Update is at the bottom of the post.
According to ESPN Insider, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim aren’t alone in looking at the Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. It appears that the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox have joined the mix.
In a matter of months, the White Sox went from boring and terrible to interesting. Now they are absolutely fascinating.
They have made the best moves this offseason, far and away, basically acquiring center fielder Adam Eaton for diddly squat, dealing closer Addison Reed before he got too expensive and signing Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu who, if he is even moderately productive, will prove to be an incredibly valuable commodity.
Now the Sox have squared up their crosshair on Tanaka, another international superstar who will likely be undervalued, even despite all the hype. Because of incomplete information about foreign professionals, teams simply can’t tell if a pitcher will be a stud or a dud, no matter his pedigree. This risk factor causes teams to discount a player — I can guarantee you Yu Darvish will greatly exceed the value of his contract over its duration — and I think all dealings with Tanaka will be no different.
Maybe I’m the only one, but I think the White Sox are now the frontrunner to sign Tanaka. They have clearly demonstrated they are rebuilding, and so far they are doing it in all the right ways. They were not afraid to spend to get Abreu, one of the biggest bats to ever come out of Cuba.
And now, here presents a similar situation, where a team with nothing to lose has a shot to come out on top in a bidding war that involves two (former) powerhouse teams trying to curb their payrolls. The Yankees and Angels are both threatening to surpass the luxury tax threshold this year, and signing Tanaka would almost certainly push either one over the edge by the season’s start. The White Sox, on the other hand, have plenty of wiggle room, and I imagine they would be willing to dish out another six-year deal like Abreu’s.
They’re building a team that will be relevant not now, but in three years. Add Tanaka to the mix, and they’ll be more than relevant — they’ll be contenders again. Maybe it’s a bold prediction. But I can’t tell you how excited I will be if it proves to be true.
Updated Jan. 9, 2014: The Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks all plan to look at Tanaka as well. The Mariners are making big moves, but their outfield needs more help than their pitching staff, and an investment in Nelson Cruz may be the better move. The Dodgers have shown they’re not afraid to spend, but they also already have one of the best rotations in the majors and may be less inclined to pay up. Of this group, that leaves the Diamondbacks, Phillies and Cubs. The D-backs have made some decent moves this offseason, but I think they’ll get overshadowed. As for the latter two, I think they are merely posturing, simply tossing their names into the mix. However, the Phillies did sign Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, so perhaps they’re willing to further test the international talent pool.
Surprisingly, the Angels actually upgraded their rotation by signing pitcher Mark Mulder. Huzzah!
I gotta say, a couple of trades have disappointed me strictly because I have fewer sleepers to tout. New veteran presences will likely cut into the playing time of Atlanta pitcher Alex Wood and St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong, both sophomores and ranked prospects, and that makes me sad, yo.
Braves sign SP Gavin Floyd
I would cry buckets if I was traded from the White Sox to the Braves. Floyd may flirt with fantasy relevance, but I think the bigger impact befalls Wood’s status as a starter. Unless the Braves wanted to waste their time squeezing Floyd into the bullpen, Wood will probably return to a late-inning role until further notice — bummer news for prospect fans and anyone who saw serious flashes of talent during his short stint as a starter last year. I think the Braves’ depth chart still has Wood listed as the No. 5 starter, but I expect change soon.
Floyd’s preseason rank: Not draftworthy
Wood’s preseason rank: Late-round bench-stash at best
Cardinals sign 2B Mark Ellis
Wong’s plate discipline and speed made him a very enticing low-tier middle infielder with upside, but not anymore. He should platoon with Ellis as Matt Carpenter assumes third base duties. Bummer, man. Given Ellis’ relative competence, I doubt Wong will ever win the job outright, either, barring injury.
Ellis’ preseason rank: Irrelevant
Wong’s preseason rank: Irrelevant… for now
Yankees sign 2B Brian Roberts
This is mainly here for comic relief.
Roberts’ preseason rank: No. 2 DL slot
Speaking of second basemen, when are the Mariners going to trade Nick Franklin?
Seriously, they could get a decent return for him, given he’s under team control for a while. MAKE MOVES, PEOPLE!
I am so far behind, guys. I’m sorry. Really. But hey! Happy holidays! Spend it with the people you love, and if you can’t, be sure to think about them, for they are probably thinking about you, too.
Anyway, yeah, I’m way behind. I’m going to list a handful moves that have been made, in case you were not aware of them, and I will elaborate on the ones that are most intriguing.
Angels sign OF Raul Ibanez
I mean, they needed someone to fill the role of Old Left Fielder once Vernon Wells left. This deal isn’t that bad, though, because the Angels signed the aging outfielder to a one-year contract rather than for two or three years. He won’t hit 29 home runs again, but the power isn’t a fluke, either considering he has surpassed 30 home runs twice since his age-33 season. I expect something more like 19 home runs, but I think he has mid-20s upside as well, as long as he can stay healthy. Ibanez seems like he’s got some Duracell in him, though. He’s the Energizer Bunny.
Preseason rank: Low-tier or backup OF
Astros sign SP Scott Feldman
Feldman is even more irrelevant in fantasy than he used to be.
Twins re-sign SP Mike Pelfrey
Athletics sign RP Jim Johnson
Orioles sign RP Grant Balfour… but fails his physical
This was an interesting pair of moves, considering each player was signed independently of the other for roughly the same price. Balfour is the better pitcher, though, as evidenced by Johnson’s volatile percentage of converted saves. (Balfour, however, does walk a batter too many for my taste.) It was recently announced, though, that Balfour failed his physical and was thus not signed by the Orioles. I don’t know much more about it, but I’m guessing it has to do with his age, considering I heard little (if nothing) about any ailments Balfour experienced in 2013. I have a feeling this will turn into a Mike Napoli type of situation, where a team will get him for a bargain and cash in. In the meantime, he’s teamless. But I wouldn’t let the size of his next contract influence my ranking of him.
Johnson’s preseason rank: Mid-tier RP
Balfour’s preseason rank: Mid-tier RP
Athletics receive SP Drew Pomeranz and RP Chris Jensen, Rockies receive SP Brett Anderson
Say goodbye to any chance of Anderson living up to his potential ever again. Meanwhile, Pomeranz just went from lost-cause prospect to fringe starter-slash-fantasy sleeper. Pomeranz put up great numbers in the minors because being banished to the pitchers’ hell that is Coors Field and has always had good stuff: 10.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9. See that? Pomeranz used to be great at limiting home runs. And the high walk rate is negligible with a strikeout rate like his minor league rate. Pomeranz has underwhelmed since getting the call in 2011, though, let alone being humiliated last year in 16 starts. I won’t be surprised if he garners little credence in preseason ranks for 2014. But if the Athletics give him a legitimate shot at the No. 5 spot in the rotation, things could get interesting. I’m not saying he’s worth drafting, because he doesn’t look anything like the pitcher he once was in the minors. But a change of scenery, especially away from Colorado, could be exactly what Pomeranz needs
Pomeranz’s reseason rank: Barely a top-100 starter
Anderson’s preseason rank: Barely a top-100 starter
In other news…
- Let the bidding begin on Masahiro Tanaka
- Rusney Castillo defects from Cuba
- Roy Halladay and Mark Prior retire
- Kevin Youkilis and Luke Scott sign contracts with Japanese teams. We will miss you, Youk.
A cringeworthy article title, dare I say so myself.
The Miami Marlins are making all sorts of moves this offseason, although none of them look like they’ll turn the club into a respectable one, nor do I think its front office hopes they will. Signing shortstop Rafael Furcal and outfielder Garrett Jones to short-term contracts basically confirms they’re there to fill spots on the cheap, and essentially relegates both of them to fantasy irrelevancy. Signing catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the Marlins’ signal caller is interesting in a way I’m having trouble articulating other than just simply saying the word “interesting.” He’s young, he came off of a good year, and I figured another suitor would try to win him over. There. Lastly, they traded outfielders with the Cubs: Justin Ruggiano for Brian Bogusevic. I honestly don’t understand that one at all.
BUT! I’m guessing Ruggiano will go largely undrafted because of his pretty awful 2013. However, he is getting shipped to a better team, even if only a marginally better one, and he’s a legitimate 20-homer, 20-steal threat if he earns a starting role. He won’t hit .220 again, but he also won’t hit much better than .250, either. Still, he’s worth a late-round pick as long as Jorge Soler has not yet reared his talented head in the majors. Otherwise, Ruggiano will likely be benched in favor of Soler, Nate Schierholtz and Junior Lake.
Speaking of nautical things, I’ve intentionally overlooked the biggest offseason signing thus far.
SEA signs 2B Robinson Cano
… for a ridiculous sum of money the Mariners will almost certainly regret. I already expressed my disdain for outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury‘s long-term contract. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cano simply mailed it in now that he got the contract he wanted (almost). However, the Mariners figure to be pretty decent, if not somewhat of a threat next year (not to be confused with a legitimate playoff threat, however). I’ll get to that in a bit. Meanwhile, people will probably try to tell you Cano’s production will drop off next year. Don’t listen to them; you probably listened to them when they told you outfielder Hunter Pence would be stifled in AT&T Park. The Yankees had one of their worst teams in a very long time, yet Cano still mashed for more than 100 RBI. He didn’t crack 100 runs for the first time in five years (he barely reached 80), and that could be a lingering side effect of moving to an arguably less productive team that is less capable of driving him in. But home runs and RBI can fluctuate pretty wildly from year to year, as there is still an element of luck involved with both, and I wouldn’t immediately dismiss Cano as a top-3 player at his position. If anything, I would seize the opportunity to get a premium positional power hitter at any type of discount.
Winner: Cano, even though he didn’t get $300 million
Preseason rank: Top-2 second baseman
SEA signs OF Corey Hart
The dude has been dealing with knee woes for the past year and a half, yet he still crushed 30 homers in 2012 at age 30. He’s entering his age 32 year, and after opting for surgery on both his knees, I understand, again, why one may dismiss a player like Hart. But he has averaged 24 home runs the past six years, and that includes time missed from injury. Yes, it is important to acknowledge that there is inherent injury risk here, but there could be a lot of hidden value here.
Preseason rank: Top-50 outfielder — full rankings pending
Meanwhile, this is how the Mariners starting lineup appears to shape up:
C Mike Zunino
1B Jesus Montero (or Justin Smoak)
SS Brad Miller (assuming Nick Franklin gets traded now that Cano is here)
3B Kyle Seager
LF Dustin Ackley
CF [Logan Morrison — pending]
Their rotation boasts young talent reminiscent of the current Atlanta Braves rotation. Meanwhile, the infield looks awesome, assuming Montero can display the hitting prowess for which scouts hyped him. Clearly, Ackley is not a permanent solution in the outfield, and the Mariners need a legitimate center fielder with Franklin Gutierrez headed out. Point is, their team doesn’t look that bad. In fact, they could be a nice underdog pick early in the season in the realm of sports betting.
Nothing looked unusual when the Detroit Tigers traded first baseman Prince Fielder to the Boston Red Sox for second baseman Dustin Pedroia, despite the trade being very high-profile. It appeared as if the Tigers were clearing up salary space to sign starting pitcher and 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to a long-term deal. Instead, they dealt pitcher Doug Fister and signed outfielder Rajai Davis and former Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain (great last name, by the way) for depth. So… now what? The salary they freed up has been spent, and all the moves made have been lackluster. And, in a latest turn of events, Scherzer is on the market. What the heck is going on?
(Although, honestly, I think Scherzer’s value peaked in 2013. Dude had control issues his whole career until the 2012 All-Star Break, and he’s about to enter the latter half of his career. 0
The Bucs have been worse. The Tigers’ moves have been sensible; the Pirates moves have been indefensible. Charlie Morton for three years? Edinson Volquez for one year? These guys are rotation fillers who expect to not contend. These are not the moves a contending team makes. Unfortunately, it appears they’re sold on Morton’s illusory 2013, and unless Volquez is merely for depth (beyond a No. 5 starter), this is money wasted.
Meanwhile, the New York Mets may fancy themselves contenders.
NYM sign OF Curtis Granderson
I didn’t realize the Grandy Man was so divisive. I guess Yankees fans are bitter or something. Maybe I’m overexposed to a microcosm of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. Regardless, four years, $50 million for a proven power hitter and decent defensive outfielder ain’t bad. I like it a whole lot more than the Jacoby Ellsbury signing, based mostly on the length. The Mets think they’ll contend, and while I think they won’t realistically do it until 2015 or later, they plan to make a 2013-Kansas-City-Royals-type of splash next season. Either that, or it’ll be a Blue Jays-caliber flop, but without the hype, so it won’t be as bad.
Preseason rank: Top-50 OF
NYM sign SP Big Fat Bartolo Colon
BFB revived his career, got caught with steroids, then continued to impress afterward. I have no idea how he does it, because metrics all point to some sort of regression, but his excellent command of his fastball must keep him afloat. (Other than, well, all his fat. OK, that was mean. Sorry!) Two years isn’t bad, especially if the Mets think they’ll contend this year… But I really don’t. But 2015? Maybe. World Series team? Probably not. So I don’t know. And, again, I can’t imagine Colon will repeat his 2012 and 2013. But who knows? He could be even better. Baseball is a funny sport. As far as fantasy baseball implications go, he’s going to arguably a worse team, and his strikeout rate is, well, pretty miserable. He’s a three-category contributor at best, but if he regresses, it could be more like zero categories.
Preseason rank: 69th
*Each team re-signed one player, so they’re technically not all “new.” Moving on.
Maybe I missed something, but have any AL East teams other than the Red Sox and Yankees made moves this offseason? Boston and New York has made three signings a piece. That sets up a pretty easy comparison for the question to which everyone wants an answer: Which team “wins” this postseason so far?
(I get really self-conscious when using questions in my writing. My high school English teachers drilled into my brain that using rhetorical questions is a crutch in persuasive writing, as is asking yourself a question to simply answer it later. But really, am I trying to impress Advanced Placement test graders anymore? No. No I’m not.
If you are an AP test grader, I apologize.)
BOS signs C A.J. Pierzynski
AJP bounced back from down years in 2010 and 2011, and his 2013 was pretty much in line with how he has typically produced throughout his career. He’s 36 — that kind of tread on a catcher’s tires is always a red flag — but he’ll be hitting in the friendly confines of Fenway Park, so maybe another 15+-HR season and .275 average is not out of the question. Pierzynski is probably an upgrade over Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the dish, despite Salty’s productive 2013.
Winner: Both parties
Pierzynski’s preseason rank: No. 2 catcher in deep leagues
NYY signs OF Carlos Beltran
Man, I love Beltran. Who doesn’t? (Answer: Mets fans.) (Shit, I used a rhetorical question again…) But where does he fit in the Yankees’ plans? That team is just flat-out old now. Their outfield is already bursting at the seams with Jacoby Ellsbury (spoiler alert), Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells (negligible) and Brett Gardner. Meanwhile, the average age of their potential starting outfielders is 35, and that’s before Ellsbury joined the crew. I’m guessing Wells will be relegated to bench duty. But I have also heard Gardner figures to play into the Yankees’ everyday plans. Sounds like Ichiro is on the market, and I’ve read that the Giants are possible suitors. Anyway, Beltran is good, but he’s not a solution to the Yankees’ problems, which is zero preparedness for beyond 2015 when every single one of their players falls apart.
Preseason rank: Probably a top-3o OF — full rankings pending
BOS signs RP Edward Mujica
Mujica made a name for himself as Jason Motte‘s replacement at the back end of the St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen, and there’s no reason he can’t do it again. Some people argue he broke down at the end of the year, but manager Mike Matheny wore him down with consecutive (two, if not three) multi-inning outings in August, and even Mujica said it wore him out. It’s fair to worried about durability, but if you’re going to write off a solid closer for a good team because he might wear down in September, you have bigger things to worry about. HOWEVER… Koji Uehara is still there. And so is Junichi Tazawa. And given Uehara’s incredible success last year, Mujica would only see chances for saves on Uehara’s rest days at best. Unfortunately, I must politely ask everyone who rode the Mujica train last year, myself included, to disembark.
Winner: Red Sox
Preseason rank: Unranked/not draftworthy
NYY re-sign SP Hiroki Kuroda
Not much to see here — he’s old, but it’s a one-year deal and he has proven he’s still plenty effective. It still doesn’t solve the Yankees’ age problem, though.
Preseason rank: 40th
BOS re-signs 1B Mike Napoli
Feels weird to call Napoli a first baseman and only a first baseman. Again, nothing to see here, but Napoli’s lack of eligibility at catcher is kind of a deal breaker.
Preseason rank: Low-tier 1B
NYY signs OF Jacoby Ellsbury
Yes, I couldn’t help but spoil the surprise earlier (even though it’s not really a surprise). Ellsbury has joined the archenemy, and of course all Red Sox fans are really flustered. Meanwhile, the Yankees overpaid… Way overpaid. Something like $20 million a year for seven years. Look, guys who rely on their wheels for productivity have been known to break down at about his age (see: Michael Bourn). Give it another couple of years and 50 stolen bases will only be 20, or maybe even 10. His power will likely decline, too, as will his defensive range. It’s just not a good situation. Seven years was way too long to begin with, and the price makes it worse — and I have yet to touch upon his abundant injury risk. Don’t fret too much, Red Sox nation. You’ll be grinning about this one in 2017 as the Yankees dynasty completes its collapse.
Preseason rank: Top-1o OF, with downside
A couple of big trades went down recently, including an exciting three-way trade among the Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Surprisingly, everyone benefited, even if the Angels traded back for someone they originally traded away to get Dan Haren (sigh…). The Detroit Tigers also made a move, effectively making two moves in the process.
White Sox trade SP Hector Santiago to the Angels
Diamondbacks trade OF Adam Eaton to the White Sox, SP Tyler Skaggs to the Angels
Angels trade OF/3B Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks
Yowza! I nearly spit out my drink when I got this text message from ESPN. I’ll touch upon the Angels first. Good for you, Glen Coco, for dealing Mark Trumbo before his value skyrocketed. In return, they got two young pitchers — and yes, one of them they originally drafted and then traded to get Haren — which is exactly what they needed: bullpen depth and young players. Now think about how lethal Arizona’s corner infielders are. The Diamondbacks gave up a lot for Trumbo, though. If it was a secret until now, let it be known that I am a huge Eaton fan, so I think it was premature of the Diamondbacks to deal him before they could reap the benefits (and then some, if they decided to trade him once his stock rose). Same goes with Skaggs. So, at its roots, the White Sox win this trade for giving up only Santiago to get Eaton. Santiago has potential but the walk rate is a large concern. It’s trending in the right direction, though, and in a couple of years, Santiago could be a serviceable starter. Until then…
Winner: White Sox
Santiago’s preseason rank: 116th
Skaggs’ preseason rank: 80th, with upside
Eaton’s preseason rank: Low-tier starter, with upside — full rankings pending
Trumbo’s preseason rank: 2nd tier 1B — full rankings pending
Royals trade SP Will Smith, Brewers trade OF Norichika Aoki
I like Aoki. A buddy, colleague, what-have-you of mine dubbed him Ichiro Lite. And that’s exactly what he is. He’s consistent, albeit underwhelming, but he’ll give you double-digit homers and steals (well, almost). It’s hard to tell if he’s more the 2012 Aoki (10 HR, 30 SB) or the 2013 Aoki (8 HR, 20 SB), but those are serviceable numbers nonetheless. He also pretty much halved his strikeout rate while improving his walk rate, so there’s a lot to like as far as adjusting to Major League pitching is concerned. I think his 2014 will be a happy medium between his last two years. Meanwhile, the Royals gave up Smith to the rebuilding Brewers for only one year of Aoki (a point I should have gotten around to about 100 words ago), and Smith looked as if he was just turning a corner. I can’t say I was a fan of Men in Black III, and I loathed Smith for his horrendous, although short, 2012 campaign, so I’ll be the first to admit I overlooked Smith’s outstanding 33-1/3 innings in 2013. If he can keep up that momentum, the Royals may regret it. With a rotation that has relied on Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen for years, it will leave me wondering how Smith might have improved things. In this trade, the Royals are leaning toward contending rather than rebuilding — which should come as no surprise, given their relative success last year.
Smith’s preseason rank: Unranked
Aoki’s preseason rank: Low-tier OF
DET signs RP Joe Nathan
One move means two moves: Nathan is the closer, and Bruce Rondon is in limbo. I won’t pretend to tease the idea of the Tigers using Nathan as their setup man. Rondon will be relegated to the setup role at best, and if he thrives, questions will be asked. However, it could prove to be a stroke of genius, as the game’s most crucial pitching moments don’t always come in the final inning. But people don’t really care about that. People care about saves. Sorry, Rondonites. It’s 2015 or bust — and by bust, I mean, maybe the Tigers will trade Rondon instead of let him rot! Well, now I’m intrigued. This is why I can’t leave me alone with me.
Nathan’s preseason rank: Pending
Rondon’s preseason rank: Fantasy irrelevant
CHW re-signs 1B Paul Konerko
The team won’t be in contention anyway, so they’re pretty much just thanking the guy for his long, highly productive tenure as a White Sock. Nothing to see here, except for a team that’s flushing away a few million dollars.
Konerko’s preseason rank: Fantasy irrelevant