The decision is in. Free agent starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka agreed to a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees.
Up until today, at least five teams were reported to be finalists for Tanaka’s services, including the two Chicago teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Here’s what’s in store for the runners up, and the remaining free agents who waited Tanaka out.
Los Angeles Dodgers
So they’re saying Magic Johnson’s money has limits after all? No, not really.
When someone from the Dodgers organization claimed that the team won’t be outbid for Tanaka’s services, he wasn’t exactly blowing smoke.
But the generous estimates had Tanaka making $120 million to $140 million, excluding the posting fee. Signing Tanaka to $155 million, however, means that they’ll be paying more for an untested major leaguer than to Zack Greinke, a former Cy Young winner still in his prime.
The concept of pragmatism may have hit the Dodgers in the early stages of extension talks for SS Hanley Ramirez, by far the team’s best hitter in 2013. Losing Ramirez to a broken rib after getting beaned by a 95 mph Joe Kelly fastball was a bigger factor in the team not reaching the World Series more than its lack of pitching.
As it is, the Dodgers will enter 2014 with two aces (Clayton Kershaw, Greinke), an above average Hyun Jin Ryu (who pitched like a nominal ace but is a candidate for regression that nonetheless projects him as a solid mid-rotation starter), three potential bounce back veterans* and stud pitching prospect Zach Lee**.
*Chad Billingsley is recovering from Tommy John surgery and could be available by June. Josh Beckett could break camp in the rotation after thoracic outlet syndrome, though his chances aren’t as good. Chris Carpenter, Noah Lowry, Shaun Marcum and Matt Harrison are among the high profile athletes who suffered from a condition that leads to numbness of the finger tips, leading to weakened grips. At this stage in his career Dan Haren is a back-end starter. But here’s a lesson for us — past production is still the most accurate gauge for determining success.
**Lee posted his best season as a 21-year-old in Double A, maintaining his stingy walk rates and above average strikeout rates. It should surprise no one if he makes the team out of camp, or by the end of May.
And you know what’s stopping the Dodgers from signing two (or fuck it, even three) of Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana?
President Theo Epstein has sounded regretful at times for taking a job he didn’t realize was this challenging.
While Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer built up the club’s once depleted farm system, the Cubs remain dangerously low on incoming pitching prospects after stocking up on outfielders. Javier Baez, the team’s top prospect, is a shortstop.
Adding Tanaka might have accelerated Chicago’s process, but it has no reason to bring in over-30 starters like Santana, Garza or Jimenez.
Look for Epstein to be active in mid-rotation types like Paul Maholm and Jason Hammel, the types of assets who could be of some value if the Cubs aren’t in contention by the July non-waiver trade deadline.
Jeff Samardzija could also be available, but Chicago has talent to make a play for David Price as well.
Chicago White Sox
Entering the Tanaka sweeps wasn’t really a surprise given how active the club’s been and GM Rick Hahn’s pronouncement that 2014 will not be spent rebuilding.
The White Sox have been aggressive this winter, complimenting the smart acquisition of OF Avisail “Mini MIggy” Garcia with Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, 3B prospect Matt Davidson and defensive wunderkind CF Adam Eaton.
But they’ll need more pitching after beefing up the bullpen with Scott Downs and Ronald Bellisario. Some of it could come in house, with prospects Erik Johnson and Daniel Webb speeding through the minors.
Their aggressiveness in the Tanaka derby could nudge them to sign one of the three best remaining free agent pitchers I’ve mentioned ad naseum.
For the first time in years the White Sox are counting on a young pool of talent that could help it secure one of two available wild card spots.
I’m calling it now — they’ll be aggressive on Ubaldo Jimenez.
Speaking of aggressive …
GM Kevin Towers has made another flurry of risk-reward bets in the off-season. He’s far from done.
The Dbacks went as high as they could on Tanaka — and CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that none of the five finalists bid under six years and $120 million — so the money’s there.
Arizona will also receive a huge boost from a new TV deal.
Towers could avoid the remaining free agent pitchers — the fallout from Tanaka’s record deal could mean that Garza, Santana and Jimenez are in line for $100 million plus deals, though the Dbacks could flinch on Garza.
Having Archie Bradley on the pipeline could also mean A) an ace in the making, or B) the most attractive type of asset to loosen a team’s grip on David Price, Cliff Lee or Homer Bailey.