In the wake of the market-clearing move by the Yankees to sign Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract (with an opt-out after four years), we’re going to see a number of immediate, and rapid reactions to the news.
- The top tier pitching free agents – Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana – could sign very quickly hereafter. It’s no secret that the market for them ground to a halt while a number of teams waited on Tanaka (and those pitchers, commensurately, waited to see how much he’d get). That doesn’t mean discussions with those pitchers ceased, and it’s quite possible that everyone already knows where things stand with them, pending the Tanaka decision.* In that case, signings could happen within a matter of days. Despite the Cubs’ interest in Tanaka, I don’t expect them to be in on any of these three (older) pitchers (absent an absurd bottoming out of the market for one of them). They stand to decline sooner than Tanaka (meaning their best years could be over before the Cubs are good), they each come with significant performance and/or health question marks, the latter two cost a draft pick, and the Garza/Cubs thing has already been done. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yankees, who need more pitching than just Tanaka, sign one of those three, by the way.
*Even if the Dodgers and Cubs aren’t in the market for those three names, it takes only one team – like the Yankees – to be involved with those guys for the market to cease during the Tanaka negotiations. The Diamondbacks were also involved in both arenas, as well as, possibly, the Blue Jays. Buster Olney today suggested that the freeze in the starter market may have been unrelated to Tanaka, but that strikes me as poppycock. Put yourself in Matt Garza’s shoes: why in the world would you agree to a deal before knowing how many teams will actually be available to bid on your services? And why would the Yankees sign Garza before they know whether they’re getting Tanaka? The Tanaka decision had a hard-and-fast end date. There was no reason for these pitchers, and the other teams, not to wait.
- Together with the top tier pitching free agents signing, you’ll also see a break in the mid/lower-tier pitching market, especially as it relates to the Cubs. Although the Cubs do have the pitching necessary to field a five-man rotation, the quality of depth trails off as you get into the 5th/6th/7th starter range. As we’ve seen time and time again, those guys make considerable starts over the course of the year (particularly if there are sell trades). Expect the Cubs to sign another starting pitcher, and the three most connected names we hear are Jason Hammel (my preference), Paul Maholm (not terrible), and Scott Baker (might still be waiting on a big league offer).
- Get ready for an uptick in Jeff Samardzija trade rumors. Tanaka heading to the Yankees is good for the Samardzija trade market, since they have long been a poor potential trading partner for the Cubs, given the lack of elite, high-level prospects in their system. In other words, Tanaka to the Yankees didn’t take a legitimate potential Samardzija suitor off of the market (so, in that same way, you’re now rooting for the Yankees to sign one of the three remaining top starting pitchers, too). I still think we’ll see the free agent market sort itself out before there’s another wave of credible, serious Samardzija trade rumors. At that point, perhaps we hear rumblings of another run at extension talks (recall, the Cubs and Samardzija still have to work out his 2014 salary, so they’ll be at the table together anyway). I don’t think we can say with certainty that Samardzija will be traded this offseason simply because Tanaka has now decided – that was always coming – but we can say that the rumors will pop up again. From there, if there’s no trade and no extension, Samardzija’s will be an exceedingly hot name come June and July.
- Those Samardzija trade rumors – the ones coming later this offseason, I mean – will undoubtedly be preceded by David Price trade rumors. I still think it’s a very strong bet that Price is traded this offseason, though the impact to the Cubs here is most likely going to be related to the Samardzija trade market (as opposed to the Cubs going after Price). Still, trade rumors involving an elite talent like Price are always fun to watch. The Dodgers and Mariners seem to make the most sense for Price.
- The remaining positional free agents will sign eventually, but, unlike the pitching free agents, I don’t see their holdup as entirely related to the market freeze. Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales likely haven’t yet signed because their price tags – relative to talent and draft pick compensation – are too high. I don’t see the Cubs being involved there, either.
- Oh, and one other piece of fallout? The sky-is-falling crowd will be out in force for a couple weeks, proclaiming the failure to sign Tanaka as an indication of … well … something. I can’t for the life of me figure out what, given that the Cubs were willing to commit $150/$160/$170 million (or whatever) to the right guy when he was available. Given that he wasn’t going to put the Cubs over the top in 2014 anyway, what exactly is the “message” that failing to sign him sends? Sure, it sucks to miss out on young talent, but there are other avenues in 2015, since that’s the year that matters. Take a peak at the free agent starting market for next year, consider the availability of Cubs money, and consider the Cubs’ timeline. The sky is black, but it is still where it always was.