The pursuit of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka was perhaps the biggest story of this offseason, and with so many teams involved, there was bound to be a ripple effect felt throughout the league once he did chose a team.
That choice finally came on Wednesday morning, as the 25-year-old agreed to terms on a seven-year, $155 million deal with the New York Yankees. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports was the first to report the signing, as he also reported that the deal includes an opt-out clause after four years.
BREAKING: Tanaka to #Yankees, seven years, $155M, opt-out after fourth year.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 22, 2014
There was no shortage of teams that showed at least some degree of interest in signing Tanaka, with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers all making offers north of $100 million, according to a report from Anthony McCarron the New York Daily News.
In the end, it appeared to be a three-horse race between the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees, though, and with the decision made, the Cubs and Dodgers are now left with some questions regarding the rest of their offseason.
While the Dodgers have been free spenders since the new ownership group took over and were expected to be serious players, this had the potential to be the first major signing that Theo Epstein and company made. Early reports have them just missing out on landing Tanaka, according to Phil Rogers of MLB.com.
How serious were Cubs about Tanaka? Deadly serious. Haven't confirmed this but the word is they went to $150 million. Likely runner-up.— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) January 22, 2014
Both teams could very well wind up standing pat at the starting pitching spot, but they may also look to add someone else between now and Opening Day. Let's take a closer look at both teams' projected rotations, as well as whom they could target.
As things stand right now, the Cubs' Opening Day rotation would probably look something like this.
|RHP Jeff Samardzija||33 GS, 8-13, 4.34 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 214 K, 213.2 IP|
|LHP Travis Wood||32 GS, 9-12, 3.11 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 144 K, 200 IP|
|RHP Edwin Jackson||31 GS, 8-18, 4.98 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 135 K, 175.1 IP|
|RHP Jake Arrieta||9 GS, 4-2, 3.66 ERA, 4.94 FIP, 37 K, 51.2 IP|
|LHP Chris Rusin||13 GS, 2-6, 3.93 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 36 K, 66.1 IP|
There was a good deal of speculation that Jeff Samardzija would be traded this offseason, but it now appears the Cubs will hold on to him until at least the July trade deadline, and he could yet wind up getting an extension.
The big right-hander took a step back after a breakout season in 2012, but he still has the stuff to be a legitimate staff ace, and the Cubs would love nothing more than for him to turn things around in 2014.
Travis Wood was one of the few bright spots for the team this past season, recording 24 quality starts in 32 outings and earning a trip to the All-Star Game.
Edwin Jackson signed a big four-year, $52 million deal last offseason and turned in the worst season of his career. He was at least partially the victim of some bad luck, and chances are he won't be as bad as he was last season.
The final two spots go to a pair of guys who will likely get every chance to prove they belong in the team's long-term plans. Jake Arrieta was acquired from the Orioles for Scott Feldman. He's a former top prospect, while Chris Rusin has slowly worked his way through the organization and has nothing more to gain from time in the minors at this point.
All in all, it's an incredibly average starting rotation that has the potential to be slightly above average if everything breaks right. Tanaka would have given the Cubs a front-line starter to not only help immediately but to build around moving forward.
As for the Dodgers, their Opening Day rotation would likely shape up as follows.
|LHP Clayton Kershaw||33 GS, 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 232 K, 236 IP|
|RHP Zack Greinke||28 GS, 15-4, 2.63 ERA, 148 K, 177.2 IP|
|LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu||30 GS, 14-8, 3.00 ERA, 154 K, 192 IP|
|RHP Dan Haren||30 GS, 10-14, 4.67 ERA, 151 K, 169.2 IP|
|RHP Josh Beckett||8 GS, 0-5, 5.19 ERA, 41 K, 43.1 IP|
Clayton Kershaw has undoubtedly climbed to the top of the MLB starting pitchers charts, and he was rewarded with a record seven-year, $215 million extension as a result. He struggled in the NLCS, losing both of his starts, so he could enter 2014 with a chip on his shoulder.
Last offseason's signings of Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu paid immediate dividends, as those two alongside Kershaw helped lead the Dodgers to a 3.46 ERA from their starting rotation.
Greinke missed some time in spring training, then broke his collarbone in a brawl. He was as good as any pitcher in the game after the All-Star break, though, Kershaw included, going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA over his final 14 starts.
A pair of injury-plagued veterans round out the rotation, as Josh Beckett returns from right shoulder surgery and Dan Haren was signed to a one-year, $10 million deal in free agency.
Haren did not have the best season in 2013 as a whole, but he was 6-4 with a 3.52 ERA in the second half and 2-1 with a 1.44 ERA in his final four starts. The team is not asking him to be an ace, and if he can win double-digit games with an ERA under 4.00 he'd be a great pickup.
Beckett remains the big question mark, though the team does have some depth with Matt Magill and Stephen Fife both getting extended looks in the majors last year.
Signing Tanaka would have given them another potentially dominant arm to join Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the staff and would have given the team perhaps the best starting rotation in baseball.
So where do these two teams turn their attention now?
The dominoes will likely fall quickly on the free-agent market now that Tanaka has signed, and the Dodgers could very well make a run at someone from the foursome of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo if they don't feel confident that Beckett can hold down a spot.
The Dodgers still have their first-round pick for the upcoming season, having not signed anyone that received a qualifying offer to this point. That could make Garza the most attractive option of the bunch, as both he and Arroyo did not receive qualifying offers, whereas Jimenez and Santana will cost a pick.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are not likely to go after any of the top arms on the market, as they are still focused on the future. Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago wrote that the team will not pursue Garza, Jimenez or Santana if they were to miss out on Tanaka.
That said, a veteran innings-eater like Joe Saunders could interest both teams, as he should come at a relatively low price and provides depth and durability if nothing else.
Other potential low-cost options that could interest both teams include Paul Maholm, Chris Capuano, Jason Hammel and Bruce Chen.
From the Dodgers' standpoint, these guys would simply represent depth, while the Cubs would give them every chance to win a rotation spot with an eye on potentially flipping them at the deadline like they did with Scott Feldman last season.
The trade market may not be an option for either team as far as adding a starter is concerned, though it is for very different reasons.
The Cubs farm system is loaded with high-end talent, and they could put together an impressive trade package for anyone that interested them. However, they are not going to mortgage their future in any way to land anything short of a front-line starter to build around, and the trade market is not exactly full of those sort of arms.
On the other hand, the Dodgers would love to pull off a trade for a top veteran starter if it meant giving them a better chance to win now. Someone like Cliff Lee or David Price would certainly make their already impressive rotation that much better.
However, they may not have the pieces to put together a good enough package to land either of those guys if they were legitimately made available. Joc Pederson and Zach Lee are their top two prospects, but they may not want to part with both, and other teams could conceivably put together a better package either way.
If the Tampa Bay Rays were to legitimately commit to trading Price, both teams could make a run at landing him, but at this point, it looks like he'll at least be starting the 2014 season as a member of the Rays.
There is no question that missing out on Tanaka stings for both the Cubs and the Dodgers, but the two teams have very different Plan B's to turn to.
Who needed Masahiro Tanaka more?
The Dodgers continue to scoop up as much talent as they can in an effort to win it all, and they may very well now turn their attention to the rest of the free-agent market and the handful of top starting pitchers that are still available.
The Cubs, on the other hand, are still in rebuilding mode and are only really interested in players that can help them long term. That was what made the 25-year old Tanaka such an attractive target and one they were willing to pay top dollar for.
They could still look to add a low-cost starter to help fill out the rotation and give them some trade bait come July, much like they did with Scott Feldman last season. Don't expect a splash signing out of the North Siders, though.