For the past month, baseball has been in a Tanaka black hole. The offseason came to a standstill as teams and players waited for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka to sign.
In the meantime, the top free agents still remaining in baseball had to sit and bide their time in hopes that Tanaka's signing would begin a new busy period that would lead to a rash of signings. Tanaka signed with the Yankees last week and since, one domino has fallen. Matt Garza reportedly agreed to a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Though there has been a bit of a holdup and nothing is official yet, the two sides appear on track to sign a contract soon.
It remains to be seen if the rest of the top free agents will also soon find new homes. Here is the latest on the five best players still available.
Last year, Kyle Lohse had trouble finding a new team after two excellent seasons with the Cardinals. Given his recent statistics, he seemed like a viable candidate for any team needing a pitcher. However, he did not sign until after spring training had already begun, and even then the Brewers offered him less than what Lohse was originally seeking. The problem? The loss of a first-round draft pick attached to signing Lohse.
Similarly, Santana was made a qualifying offer by the Kansas City Royals, meaning any team that signs him would be required to forfeit a high draft pick. Right now, the Blue Jays appear to be the most likely landing spot for Santana. The team had plenty of rotation troubles in 2013 and have reportedly been looking for an upgrade. Management also seems to be willing to give up a pick to sign a pitcher. Toronto would only be required to lose their second-round selection as both of their first rounders are protected.
The Orioles are another possible landing spot for Santana. The team has had active talks with him and others as they continue their own search for a starting pitcher. Baltimore had one of the most potent offenses in baseball last year, but struggled to find stability in their starting rotation. While the Orioles would lose a first round pick, they might deem it worthwhile to get ahead of their AL East rivals.
Santana is looking for a deal slightly larger than that of Garza's reported deal with the Brewers. Santana also wants a four-year contract, but is seeking $60 million. That's a long way from his original demands at the outset of the offseason, when he reportedly was looking to earn around $112 million.
Everything said above for Santana can pretty much be applied for Jimenez as well. The Blue Jays and Orioles are both having dialogues with him and Jimenez also would require a team to lose a draft pick next year. He has also struggled to find any team willing to make a solid offer at this point.
Jimenez comes with more risk than Santana, however. While Santana has certainly had his ups and downs in his career, Jimenez's ups were higher and his downs were lower. Jimenez was traded from the Rockies to the Indians in mid-2011, just half of a season removed from posting a 2.88 ERA. In his first year-and-a-half with Cleveland, he was generally terrible with a 5.32 ERA. His talent shone through again last season, however, as he posted a sparking 2.61 ERA in his final 28 starts.
So which Jimenez would a team get? The guy who will post a 5.00+ ERA for a year while looking eminently hittable, or the guy with outstanding stuff who can strike out anyone and generally makes hitters look foolish? Will any team risk a big contract to find out? If not, it appears Jimenez could head back to Cleveland on a one-year contract with the Indians to further establish his value and try his luck again next year.
Unlike Jimenez and Santana, Arroyo was not made a qualifying offer and will not necessitate the loss of a draft pick. That alone could help him sign quicker. Add in the fact that he has been one of the most consistent and healthy pitchers in recent memory and that he is looking for a reasonable deal and one wonders why he is still on the market.
Arroyo entered the offseason looking for a three-year deal worth a little over $10 million per year. In today's age of monster contracts and cable TV money, that sounds like a bargain. The biggest thing holding teams back may be concern over Arroyo's age; he turns 37 in one month. That could be preventing teams from offering a guaranteed third year.
Earlier in the offseason there had been plenty of rumors swirling around Arroyo, with indications that he could have found a deal by the end of the Winter Meetings. That obviously did not happen. There has been speculation that he was being offered two-year deals, but held out for the third season. The Twins had been perhaps the most aggressive pursuer of Arroyo but have instead signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey.
The Orioles may be the most likely landing spot for Arroyo now as the club has had several conversations with the veteran. Arroyo is also on the Dodgers' short list as they hope to add a starter after losing out on Tanaka.
Yet another player who turned down a qualifying offer and is now left to sit on the open market hoping he can find a deal. Cruz may also have over-estimated his worth as he originally was seeking a $75 million contract for four years. Reportedly, he has not backed down much from those lofty demands and could also be a candidate for a one year contract.
Teams are certainly interested in signing Cruz, they just likely would prefer to get him at a discounted price. Though he is coming off a 50-game suspension for his connection to Biogenesis and is 33 years old, Cruz has perhaps the most powerful bat of any player that was on the free agent market this offseason. He hit 27 home runs in 2013 during a suspension-shortened season and has averaged 27 home runs per season over the last five years. Power has become an increasingly rare commodity in baseball the past few years, making Cruz potentially rather valuable for a team.
At least one team is out on Cruz as Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Saturday his club was likely done making any major moves this offseason. As with the above pitchers, the Orioles have had interest in him as their DH, but signed Delmon Young recently. Rumors have circulated all offseason that the Mariners might have interest, but they signed Corey Hart, traded for Logan Morrison and now also say they are probably done with any big signings. All that leaves Cruz in a bind as he continues to search for a new team.
The curse of the qualifying offer strikes again. Drew was one of three Red Sox players to turn down the offer and will, yes, require a team to forfeit a draft pick if they sign him. Shortstop is typically a fairly weak position around baseball and Drew could certainly help out many teams. However, the loss of a pick and the fact he is likely seeking over $10 million per year might be making clubs hesitant.
Drew also has not been the best at staying on the field in recent years. He missed half a season in both 2011 and 2012 before accepting a one year deal with the Red Sox and playing in 124 games last year. He had a nice year at the plate, as well, with a .253/.333/.443 line.
Both New York teams have appeared to have some interest, though neither looks like they will sign Drew. The Yankees seem to be fairly content with their current squad while the Mets would sign him if his contract demands lowered significantly. The Red Sox have kept up talks with Drew and are open to bringing him back, but at a lower value. Still, Boston may be Drew's best bet as they are the only team who would not face losing a draft pick. Drew is growing more open to the possibility of playing a position other than shortstop, which could increase his options.