At long last, the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes has been settled. The prized Japanese free-agent right-hander is headed to the Bronx to play for the New York Yankees, and his agreement will likely serve as a big domino for the rest of the free-agent starter market.
In fact, it was reported that Matt Garza and the Milwaukee Brewers have agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract, but as of Friday night nothing was official, per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Meanwhile, there are several other starters on the market highlighted by Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo. As far as available hitters, outfielder Nelson Cruz, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Kendrys Morales are still looking for work with about a month before spring training starts.
Still, the past few days have been marked by several signings by 2013 playoff teams that could have an impact on the 2014 pennant races. Here's a look at the latest big league agreements complete with analysis and grades.
The Deal: Seven years, $155 million
Analysis: The New York Yankees emerged victorious in the bidding war for Masahiro Tanaka, as the ownership lived up to the Steinbrenner last name and spent a fortune. According to David Waldstein of The New York Times, the club won him over with a lengthy negotiating session in Beverly Hills.
A couple of factors led to such a high price tag. Without Tanaka, the team lacked depth in a rotation that featured CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. And as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported, several suitors were willing to spend upward of $120 million for the 25-year-old righty, who possesses a nasty split-finger and went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Japan Series champion Rakuten Golden Eagles.
But when considering the Yankees also paid a $20 million posting fee just to negotiate with Tanaka, the total cost of this deal will be $175 million over seven years for the Yanks. That's a huge price tag for a talented yet unproven commodity.
The only pitchers to ever secure bigger contracts are Clayton Kershaw (seven years, $215 million), Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 million), Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175 million) and Sabathia (seven years, $161 million), which might put some pressure on Tanaka to perform from the get-go.
In the end, New York spent the necessary money to fill its biggest need, and Tanaka will receive maximum exposure in the Big Apple. As Hank Steinbrenner told Ronald Blum of The Associated Press, the team would be willing to spend more if not for the league's revenue-sharing structure.
"That's what these people in the sports media don't seem to get," Steinbrenner said. "If it wasn't for revenue sharing, we'd have a payroll of $300 million a year if we wanted to. So we're doing this despite having to pay all that revenue sharing."
Richard Justice of MLB.com noted the club has made more than $465 million in contract commitments this winter, so it appears money isn't an issue in the Bronx, and the team's offseason plan is to win at all costs.
Tanaka gives the team a better chance to win the competitive AL East, but he's still an expensive gamble. It will be hard for him to live up to this contract, but the Yankees deserve credit for forking over the necessary dollars to make a deal.
The Deal: Two years, $12 million
Analysis: The Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles are scheduled to play 19 times this season, giving Grant Balfour plenty of opportunities to show the O's what they missed out on.
In December, Baltimore reportedly backed out of a two-year, $15 million agreement with Balfour at the last minute due to shoulder concerns after his medical. But as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports detailed, many believe it was a shady cop-out for a team that got cold feet. Tampa Bay has since publicly declared that Balfour's shoulder is problem-free.
Baltimore's loss turns out to be Tampa Bay's gain, as the club made another sizable commitment in an offseason that's featured a lot of spending. Already this winter, the team has re-signed David Price (one year, $14 million), James Loney (three years, $21 million) and David DeJesus (two years, $10.5 million), and exercised a $7 million club option on Ben Zobrist. According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the payroll is expected to be around $80 million in 2014.
Balfour addresses the team's biggest remaining need at a club-friendly price when closers are getting paid top dollar. In fact, Topkin reported Balfour had bigger offers on the table but felt comfortable returning to Tampa Bay, where he was a solid bullpen contributor from 2007 to '10.
Over the past two seasons, he has converted 62 of 67 saves, including a stretch when he recorded an Oakland Athletics record of 44 straight, to go along with his 2.56 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. The Tampa Bay front office has assembled a quality roster that should compete for the franchise's fifth playoff bid since 2008.
The Deal: One year, $750,000
Analysis: Wednesday, Jan. 22, served as a great example of how the two titans of the AL East are handling business differently these days. Leave it to Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington to make a low-risk veteran signing on the same day the New York Yankees break the bank to sign Masahiro Tanaka.
Grady Sizemore, 31, hasn't played an MLB game since 2011, and his last full season was 2008—but he has still done enough to earn a big league deal from the reigning World Series champs. Even though he has been out of the game the past two years after undergoing knee microfracture surgery, Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reported the Red Sox are hoping Sizemore can compete with Jackie Bradley Jr. for the starting center fielder job vacated by Jacoby Ellsbury.
In his prime, Sizemore was like Ellsbury at his best, but that was a long time ago. From 2005-08, he batted .281/.372/.496 with a 128 OPS+ and yearly averages of 27 homers and 81 RBI while also winning two Gold Gloves in center field.
There is certainly potential, and this deal will cost the Red Sox $6 million at most, which would mean it was a gamble well-spent. While it's unreasonable to expect him to put up those eye-popping numbers again in 2014, Sizemore can be a valuable addition to the Red Sox outfield.
Best-case scenario: He's a solid, cheaper replacement for Ellsbury in center field as an everyday player. The worst-case scenario is that he doesn't make the team and he's cut before Opening Day, leaving the team $750,000 in the hole. In today's landscape, that's just a drop in the bucket for the franchise, which makes this low-risk, high-upside deal an intriguing one.
Still, it's hard to envision Sizemore having much of an impact on the Red Sox this year after so much time off.
The Deal: Two years, $7 million
Analysis: Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane has put his club in position to have one of the game's deepest bullpens in 2014, especially if Eric O'Flaherty joins the team midseason after having Tommy John surgery last July.
Before he went down with his injury, O'Flaherty was one of the game's premier southpaw setup men for the Atlanta Braves. He's best known for his 2011 season, when he became the first MLB pitcher to make at least 70 appearances (78) while posting a sub-1.00 ERA (0.98). During the 2009-13 seasons, he posted a 1.99 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 7.2 K/9 ratio in 295 appearances.
Oakland had the third-best AL bullpen ERA in 2013 (3.22) and lost Grant Balfour via free agency. But Beane acquired proven closer Jim Johnson for exiled second baseman Jemile Weeks and quality righty Luke Gregerson for reserve outfielder Seth Smith. The new additions join other quality arms like righties Ryan Cook and Dan Otero and lefty Sean Doolittle.
Contract-wise, the A's also hammered out a club-friendly structure. O'Flaherty is scheduled to make $1.5 million in 2014 and $5.5 million in 2015, with an extra $3.5 million to be made in incentives. In all, it could be a two-year, $10.5 million deal for the most talented lefty reliever in an offseason when they were paid handsomely.
There is big risk involved with O'Flaherty coming back from surgery, but Oakland's bullpen is still poised to be strong without him. Adding him for the stretch run would make the A's a formidable team to face in August and September, when they are expected to be contending for their third straight division title.
The Deal: One year, minor league contract
Analysis: The Los Angeles Dodgers will give Chone Figgins a spring training invite and a chance to be the team's utility man after signing him to a one-year, minor league deal, per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.
The terms of the contract haven't been disclosed, but you have to assume it can't be worth much more than the veteran minimum of $500,000 if he makes the club out of camp. But that will be a tall order for the 36-year-old, who sat out all of 2013 after the Miami Marlins cut him in spring training.
Figgins was once an electrifying table-setter with a versatile infield skill set, serving as a key contributor for the Los Angeles Angels from 2004-09. He parlayed that into a four-year, $36 million deal with the Seattle Mariners but was so abysmal in 2011-12 that the team released him, biting the bullet on his remaining $8.5 million salary.
In those final two seasons in Seattle, he played in 147 combined games, batting .185/.249/.253 with a 45 OPS+, three homers, 26 RBI, 42 runs scored and 15 stolen bases in 22 attempts. Those are putrid numbers, and if he's been away from the game for a year, it's hard to think the 36-year-old has gotten any better.
Still, it comes at essentially no risk for the Dodgers, making this a harmless transaction at the end of the day.
The Deal: One-year, minor league contract (potentially worth $1.5 million)
Analysis: Cautionary tale Daisuke Matsuzaka flamed out after hype from Japan turned into a big MLB contract. Back in 2007, the Boston Red Sox spent more than $103 million in posting fees and contract agreements on him.
He was decent the first two seasons of the deal, going a combined 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA, 126 ERA+, 1.32 WHIP and an 8.6 K/9 ratio. But he also had a 4.2 BB/9 ratio in that span, a precursor to the mighty struggles he had in the final four years of the deal.
Matsuzaka's stock fell so much that he had to settle for a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians last year. He could never crack the big league rotation until he was acquired by the New York Mets, making seven starts including four impressive outings to end the year.
The right-hander is 33 years old now but provides a solid option for the fifth spot in the rotation. He joins the fray with a host of other pitchers behind the four expected starters of Bartolo Colon, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported Matsuzaka will make $1.5 million if he breaks camp with the Mets, which isn't much for the club, even for a fifth starter. He isn't anything special, but his numbers throughout the season last year in Triple-A (19 starts, 5-8 record, 3.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9) suggest he still has something to offer.
The Deal: One-year, minor league contract (potentially worth $3 million)
Analysis: Freddy Garcia was an unexpected force for Atlanta in 2013, as his strong September showing led to a quality playoff start in the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He couldn't lock down a guaranteed MLB deal, but he's slated to make $1.25 million if he's on the Opening Day roster.
David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke down the unique structure of the contract, which includes an opt-out clause on March 25 if Garcia isn't yet on the 25-man roster. The deadline comes six days before the Braves open their season, putting some early pressure on the front office to keep Garcia around while also giving the right-hander time to find work elsewhere if needed.
He can also make up to $1.75 million in incentives as a starter or $1 million as a reliever, capping this deal's worth at $3 million. According to O'Brien, Garcia has no desire to pitch in Triple-A again after making 14 appearances in 2013.
The Braves have shown they know how to evaluate good pitching, so if Garcia is anything like the pitcher they saw last year down the stretch, this will be a nice value signing to help bolster the rotation.