On Monday morning in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, 30 Major League Baseball teams and their executives will pile into the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort for the 112th edition of the Baseball Winter Meetings. This is traditionally the real beginning of baseball’s offseason.
This year, however, might be different. The New York Yankees have already made significant signings this offseason and are involved in a few snafus that could change how teams approach the Meetings. For instance, most teams know by this point whether or not they’re going to dip into the international market for players in other leagues in Japan, China, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, etc., but that isn’t so this year — at least for the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
MLB and NPB are at a stalemate over the posting-fee system that has allowed Japanese players to move from Japan to the U.S. If the two sides are unable to reach an agreement before next week’s forum, one of the most sought after offseason free-agents could very well stay in Japan for two more seasons: right handed pitching ace Masahiro Tanaka.
For the Yankees, the frontrunners in the race to snag Tanaka’s services, they will have to head into the Meetings not knowing whether they can even approach the Rakuten Golden Eagles (Tanaka’s current team) to sign him up. Tanaka appears to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher and would answer a big need for the Yankees. However, the Yankees won’t allow the delay with NPB and MLB discourage them from exploring the trade or free agent markets next week when GMs from the 29 other teams are literally next door. If the Yankees land a pitcher next week, they could bow out of the Tanaka market, which would severely alter both the posting-fee and eventual contract he would sign to play in MLB. The Yankees typically dictate the value of the league’s biggest free agents with their history of overpaying for players.
Speaking of overpayment, the Yankees have already shelled out more than $230 million this offseason for two players. They signed catcher Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves for five years and $85 million and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury from their archrival Boston Red Sox for seven years and $153 million. McCann’s deal was great for the Yankees: the catching market is very thin and his contract is only marginally over the market price. But Ellsbury’s deal, which was far pricier than anyone expected, could have serious implications on other free agents who have yet to sign. Second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo can now easily justify their high contract demands.
Cano could very well be in line for over $200 million and at least the eight seasons he and his representatives requested (after backing down from their initial 10 year/$310 million demand). But it likely won’t be from the Yankees who are annoyed with Cano’s demands. The Seattle Mariners have emerged as potential suitors and bank-breakers for the all-star second baseman, and it seems that for Cano money talks — while the Yankees won’t budge from their seven-year, $170 million offer.
Beltran, at 37, is interested in a three-year deal. He wasn’t getting many bites before Ellsbury’s deal, but now it’s looking like he will get his three-year contract at $16 million per season. And Choo could be the biggest winner of all. The Ellsbury deal greases the path for his demands — a long-term deal at $20 million per season — to be met. The Detroit Tigers are, it’s reported, interested.
These three players will likely be situated on their new teams by the end of next week, but there are possibly more complications — which also revolve around the Yankees. The Alex Rodriguez suspension back-and-forth with MLB could extend well into 2014. His pending 211-game suspension, which would cover all of next season and 49 of the 162 games in 2015, is currently being negotiated with league officials. If he is suspended all of next season, the Yankees could have up to an additional $37.5 million to spend on free agents this offseason. With the team having set a $189 million 2014 salary limit goal to avoid the luxury tax, Rodriguez’s 2014 salary plays a great role in that being remotely feasible.
In other words, all eyes are going to be on New York.