The days are melting off the calendar and still a handful of prominent free agents remain on the market, waiting to learn where they'll be playing next season. While conventional Hot Stove wisdom suggests lucrative contracts are scarce in January, this year presents a somewhat unique set of circumstances with the posting and eventual signing of Masahiro Tanaka.
The Tanaka saga is interesting because there are many teams potentially involved, and which of them comes away with him could have wide-ranging fallout for some of the other available free agents. But Tanaka isn't the only major piece whose movement—or lack thereof—could have a major impact on the market.
The Rays have reportedly been listening to offers for ace David Price, and his fate could have just as much say this offseason as Tanaka's.
Masahiro Tanaka must be feeling like the pied piper right about now. As expected, he appears to be the most coveted quasi-free agent on the market, with the Cubs and White Sox joining a gang of teams reported to be interested, according to Luke Stuckmeyer of CSN Chicago. The Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and others have previously been mentioned as likely suitors for Tanaka.
Teams involved in the bidding for Tanaka have said he will cost a minimum of $17 million per year, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported late last month. That'd be $102 million over six years or $85 million over five. Either of those deals would be more than the five years and $77.5 million C.J. Wilson got from the Angels two offseasons ago.
And Nightengale's reported estimate seems modest when you read this analysis of the Tanaka saga by Tony Blengino of FanGraphs.
So, it's hard to see a downside here for Tanaka in a financial sense; he's probably going to be paid very well. The question is whether he'll go to the highest bidder, no matter where it takes him, or if he'll consider other factors. Not a bad dilemma to have.
Ervin Santana was ranked by many as the best available pitcher after Tanaka, but that doesn't necessarily mean all of the spurned Tanaka suitors will turn to him. We can't say for sure what Santana's market looks like because it hasn't taken shape yet, but once it does, he should have relatively fewer potential landing spots.
Whereas win-now teams obviously want Tanaka, rebuilding teams also covet the 25-year-old as a long-term investment around which they can build. Santana, meanwhile, is a veteran free agent in the traditional sense—he's older, has had injury concerns and so on. In short, many teams are interested in paying for Tanaka's prime years. Only a limited number will be interested in paying for Santana's decline.
That doesn't mean all is lost for Santana. His reported asking price of $112 million early in the offseason looks silly right now, but I think the aforementioned C.J. Wilson contract could still be in play for him.
If the Rays take David Price off the market, which is possible, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com (subscription required), then pitching-needy teams will have one fewer option. And if Tanaka signs with a dark horse like, say, the Athletics, then that figures to work in Santana's favor, too.
Either or both of those scenarios could drive some of the deeper-pocketed teams like the Mariners and Blue Jays, who are both reported to be seeking a starter, toward Santana. Seattle, in particular, looks like a good fit in my opinion. They need another piece after signing Robinson Cano, and a return to the AL West and a spacious home ballpark in Safeco Field might be ideal for him on the field.
Santana might be the most bankable starter after Tanaka, but Matt Garza may be more attractive to suitors and could have a more robust market. Garza, unlike Santana, won't cost a team a draft pick because the Rangers weren't allowed to make him a qualifying offer after they acquired him in a midseason trade.
Teams covet their draft picks, after all, and not having to forfeit one to sign Garza should help his cause. To his disadvantage, however, is his recent injury history, which will probably turn off some teams and limit the number of long-term contract offers he receives.
Thus, it seems we have the perfect storm for a shorter offer with a high annual average salary, which is what the Twins have had on the table for Garza for weeks, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Apparently, Garza thinks he can do better. Can he? Without knowing the specifics of the Twins' offer, it probably wasn't a four-year deal. That would be a very aggressive offer for a pitcher who has spent time on the disabled list in each of the past two seasons.
I think Garza will perhaps find three-year offers, though, as Wolfson's report suggests, with a sweetened average annual salary. The Diamondbacks have popped up in reports all offseason suggesting they're looking for a starter. I could see them bowing out on Santana and Tanaka because of the size of their contracts and instead locking up Garza for something like three years and $54 million.
The last of the trio of pitchers awaiting a resolution to the Tanaka saga, Ubaldo Jimenez is apparently not discouraged by his slow-developing market. Jimenez's agents are telling teams they want $14 million-plus annually on a multi-year deal for the right-hander, as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted Monday.
That's not really an unreasonable asking price, so perhaps it's a signal from Jimenez's camp to interested teams that they are ready to negotiate and don't want to lose the game of musical chairs. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote a couple of weeks back that the market for Jimenez could boil down to the Yankees, Blue Jays and Diamondbacks, all teams that have also been linked to Tanaka.
If one of them comes away with Tanaka, will that leave Jimenez with as few as two suitors?
The good news for Jimenez is that all three of those teams can afford to splurge on him if need be, so that could help drive up his price as much as possible. I see the Jays as a good fit. Jimenez is still young at just under 30 and throws hard, both of which should serve him well in the AL East.
Obviously the same applies to the Yankees, though I wonder if they worry about dealing with Jimenez under the scrutiny of the New York media if he struggles the way he did prior to 2013.
Stephen Drew might be the best remaining free-agent position player, but you wouldn't know it from his market. The left-handed hitter has had trouble drawing interest all offseason, for the simple fact that there's not many teams out there in need of a shortstop.
The Mets and Red Sox, two teams that look like fits for Drew, might have the luxury of passing, for different reasons. The Mets are still rebuilding and thus aren't under any particular pressure to upgrade over Ruben Tejada, and Boston has the option of simply plugging in super prospect Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and going with Will Middlebrooks at third base.
In both cases, giving a multi-year contract to Drew, a solid player with a long history of injuries, would seem unnecessary.
And so, barring the emergence of another bidder, which is always possible although not imminent as far as I can tell, Drew is facing the possibility of taking a one-year deal from either the Mets, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports, or from the Red Sox.
A one-year contract would be far from ideal for Drew, a guy who spent time on the DL in each of the past three seasons. In general, players value money, obviously, but they also value years (i.e. job security), much like Robinson Cano suggested at his introductory press conference with the Mariners.
For Drew, he should be especially concerned about taking a one-year deal because of his his injury history, because if he gets hurt again, he could find himself back in the same place that he's in now, or worse.
The flip side to that, though, is if he puts together a great, injury-free season. In that case, he'll hit the market again next offseason, presumably with more bidders for services, perhaps the Yankees among them as they look for a replacement for Derek Jeter. That, apparently, is not the priority for Drew, though, because he probably could have signed a one-year deal already if he wanted.