Before any major action occurs on Major League Baseball's hot stove, one of the most sought-after pitchers could be erased from the plans for all offseason suitors.
According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, there are serious reservations among clubs about the revised version of the posting process that was approved by the Japanese baseball players association, per The Japan Times.
If an agreement that suits all parties can't be agreed upon soon, Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, one of the most coveted foreign pitchers in history, may not be available to bid on by any Major League Baseball team this offseason. After a 24-0 regular season, the 25-year-old Tanaka was expected to be bid on by teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Angels, Twins, Royals, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Padres, Phillies and Rockies, according to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors.
As Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger pointed out, the issue won't be easily remedied. Major League Baseball warned the Japanese players that a delay could cost them. Now there are serious concerns, from MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred, about a star like Tanaka having to spend another year in Japan before this system can be ironed out.
“Right now, we have to have some further discussion with them before they’re able to accept,” Manfred said, per Andy McCullough. “We warned them, told them, if this sat too long, there could be shifting winds out there. And suffice it to say, there have been shifting winds.”
With nearly half of the league now preparing to cross the top available pitcher off the list of available assets, the other dominoes in the free-agent and trade markets will fall in different ways than expected.
Here's a look at how the Tanaka news might change the offseason.
Pitching prices will explode
Without Tanaka occupying the top rung of the pitching market, prices for free-agent starters could become crazy.
Days after Ervin Santana's agency floating figures of a five-year, $112 million deal to interested teams, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the seemingly ridiculous notion may become reality. Since 2007, nine pitchers have signed contracts in excess of $100 million. That averages out to more than one pitcher per season, although not all on the free-agent market, that garnered a nine-figure deal.
|$100 Million Arms (2007-2013)|
|Pitcher||Team||Year Signed||Total Value|
Unless franchises can develop top-tier pitching, it becomes very, very expensive on the open market when the bidding war begins. Until now, it was assumed that Tanaka, through the combination of the posting fee and free-agent contract, would be the $100 million arm of the winter.
If he's gone, someone could step up to fill the void and become one of the unlikeliest pitchers to strike it rich in baseball history. While the idea of Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza approaching record-level money seemed impossible just months ago, the market, led by supply and demand, could dictate astronomical prices for pitchers with little track record of sustained dominance.
Max Scherzer, David Price could become even more valuable on the trade market
With the cost of free-agent starters fluctuating to insane levels, pitching-needy teams could look to the trade market to save money on long-term commitments and procure better arms. Due to a forward-thinking front office in Tampa Bay and a suddenly frugal nature in Detroit, David Price and Max Scherzer, respectively, could be available for the right package of players.
According to the 2014 projected arbitration salaries by Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors, Max Scherzer is slated to earned $13.6 million next season before hitting the free-agent market a year from now, and David Price is headed for $13.1 million. Not only are the last two American League Cy Young winners available in the trade market, they can be part of a 2014 payroll for less money than the Angels paid C.J. Wilson in 2013, per Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Of course, the downside to trading for either Price or Scherzer centers around their impending free agency. Barring injury or unforeseen slips in performance, both will be included in future lists of $100 million arms. While they provide major bang for the buck in 2014, long-term costs will be far more than any of the free-agent pitchers will receive, even in a year without Tanaka.
However, that won't stop the offers from piling up in Tampa and Detroit. If opposing general managers have the choice between spending $90-110 million on inconsistent pitchers like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez or surrendering prospects for one year of a recent AL Cy Young winner, the more talented arm will be chosen every single time.
Last year, Tampa swapped James Shields for Wil Myers. This year, if Tanaka is lost to another year in Japan, they could get multiple ROY candidates back for Price.
Offense could be valued differently
Of course, there's an entirely different route pitching-needy teams could go if the market does explode as expected without Masahiro Tanaka. Instead of filling a need on the mound, general managers around baseball could choose to add to offensive strength with the idea of outscoring teams in 2014.
For example, if teams like Toronto and Kansas City, both in need of a top-tier starter, had been in pursuit of Tanaka, signing Ervin Santana or Matt Garza might not come as a natural second choice this winter.
Instead, they could add to offenses that already have significant talent. While their pitching would still lack the high-end starters needed to lead a staff through the rigors of a 162-game season, the offensive value in Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran may be more efficient than signing the best pitcher available.
In 2013, only one team (Boston) scored over 800 runs during the regular season. Furthermore, only 11 teams even reached the 700-run plateau, per ESPN. Five years earlier, only six teams didn't score at least 700 runs during the season, per ESPN. With offense down around the sport, trying to allocate funds toward a juggernaut offense could be a point of emphasis for any front office scared away by available pitching this winter.
Building a well-rounded team, equipped with high-end starting pitching, is still ideal, but don't be shocked if a team or two leaves a glaring hole in the rotation this offseason in order to allocate funds toward an impact bat that provides more bang for the buck.
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