Ervin Santana could be the top priority of several teams that lost out on the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes.
The New York Yankees' signing of Japanese starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, which was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, affects the rest of the offseason in more ways than one. And probably more than even two or three ways.
Tanaka's seven-year, $155 million deal was even larger than had been expected for the 25-year-old, which would seemingly boost the asking price for the top starting pitchers remaining on the free-agent market.
With one fewer option available, the teams that lost out on the Tanaka sweepstakes could now feel a sense of urgency to get something done. There could be as many as six or seven teams, including the Yankees, in the mix to sign Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
The addition of Tanaka to the Yankees' rotation could also force the hands of their division rivals, the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. While neither has been strongly connected with either of the front-line starters throughout the offseason, they could now counter the Tanaka signing by making a splash of their own.
Here's a look at how the remainder of the front-line starting pitching dominos may fall.
Players traded midseason, as Matt Garza (pictured) was last July, are not eligible to receive a qualifying offer. Any team signing them would not be required to surrender a draft pick. This likely makes him the preferred choice over Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, who would each cost their new team a draft choice.
Teams are still shying away from a four- or five-year contract, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, with one AL executive saying that teams likely felt a contract of that length was too risky for Garza.
The 30-year-old, who posted a 3.82 ERA with a 2.4 BB/9 and 7.9 K/9 in 24 starts between the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers last season, has had interest from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins this offseason. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer also thinks the Cleveland Indians can jump into the mix if his price drops far enough.
That could be said for several other teams that aren't interested at his current asking price.
The Angels won't let that happen, though.
Having made great strides this offseason without adding to their payroll, owner Artie Moreno could be more likely to open up his pocketbook now to add Garza to the rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Ubaldo Jimenez's asking price is more than $14 million per season on a multi-year deal.
With Masahiro Tanaka getting $22 million annually, it's unlikely that his price will drop anytime soon.
It will take a big leap of faith, however, for a team to give Jimenez more than a three-year deal at that price. The right-hander, who turned 30 years old Wednesday, was terrific over his last 23 starts of 2013 (2.41 ERA, 138 IP, 123 H, 58 BB, 147 K) but was a complete disaster for most of his 74-start stint with the Cleveland Indians.
General manager Chris Antonetti is open to the possibility of Jimenez returning according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and a return to Cleveland shouldn't be ruled out. In fact, it could become a real possibility.
Teams aren't really sure what to expect and could pass on a long-term deal for Jimenez, who could find that his best bet is to return to the Tribe on a one-year deal and prove that last season wasn't a fluke. And if his price drops far enough, the two sides could also potentially agree on a three-year deal with an option for a fourth.
Ervin Santana is, arguably, the best starting pitcher on the free-agent market ahead of Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez. He should land the biggest contract of the three.
With Masahiro Tanaka getting $155 million, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Santana surpassed $100 million after he posted a 3.24 ERA with a stellar 72 percent quality start rate with the Kansas City Royals in 2013.
The question is whether the teams that had $100 million-plus ticketed for Tanaka would redirect at least a big portion of that to sign Santana.
Two rebuilding teams that were thought to have interest in the 25-year-old Tanaka, the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, aren't likely to show the same interest in the 31-year-old Santana. Same for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were also interested in Tanaka but more likely for his star power and not because they were desperate for starting pitching.
It could come down to the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays, who have each been connected with Santana this offseason. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Jays were among the favorites to sign him, while his colleague Jon Paul Morosi tweeted last month that the M's had been showing continued interest.
Between the Robinson Cano signing and their pitcher-friendly home ballpark, the Mariners should be able to convince Santana to come to Seattle.
Lose out on the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes? Not willing to give a big-money, multi-year deal to land one of the top three free-agent starters? No worries. You can still probably trade for Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price if you're willing to give up a few of your top prospects.
While Dayn Perry of CBS Sports makes a strong argument for the Rays holding onto Price, they're still going to keep an open mind in case a team blows them away with an offer.
Would the Boston Red Sox, who might be the best fit in terms of prospect talent and depth, counter all of the Yankees' big-name signings by acquiring Price?
It was no secret that the Arizona Diamondbacks wanted to add another front-line starter this offseason. If they can't do it via free agency after missing out on Tanaka, would they roll the dice and trade top prospect Archie Bradley in a package for Price?
If the Mariners are unable or unwilling to sign Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, would they re-visit trade talks and either reconsider including top prospect Taijuan Walker or try to improve a potential trade package some other way?
It's highly unlikely that a trade involving Price will happen now, as the Rays might not want to risk taking a huge hit in rotation talent and depth with spring training quickly approaching. Expect him to take the mound as the Rays face off against the Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day.
Homer Bailey (pictured), Jeff Samardzija and Max Scherzer are three front-line pitchers whose names have been floating around the rumor mill this offseason.
The Cincinnati Reds could still trade Bailey, but only if they can re-sign Bronson Arroyo to fill his rotation spot. Same with the Detroit Tigers, who would likely need to have a deal in place with Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana if they were to trade the 2013 Cy Young winner.
Neither team has an in-house replacement that could come close to replacing Bailey or Scherzer. Both teams also expect to be playoff contenders, which is why they're unlikely to trade such important pieces from their roster.
In the case of the Chicago Cubs, though, Masahiro Tanaka was likely their last chance to make a splash prior to Year 3 of the Theo Epstein regime. They are now said to be looking at adding pitching depth, according to Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago, and aren't expected to pursue the top free-agent pitchers.
After such an uneventful offseason and with their elite prospects not likely to make an impact in 2014, the Cubs will have a tough time improving on their 96-loss season. Samardzija is under club control for two more seasons and his value is unlikely to be higher than it is now.
While the Cubs aren't likely to lower their price too much, they could be more open to moving the right-hander now as their return to contention continues to look more and more like it won't happen until at least 2015.