Rarely does one player dominate baseball discussion for long. Memorable plays, major injuries and record contracts will get play at first, but attention spans are short and storylines are plentiful, so something else inevitably pushes you aside after a day or two.
Unless you’re Masahiro Tanaka. Not only has the Japanese right-hander made headlines and trended on Twitter, he has slowed down the free agent market considerably.
Consider that 53 free agents have signed contracts worth at least $5 million this winter, and that none of those 53 deals have been agreed upon since the Rakuten Golden Eagles announced Tanaka’s availability on Christmas Day. Given that zero significant free agent deals have been completed in that 28-day span, it appears that a significant portion of the market continues waiting on Tanaka’s decision, which is due Friday.
It’s not that there’s a shortage of quality free agents. Starters Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez have upside even if they don’t have Tanaka’s youth or eye-popping numbers. Relievers Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney have thrived as MLB closers. Position players Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz would help many teams.
Instead of signing, they’ve all waited. That should all change in the coming days after Tanaka signs and the bidding begins in earnest for Santana, Garza and Jimenez (while Tanaka’s decision doesn’t directly affect players such as Drew and Morales, there could be an indirect trickle-down as teams re-assess their budgets and priorities).
Whether it’s the trade deadline, the non-tender deadline or the draft signing deadline, MLB teams often wait until the last minute to finalize their decisions. Tanaka’s decision might not be any different, even though some suggest that he could sign as soon as Tuesday.
In the meantime, MLB fans have nothing to do but wait and over-analyze Tanaka’s every move, word and tweet. The right-hander made a few more headlines on Twitter Tuesday when he wrote “I can’t decide,” seemingly in reference to his many MLB suitors. It turns out he was talking about his next Twitter avatar, which means there’s still no resolution for Tanaka’s many suitors or the rest of the market.
— 田中将大/MASAHIRO TANAKA (@t_masahiro18) January 21, 2014
But the wait won’t last much longer, since Friday's deadline continues approaching and Spring Training begins in less than a month. Tanaka's monopoly on the baseball off-season is about to end.