Showing posts with label Masahiro Tanaka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Masahiro Tanaka. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Carlos Rodon's disappointing first half ends with a dud; Alex Avila heads back to DL; Chris Sale an All-Star

Carlos Rodon
Carlos Rodon is far from the worst player on the White Sox, but he might be the most disappointing.

Many people, including me, thought the young left-hander was poised for a breakout season after a strong finish to his rookie campaign in 2015. Instead, the first half of this year has represented a step backward.

Rodon was shelled in a 9-0 loss to the New York Yankees on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. He lasted only five innings, giving up a season-high six runs (five earned) on a season-high 12 hits. He struck out just three and walked two. The only inning in which he did not allow a run was the first, and he was fortunate to escape a bases-loaded situation in that inning.

Right now, Rodon is consistently behind in counts. He cannot throw either of his offspeed pitches for strikes consistently. Opposing hitters know the fastball is the only pitch Rodon can get over the plate, and they are feasting on it.

Rodon is going to continue to struggle until he can establish either his slider or his changeup as a pitch that hitters have to honor. In the meantime, his record is 2-7. He hasn't won since May 22. His ERA is up to 4.50, and the Sox are just 5-11 in the 16 games he has started.

Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka silenced the Sox bats Tuesday, so Rodon would have had to have been awful good to have a chance to win this game. However, it's hard for a pitcher to claim non-support when he fails to pitch into the seventh inning and fails to keep his team within striking distance of the opposition.

Avila headed back to disabled list

Sox catcher Alex Avila left Tuesday's game after the fifth inning with a right hamstring strain. Reports after the game indicated Avila is headed back to the 15-day disabled list. This is the same injury that caused Avila to be disabled in late April and into early May.

Avila will have plenty of company on the disabled list, as he joins teammates Austin Jackson, Justin Morneau, Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, Daniel Webb and Matt Davidson on an increasingly crowded shelf.

The Sox will have to dip into their minor leagues for another catcher before Wednesday's series finale against the Yankees. Kevan Smith (back injury) remains on the DL at Triple-A Charlotte (sensing a theme here?), and the only other catcher on the 40-man roster is recently acquired Alfredo Gonzalez, who is currently in Birmingham and has never played about Double-A.

Omar Narvaez, who was in big league camp during spring training, has been getting the majority of the playing time recently at Charlotte and is another possibility.

Sale headed to All-Star Game

On a brighter note, Sox ace Chris Sale was chosen to represent the American League in the All-Star Game for the fifth consecutive season.

Sale leads the league with 14 wins against just two losses in his 17 starts. He also leads the league in innings pitched (120) and WHIP (0.98) and ranks third with a 2.93 ERA.

It would be surprising if Sale does not get the nod to start the game, although American League manager Ned Yost has not yet announced his decision.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jose Abreu wins AL Rookie of the Year; Jacob deGrom wins NL honor

The American League Rookie of the Year voting, as expected, offered little in the way of drama.

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu became the ninth unanimous winner in the history of the award, earning the first-place vote on all 30 balllots (150 points). Los Angeles Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker (40 points) finished a distant second, while New York Yankees reliever Dellin Betances (27 points) placed third.

Abreu had one of the best offensive seasons ever for a rookie. He hit .317/.383/.581 with 36 homers and 107 RBIs. That's good enough to win the award just about every year, and let's face it, the competition for this honor was not particularly stong this season. It was Abreu and everybody else among AL rookies, especially after Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka went down with an injured elbow midseason.

In fact, if you look at the first-half numbers, you'd have to say Abreu and Tanaka were at one point in a tight race for Rookie of the Year:
  • Abreu: .292/.342/.630, 29 HR, 73 RBI
  • Tanaka: 12-4, 2.51 ERA, 129.1 IP, 19 BB, 135 K
But, the injury limited Tanaka to just two starts the second half of the season. While Abreu managed just seven home runs the second half, he hit .350 and raised his overall batting average by 25 points. That made Monday's announcement a foregone conclusion.

Abreu becomes the sixth White Sox player to win Rookie of the Year. The others are Luis Aparicio (1956), Gary Peters (1963), Tommie Agee (1966), Ron Kittle (1983) and Ozzie Guillen (1985).

In the National League, New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom won Rookie of the Year. He picked up 26 first-place votes (142 points) and finished comfortably ahead of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton (92 points). St. Louis Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong (14 points) was third.

The 26-year-old deGrom had a monstrous second half, compiling a 1.99 ERA in his final 15 starts. For the season, he finished 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA. He recorded 144 strikeouts in 140 innings.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jose Abreu named the Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu on Monday was named the AL Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News. This award is voted on by players, and Abreu received 149 of 160 votes in a landslide victory.

The honor comes as no surprise. This year, Abreu became the first major league rookie to rank in the top five in each of the Triple Crown categories -- average (.317), home runs (36) and RBIs (107).

He led the league with a .581 slugging percentage and became the fourth player ever to top 30 home runs, 30 doubles and 100 RBIs in his rookie season. The other names on that list are Hal Trosky, Ted Williams and Albert Pujols.

Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker finished second with four votes. Yankees pitchers Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka tied for third with three votes each. Amusingly, White Sox infielder Marcus Semien finished fifth with one vote.

Semien spent about half the season at Triple-A Charlotte, so you have to wonder which knucklehead player submitted that vote.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Can Chase Headley jump-start the Yankees in the AL East race?

The New York Yankees have a mediocre 51-48 record and a minus-30 run differential, and 80 percent of their projected starting rotation is on the disabled list.

Nevertheless, the Yankees still believe they have a shot to win this year, and they signaled as much on Tuesday when they acquired third baseman Chase Headley from the San Diego Padres in exchange for infielder Yangervis Solarte and minor-league pitcher Rafael De Paula.

You can't blame the Yankees for believing they have a chance. The AL East is no longer the strongest division in baseball. Despite its uneven play, New York sits just four games back of first-place Baltimore entering Wednesday's action.

But can Headley make an impact? The numbers suggest he will not. He has experienced a steady decline since his career year in 2012.

2012: .286/.376/.498, 31 HRs, 115 RBIs
2013: .250/.347/.400, 13 HRs, 50 RBIs
2014: .230/..296/.353, 7 HRs, 33 RBIs

There's nothing about Headley that suggests he will ever repeat his numbers from two years ago. That was a career outlier. His career slash is .266/.346/.409. He's perhaps a better hitter than he's shown this year, but it's folly to think he'll ever slug close to .500 again.

Headley has been floundering on some awful San Diego teams. He has no help in that lineup whatsoever, so there is some chance he will be resurgent in New York where he will no longer be counted upon to carry an offense. Some have noted Headley's numbers might be hurt by the pitcher-friendly confines at Petco Park. Yankee Stadium, of course, is a hitter-friendly ballpark.

However, an analysis of Headley's splits this year shows no difference in his slugging percentage home and away:

Home: .250/.301/.354, 2 HRs, 19 RBIs
Road: .209/.290/.353, 5 HRs, 14 RBIs

Headley has been a slightly better offensive player at home, in fact. I'm skeptical he'll be the game-changer the Yankees are looking for.

What New York really needs to do is add a front-line starting pitcher. The Yankees have had horrible luck this year with Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda all on the disabled list. The latter three are on the 60-day DL. Brandon McCarthy has made two good starts since coming over from the Arizona Diamondbacks, but the Yankees are at least one arm, if not two, short in the starting rotation.

There are rumors the Yankees are interested in White Sox left-hander John Danks. I would think, though, that New York needs a top-of-the-rotation starter, like Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels. Danks is nothing more than a mid-rotation guy pitching with a surgically repaired shoulder at this point.

Even with Headley, I don't think New York is going to win the AL East as presently constructed. I think the Yankees need that guy to lead their pitching stuff, or else they'll be lucky to stay in the hunt for the wild card in a mediocre American League.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Report: Cubs renew contract talks with Jeff Samardzija

Turn on the baseball talk shows in Chicago, and you still hear nothing but poetry and praise for the Cubs' front office and its rebuilding plan. Many members of the media gush about the prospects the Cubs have in their system, especially third baseman Kris Bryant, who has been tearing up Double-A.

But here's the thing: Prospects are all fine and dandy, but don't you have to make progress at the major league level eventually? The Cubs have lost 90 or more games for three consecutive years, and they are on pace for another 93 losses this season. That's unacceptable for a big-market team -- at least it should be.

It's past time for the Cubs to open up the wallet and start spending to improve the major league team. The North Siders have only $31 million committed to their roster for the 2015 season (excluding arbitration raises). Given the ticket prices they charge, the Cubs should have plenty of cash on hand. And, there's not much question that money should be spent on pitching.

All these prospects we keep hearing about are position players: Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Arismendy Alcantara, etc. Where are the pitching prospects? There aren't many worth talking about, and that's why I think the Cubs should sign their best pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, to an extension. Reports on Monday indicated the team is trying to do just that.

To this point in the season, it's been assumed Samardzija would be traded to an AL East contender midseason. Previous contract talks have gone nowhere with the right-hander, whose 2.77 ERA ranks ninth in the National League. Despite a 2-6 record, Samardzjia's other numbers are good: 82 strikeouts in 91 innings and a 1.18 WHIP. I don't know that he's an ace on a contending team, but he's probably a No. 2 starter. He's a solid, reliable pitcher who would be an asset to any organization.

Knowing that, why don't the Cubs just keep him? Sure, he's going to command six years at over $100 million. That's a lot of dough, but it's the going rate. If Homer Bailey can get six years and $105 million, then so can Samardzija. And it isn't like any of the other free agent pitching options next offseason (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, Justin Masterson) are going to come any cheaper.

If you're gonna pay for pitching, why not pay the guy who has been with the organization all along? Samardzija will be 30 heading into next season, but his arm doesn't have the wear and tear of many pitchers his age. He was late to the party in terms of becoming a starting pitcher. He's thrown 649 innings in the majors during his career. By way of comparison, San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain (who is three and a half months older than Samardzija) has thrown 1,779.2 innings in the majors. Projecting a pitcher's future is always guesswork, but if I had to take a guess, I'd say Samardzija's got plenty of bullets left.

Let's say the Cubs do ante up and make Samardzija a lucrative offer in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see if he accepts. I have the sneaking suspicion that Samardzija is tired of this rebuilding plan. By the Cubs' own admission, they are at least two years and maybe three years away from fielding a team that can compete. Samardzija is in the prime of his career right now. Does he want two or three more of his best years to go to waste languishing on a rebuilding club? The way he's pitched, it's absurd he has only two wins this season.

That leads me to my next point: If the Cubs want to attract big-name free agents, they need to start winning more games. Why did Masahiro Tanaka choose the Yankees over the Cubs? It wasn't because the Cubs didn't make a representative offer. It was because Tanaka wants to win, and the Yankees field a competitive team every season.

Sure, the Cubs could flip Samardzija to the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles or Yankees and get three or four prospects, but then their team would become even worse than it already is. If the Cubs trade both Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel, they don't have many good options to plug into those two rotation spots. They might be charting a course toward 95 or 100 losses.

Would Max Scherzer or Jon Lester want to come be a part of that? I don't think so. Who is going to take the Cubs' money, if not Samardzija? Members of the media might be swooning about Cubs prospects, but veteran players don't give a damn about Javier Baez's batting average in Triple-A. They want a chance to win, and they want it sooner rather than later.

I believe signing Samardzija for the long haul would bring the Cubs closer to a chance to win than flipping him for a package of ifs and maybes at the trade deadline.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka: Some first impressions

I finally got a chance to watch New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on TV for the first time on Wednesday afternoon. The highly regarded Japanese import started the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Cubs at Yankee Stadium, and I have to say I was impressed.

Tanaka fired eight shutout innings in New York's 3-0 victory. He struck out 10 and walked just one, while surrendering only two hits. And, oh, both those hits were bunts. That was the extent of the Cubs' offense on this day. Tanaka threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 27 batters he faced, and had only two 3-ball counts the entire afternoon. He was simply overpowering.

Some scouts have said Tanaka has the best split-finger fastball they've ever seen. I'm in no position to argue. He had Cubs hitters swinging and missing at that pitch all afternoon. They couldn't hit it, nor could they lay off it. For the most part, Tanaka was starting his splitter at the bottom of the strike zone, enticing the Cubs hitters to swing at it, but it would fall out of sight before it reached home plate.

I also was impressed by Tanaka's ability to change the hitter's eye level. He wasn't afraid to pitch up in the zone with his fastball. A few of the Cubs hitters took belt-high fastballs that were right over the plate. They were probably looking for the splitter and got out-guessed. Tanaka also showed he could grab a first-pitch strike by using his slider. He got ahead in the count against almost everybody, and that made for a long afternoon for the Chicago hitters.

Tanaka reminded me a bit of the late 2005 version of Jose Contreras, when his split-finger was overpowering opposing hitters. Tanaka doesn't have as much heat on his fastball as Contreras did, but his slider is probably better. And the two pitchers are similar in the sense that you could tell a hitter the splitter is coming, and they still wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

Through the first 22 innings of his major league career, Tanaka has struck out 28 and walked just two. He's allowed six runs (five earned) through his first three starts, and all of those runs were scored in either the first inning or the second inning. From the third inning on, he has allowed nothing in each of his three outings.

When it comes to ace pitchers, they always say you better get them early in the count, and you better get them early in the game, otherwise you aren't going to get them. Tanaka has been an example of that thus far. 

All that said, it is worth noting that the Cubs' offense stinks. The North Siders were blanked 2-0 by Michael Pineda and three New York relievers in Wednesday's nightcap. The Cubs, who fell to 4-10 on the season, are not swinging the bats well right now and are hardly the toughest test Tanaka will face.

There are some good hitters in the AL East. Boston and Baltimore, in particular, have strong lineups when all their players are healthy. The more you face an opposing pitcher, the more you know, and it will be interesting to see how the AL East hitters adjust the second, third or fourth time they see Tanaka as the season moves along. That will be the true test to see just how good this guy is.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teams should be more willing to include opt-out clauses

A prominent feature of both of the massive contracts given to pitchers this month is an opt-out clause.

Left-handed Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw accepted the richest contract ever given to a pitcher, but can choose to become a free agent after five years. Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka was guaranteeed $155 million by the Yankees, but can similarly tear up the rest of his deal after four seasons to hit the market again.

At first blush, this might seem like an awful deal for teams willing to climb on the hook for millions of dollars six or seven years down the road. If either player suffers a career-ending injury this year, their teams will still have to pay them millions of dollars for years after. If they pitch well and the free agent market keeps yielding huge contracts, either guy could opt out for a richer deal than what they have in hand, denying the Dodgers or Yankees the opportunity to collect value on the back end of these risky contracts.

That's the wrong way to look at the opt-out.

To the first fear I'll just say that if you're not offering a player like Kershaw or Tanaka six or seven guaranteed years, you're not really in the game as far as bidding for their services. Opt-out or no, they'll get those years guaranteed when they reach the open market. And opt-out or no, if a player gets hurt in Year 1 of a long contract, the team that signed the player is left holding the bag.

As for getting value on the back end of a huge contract, I have a hard time believing any team that signed a player to deal longer than five years expects to be getting a good value beyond that point. Perhaps Tanaka is an exception, because he's hitting the market as a 25-year-old, but these days teams enter into these massive contracts expecting to be overpaying for what the player is by the end of the deal.

Teams do that because they get a good value on the front end. If Tanaka pitches like an ace for the Yankees, they will be very happy to have paid him just under $90 million for four years, plus a posting fee that doesn't count against the luxury tax.

They might be unhappy to have to negotiate a new deal in four years, one that might be in excess of $200 million if Tanaka lives up to some expectations. But if there's that much money still rolling into baseball to spur that kind of salary growth for players, the Yankees are surely a team that can afford to retain Tanaka if they desire. Or if at that point the Yankees decide to spread their financial risk out a different way than on the right arm of a pitcher entering his 30s, they can do that, too.

In other words, if everything goes as planned, the Yankees have the opportunity to say goodbye to Tanaka when, theoretically, his best days will be behind him.

Where teams have been burned by opt-out clauses hasn't been by including them in the original contract. It's been by signing the player once the clause has been exercised.

White Sox fans around in the 90s can probably remember Albert Belle receiving a clause that allowed him to opt out if he wasn't among baseball's highest-paid players. When salaries escalated quickly in the late 90s, Belle took advantage of that clause to leave the Sox two years into a five-year, $55 million deal that once made him baseball's top-earning player.

Did the Sox regret losing Belle's services? Not after seeing him sign a new five-year, $65 million deal with the Orioles. Belle gave Baltimore one good year, then one poor year before degenerative osteoarthritis in his hip ended his career, though not his steady stream of paychecks.

If the Yankees need a reminder of what second-time buyer's remorse looks like, they just have to look at their payroll right now. After giving CC Sabathia seven-year, $161 million contract with an opt-out after three years, they saw the left-hander exercise that clause. Instead of being satisfied with three years and 705 innings of a 3.18 ERA and a 59-23 record, they chose to give Sabathia a five-year, $122 contract that has yielded a 29-19 record with a pedestrian 4.09 ERA through the first two years.

And of course there's the defamed Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees inherited the opt-out Rodriguez had built into his then-richest-ever-for-baseball $252 million contract he signed with the Rangers. After trading for Rodriguez -- with the Rangers picking up part of the tab -- the Yankees got a .303/.403/.573 batting line with 173 home runs from the shortstop-turned-third baseman over four seasons.

When Rodriguez opted out, the Yankees weren't happy with the house money they could have left the casino with in their pockets. So instead they signed him to a new record-setting deal, 10 years and $275 million. For that money they've gotten an often-injured player with a diminished .279/.369/.498 line who instead of collecting career milestones on the way to the Hall of Fame is instead sitting out this upcoming season as part of a cloud of steroid scandal that's rendered his once-incredible career meaningless to most fans.

For me, the moral of the story isn't that including the opt-out automatically makes things peachy for teams. It didn't make it that way with Vernon Wells' contract.

To state the obvious, signing any player to a massive contract involves risk for the team agreeing to the pact. No matter the player, no matter the team.

Something just as obvious is that signing the same player three or four years later to a massive contract is just that much riskier. So is crossing your fingers and hoping the next three or four years of a massive megadeal go as well as the first three or four.

Short of simply offering free agents higher annual salaries for fewer years, the willingness to include an opt-out clause might be the best chance for teams to avoid the years of these free agent contracts when they become an albatross.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Clayton Kershaw expected to make more than entire Atlanta pitching staff

I pulled this nugget out of the Jan. 27 edition of Sports Illustrated:

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will make an average of $30.7 million annually over the life of the seven-year contract he just signed.

By way of comparison, the Atlanta Braves' 12-man pitching staff is expected to make $27 million combined in 2014.

I know you've probably heard or read statistics like that before. People are quite fond of pointing out that Alex Rodriguez makes more than the entire Houston Astros' roster, for example.

But here's the thing: The Astros aren't even trying to win right now. They stink. They had the worst record in the league last year at  51-111. I tend to dismiss the Astros as a Triple-A team, so of course they are making Triple-A salaries.

The Braves, in contrast, won the NL East with 96 wins in 2013. Not only that, they led all of baseball with a 3.18 team ERA. Atlanta has a very good pitching staff that happens to be inexpensive as well.

It's hard to say Kershaw doesn't deserve his money. He's won two of the last three Cy Young Awards in the National League. He's the best left-handed starter in baseball.

But, the Braves example shows you don't necessarily have to throw around millions upon millions of dollars to build a successful pitching staff, or a successful team. Keep that in mind when people try to tell you the New York Yankees are a lock for the 2014 World Series after they spent almost half a billion dollars this offseason on free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Yankees have won the offseason for sure, but there is no special prize handed to the team that spends the most money or collects the most big-name players.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

'Bo knows ambassadorship'

Is "ambassadorship" even a word? I'm not sure it is, but former two-sport star Bo Jackson returned to the White Sox as a team ambassador on Wednesday.

Jackson will serve as a team representative in the community and make appearances on behalf of the organization. Other White Sox ambassadors include former players Frank Thomas, Carlton Fisk, Minnie Minoso, Ron Kittle, Bill Melton and Carlos May.

Jackson played for the Sox from 1991-93 and remains a resident of the Chicago area. His two most memorable moments came in 1993, when he hit a home run in his first at-bat after returning from hip-replacement surgery. Later that season, his three-run homer against the Seattle Mariners on Sept. 27 clinched the 1993 American League West championship for the Sox.

"Bo is an American sports legend, who always will hold a special place in hearts of White Sox fans," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "His heroic return from what seemed to be a catastrophic career-ending injury helped us win a division title in 1993, and demonstrated to the sports world an unrivaled will and determination to be the best. It is great to again welcome Bo Jackson as a member of the White Sox."

Garza to sign with Brewers

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports the Milwaukee Brewers have agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with former Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.

Now that Masahiro Tanaka is off the market, we can expect some of the other free-agent starting pitchers to sign. The Brewers were not a player for Tanaka, so their pursuit of Garza likely was unrelated. Nevertheless, Milwaukee might have been compelled to move now on a deal for Garza, knowing the remaining free-agent pitchers might have more suitors now that Tanaka has signed with the New York Yankees.

Other notable remaining free-agent starters include Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka agrees to seven-year deal with Yankees

The team that needed Masahiro Tanaka the most was the team that signed him: the New York Yankees.

On Wednesday, the Yankees and Tanaka agreed on a seven-year, $155 million contract. The deal contains an opt-out clause after the fourth year. The Yankees also must pay Tanaka's Japanese team, the Rakuten Eagles, a $20 million posting fee.

I'm sure the Yankees have more than enough money to cover that, and I think their desperation to sign a potential No. 1 starter sent them to the front of the line in the Tanaka sweepstakes.

New York had already spent $283 million this offseason to bring in free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. However, there was no way the Yankees were going to overtake the Boston Red Sox in the AL East with a declining C.C. Sabathia and 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda heading up their starting rotation. The Yankees' presumed No. 3 starter, Ivan Nova, has shown flashes been has never been both consistent and healthy for a full season. New York had to sign an ace-quality pitcher.

With Tanaka in the mix, each of those other three pitchers gets moved down a peg, and the Yankees have a better chance to win in one of baseball's toughest division. Of course, the key to the whole deal is Tanaka living up to the hype. Sure, he went 24-0 in Japan last year, but how will that translate to the United States? We shall see.

Both the Cubs and the White Sox were listed as finalists in the Tanaka race. Obviously, both teams came up short. I don't think there will be much shock on the South Side. I can't recall the White Sox ever giving a pitcher more than a five-year contract. I'd be surprised if the Sox would have been willing to give Tanaka six years, let alone the seven the Yankees gave him. Also, the Sox are not expected to contend in 2014, and perhaps that was a factor in Tanaka's decision.

The rebuilding Cubs also were in no position to offer Tanaka the chance to play for an immediate winner. I'm pretty sure the North Siders would have been willing to ante up for six or seven years, but it's questionable whether they would have been able to match or exceed the Yankees' offer. But even if they did, if you're Tanaka, who are you picking? The Yankees or the Cubs? I'd pick New York and go play for a winner.

David Kaplan tweeted today that the Cubs were "runner up" in the Tanaka bidding. If true, it's a little surprising the Cubs were ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it really doesn't matter. You know what else the Cubs were runners-up in? The NLCS in 1984 and again in 2003. There is no prize for finishing second.

As far as Tanaka goes, the Cubs are in the same boat with the Sox, the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. They made their pitch and they lost out to the Yankees. End of story. For some, it might be disappointing, but it's not even slightly surprising.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clayton Kershaw to get record-setting deal; David Price also signs

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the new richest man in baseball -- at least for now.

According to reports, the left-hander agreed Wednesday to a seven-year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers.

Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young Award winner in the National League, becomes the first player with a $30 million average annual salary.

Previously, the most lucrative deal for a pitcher was the one the Detroit Tigers gave Justin Verlander, $180 million over seven years.

In other pitching news, 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price avoided arbitration by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $14 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. The contract is the richest one in Tampa Bay franchise history. Price, who is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, has been the subject of trade speculation. Since he did not sign a long-term deal with the Rays, I would expect that speculation to continue in the coming days and months.

After seeing the dollars these guys are commanding, it's comforting for me as a White Sox fan to know the team has its All-Star left-hander, Chris Sale, under control through 2019. Sale's five-year, $32.5 million deal with team options for 2018 and 2019 is a tremendous bargain in this marketplace.

I'll be interested to see what the Kershaw contract means for international free agent Masahiro Tanaka. No, Tanaka is not going to command $30 million a year, but the Dodgers have reportedly been major players in that sweepstakes. Are they still major players after committing such a large dollar figure to Kershaw? Or is it now a given that Tanaka is going to the New York Yankees, who are the team most in need of a top-flight starting pitcher?

After Tanaka signs, we should see the other dominoes start to fall among the free-agent starting pitchers. All the major free-agent position players have already signed. Meanwhile, you've still got three high-profile starting pitchers still on the market in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. Look for those three players to be consolation prizes for the teams that lose out on Tanaka.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Big contract for any pitcher is risky business

The contract Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is going to receive is already giving some people upset stomachs. The size of it might end up being more eye-popping than the $50-60 million contracts teams gave to Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Keep in mind that was before the posting fee was capped at $20 million. The Red Sox and Rangers each coughed up posting fees in excess of $50 million, making the total investment for each pitcher more than $100 million.

It was a big deal when Kevin Brown
became the first $100 million pitcher
in baseball when he signed with the Dodgers.
That big of an investment rarely works out well if you're expecting the player to pitch well over the life of the whole contract. Here are the biggest contracts ever given to pitchers:

Felix Hernandez, Mariners, $175,000,000 (2013-19)
CC Sabathia, Yankees, $161,000,000 (2009-15)
Zack Greinke, Dodgers, $147,000,000 (2013-18)
Cole Hamels, Phillies, $144,000,000 (2013-18)
Johan Santana, Mets, $137,500,000 (2008-13)
Matt Cain, Giants, $127,500,000 (2012-17)
Barry Zito, Giants, $126,000,000 (2007-13)
CC Sabathia, Yankees, $122,000,000 (2012-16)
Mike Hampton, Rockies, $121,000,000 (2001-08)
Cliff Lee, Phillies, $120,000,000 (2011-15)
Yu Darvish, Rangers, $111.700,000 (2012-2017)*
Kevin Brown, Dodgers, $105,000,000 (1999-2005)
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox, $102,111,111 (2007-2012)*
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, $97,500,000 (2014-18)
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs, $91,500,000 (2008-12)
-Source: Cot's Baseball Contracts
*posting fee included with salary

Obviously most of these contracts are newer as teams have been flush with cash and the pay for elite pitchers has gone up. Though maybe it's interesting is that five of the top six contracts ever given out to pitchers weren't signed by free agents, but were extensions for guys with a year or two left before hitting the market.

Of the contracts that have been completed, all of them looked like a disaster at some point. Hampton's looked like one almost as soon as the ink dried in the thin Colorado air. Zito's was almost as bad save for the fact he still soaked up a lot of innings for the Giants over the course of his seven-year deal.

Over the course of Zambrano's extension, he suffered a decrease in either his performance or ability to take the mound each and every year of his new contract. Matsuzaka and Santana each had a few good years at the front ends of their deals before ineffectiveness and/or injuries did them in.

The best contract of all of them in my opinion was Brown's. Baseball's first $100 million arm was good for more than 1,000 innings with a 3.23 ERA over seven years. Brown, who I think has an underrated Hall of Fame case, missed some time with injuries, but still pitched a lot of mostly good innings for his money, only completely losing it the final year when he was 40.

The jury is still out on the other contracts. Cain, Verlander, Hamels and Sabathia each just endured their worst season in years. Greinke was very good, but missed time after breaking a bone in a scuffle with Carlos Quentin. With Hernandez, Lee, Darvish and Wainwright, things are looking so-far-so-good, though only Lee's contract is even close to completion.

The results here seem pretty apparent. If you don't have to spend almost $100 million or more on a pitcher, then don't. The risk is still one that teams are willing to make, especially teams that are close to contention. Should they be?

Possibly. In a way, this is already how teams view the cost of dabbling in free agency. They're willing to get a good value on the front end of a contract in exchange for dead money at the end.

Looking at each of these contracts, none of them really stopped the team paying the checks from doing anything else. Zito didn't keep the Giants from winning two World Series titles. Lee and Hamels aren't the problem with the Phillies' payroll. Even Mike Hampton's contract was eventually carved up and served in digestible bites that teams other than the Rockies helped swallow.

Unless Tanaka pulls a Hampton-Zito, the team that wins the bidding for his services will be getting a good pitcher for at least a few years. So any team with the money might as well bid away.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Masahiro Tanaka: Short-term gain, long-term risk?

Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is going to get an absurd contract from a major league team at some point in January. This much we know.

All 30 teams were notified that the 30-day period to sign the right-hander began at 7 a.m. CST Thursday. Teams have until 4 p.m. on Jan. 24 to attempt to reach an agreement with the 25-year-old pitcher.

If Tanaka and a major league team agree on terms, that franchise is required to pay his Japanese team, the Rakuten Eagles, a posting fee of $20 million.

Rest assured, someone will pay that $20 million, plus probably another $20 million per year over the next six or seven years to sign Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last season.

Whichever team signs Tanaka is going to get an impact pitcher. I have little doubt about that. Yu Darvish, the last big-name Japanese pitcher to come to the United States, has established himself as the Texas Rangers' ace. Tanaka's numbers in Japan are similar to those of Darvish:

Darvish (2005-11): 167 games, 1,281.1 IP, 93-28 W-L, 55 CG, 333 BB, 1,250 Ks
Tanaka (2007-13): 175 games, 1,315 IP, 99-35 W-L, 53 CG, 275 BB, 1,238 Ks

For me, the question about Tanaka is whether he will hold up healthwise over the life of the six- or seven-year contract he's going to get. I know, I know. He's only 25 and should be entering his prime years. But look at that innings total: 1,315 innings through his age 24 season

Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated made this point better than I could. Verducci notes the last pitcher with that many innings at such a young age was Frank Tanana, who piled up similar totals between 1973 and 1978. During that period, Tanana made three All-Star teams. Then, he hurt his shoulder. He went on to pitch another 15 years, but was never quite the same. 

Going back even further, since 1961, Tanana, Larry Dierker and Bert Blyleven are the only three pitchers to have thrown 1,315 major league innings by age 24. So, indeed, Japanese pitchers like Darvish and Tanaka come to the United States with more wear and tear on their arm for their age than their American counterparts.

Darvish is one of the better pitchers in the American League right now. Will he continue to be effective through the life of his six-year contract? Nobody knows. For Tanaka, the issue is much the same. With his outstanding control and arsenal of pitches, he's going to make some team very happy in 2014 and probably 2015, too. But what about 2016 and beyond?

Will Tanaka become the next Hideo Nomo, who was outstanding his first couple years before morphing into a journeyman? Or is he going to be a long-term ace for the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers or some other big-market team? I wish I was smart enough to know, but we'll find out in due time.