The 2014 MLB baseball season won’t get underway for another two months, and yet the Cubs find themselves already raising the L flag, having lost in the sweepstakes for Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka.
I wrote that lead paragraph two hours before the official announcement came down that the prized pitcher had agreed to a 7-year, $155 million deal with the New York Yankees. And, no, I didn’t write a back-up opening, just in case the Cubs hit the jackpot. Why didn’t I? Because I’m a Cubs fan, and I know better. Just like I knew better than to watch Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS.
As Cubs fans, we’ve been there countless times before and so we mentally cushion ourselves against the inevitable. The same way that we prepare ourselves for the long Chicago winters with extra layers and heated blankets. We know it’s coming, and we do our best to shield ourselves from the worst. It doesn’t completely relieve the pain, but it eases it a bit.
I try to convince myself that this bad news is good news in disguise.
I think that maybe Tanaka will be a bust. Look, the Cubs history with Japanese imports has not been that good. Last year’s offseason prize was a Japanese pitcher, Kyuji Fujikawa, acquired for $9.5 million to take the closer role from Carlos Marmol. Fujikawa went down early in the season to an elbow injury and hasn’t been seen since. Maybe we’ll see him in a Cubs’ uniform this season; maybe not. Try as we might, who can forget Kosuke Fukudome, the prized 2007 acquisition from Japan, signed for 4 years at $48 million. The outfielder shot out of the gate in his first month as a Cub, batting .327 in April. But then reality set in. Each successive month saw his average dip: .293 in May, .264 in June, .236 in July, .193 in August, and .178 in September, followed by .100 in the postseason. He ended the year with a .257 average. Three years later, the Cubs traded him to the Cleveland Indians for two minor league prospects.
I think of the bundle of money that the Cubs saved by losing out in the Tanaka bidding war, money they can invest further down the road, when all of these hot shot prospects they are developing are actually ready to produce at the big league level.
I think of the heartache that the Cubs have saved me by raising the expectations too high. I don’t have to believe that maybe this year is the year. It’s easier this way, I can sit back during the game in my overpriced seat with my overpriced Bud Light in hand and not have a care in the world, other than how I am going to afford the cab right back to Evanston.
In the end, I know I’m kidding myself. I wanted the Cubs to win this one, to have at least that fleeting feeling that while maybe next year isn’t here, at least it’s a little closer and that I will be singing “Go, Cubs, Go!” instead of crying “No, Cubs, NOOOO!”
Randy Richardson is the author of CHEESELAND. An all-new edition of his Wrigleyville murder mystery, LOST IN THE IVY, will be released by Eckhartz Press on Opening Day.