It has been announced that Japanese stud starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will be posted and be made available to MLB teams to sign. This is a the key cog in the starting pitching market that needed to be figured out before the major starting pitching free agent market could start to be set.
Tanaka was amazing last season in Japan, doing a real life impression of Bo Jackson in TECMO Bowl. The statistical evidence can be found quickly. His 2013 line: 24-0, 1.27 ERA, 212 IP, 0.943 WHIP, 183 K, 32 BB. He was 24 last season.
Here’s visual evidence.
Holy. Freaking. Crap.
So, yeah, he’s now the number one pitcher on the market now, which means everyone moves down a spot. Matt Garza is thought the be the number two pitcher available because he will not cost a team any draft picks. Ubaldo Jimenez is probably the better pitcher than Garza, but he costs the signing team a draft pick. This makes Garza a little more valuable to clubs than Jimenez since it won’t disrupt their draft plans.
Additionally, the trade market is starting to open up as well. David Price rumors have been around for months, but he has been joined by names like Cole Hamels, Justin Masterson, and Jeff Samardzija. Price and Hamels are better than anyone else who is on the market, maybe even Masterson, too. Samardzija is a solid top of the rotation guy as well, and is still young and affordable.
Teams on the market for starting pitching – Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, and Arizona Diamondbacks – will all have Tanaka as their top priority. Arizona, Dodgers and Chicago may be in the hunt just for Tanaka and not necessarily a top starting pitcher. That may also be true of the Yankees, who are trying to reduce their spending. But they do have a starting pitching need.
Texas, Angles, and Seattle appear to be the most aggressive in trying to add a starting pitcher no matter what this offseason. So that’s three teams that will definitely be in the starting pitching market if they fail to sign Tanaka.
All of this leads to Ervin Santana.
Santana is now the fourth best free agent pitcher on the market, which means it is highly unlikely his (rumored) $100 million demands are not going to be met. Tanaka getting posted just cost him several million dollars on the open market. It also means there is going to be one fewer team looking to add a top of the rotation arm.
Given the sudden emergency of the potential trade market beyond just Price, it may be more appealing for teams to give up a lot and get a Price or Hamels than to give up a lot for Jimenez, Garza, or Santana.
In short: The potential “market crash” scenario for Santana that people have been talking about just took one big step closer to becoming a reality.
Is it worth it to the Royals to re-sign Santana? In the short-term, absolutely. There is no question Santana’s numbers are likely to regress a little bit in 2014, but those numbers will still good enough to make him the Royals second best starter. Add Santana, and the Royals may be the AL Central favorites for a lot of people in the preseason polls. It certainly would provide a huge boost their playoff chances overall.
There are downsides, however. Just because Santana’s market may crash it doesn’t mean he’ll come cheap. He’s still looking at a minimum $13 million annual average value contract. That number would push Kansas City over the $100 million payroll mark, which is well above the $85 million budget Dayton Moore is supposedly working with this season.
Santana will also be 32-years-old, which means he is on the decline as a player. His production is going to get worse as he ages and he’ll be eating up a lot of cash in the Royals payroll. Can the Royals remain competitive for a playoff spot three or four years from now with less productive Santana on the roster?
Kansas City’s best option is still to trade for someone like Samardzija and go from there. But as Santana’s market continues to crumble, he could become KC’s plan B option, which is far better than the Royals current plan B of crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.