After missing on Yankees’ Tanaka, Cubs settled for Hammel; they’ll face off Tuesday
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter April 13, 2014 9:55PM
Updated: April 13, 2014 11:06PM
ST. LOUIS — Even three months later, 1,000 miles away and a league apart, Masahiro Tanaka stands as the defining player for the 2014 Cubs and represents where their underfunded rebuilding project sits.
The Cubs put the entire weight of their limited offseason resources behind a six-year, $120 million bid for the premier free-agent pitcher on the market, only to watch the megabucks New York Yankees casually put another $37 million and a seventh year into the pot to land the Japanese right-hander.
As they ride out of St. Louis on the rails of their eighth loss in 12 games — 6-4 to Michael Wacha and the rival Cardinals — the Cubs finally get their holiday-season wish of seeing Tanaka on the same field as them.
But in this case, it’s as part of a pitching matchup Tuesday that sums up exactly where the two franchises rank in major-league baseball’s hierarchy: the celebrity free agent with the 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings against the admitted “Plan B or Plan C” flip guy, Jason Hammel.
Three months ago at the Cubs Convention, Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija alluded to as much when talking about the significance of Tanaka, specifically “the ripple effect” if the Cubs could outlast the big spenders and land him.
“Obviously, it changes that timeline,” said Samardzija, who considers “rebuilding” a four-letter word and who hinted that a successful bid for Tanaka might change his perspective on his own long-stalled extension talks with the Cubs. “I’ve mentioned my frustration with that ‘R’ word before. You bring him in, and that ‘R’ word essentially disintegrates.”
Instead, the only thing disintegrating is another Cubs season — and the time left on Samardzija’s career in Chicago.
What is Samardzija’s take on the Cubs, the “R” word and the future now that Tanaka will start for the opposition?
“As players, you don’t really know how negotiations go or what’s really offered or not offered,” he said. “You can just go by what the results are. The results are he signed with the Yankees.”
A cynic might say the result is Samardzija might be well served to use the Cubs’ day off Monday in New York to look for an apartment.
Because the timeline didn’t move in a positive direction for the Cubs over the winter, Samardzija (barring injury) is the most certain Cub to be traded by the July 31 non-waiver deadline. And if the Yankees are in the race, they’ll be one of the teams in Theo Epstein’s ear for pitching help.
Tanaka’s decision kept Edwin Jackson, the losing pitcher Sunday, in the awkward, ultrascrutinized position of being not only the Cub with the largest annual salary, but the only pitcher on the staff signed beyond this season. And, by virtue of his 8-19 record and 5.08 ERA in 34 starts with the Cubs, its biggest disappointment.
If there’s a short-term upside to failing to land Tanaka, it might be Hammel, who takes a better record (2-0) and ERA (2.63) into the duel with Tanaka.
“I just want to win,” Hammel said. “It’s great to go in and beat the Yankees. That’s everybody’s game plan. You want to beat the Yankees because they represent winning. That’s what they do.”