It’s easy to wonder whether the Winter Meetings, which run through Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resort, could feel like the days after Christmas for much of the baseball industry.
Don’t bet on it.
Yes, it’s been a whirlwind week of franchise-altering player moves topped, unquestionably, by the Mariners’ remarkable 10-year deal with free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano for $240 million.
But there’s much still to do. Heck, even the Mariners aren’t done.
The Royals come to Disney after ticking off two major boxes on their offseason checklist by signing free-agent pitcher Jason Vargas and acquiring outfielder Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee for reliever Will Smith.
And one big miss: Carlos Beltran agreed Friday to sign with the Yankees for $45 million over three years. Now? They’d still like to get a second baseman and shift Emilio Bonifacio to a utility role.
The Royals are also likely to get calls regarding their well-stocked bullpen. That’s just one thing to watch before the Meetings conclude Thursday with the annual Rule 5 Draft. Here are a few others:
They’re not done. In addition to signing Cano, they are determined to add at least one more bat, preferably an outfielder, and would like to acquire a veteran arm for their rotation and bolster their bullpen.
And they have the money to do all of it.
Even after signing Cano, the Mariners have at least $25 million in available payroll for next season. And signing Cano should make it only easier to convince other top free agents to relocate to the Pacific Northwest.
Possibilities include free-agent outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, although bidding for both could quickly escalate.
The new posting system between Major League Baseball and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball is loosely in place and includes a maximum posting fee of $20 million. In the past, there was no limit.
(Generally, MLB clubs that want to pursue a Japanese free agent submit a posting fee. The team posting the highest fee, which goes to the player’s Japanese team, gets the opportunity to negotiate with the player.)
Well numerous clubs have been waiting for the details to get final in preparation to bid on Rakuten right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who just went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 games.
Only now, Rakuten is suggesting it might not post Tanaka because it believes he is more valuable than the $20 million maximum. No surprise the Eagles are upset; they figured to get $70 million under the old system.
Odds are, Tanaka will still get posted. But if not, the negotiating leverage increases significantly for free agents such as Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana.
OK, the Yankees chose to let Cano depart rather than hike their offer from $160 million over seven years. Know what that means? It means the Yankees, even after signing Beltran, still have more than $100 million to spend.
They’re likely to continue to push hard after other free agents, includng infielders Stephen Drew and Omar Infante, who loom as top targets. The negotiating leverage for those players just spiked up.
We’re already seeing evidence of this, most notably with the Cano contract, but the industry is flush with cash. The new national broadcast contracts kick in this year, and that’s estimated to generate an additional $25 million in revenue for each club.
In the past, new TV money spiked offseason spending to record levels, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case this time.
Setting the bar
The Cano deal effectively raised the bar for offseason spending and, by occurring before the meetings, further aids the negotiating leverage for players and their agents.
Players tend to get antsy about their future as the calendar creeps deeper into December. Now, they get a few extra days for their agents to gather options for them to consider.
Leverage has already shifted toward the players, and it’s ironic, perhaps, that the Yankees fueled the rising tide by signing free-agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year deal for $153 million.
Think Cano would have gotten $240 million before Ellsbury’s deal? Unlikely. Now, nobody is likely to top Cano, but an agent can argue, “My guy isn’t Cano, but he’s worth 60 percent of Cano. That’s the market.”
That’s how it often works.
A year ago, eternally cash-strapped Tampa Bay swapped an increasingly expensive pitcher, James Shields, to the Royals for outfielder Wil Myers, a prospect who became the American League’s Rookie of the Year.
Now, the Rays are back again. They’re dangling two controllable years of lefty David Price, the 2012 Cy Young winner, and looking for a bigger haul they they gleaned for Shields.
The price is likely to start with a top-quality pitching prospect. (That brings the Mariners into play again with Taijuan Walker.) But there should be no shortage of teams lining up for a shot to acquire Price.
It’s starting to sink in. It’s coming. And the questions about the possible ramifications and unintended consequences should escalate in various meetings throughout the Swan and Dolphin.
Want one to get you started? How about the area-code play at second base? You know, where umpires generally credit middle infielders with a force-out, in the interest of safety, if they’re near the base when taking the throw.
Replays will, presumably, show when those fielders are nowhere near the base. So now, those infielders will have to hang in longer and risk injury from sliding runners.
Or we could see a return to the old days, when infielders used to submarine throws to first in an effort to keep runners from being aggressive. Either way, the risk of injury increases.