Compared to previous years, this offseason’s crop of free agent starting pitchers isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Two of the top three names – Ervin Santana and Matt Garza – have some red flags that would normally give teams pause. Santana has had consistency issues in his career, while Garza’s injury problems could be worrisome. Despite these concerns, both pitchers are in line to receive rather large pay days (MLB Trade Rumors projects Santana to sign a 5-year, $75 million deal; 4 years and $64 million for Garza) because of the dearth of frontline starters on the market. In fact, because of problems arising for teams hoping to sign the top free agent starter, both Santana and Garza could be able to demand even more money this winter.
Masahiro Tanaka is, by far, the best starting pitcher available this winter. Most projections have Tanaka’s posting fee exceeding the $51.7 million the Rangers bid to negotiate with Yu Darvish two offseasons ago. No fewer than 12 teams will likely be interested in acquiring the 25 year-old right hander’s services, and for good reason, too, as Tanaka possesses a very impressive repertoire. It doesn’t appear as though Tanaka has the same raw stuff as Darvish, but most teams should be able to slot him near the top of their rotation for the next several years.
That is, of course, if Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball can sort out the issues with the posting system.
The previous posting system agreement between the two leagues expired, and no new agreement has yet been reached, putting Tanaka’s immediate MLB future in jeopardy. If no agreement is reached, Tanaka would have to wait 2 more years before he would be eligible to come stateside. MLB has submitted a proposal of changes to the previous agreement, but NPB officials have not yet approved that. The Japanese players did reluctantly accept the changes proposed, but teams have not taken a formal vote at this time. Until the proposal is agreed to by all parties, the free agent class of starting pitchers appears to be even thinner than it already was.
If Tanaka is not allowed to be posted by his Japanese team, MLB teams may be forced to be even more aggressive in pursuing the few premier free agents available. Perhaps Santana’s agent, who reportedly is asking for a $112 million contract for his client, may not look quite as crazy if the posting system isn’t straightened out.