Saturday, January 4, 2014

The frozen pitching market

The new year is several days old, and to a large degree the Hot Stove League has frozen up.

Part of it, of course, is that many teams have made their moves. Part of it has been the holidays — it's always a bit slow between Christmas and New Years. And, this year, part of it is the belated posting of Japanese star pitcher Mazahiro Tanaka.

Three prominent established free-agent starters remain on the market — Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez — but not much is happening with them, partly because their flaws are well known and Tanaka's are not. Among those flaws: Garza missed extensive time in 2013 with arm issues; Santana's and Jimenez' strong 2013 seasons were not in line with their previous seasons; and signing Santana and Jimenez will cost not only money but a draft pick.

My expectation is that once Tanaka signs, things will unlock, at least for Garza. He will "only" cost money, not a draft pick.

(There was a report this week that the Twins had checked in with Garza, who, of course, started his career with Minnesota. The issue for the Twins, according to the report, isn't salary, it's years; they want a shorter-term deal than the pitcher wants. This may well be linked to his arm issues of the past season.)

Santana and Jimenez? With the draft pick attached, they each have the possibility of being this year's Kyle Lohse, who was unsigned until well into spring training last year.

Lohse wound up with Milwaukee, and had a pretty good season for a weak Brewers team: 11-10, 3.35 in just under 200 innings. But I don't think St. Louis regretted letting him walk — they won the pennant without him and pocketed a draft pick in the process.

The current free agent compensation system is in its second year, and none of the 22 free agents who got a qualifying offer has accepted it. I suspect that until somebody does, teams will be increasingly willing to extend the offer (expecting it to be rejected), and free agents will be increasingly frustrated by the way the draft pick penalty degrades their market.

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