Let’s avoid all talk about who’s right or wrong in the Alex Rodriguez debacle, spectacle, three-ring circus, what-have-you. I liked the White Sox as sleepers to win Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka‘s services this winter. Now that A-Rod is suspended for 162 games, though, the New York Yankees will have something like $24 million in payroll freed up for 2014.
Although the Yankees were allegedly among two or three frontrunners in the bidding war for Tanaka, it appeared to me their payroll would pose a huge obstacle if they truly wanted to obey the luxury tax threshold. But Rodriguez’s suspension blows everything wide open, upgrading the Bronx Bombers’ status from Possible to Probable.
Updated Jan. 14, 2014: The Angels are a distant third to the Yankees and Dodgers, and with Los Angeles looking to extend pitcher Clayton Kershaw… well, the deal is as good as done. Although, in defense of the L.A. teams, Tanaka has mentioned he wants to play on the west coast.
As for the White Sox… get ’em next time, boys. Keep looking for those good deals. I tell you what, every high-profile international signing in the past three years has been a winner.
It is commonly accepted that each win a player provides in value (a “win above replacement,” for those just piecing two and two together) has a market value of about $5 million, although Lewie Pollis at SB Nation argues it is closer to $7 million. Even using the quick-and-easy (and lower) $5 million as a benchmark, the value (by means of WAR) of the 2013 performance of every notable international player in MLB exceeded the average annual value (AAV) of his contract:
Yu Darvish: 5.0 WAR ~ $25 million (AAV: $18.62 million)
Hisashi Iwakuma: 4.2 WAR ~ $21 million (AAV: $7 million)
Yasiel Puig: 4.0 WAR ~ $20 million (AAV: $6 million)
Hyun-jin Ryu: 3.1 WAR ~ $15.5 million (AAV: $6 million)
Leonys Martin: 2.7 WAR ~ $13.5 million (AAV: $4.1 million)
Yoenis Cespedes: 2.3 WAR ~ $11.5 million (AAV: $9 million)
Norichika Aoki: 1.7 WAR ~ $8.5 million (AAV: $1.65 million)
Let’s note here that the AAV for all the players listed above exceeded their actual 2013 salaries. For example, Martin made $3.25 million last year, and Ryu made $3.33 million. Thus, even Cespedes, with his disappointing production compared to 2012, still managed to be a boon for his team, and he should only improve from last year.
It’s a small sample size, but hey, the results seem pretty substantial so far in the post-Dice-K era. Don’t be surprised when my fantasy team has Jose Abreu, Alexander Guerrero and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez on it.
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.
ESPN just reported that Jose Abreu, who recently defected from Cuban, has signed to the Chicago White Sox for six years, $68 million.
Everyone knew he would sign, and ultimately, where he signed matters only minimally in the context of fantasy baseball — playing for the Sox will hurt his value, but not a whole lot. What’s most important is the salary.
Let’s compare him to other Cuban players who have already made big splashes or recently defected:
Yoenis Cespedes – 4 years, $36 million ($9 mil/yr)
Yasiel Puig – 7 years, $42 million ($6 mil/yr)
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – 3 years, $12 million ($4 mil/yr) **almost signed for 6 years, $60 million
Abreu – 6 years, $68 million ($11.33 mil/yr)
With Cespedes making headlines in 2012 and Puig in 2013, teams are turning their attention to Cuba and elsewhere. Abreu’s price tag may be a bit inflated because of demand (and, perhaps, White Sox desperation in part), but his salary ought to reflect his ability.
And it will if the legends of his prowess with the bat are even remotely true. His relative obscurity could make him a fantasy steal, no matter which round you take him, considering he probably won’t go before the top 10, but could very well end the season there.
Remember the name.