ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s easy to wonder whether the winter meetings, which begin Monday and run through Thursday at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resort, could feel like the disappointing 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.
In addition to signing Cano, they’re 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.
Money isn’t a big issue.
Even after landing Cano, the Mariners have at least $25 million in available payroll for next season. And Cano’s arrival should only make it easier to convince other top free agents to relocate to the Pacific Northwest.
Watching the Mariners take their next step, whatever it is, is only one of many bullet points to keep in mind before the meetings conclude Thursday with the annual Rule 5 Draft.
It could get busy over the next few days. Here are a few things to watch:
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 now have $160 million to spend elsewhere.
They began flexing that financial muscle Friday night by signing free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran for $45 million over three years.
The Yankees are likely to continue to push hard after other free agents with infielders Stephen Drew and Omar Infante looming as top targets. The negotiating leverage for those players just spiked up.
THE TANAKA SITUATION
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 finalized 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 thinks 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.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
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 think that won’t be the case this time.
SETTING THE BAR
The Cano deal effectively raised the bar for offseason spending and, by occurring prior to 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, the Yankees fueled the rising tide by signing free-agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year deal for $153 million.
Think Cano gets $240 million prior to 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.
DAVID PRICE SWEEPSTAKES
A year ago, eternally cash-strapped Tampa Bay swapped an increasingly expensive pitcher, James Shields, to Kansas City 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 left-hander David Price, the 2012 Cy Young Award winner, and looking for a bigger haul than they gleaned from the Royals.
The price (no pun) likely starts 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 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners