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Tanaka proves his worth with 10-K performance over Cubs

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Updated: April 16, 2014 9:59PM



NEW YORK — Now we know why Cubs manager Rick Renteria went out of his way to try to learn Japanese over the winter. Why Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer committed every available dime in their offseason budget to make the six-year, $120 million offer that fell a year and $35 million short.

Why Masahiro Tanaka was the right pitcher at the right time for what the Cubs want to do. And, maybe, why failing to land him could delay their competitive timeline for years.

“He certainly confirmed to us what we thought of him during the scouting process,” GM Hoyer said after watching the top free-agent pitcher on the winter market befuddle the Cubs’ overmatched lineup Wednesday for a 3-0 victory. It was Tanaka’s best start of three since signing a seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees.

Flashing a split-finger pitch Cubs starter Jason Hammel called “devastating,” Tanaka matched his young career high of 10 strikeouts in eight innings (another high) and limited the Cubs to a pair of bunt singles. One originally was ruled an out before Renteria successfully challenged the call.

Whether that says more about Tanaka or the Cubs’ platoon lineup is debatable.

When asked after the game whether he thought he had no-hit stuff, Tanaka said through his interpreter, “No.”

It certainly was enough to conjure visions of what might have been for a rebuilding plan starving for such a young (25) impact pitcher.

“When we were scouting him, it was clear that he fit the demographic we were looking for,” Hoyer said. “Watching him first-hand on a day like today, you’d be lying if you didn’t say it made all the scouting reports and made all the work we did over the winter sort of come alive in front of you.”

Tanaka’s brilliance also brought to life the Yankees’ ability and willingness to outspend the field when they want a player badly enough, if not some of the limitations the Cubs face as they operate under the game’s largest debt load while awaiting promised new revenues.

In the final week of the bidding process, the Cubs’ offer was at six years, $114 million. Then they went up $1 million per year, the highest they could go, the weekend of the Cubs Convention in January (the total was spread evenly over the term of the bid).

Tanaka wasn’t willing to offer his thoughts on the Cubs’ presentation or the people who made it. He said only that he looked at all the teams bidding “evenly” and “seriously.”

But after three successful starts with the first-place Yankees, he almost certainly feels validation in the decision he made to pass on the Cubs after seeing them up close. Although he said, “I don’t look at it that way. It’s just one game that I saw.”

Asked if he’s at least happy so far with his choice, he said, “I’ll know at the end if the right choice was made.”

As for how much of his decision involved a perceived chance to win a championship — and win right away — he said, “I came here because the Yankees gave me the highest evaluation.”

As in the highest offer?

“The Yankees,” he said when asked for clarification, “gave me the highest assessment. So that’s why I came to the New York Yankees.”

There must not be an exact Japanese translation for “most crazy money.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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