Alex Anthopoulos suggested at the December Winter Meetings that asking prices for some free agents would drop as the off-season progressed. The GM’s reasoning made sense: as spring training draws closer, the number of bidders diminishes, shifting leverage from players to teams.
Most teams open camp approximately five weeks from now, which means there’s not that much time left for the many clubs hoping to round out their rosters. In recent years, deals of three years or more have been difficult to find in the new year. They don’t happen often, though there’s reason to believe this year will be different. The pitching market has been slow to develop, which means top arms are still available.
Does that mean that the asking prices have dropped, as Anthopoulos suggested they might? The answer matters a great deal for teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays. Along with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks and others, they’re seeking starting pitching help and have reason to monitor the asking prices of the four starting pitchers generally considered to be the top options available:
The agents for Jimenez are telling teams he expects to sign a multi-year deal worth $14 million or more per season, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported this week. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in late December that Jimenez had been seeking a four-year contract worth $17-20 million. The right-hander is tied to draft pick compensation, which means his representatives at Relativity Sports must convince teams he's worth a top draft pick as well as cash. ESPN's Buster Olney wrote this week that there's considerable interest in Jimenez in at least one corner of the Blue Jays organization because of his power stuff.
Santana sought a five-year, $112 million contract early in the off-season, but there’s reason to believe his asking price has since dropped. It’s now a question of where his asking price will ultimately end up. Proformance, the agency that represents Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, is handling Santana’s negotiations. Like Jimenez, he’s tied to draft pick compensation.
The specifics of Garza’s asking price haven’t surfaced, but he’s reportedly seeking a four or five-year contract. The CAA client isn’t tied to draft pick compensation and will presumably ask for at least $13 million per season on a multiyear deal.
The crown jewel of the pitching market is available to any team willing to post a $20 million release fee, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to sign him. Industry observers expect Tanaka’s contract to exceed $100 million, which means the entire cost of signing the Excel Sports Management client could approach Zack Greinke’s $147 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
While some free agents see their leverage decrease as the winter progresses, Tanaka isn’t one of them. Many teams would be pleased to pay him top dollar.
If the price on these free agents falls enough, clubs including the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles could also get involved. It’s too early to rule out the Los Angeles Dodgers, who could be tempted to build around a rotation of Tanaka, Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-jin Ryu. Any number of other general managers could surprise onlookers and enter the bidding, too.
There’s a lot of talent out there -- much more than we’re used to seeing this time of year. Kyle Lohse was one thing, but this is a considerable percentage of the 2013-14 pitching class. It means there’s a lot of action left. After months upon months of speculation and anticipation, it’s finally time for the pitching market to play out.