With Masahiro Tanaka off the market, the 29 teams who didn't get him all googled "free agent starting pitchers" at some point yesterday. The first non-porn article in the search results told them that there were in fact other free agent pitchers available and a few of them might be pretty good. Who knew!
The Big Three
1. The first name to pop up in the free-agent-starting-pitchers-who-aren't-Tanaka rankings is Matt Garza. You might remember him from such teams as the Rangers and the Cubs. Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that Garza had signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Brewers. However, the team took to twitter to deny the deal, saying that negotiations were still ongoing.
Four years and $52 million seems low for Garza, even considering his struggles down the stretch last season with the Rangers. It is just $3 million more than the Twins gave Ricky Nolasco and, while Nolasco has the better strikeout-to-walk ratio and consistently strong fielding independent numbers, Garza has pretty big edge in career ERA. Injuries are another factor going against the 30-year-old starter, however, so even if $52 million seems low, it isn't exactly miles off the mark.
Garza is probably the best starter available right now, though, and the two closest competitors for that title, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, both have draft compensation attached to them. If this is any gauge of the post-Tanaka market, the outlook is pretty bleak for the guys who are still unsigned.
2. Grant Balfour is headed back to the Rays. After watching his deal with the Orioles fall apart in December because of medical concerns, Balfour saw his stock drop despite several other teams giving him a clean bill of health. The Rays were one of the teams who disagreed with the Orioles medical findings, so they should be thrilled to be landing him at two years, $12 million, which seems like a discount. Balfour built his reputation as a reliable late-inning reliever pitching as a setup man for the Rays from 2007-2010 before emerging as a closer with the Athletics in 2012.
He will take over the ninth inning from Fernando Rodney, who may or may not be talking with the Orioles now about taking over the role they almost hired Balfour for. Apart from Rodney's incomprehensible 2012 season, Balfour has been the better pitcher of the two, so unless Rodney takes less money, which doesn't seem likely, the Orioles better hope that Balfour hits the DL and hits it hard in 2014. Otherwise, they are probably going end up looking pretty foolish here.
3. The reactions to the Tanaka deal are in. I'm a little surprised there aren't more spit-takes being done at the amount of money he is getting. Sure, he is the best arm on the market and there are added bonuses in international marketing opportunities that come with signing him, but he getting more than $22 million a year and the Yankees have to pay the $20 million posting fee.
As Jeff Sullivan points out at Fangraphs, when you include the cost of the posting fee, this becomes Felix Hernandez-Justin Verlander-type money.That is insane. There I said it. Sure, Tanaka's stuff is great and he is 25-years-old and you never see 25-year-old pitchers hit the market. I get all of that. But unlike Verlander or Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw, the Yankees didn't develop this guy and bring him along to the majors.
All of that work happened in Japan, under a very different culture for work loads and pitch counts, all largely out of view of the New York pro scouts. That is a huge difference-maker. Big money I get. That was a given. This is crazy money and even though the Yankees can afford crazy money, I don't think that should mean they have to be crazy.
The Yankees are interested in Stephen Drew. It appears that having infielders is still a thing, so this makes perfect sense. Drew has never played anywhere but shortstop and neither has Derek Jeter, so that might be awkward. Do they move Jeter to second or third? It is unlikely, but certainly justifiable. Does Drew play elsewhere? It is hard to see the Yankees getting the most value of him that way. It is a signing that would present a few problems. I'm not sure, but those seems like better problems to have than, "where do we play Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson and Eduardo Nunez?"
There have been a number of minor league signings this week as teams turn from building their major league rosters to adding depth. It is easy to overlook these deals and many of them will have little impact on the major league roster, but injuries are an inevitable part of the game and there is very good chance that at least one of the names here will end up playing a significant role somewhere in the show this season.
Greg Maddux and Tony LaRussa will enter the Hall of Fame without a team logo on their plaques. That is great because I'll never forget that game Maddux pitched with the _______ against LaRussa when he was managing the ______. That was truly historic stuff.
RBI Baseball is back!
So maybe you have heard- MLB is bringing back RBI baseball for 2014. I realize some people prefer other NES-based baseball games, but as Brian Kenny would say people like blood sausage... For me, RBI baseball is the greatest video-game embodiment of the sport ever created.
But I am worried about RBI 2014. I'm worried some of the essential strategy of the original game will be lost in the name of a more complete baseball world and that would quite a loss. If you didn't play the original RBI Baseball obsessively or if you never played best-of-seven series in your obsessive RBI playing, you might not be familiar with one of the game's greatest quirks.
Let me explain- When you start a game, you get to pick from four pitchers, two starters and two relievers. If you are playing as the Boston Red Sox for example, you would see Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley. Naturally you pick Clemens and he starts out throwing upper-90's gas. By the sixth inning, however, his velocity is in rapid decline and he starts getting hit hard. If you are just playing one game, you'd just go to Hurst than Schiraldi and Stanley.
However, if you play in a series, the next game, only Hurst and Schiraldi will be available and they will both tire quicker (or at least it seems that way). Therein lies the glory of this game. You can start by blowing hitters away with Nolan Ryan or Doc Gooden, but eventually they will be throwing mid-60's fastballs and getting lit up like a Christmas tree. In an extended series, you have to push that poor schlub as far as you can to save your other starter for the next game. That was strategy. That was gutsy game-play.