead of a band, but back then they had Maddux, Hawk, Dunston Sandberg Grace and lots of talent, just not quite enough good pitching. Of course the tickets were only $12 then…

  2. Kyle

    I have a tough time buying into this. I don’t have any inside sources with the Cubs or any other MLB clubs, but this is exactly the type of guy the F.O. / ownership wants to spend heavily on. I don’t see them going over $22M / yr for 5-6 years (+$20M posting fee), but even at that price point it would be an overpay for a #2 type starter. If the LAD or NYY want to give him $25M/yr then good for them.

    I do agree that he’s not likely to end up in Chicago, but not due to lack of effort. Japanese news outlets report he strongly prefers to live in NY or LA. I was shocked when BovadaLV listed the Cubs as the favorites to land him at 3/2….I understand Vegas odds aren’t the best barometer to gauge the actual likelihood of an outcome.

    Not only do the Cubs have a chance to add a T.O.R. starter, but they won’t have to give up any draft picks or prospects to do it. There is an added bonus of increasing interest / media coverage into the Japanese market, which will impact the bottom line.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      That would all be wonderful if not for the fact that the Cubs know they are pissing into the wind. Knowing that Tanaka won’t come to Chicago, we need to closely examine the club’s motivation for this Quixotic quest. Keeps media busy telling a story other than the Cubs suck – check. Allows a narrative of continued hope for fans during the Cubs Convention weekend – check. Give season ticket renewal candidates an answer to the question as to why they would re-invest in watching the Cubs – check. Provides an excuse for keeping the checkbook in the drawer for the entire offseason – check.

      Sure, my view is cynical, but I’ve been in enough meetings as decisions were made to hear exactly what means people will go to avoid adding expense while providing plausible cover for criticism of poor performance. This barely qualifies as clever compared to the bizarre lengths to which many have gone.

  3. PeteF3

    There is no reason for the Cubs ever to be more than a year or two away from contention. If they bid on Tanaka, it’s going to be for a lot longer than 1-2 years anyway.

    “They can’t win by 2015, so what’s the point?” I heard this exact same thing when the Tigers signed Ivan Rodriguez for 4 years, coming off 119 losses. “There’s no way they can turn it around that quickly, so why waste the money?” First, there’s a difference between 60 wins and 70–a tangible one. Take it from a fan of bad teams. Second, sometimes teams exceed expectations.

    Good players are better than bad ones. Generally the more good ones and the fewer bad ones you have, the better you’ll be.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Can’t argue with any of that, but it presupposes that the Cubs are interested in winning, and I’m not convinced they are. Certainly through 2015, they are doomed to misery. Even if the Cubs over deliver, the players carrying the weight will be catapulted elsewhere for farmhands.

      There is no way Ricketts is coughing up the $20M for the posting fee, and another $20M/year for Tanaka to pitch for a mediocre-at-best team.

      1. PeteF3

        Signing Theo Epstein away from Boston is certainly an odd way to not want to try to win.

        And if you’re going to argue that they merely signed Epstein to give off the *appearance* of trying to win, then there’s no point in even continuing this conversation without some hard evidence to back that assertion up. At that point we’ll have crossed the line into conspiracy-theorizing, and conspiracy theorists are impossible to have rational discussions with.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          No, I believe that the hiring of Epstein was a purely decent act trying to turn things around. I believe that Epstein’s primary goal is to use Ricketts patience to weasel a giant contract extension at the end of his fourth season (2015). The expectation of losing will allow Epstein to claim victory while posting the fewest wins over an extended period in franchise history.

          While I loathe the tack taken by Ricketts in trying to leverage the Cubs continued residency at Wrigley Field in order to gain approval for stadium upgrades, I think he is a victim of his own good nature, baseball ignorance, and family’s coveting of profits.

          The pursuit of Tanaka makes no sense unless viewed through this cynical prism because the Cubs have no chance at all to sign him.

  4. Not Kent Thank God

    Still trolling with shitty cynicism, I see. Too bad there isn’t a single piece of factual information in your post to actually back your trollish opinion.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Yes, sadly the corrupt are reluctant to stand in front of a microphone and admit to their trickery, so there are no quotes from Ricketts or his henchmen.

      The proof will be in Tanaka’s entirely predictable agreement with another team willing to pay for the chance to win. One of two things are true about the Cubs supposed pursuit of Tanaka – they are idiots who believe, despite all that is known about the guy, that he might actually prefer playing for the Cubs over a team that better suits his family’s needs and his desire to win; or the Cubs crafted this charade for the reasons articulated in the post.

      I’ll trust you to choose which you believe.

      If he signs with the Cubs, I will apologize and never write another negative word about Ricketts, Epstein, Hoyer, or (gulp) Kenney.

      1. Not Kent Thank God

        Please let’s not tie Kenney in with knowledgeable people running the show. If the cubs sign Tanaka it has nothing to do with him. Rip away.

        I will hold you to your word, because you really do preach some tin foil hat bullshit.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          What do you think Kenney does at Wrigley Field? Do you think Ricketts keeps him chained in the dungeon?

          I’m telling you that I have been in conference rooms where crazy has been proposed and adopted. To think that people this smart can’t figure out a way to manipulate the media and fans through charades like the Tanaka bid sells men like Ricketts way short.

          1. Not Kent Thank God

            The fact that you think Kenney has anything to do with the players on the field shows your limited knowledge in this situation.

            No one is saying they couldn’t manipulate the media, but that doesn’t mean your theory shouldn’t come with a tin foil hat.

          2. kentsterling Post author

            When did I write that Kenney has anything to do with the players on the field?

            No, Kenney isn’t sitting with scouts, but he has Ricketts’ ear. That’s bad enough for me.

  5. Eric

    Yet another article that both showcases your agenda and your complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the process necessary to rebuild the Cubs.

    Regardless of where Tanaka goes you should do everyone a favor and never write another article on the Cubs.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Somebody needs to tell the truth about these profiteers who sell hope where none should exist. It brings me no joy to know that the Cubs are being run by a family that is committed to extracting as much cash from its operation as possible.

      My agenda is to tell the truth, and that truth is well-stated in your words – The Ricketts “complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the process necessary to rebuild the Cubs.”

      The hope I have for you is that you will wait to spend another dime on this team until there is something worthwhile to watch inside the Friendly Confines. Hey, if I’m wrong and the Cubs start winning in 2014, I owe everyone an apology. If anyone wants to wager that the Cubs will find a way to win more than they lose in the Ricketts fifth season of ownership, I’m all ears.

      If you want a list of franchises that have gone from group zero to winning in under five years, that post is being researched right now. The list is long, by the way.

      1. Not Kent Thank God

        You realize this is the end of year 2 of the rebuild, right? No one thinks the Cubs will compete in 2014, and that’s not what you’re arguing. Your argument is that the Ricketts is pulling a Loria and making every effort to profit over win, which is clearly not the case here. No amount of bizarre speculation can make it so.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          What tangible evidence is there that Ricketts is not doing everything possible to maximize profits? The Cubs aren’t winning, haven’t won since Ricketts took ownership, and have no reasonable projections to win. They have jettisoned every big ticket player on the roster, and have replaced them with players like Donnie Murphy, Nate Schierholtz, and Ryan Sweeney.

          The only big ticket free agent acquired has been Edwin Jackson, and I can’t figure that one out. It made zero sense from a competitive or profit-first perspective.

        2. kentsterling Post author

          And this is not the end of year two. It’s the beginning of year five. We are now in Theo’s third year, but Ricketts is on the hook for everything following October, 2009. That’s when he took control of the Cubs. Epstein is into his 28th month running the baseball operations.


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