Time is here for Cubs to pitch to Tanaka

CHICAGO -- Here comes the pitch.

No, not the type that put former Chicago Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, it's the one the current front office will be throwing towards Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Can the Cubs convince the 25-year-old to sign with them over his many other suitors?

"We're going to be part of the process," general manager Jed Hoyer said in November. "We've done our work on him and plan on being part of it."

The time has come. As this report out of ESPNNewYork.com indicates, Tanaka’s discussions with teams -- including the Cubs -- are heating up. As the process is considered confidential it’s not quite clear when and where the Cubs will meet with Tanaka and his representatives, but sources say it’ll be sometime before next weekend’s Cubs Convention.

Speaking of the fan convention, which will be held Jan. 17-19 at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, wouldn’t that be a perfect place to announce a signing, if possible? Tanaka has to agree to terms with a team by Jan. 24 at 4 p.m. CST or he’ll stay in Japan another year. That deadline is only days after the convention.

It’s unclear if the pitcher has a deadline of his own, but an agreement with the right-hander who went 24-0 last season for the Rakuten Eagles would be the highlight of any team’s offseason.

Privately, the Cubs expressed more optimism about their chances of obtaining Tanaka under the old posting system for Japanese stars. Before this year, a “blind” bid was submitted and the highest bidder won the rights to negotiate with the player. It meant only money stood in the way of earning the player’s rights. And even then, teams didn’t know what the next team was bidding.

For the Cubs, that kind of system may have worked better for one reason: they wouldn’t have to sell Tanaka on the idea of coming to a losing team. He’d have no choice. Under the new system -- in which all teams that are willing to spend $20 million on a posting fee can negotiate with him -- it means convincing him to play for Chicago instead of teams which are currently closer to winning a championship. It’s a hurdle -- but not an impossible one.

After all, money usually speaks louder than anything. So if the Cubs simply tell Tanaka not to agree with anyone until they get a chance to beat an offer, maybe they have a shot. That is, if the Cubs are willing to go as high as $100 million or more for a total package. Sources close to the situation indicate they are.

As you’d expect, reportedly, Tanaka is concerned with where he lives but no one is sure what criteria is important to him other than money. Is he interested in a team with other Japanese players? Would he enjoy life in a big city or does he prefer a smaller market? These issues probably come into play more if he receives similar offers.

And then there is the aspect of winning. The irony for the Cubs is, it’s Tanaka himself who can move them closer to being a contender. With him the Cubs timetable might move up as much as a year.

Team President Theo Epstein and Hoyer’s greatest free-agent pitch is about to take place. They have the city of Chicago to sell, the history (good and bad) of the Cubs and most likely a lot of money to entice him. But is it enough to snag the best -- and youngest -- star free agent of the offseason?

"We wouldn't do it [scout him] for no reason," Hoyer said.