Peter Gammons: Clubs holding off on major moves, await Tanaka decision

Masahiro Tanaka celebrates as the Rakuten Eagles win the Japan Series.

Masahiro Tanaka celebrates as the Rakuten Eagles win the Japan Series.

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.

  • Rev0lution

    MLB truly botched this one with their wanton disregard for the validity of the NPB League and its own obsession with creating a economic (pseudo) parity structure to ensure small market teams get the advantages supposedly only available to bigger market clubs.

    What nonsensical logic caused them to believe that a culture rooted in the display of respect and a team representing a region recovering from one of the worst tragedies in modern history, would simply bow down and accept the diminished agreement to strip the league of not only it’s most recognizable star but to reduce the reward incentive to go along with the talent pilfering???

    The Golden Eagles just won its FIRST championship with this remarkable phenom pitching an UNDEFEATED season and then adding to his lore with a world class playoff performance where he saved the title game the day after he rung out a 160 pitch outing – this kid is a SERIOUS gamer!!! The team just struck pay dirt and figured that they will offset his revenue loss with a significant posting windfall.

    Then MLB comes along and blindsides NPB with this new structure and thinks it will be acceptable and not create the murky, phallus-wagging standoff we have witnessed for the last month+. Obviously, Uncle Bud and the Castaways at MLB HQ are guilty of some serious mental insufficiency (or other nefarious deeds).

    Seriously lost in this is how special this young man is. I mean let’s consider what he did not just this season (24-0, 1.27 ERA, 0.943 WHIP) but over his NPB career (99-35 lifetime with a 2.30 ERA/1.108 WHIP). OMG(oodness)!!! This kid is the real McCoy regardless of whatever league he’s pitching in.

    We don’t have any MiLB’ers pumping out stats like that in the States, so let’s stop the demeaning reference about the NPB being grossly inferior to MLB – they may not be on an even par, but they’re certainly better than our AAA structure. Moreover this is a special kid with a fantastic gift and skill set that wants to do what every athlete wants – to compete against the best and prove he belongs. Both MLB and NPB (particularly the Golden Eagles) need to exercise some temperance in helping foster the dreams of these stellar athletes, not treat them like chattel to be bought and sold at market.

    Just let the kid pursue his dreams and ambitions and play wherever he wants to challenge himself. He has certainly earned that right. As a baseball purist, I for one want to always see the best play against the best, so let’s just allow the kid the chance to prove he has the stuff that made Gibson, Koufax, Ryan, Seaver, Richard, Gooden, Maddux, Martinez, Johnson and Halladay household names as feared SP’s.

    So how about some good ol’ Asian “face saving”, huh? I would suggest something of a “reboot” or simple amendment to the newly ratified agreement that essentially spreads the benefits evenly across the board. Small market teams get to post with the Big Boys; NPB teams get fair compensation for releasing their stars early and players get to play amongst their true peers.

    My solution goes like this: Let’s have all posting teams agree to a percentage of the posting to be surrendered as a non-refundable deposit. It creates a “pay to play” structure. So, if 10 teams were to bid on Tanaka at the $20M cap and a 15% deposit is deemed non-refundable for the teams that don’t win the negotiations, here is the upside:

    9 @ $3M (15%) = $27M

    1 @ $20M = $20M

    Total Posting Revenue (Rakuten): $47M

    It’s fair and equitable while giving all the small market teams the ability to bid on securing the rights to negotiate with a star talent. The deposit is a pittance compared to what MLB teams spend on player costs (i.e. barely the salary of a below average utility player).

    Let’s unblock the logjam and make this lil’ tweak so everyone saves face and the Hot Stove gets fired up properly.