In the month that Robinson Cano got $240M, Jacoby Ellsbury $153M, the average salary climbed to $3.9M and baseball’s creative media world seemingly has the business awash in megamillions, the business has slowed to view the landings of Masahiro Tanaka and Shin-Soo Choo.
Rakuten Golden Eagles owner Hiroshi Mikitani does not want to post Tanaka and allow him to proceed to a U.S. bidding war; he believes that the new posting system essentially admits the Japanese leagues to a minor league, subservient position to Major League Baseball, and, in the future, any time a Japanese phenom comes along, he can pressure his owner to post him when his marketability is highest, namely before he turns 26, eventually sending the best young players out of the country.
The Tanaka decision has put free agent pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez on hold. It has slowed down what trade markets existed for David Price and Jeff Samardzija. But when a New York newspaper headline reads “Tanaka a Must for the Yankees,” one can understand why the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ offer to up his salary to $12M is something less than what he could earn in the South Bronx.
The desperation in that headline is the theory that the Yankees cannot feed their pitching needs any other way. They do not have major league-ready pitching. They do not have top prospects to trade. And while they are likely to get a couple of draft picks back, immediately going out after Ellsbury deepened their dependency on free agency.
The Dodgers may have more ready cash than the Koch Brothers, but they don’t want to ignore the draft. Contrast the Yankees to the Red Sox model honed by Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington, a model that currently has produced a top five farm system. From 2005 to 2011, the Yankees had the fewest picks in the top 160 of those drafts; Boston had the second most in the American League, two fewer than Toronto’s 44. Boston had the most picks in both the top 50 and top 30 selections, the Yankees the fewest.
This isn’t what Brian Cashman intended, but when the Rafael Soriano and other signings are crammed down his throat, he has to live with what he has. The cost? Other clubs calculate that in 2013, between player salaries, the luxury and revenue sharing taxes and penalties, the Yankees spent $270M on players, approximately $100M more than Boston. Those taxes and penalties are helping other clubs sign their players and make the free agent pool thinner…and richer.
We all think the Dodgers have more available cash than the Koch Brothers, but Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti continue to indicate that they’d like to continue building through their scouting and developmental systems. Colletti did not give up one of their best prospects—Julio Urias, Corey Seager, Zach Lee, Joc Pederson—for Ricky Nolasco or other needs tor the stretch run. And while many of us have projected their dealing for Price, right now that seems less possible than originally thought, especially with the complication of having to try to simultaneously sign Clayton Kershaw and Price. Thus far, Tampa Bay hasn’t had Arizona jumping forward. Or Seattle being willing to move Taijuan Walker.
Matt Kemp said Wednesday that the boot is off his ankle, he is starting to run and “the ankle is not going to be a problem.” The left shoulder that was operated on a year ago November and wasn’t right in 2013 “is back the way it was before the injury.” Colletti thinks they can live with four outfielders—hey, Carl Crawford is usually a 100-110 game guy—and if their two best players, Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, are healthy, they will be fine. The front three in the rotation is one of the best.
So, add another reliever or two, and the Dodgers may be done.
Which raises a question: what can the Rays expect for a great number one starter? Cliff Lee was traded three times, and the best player he fetched may have been Carlos Carrasco. Johan Santana was the best in the game, and when he was traded, the best player he fetched was Carlos Gomez, who blossomed later, in Milwaukee, not Minnesota. Tim Hudson was in the prime of a career that is now up to 206 wins, and the Athletics got nothing for him from the Braves.
Sometimes these trades have worked—Mark Teixeira made the Rangers, but the Braves ownership wanted to win in John Schuerholz’s last year, and when the Indians got Grady Sizemore, Lee and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon, the Expos were on the verge of being contracted.
So, with the cash blowing in the wind, one wonders about Samardzija’s market value, come the end of January. Or, more likely, in Japan. What do the Orioles do about Matt Wieters and Chris Davis, both Scott Boras clients who are free agents at the end of the 2015 season. Maybe they should try to trade Wieters for Samardzija, jump on Choo, try to win now and make the Orioles something more than a lower middle class franchise.
For now, even teams that have a pitcher to possibly trade, a team like the Red Sox, expect to wait until spring training, or the regular season. It starts with Tanaka…with much, much more to come.