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Cubs strike out in pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka

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Updated: January 22, 2014 5:47PM

The Cubs put aside as much payroll as they had in the budget to make a run at the top young free agent on the market this year, but the New York Yankees swamped the field with a $155-million, seven-year offer that landed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, according to multiple reports.

The Yankees, who missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years, were considered favorites to land Tanaka from start of the process, given an urgent need for starting pitching.

The cost to the Yankees is $175 million, when the Japanese posting fee is included. Tanaka also reportedly received an opt-out clause (after four years) – which, like no-trade clauses, is against Cubs policy in Theo Epstein’s front office.

Several reports had the Cubs among the final few teams being considered by Tanaka during a bidding process kept unusually secret at the request of Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close.

It’s unclear how close the Cubs got to the Yankees’ offer, or how effective their five-man pitch involving a near-future with a powerful young hitting core was.

But it was clear how serious the front office was about using all the resources available to try to land the rarest kind of free agent: a 25-year-old impact pitcher with an elite professional track record.

It was the kind of would-be move that would have dove-tailed ideally with the potential timeline of the highly ranked hitting prospects now in the system.

“The last couple years we’ve spent every single dollar available to us by this point in the off-season,” Epstein said during Cubs Convention over the weekend. “We’ve kept a little bit of our powder dry. We’re always looking for opportunities to add impact players who are the right age. So you want to put yourself in a position to have a chance to do that.”

To that end, the Cubs did very little all winter to address a last-place roster that already lost several veterans to trades and expiring contracts.

Despite one of the smallest projected payroll budgets in the game, the front office saved and scrimped enough to set aside roughly $20 million. How much went into the bid is unclear, especially with the posting fee (payable over two years) somewhere in the mix.

“Our strategy this offseason has been in part to allow us to deliver an impact young player if he happens to be out there,” Epstein said Saturday in an obvious reference to Tanaka.

“And if not, maybe this is the year where we don’t spend all the money that we have and we look forward to spending it on the baseball team – on major league players –down the line, when it makes sense.”

The remaining money in the budget doesn’t necessarily make a long-term contract with pitcher Jeff Samardzija any likelier.

If anything, Samardzija suggested in recent days that landing Tanaka would make a decision to sign a multiyear deal more attractive. He wants to believe there’s a commitment to win soon, and the Tanaka outcome won’t help.

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