The baseball world is still awaiting word from Japan on whether star right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will be made available for MLB free agency after the league and Nippon Professional Baseball recently agreed to a new posting system.
Tanaka's decision will certainly have a big impact on the entire market for starting pitching, as most of the marquee names are still available. Here's a look at three of the top free-agent starters and predictions on where they'll end up by Opening Day.
Matt Garza, RHP
Garza's name surfaced frequently during the MLB winter meetings, following weeks of relatively few rumors regarding the right-hander. As opposed to Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, who were extended qualifying offers by their clubs, Garza doesn't have draft-pick compensation attached to him since he was traded midseason.
That makes him a much more attractive option that could lead to a bigger payday than his contemporaries. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Garza's market has been thinned to three top suitors:
While LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported the Twins are still in the Garza sweepstakes, it's hard to see them spending the $60 million or so it could cost to sign him. The team has already committed $49 million to Ricky Nolasco and $24 million to Phil Hughes this offseason, with Jerry Crasnick of ESPN noting the Twins have an eye on Paul Maholm, a cheaper alternative:
Garza, Arroyo and Pelfrey aren't the only FA pitchers on #twins radar. They're also keeping tabs on Paul Maholm.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 12, 2013
The Diamondbacks have a major need in the rotation, especially after trading away promising young pitcher Tyler Skaggs to the Los Angeles Angels in the Mark Trumbo deal. But Steve Gilbert of MLB.com speculated Arizona would be hesitant to go beyond a three-year deal, which could be a major sticking point for Garza, who is expected to get at least four years after Jason Vargas and Nolasco each were able to.
That leaves the Los Angeles Angels as the favorite, and as Jim Bowden of ESPN noted, the team has some payroll flexibility heading into 2014:
Angels offSseason moves saved them approx 10 million which will now give them payroll flexibility to add 14-15 per yr on Garza or Tanaka— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) December 11, 2013
Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reported Garza is the club's top priority and that there appears to be mutual interest between the two parties. Garza, 30, would be a solid addition to a rotation that already features Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
Prediction: Los Angeles Angels
Ervin Santana, RHP
The Kansas City Royals have opened up the checkbook this winter, reportedly agreeing to a four-year, $30.25 million pact with infielder Omar Infante on Friday after signing Vargas to a four-year, $32 million deal earlier this offseason.
Still, Jonah Keri of Grantland.com speculated Kansas City isn't done spending:
If the Royals can find one more SP, watch out. Money's there, owner just has to spend it.— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) December 13, 2013
As noted earlier, the Royals made Santana a qualifying offer this offseason, meaning he'll cost any team that signs him a first-round draft pick.
This hurts his market value significantly, so much that Buster Olney of ESPN thinks Santana's best option will be to return to Kansas City:
Future question about the Royals is: Will Ervin Santana be eventually forced by draft-pick circumstances to try to work out something w/ KC?— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 13, 2013
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports also recently reported that the Diamondbacks have had discussions with Santana:
Sources: In addition to talking to Garza, the #Dbacks met with agents for Ervin Santana. Signing Santana would cost them first-round pick.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 11, 2013
The big-spending New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners are still out there as possible destinations for Santana, but it looks like his big asking price will come back to hurt him.
Prediction: Kansas City Royals
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
As Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com wrote, the market surrounding right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez has been slow to develop.
Hoynes made an interesting observation about the Indians front office, suggesting it could be waiting for Jimenez's value to drop with time before making him an offer:
Rumors have linked Jimenez to the Orioles, Yankees, Blue Jays, Phillies, Mariners and Angels. But the rumors have been more like whispers. The Indians have remained in contact with his agent Diego Bentz of SFX Sports, but they could merely be playing a waiting game should Jimenez still be unsigned come spring training.
Like Santana, Jimenez was extended a qualifying offer earlier this offseason and his signing would cost his new team a valuable high draft pick. Heyman passed along a comment from Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, who sounded like he would welcome back Jimenez:
#indians gm antonetti on jimenez; "doors not closed ... we'd love to have him back." pitching coach callaway key for UJ.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 11, 2013
Jimenez has also been linked to teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks, per Bernie Pleskoff of MLB.com, but he could be in a very similar situation to Santana. Jimenez is only 29 and had a dominant second half in 2013, but has been largely inconsistent the past few years. That will make other teams think twice about committing a big deal and a draft pick.
Prediction: Cleveland Indians