Posted January 07, 2014

Latest buzz on top remaining free agents: Tanaka, Garza, Santana, Jimenez, Drew, Cruz

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka

The fate of Masahiro Tanaka is expected to have a domino effect on the free-agent market. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Heading into the holidays, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle’s deliberations over whether or not to post Masahiro Tanaka appeared to be holding up the rest of the free agent market. The Japanese team ultimately posted the 25-year-old ace on Christmas Day, opening the door for major league teams to begin negotiating with Tanaka and his newly-appointed American agent, Casey Close. That was two weeks ago, and things are still moving at a glacial pace. Here, then, are updates on some of the top remaining free agents, none of whom are generating much heat on the rumor mill.

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The Tanaka situation is reminiscent of Catfish Hunter’s after the 1974 season, when the A’s ace was declared a free agent due to Oakland owner Charlie O. Finley’s breach of contract. That was two years before true free agency came to the major leagues, and 22 of the then-24 teams made a run at signing Hunter, who was coming off four straight 20-win seasons and the 1974 American League Cy Young award. Thirteen clubs, more than half of the majors, offered him a five-year contract worth $2 million or more at a time when the highest paid player in the game made $250,000 a year and signing a player for two years was a rare and significant commitment.

Tanaka was every bit the dominant ace in Japan that Hunter was with the A’s in the early 1970s. Thanks to the changes in the posting system, Tanaka is the first Japanese player in the post-Hideo Nomo-era to be able to negotiate with multiple major league teams in advance of his official free agency (which in Nippon Professional Baseball doesn’t come until after a player has accumulated nine years of service time). Tanaka’s ultimate contract won’t be as wildly out of line with the rest of the major leagues as was the five-year, $3.5 million deal Hunter ultimately agreed to with the Yankees, but the level of interest in his services is similar.

As a result, it could take a while for leaders to emerge in the Tanaka sweepstakes. It’s been two weeks since his posting, and there are no hot leads or rumored leaders. The Diamondbacks and Yankees have explicitly listed Tanaka among their top priorities this offseason, and the Cubs are expected to be heavily involved as well.

One other team that keeps coming up is the Mariners, who have not followed their Robinson Cano signing with another impact move, and there is some debate as to how much money they could spend. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wrote back on Dec. 19 that Seattle might be close to its payroll limit. However, Baseball America‘s Ben Badler, assessing the market for Tanaka last week, noted the Mariners’ new $2 billion regional television contract and their lack of long term commitments other than those to Cano and ace Felix Hernandez. General manager Jack Zduriencik told Rosenthal last month that, “if we go for another large deal, that obviously is going to have to go above my head,” meaning he would need ownership approval for another significant contract.

Still, there’s a sense around the game that Seattle does have one more significant move to come, be it signing Tanaka, trading for David Price or further cluttering the left side of their defensive spectrum with a draft-robbing deal for Nelson Cruz.

RHPs Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza

Santana, Jimenez and Garza are the big three domestic free agents whose markets are being held up by the Tanaka sweepstakes, and news has been extremely slow on them as a result. The teams that get the furthest with Tanaka only to lose him are likely to turn to those three, and the Blue Jays specifically are considered likely to make a move to sign one of them after Tanaka lands elsewhere. Otherwise, there’s not much to report here. The Twins have expressed interest in bringing back Garza, their first-round draft pick from 2005, but they’re reportedly unwilling to offer the sort of long-term contract he desires.

SS Stephen Drew

Per the New York Daily News‘ Andy Martino, “the Red Sox and Mets are the only clubs known to be engaged with Drew.” However, the Mets don’t want to offer Drew a contract lasting more than a year or two, which would seem to increase his chances of re-signing with Boston, which has a well-established interest in bringing him back. Such a move would push rookie Xander Bogaerts to third base and Will Middlebrooks to the bench, the minors or off the team completely via a trade. Having declined the Red Sox’ qualifying offer, Drew doesn’t seem likely to settle for a one-year deal, and he does come with the added price of draft pick compensation. The Mets’ first-round pick is protected, but they would give up their second-round pick if they signed Drew, whereas Boston would not have to give up a pick to re-sign the shortstop.

OF Nelson Cruz

The Rangers, who, along with their fans, embraced Cruz after his return from his Biogenesis suspension, seemed likely to bringing him back until they dropped $130 million on Shin-Soo Choo. The Rockies and Orioles reached out to Cruz’s agent in early December, and the Mariners continue to be considered a part of his market with the caveats discussed above.

Even with all that, there has been precious little heat on Cruz. He may come to regret turning down Texas’ qualifying offer in November as there just aren’t a lot of teams out there looking to forfeit their top draft pick to sign an oft-injured 33-year-old designated hitter with a recent performance-enhancing drug suspension who has posted a .319 on-base percentage over the last three seasons.

7 comments
david.mathew.gokey
david.mathew.gokey

 The Mets have already lost their 2nd round pick, since the 1st round pick is protected, by signing Curtis Granderson.   Therefore, he would only cost the Mets a 3rd round pick.

William27
William27

50 million people hungry in this country and these guys got to have their 100 million dollar contract


disgusting

pathetic

its embarrassing to be a human being


rachelnotrach
rachelnotrach

@William27 The numbers aren't random, they are their "market value". I agree it's absurd how much they make, but it's a careful calculation by the owners and GMs. As long as people are willing to pay large sums of money on merchandise and tickets and as long as companies still want to advertise, the contracts will remain absurdly huge. But at the same time, there are many baseball (and other professional sports) players who give large sums to charities. This is capitalism at work. Like I said, you can find it absurd and you may disagree with the system or the perceived value of the players, but to the owners and GMs who offer the contracts, this is what they are worth to them to be able to make a profit (and hopefully win the WS).

drkid70
drkid70

@William27 I doubt that there are 50 million hungry people in America.  America may be the only country in the world where poor people are overweight.  But you're right about the disgusting salaries of well-known athletes.  It wouldn't bother me so much if they produced according to their salaries, but they don't.  Miguel Cabrera is the only one I can think of who earns his salary every year.  You can say that a high-paid star "puts meat in the seats," as Reggie Jackson so poetically phrased it, but I don't care about the owners' profits.  I care about wins and losses.  And overpaid superstars almost always come up short in helping to produce wins.

PAZSKY
PAZSKY

@William27 Then don't watch sports..do you watch movies? Adam Sandler makes $20 Million a film. A better solution is to feed our country FIRST and quit wasting our money on Africa, etc. They have the same hunger issues in Africa now that they did 30 years ago- NOTHING has changed. 

JerryBelle
JerryBelle

@William27  - You are on a sports forum. If you truly believe that "its embarrassing to be a human being" then consider the alternatives.....  If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

ShoeIron
ShoeIron

@William27 It's professional sports as whole as well as the rest of the entertainment industries that have pay-outs incongruous with their worth. That is one of America's greatest embarrassments.