The Calm Before the Storm

By 5 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, if not sooner, we’ll know where Masahiro Tanaka is going to end up. For fans of the Cubs or Dodgers or Yankees or wherever it is he decides to spend the next five to seven years of his life, the reaction will be elation, wondering just how their shiny new toy will look slotted into their rotation for years to come. They’ll dream of pennants. They’ll marvel at his stat lines. They’ll do their best to ignore the assuredly absurd dollar amount it took to obtain him. (Update: Obviously written before word broke that the Yankees had agreed to terms with him.)

For everyone else, the reaction will simply be: Finally. Let’s get on with things already.

While Clayton Kershaw‘s contract extension was fun, the last month has been a brutal standstill around the game, unless you’ve really enjoyed the annual Hall of Fame mess and the Alex Rodriguez situation. Today is January 22, and we haven’t seen a trade of notable major league players in over a month, dating back to the four minor trades made on December 18 that moved Ryan Doumit and Drew Stubbs, among others. (Fine, Chris McGuiness was dealt for Miles Mikolas after that, but 24 career plate appearances for McGuiness and seven batters faced for Mikolas in 2013 hardly counts as moving everyday names.)

It’s not just trades, either. Since 2013 turned to 2014 three weeks ago, there have been exactly two players signed to a major league deal: John Buck in Seattle and (reportedly, but not yet officially) Tyler Colvin in Baltimore. (I’m ignoring deals that were made public in to in December but not officially announced until January, like the Yankees adding Brian Roberts & Matt Thornton, or the White Sox signing Scott Downs.) It’s been a month now since Shin-Soo Choo signed with the Rangers back on December 21, and the market has essentially been paralyzed ever since, as everyone bides their time with arbitration cases and non-roster invites. Part of that is easily attributed to the typical annual lull around the holidays, of course, but the unique Tanaka situation and the glut of qualifying offer guys makes this really seem like something else, especially since the winter is a bit condensed for some teams.

Think about it: due to the early season opener in Australia, pitchers and catchers report for the Diamondbacks on February 6, which is somehow only two weeks from tomorrow. While the start of camp is hardly a concrete deadline for signings, it does unofficially mark the time of year when it stops being “the offseason” and starts being “you’re missing camp,” and with our depth charts currently showing 21 available players other than Tanaka projected to be worth at least 1 WAR in 2014, think about how much still has to happen before the winter is complete.

Over the next 48 or so hours, we’re going to know where Tanaka lands. Over the next few weeks, we’re almost certainly going to see the trio of second-level starting pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez follow him.  Then depth guys like Bronson Arroyo, Paul Maholm, Chris Capuano, Jerome Williams, Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel, Scott Baker, Bruce Chen, and Aaron Harang, who all have some argument for being able to help a team. In the bullpen, Grant Balfour is still out there, and so are Fernando Rodney, Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Andrew Bailey, Carlos Marmol, Kevin Gregg, and Joel Hanrahan. Those aren’t all guys you want, but they are guys who are going to find homes.

By this time next month, we should know where Stephen Drew ends up, and with the Red Sox and Mets both acting like they aren’t interested, this is a situation ripe for a “mystery team” to come swooping in if we’ve ever heard one. Someone’s going to choke up a draft pick for Nelson Cruz, and someone else for Kendrys Morales, though perhaps that takes until well into March for either or both.

And then someone’s going to panic, because they always do. Someone is going to realize they just spent a quarter-billion dollars on Robinson Cano but failed to upgrade anywhere else and decide to press the big red button on a Matt Kemp or a David Price. Someone is going to suffer an injury and convince themselves that hey, maybe taking on all of that Brandon Phillips contract really isn’t such a bad idea.

There’s so many interesting names still out there, and suddenly so little time to find them all new homes. As soon as Tanaka’s situation is resolved, that’s going to change, especially when the teams who miss out on him fight over the Garza / Jimenez / Santana trio. If the last month has been painful as a baseball fan — and it has — then know that it’s about to get considerably more entertaining. After not seeing a single move of note over the last month, we could see 20 different major-league contracts being signed by this time in February, some with the potential to significantly impact pennant races. It’s been a weird winter, and a not particularly enjoyable one. That’s about to change, and soon: it’s about to be fun.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

18 Responses to “The Calm Before the Storm”

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  1. Ha. Late clown. I had Tanaka to NYY last week. It’s a done deal. He’s doing some paperwork now.

    -40 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Yes says:

      Any evidence or sources? And why are you incarcerated?

      I predicted Tanaka going to NYY months ago. So did millions of other people. Unless you have evidence, calling someone a “Late clown” and making such an obvious statement seems rather pointless.

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    • Release the Voros McCracken! says:

      Nice! I think you were the only one. No one saw them as even a remote possibility — what with their shoestring budget, their history avoiding significant free agent commitments, and their deep rotation….not to mention the fact that their incredibly ambivalent and quiet fanbase probably wouldn’t even notice the Yankees even had the guy until like June.

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  2. Aaron (UK) says:

    Breaking: Yankees, 7 years, $155m ,opt out after 4:

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  3. Tony the Pony says:

    Ha that Yankees contract you quoted could only be brought together by a desperate team.

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    • Bill says:

      The Yankees are a desperate team. Now they are a markedly better desperate team. I’m with most people who thought that this is where he would end up. They had the biggest need and the most money.

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      • Bill says:

        Although, 22 million a year is a lot more than I thought they would have to pay. I’m guessing someone else wanted him pretty bad too.

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  4. Pirates Hurdles says:

    and away we go, nice timing with this article.

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  5. John Elway says:

    Guess my Broncs aren’t the only ones making a splash in the Big Apple metro.

    How do you say NEIGHHHH!!!!! in Japanese?

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  6. Hal Steinbrenner says:

    We got him! Only took $155 mil. He is most definitely the 5th best pitcher in all of baseball.

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    • JimNYC says:

      Saying that he should be the fifth best pitcher in baseball because he got the fifth biggest contract in baseball is silly. Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and he’s paid, what, like the 600th best player in baseball?

      The Yankees had a need; Tanaka filled the need, and they paid the price they had to pay to get him. The detriment of the Yankees not making the playoffs again is worth the cost of whatever they had to pay to hopefully get over the hump and land a wild card slot.

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  7. tony the pony says:

    It just seems like alot of money for someone who isnt even being projected by alot of people to be a real ace

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