The pitching market flourished early on this winter. Everyone from Bartolo Colon to Scott Feldman got multi-year deals, and it appeared at one point that every starting pitcher of note might be off the table by the end of the Winter Meetings. It all came to a screeching halt when Masahiro Tanaka's posting hit a snag, but now that he's officially coming stateside the final starting pitcher dominoes can at last begin to fall, opening an opportunity for the winter grade book to be rewritten.
If the offseason ended today -- clichéd hypothetical alert! -- the entire AL West would probably come away as the big winners on paper. Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Dexter Fowler and more have joined Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Adrian Beltre in the division, giving the AL East a run for its money in terms of clout and postseason aspirations. But with Tanaka starting what is likely to be a new wave of expensive and lengthy transactions, it's far too early to crown a true winner.
Clubs whose 2014 seasons look hopeless at the moment still have plenty of opportunity to turn things around by Opening Day. It's entirely possible that a club could add one or more key rotation piece after pitchers and catchers have reported for spring camp. Not just that, but the Rays and Dodgers could be waiting to trade their prized pieces --David Price and Matt Kemp -- until they know where Tanaka will land, meaning there could be seismic shifts in the divisional landscape beyond the open market in the months to come.
In the old days, teams would throw in blind bids on a posted player then return to their regularly scheduled programming a week later when they didn't get exclusive negotiating rights. Any fleeting desire to land someone like Yu Darvish was quickly done away with by the workings of the system. Now, however, every MLB club has a 30-day window in which to woo the posted player to its fair city, which potentially puts other plans on hold for a considerably longer amount of time.
Tanaka's limited negotiation period begins Thursday and concludes on the evening of Jan. 24. There's no telling how the battle for his services will play out over the next month, but there's a good chance that his bidding war could keep teams from pulling the trigger on the best of the rest. Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo and (maybe) A.J. Burnett are still looking for new places to pitch, and now could have to wait until February to find them.
Of course, that's not the only way the Tanaka sweepstakes could play out. It's possible that the right-hander narrows his options to a few clubs early on in the process, allowing everyone else to put him in their rearview mirror and go after the other available pitchers. But even if that occurs, it's unlikely Garza, et al. will agree to a deal before knowing what kind of money Tanaka's pulling in unless they're completely blown away by an offer. That again sets the timeline at late January or early February, which means we all have to endure another month of Hall of Fame bickering before the market kicks back into high gear.