Dan Szymborski at ESPN[Insider needed and recommended] has weighed in with his view that the Mariners are club with the best chance of signing Masahiro Tanaka. It’s starting to look like a national consensus of opinion, although it’s disturbingly similar to the Yankees being a lock to sign Cano.
Szymborski notes that: Seattle has a history of being a comfortable home for players from Japan and the wallet necessary to make the signing. And even more important, the Mariners have a pressing need for another top arm. How bad was Seattle pitching last season? Despite starting with the No. 1 and No. 7 pitchers in the AL by Baseball Reference’s WAR (Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez), the team’s ERA+ of 86 was the second-worst in the AL, just barely ahead of the Houston Astros. The Robinson Cano signing was huge, but outside of that, the team has only been able to engage in its yearly ritual of accumulating designated-hitter types.
Erasmo Ramirez may be the worst No. 3 starter in baseball, and while Taijuan Walker is a terrific prospect, he’s still just 21 years old and has never topped 156 1/3 innings in a season (141 1/3 in the minors—thanks to gmantacoma). ZiPS projects Tanaka in Seattle with a 3.24 ERA, for a 118 ERA+ and 3.8 WAR. Depending on whether Ramirez or James Paxton would get the boot from the rotation, Tanaka adds 3 or 4 wins to a team that still needs another 10 or so to frighten Oakland or Texas.
AL West Commentary
The Texas Rangers went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011, so the Los Angeles Angels spent heavily on Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton, signing Hamilton away from the Rangers. Texas upped the ante this winter by adding more than $200 million in salary obligations by acquiring Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. The Seattle Mariners spent more money on one player than any other team this winter, outbidding the Yankees for Robinson Cano. The Oakland Athletics just keep on doing what they always do, as the division’s Little Engine That Could, and have won the AL West the last two seasons. The AL West race could turn out to be more intense than any other, given the pile of chips that have been shoved into the fight, given all that’s at stake.
It’s not a good time to be the Houston Astros. Again. Source:Buster OlneyatESPN [Insider needed and recommended]
Mariner’s potential off-season targets
Paul Maholm, SP The 31-year-old Maholm had a 3.66 ERA in 57 starts for the Pirates and the Braves in 2011 and 2012, but severely hurt his free agent prospects with a 2013 in which his ERA ballooned to 4.41. He particularly struggled during the second half (1-3, 5.73 ERA), when rival scouts would have been closely monitoring him. Even so, he is quite clearly the best lefthanded starter remaining on the market, now that Jason Vargas and Scott Kazmir have signed. Any team in need of some rotational balance will consider him.
Grady Sizemore, OF In some ways, Sizemore is reminiscent of another five-tool talent whose career once seemed as if it might be prematurely derailed by injuries: Carlos Beltran. There are differences, to be sure. Even during his three straight All-Star seasons for the Indians, between 2006 and 2008, Sizemore was never quite the player that Beltran was in his prime, and his health problems have been more severe. Beltran never missed a full season, whereas Sizemore — who has had microfracture surgery on both knees — has not played an inning since 2011, and did not even sign with a team last season. Sizemore is, however, only 31 years old, and clubs will hope that his two years off might lead to some version of Beltran’s renaissance.
Jake Westbrook, SP The Cardinals have nearly two rotations worth of top-shelf starting pitching options — including Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Jamie Garcia, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez — so that means that the 36-year-old sinkerballer, who was limited to just 19 starts in 2013 by elbow inflammation and a strained back, will be moving on. He remains an excellent producer of grounders, as his groundball rate of 56.3% last year ranked him seventh among the 145 pitchers who pitched more than 100 innings.
Delmon Young, OF It seems clear that the 28-year-old Young will never fully live up to the promise he displayed when he was the first overall pick of the 2003 draft, but he has done so at times. He has nine home runs and an .859 OPS in 33 career playoff games, and he had a .780 OPS for the Rays after they picked him up off the street last August.. Source: Ben Reiterat Sports Illustrated
Others to consider: Chris Capuano, SP; Bruce Chen, SP; Kevin Gregg, RP; Joel Hanrahan, RP; Tommy Hanson, SP; Ryan Madson, RP; Carlos Pena, 1B; Oliver Perez, RP; Johan Santana, SP; Michael Young, 3B; Barry Zito, SP.
They’re trying not to panic. It’s January, and five of baseball’s best free agents remain unemployed, mostly because the law of unintended consequences struck with greater ferocity than anybody imagined. For Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana andUbaldo Jimenez, all that’s left is the slim hope the market will calibrate itself to fix the false mechanism wrecking it. Of the teams with protected draft picks, Houston and Miami aren’t likely to go anywhere near the five, the Chicago White Sox and Cubs are very unlikely to do the same, Minnesota is focusing on non-compensation starters, Philadelphia and Colorado may be tapped financially, and the Mets aren’t inclined to go after Drew or Morales, even if both are a fit. Which leaves the Mariners, who will almost certainly sign a pitcher – though it could be Tanaka – and the Blue Jays, who aren’t the sort to make a huge splash. Source: Jeff PassanatYahoo! Sports
Baseball Best Practice
During the offseason, an outline for expanded replay has taken shape and home plate collisions have been banned. Both changes will be in effect in time for next season and both will be a success. There inevitably will be a few hiccups with the early implementation of expanded replay, and some slowdown in the pace of game should be expected as everyone adjusts to the new program. And, of course, it should have happened years ago. But by midseason, when everything is running smoothly and fewer games are being decided by blown calls, we’ll barely remember the prehistoric era in which correctable human error had a prominent place in the sport.
As for collisions at the plate, eliminating the previously acceptable practice — whereby professional athletes could sprint for 90 feet and collide with a standing target who receives the blow while unable to fully protect himself because he’s trying to hold onto the ball — is long overdue. The word “concussion” will be used less frequently in a baseball context while some creative sliding will make the highlight reels. Source:Joe LemireatSports Illustrated
The New York Yankees are poised to respond to a disappointing 2013 campaign at the major and minor league levels by shattering the record for spending on international amateurs, starting on July 2nd, 2014. A source with direct knowledge of the Yankees plans says they aim to spend $12-15 million in bonuses on international amateurs this year, which would trigger penalties of about $10-12 million per to the 2-year old rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that limit international spending.
The total outlay of about $25 million would blow away a record the Texas Rangers set in 2011 of about $15 million, of all penalty-free bonuses. That record was thought to be untouchable as it came in the last season before spending limits were implemented and was shocking at the time, also shattering the previous record. MLB hasn’t notified clubs of their 2014 international spending pools yet, but the Yankees are expected to have a pool amount between $2.0 million and $2.5 million. They would be taxed 100% on any dollar they spend over 10% above that amount and the maximum penalty (for going over 15% above the pool amount) is not being allowed to sign a player for above a $300,000 bonus for the next two years. The maximum bonus penalty this year is harsher than the previous two seasons, when it was a one-year bonus limit of $250,000.
This isn’t a novel strategy, as the Tampa Bay Rays spent over 15% above their bonus pool in 2012 and the Rangers and Chicago Cubs did it in 2013. The new wrinkle with the Yankees plan is that, with this year’s expansion of penalties, it raises the stakes for this gamble, necessitating a bigger investment to make the strategy worth it. While the previous three clubs just went a few million over their pool, essentially lumping 2-3 years of signings into one year, the Yankees would be spending more in bonuses in the summer of 2014 than almost any club will spend in the next five years, along with almost as much in penalties. Source:Kiley McDaniel at MLB Scout
The deal is “smart money.” I talked to Stan Kasten – who’s the current president and CEO of the Dodgers – at [last year’s Winter Meetings]. Stan had been the president of the Braves when they were starting to pull out of their malaise, and then he was president of the Nationals when they were rebuilding after the Expos. And I said, “Stan, you’ve never been in this position before, when you’ve had so much money at your disposal.” He said, “Well Maury, it never hurts to be rich.” He goes, “But you have to be smart first.”
Money doesn’t buy World Series championships, but money gives you flexibility. That’s your parity problem. Teams will be able to have more risk aversion. They’re able to make mistakes … and these are the things that you will have to constantly deal with. But there’s no excuse for any team in major league baseball – when it makes sense – to say they don’t have money at their disposal to make themselves competitive. It’s just how long they can remain competitive, and how often they can spend. Source:Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseballin a podcast with Alex Reimer atBostInno.
Teams already have spent more than $1.5 billion on free agents and may drop more than $2 billion by the end of the offseason. Source: Jeff PassanatYahoo! Sports