Cubs covet 25-0 Masahiro Tanaka

Major League executives no longer attend the World Series like they once did. In fact, it’s rare to see a general manager at a World Series game if his team is not involved. But there is a destination for GMs this week – that’s Kleenex Stadium in Sendai, Japan.

The Cubs are expected to be among the most heavily represented teams at the Japan Series, with a strong interest in 24-year old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. He will pitch Game 2 for his Rakuten Golden Eagles, taking a 25-0 record into a game that starts about 5 a.m. CST Sunday.

Tanaka, according to Major League Baseball sources, has become a top priority for Cubs’ owner Tom
Ricketts and his baseball group, headed by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. He is expected to be offered up for the posting process by the Golden Eagles after the Japan Series, and the Cubs will bid heavily on it.

So too will all of baseball’s biggest spenders, with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers among the teams most frequently mentioned as having interest. The Blue Jays, Mariners, Dodgers and maybe another half dozen teams are also following Tanaka closely.

Two years ago, the Rangers invested over $107 million in Japanese ace Yu Darvish, winning the rights to sign him with a blind bid of $51,703,411 that went to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and then signing Darvish for $56 million over six years. The belief that the process to acquire Tanaka will be at least as competitive, in part because Darvish (29-18, 3.34 with 498 strikeouts in 401 innings pitched) has done so well in his two seasons with the Rangers.

Landing Tanaka would be a coup for Epstein, as he perfectly fits the organizational need for pitching and would give Ricketts a player he can promote as the wait continues for position-player prospects Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albertico Almora.

The Cubs participated in the bidding process with Darvish but always viewed as secondary players within the industry. They were runnersup for two other top international free agents, Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes after the 201 season and Korean left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu last year, and appear at least as serious in landing Tanaka as they did either of those two. More than likely, they’re probably more motivated, as they need to do something major with NL Central rivals St. Louis and Pittsburgh looking so strong in October and well situated for the future.

Why Tanaka?

He’s 6-2, 205 pounds with a fastball that tops out at 97 and a splitter that is wicked. He gets a lot of ground balls to go with swings and misses, and he will pitch at age 25 next season, meaning he should be at the peak of his career in 2015, when the Cubs hope to become consistent playoff contenders behind a rebuilt farm system and some well-chosen free agents.

Tanaka broke Daisuke Matsuzaka’s career high school strikeout record and this season broke a record for consecutive victories that had stood since 1957. He was impressive in the World Baseball Classic, striking out 12 and walking none in seven innings, although he missed a chance for a major showcase when Puerto Rico upset Japan in the semifinals at AT&T Park, where it appeared he was on track to start against the Dominican Republic in the finals.

Also worth knowing:

n  Yes, the White Sox did discuss a possible Jake Peavy trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, the team he faced in World Series Game 3, before dealing him to the Red Sox. But talks between the White Sox and Cardinals weren’t serious. The Sox were only going to deal Peavy if they got a major piece back – possibly pitching prospect Carlos Martinez, who looks like a world-beater in the Cardinals’ bullpen – and the need for him in St. Louis wasn’t at the level that would have caused GM John Mozeliak to seriously consider such a deal.

n  There have been no significant hitches in the White Sox’s acquisition of Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, even though it has not been formally announced. The sides agreed to a six-year, $68-million deal on Oct. 17, pending a physical. A news conference is expected next week, and could be held as soon as Tuesday.  It does not appear that the White Sox will try to rush Abreu into action in the Arizona Fall League or even the Dominican Winter League in December. The tentative plan calls for him to use the next four months to get acclimated to the United States before he puts a uniform on in February, when the White Sox report to camp in Arizona.

n  The White Sox suffered a blow when speedy second baseman Micah Johnson experienced pain in his right elbow, which had required surgery before his junior year at Indiana University. He underwent surgery earlier this week, which could limit him when spring training begins. Johnson is a terrific prospect – he helped Double-A Birmingham win the Southern League championship and was on track to push for big-league consideration late in 2014 – but has been injury prone. He hit .561 as a junior at a private school in Indianapolis but missed his senior season of high school because of surgery to repair his left shoulder.

 

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