Beltran, Napoli, Cano highlight busy day to cap wild Hot Stove week
The last five days have been as active a period as anyone can remember during a baseball offseason, at least in a week that didn't include the Winter Meetings, which start on Monday in Orlando.
In the last five days, 24 of the 30 MLB teams either traded a player destined for a 25-man roster spot come April or signed a free agent to a contract with an average annual value of more than $1 million. Thirteen teams, nearly half the league, made multiple moves of that kind. In total, 35 transactions fitting one of those two descriptions were made, an average of seven a day, with only the Angels, Braves, Cardinals (who got their work done early), Giants, Indians and Twins abstaining. Those six teams, meanwhile, combined to non-tender 13 of the 43 players who were not offered contracts on Monday, with only the Twins, who signed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, not taking part in that exercise, either.
Breaking things down, there were nine trades of players who will be part of a team's 25-man roster, including three by the A's, and a three-team deal involving the Rays, Reds and Diamondbacks. The Rockies traded their centerfielder. The Brewers traded their rightfielder. The Orioles traded their closer and the Tigers traded Doug Fister, who had been in their playoff rotation in each of the last three seasons.
Meanwhile, 25 free agents signed contracts with average annual values of more than $1 million, and just four of them (Paul Konerko, Brian Wilson, Hiroki Kuroda and Mike Napoli) re-signed with their 2013 teams. In total, $475.175 million was committed to those 25 players over 34 player seasons, an average annual value of $13.98 million.
The two richest contracts signed this offseason were agreed to this week. Leading the way was Robinson Cano's $240 million, 10-year deal with the Mariners, which tied Albert Pujols' Angels contract as the third largest in baseball history and largest ever signed by someone other than Alex Rodriguez. Jacoby Ellsbury's $153 million, seven-year contract with the Yankees was merely the 17th richest in baseball history, but the third largest ever signed by an outfielder behind the $160 million contracts signed by Manny Ramirez (in 2001) and Matt Kemp (in 2012).
The most active team of the week was the Yankees, and that doesn't even include their press conference introducing Brian McCann, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract in late November. They started things off slowly by trading 2013 starting catcher Chris Stewart to the Pirates for a player to be named, the smallest of the 35 transactions included above, and non-tendering Jayson Nix, David Adams and Matt Daley on Monday.
They then proceeded to sign Ellsbury on Tuesday, come to terms with Kelly Johnson on a one-year, $3 million contract over the course of the week, and seemed to be at the center of everything on Friday. That was the day that Cano and Curtis Granderson signed with the Mariners and Mets, respectively, for a combined $300 million, while New York re-signed Kuroda for one-year and $16 million and finished off the week with a three-year, $45 million contract for Carlos Beltran. Despite all of that, the Yankees committed "just" $217 million to their four free-agent signings compared to the $240 million the Mariners, the week's biggest spenders, gave Cano to pry him away from the only major-league home he'd ever had in the Bronx.
The other busiest teams were the A's and the Red Sox. Oakland signed lefty starter Scott Kazmir for $22 million over two years and traded for Orioles closer Jim Johnson on Monday, then made two more trades on Tuesday, sending rookie outfielder Michael Choice to Texas in a four-player deal that netted Rangers centerfielder Craig Gentry and sending lefty platoon outfielder Seth Smith to the Padres for set-up man Luke Gregerson.
Boston signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal worth $8.25 million Tuesday morning, saw Ellsbury and incumbent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Miami) sign elsewhere that night, then signed set-up man Edward Mujica ($8.5 million, two years) and re-signed Napoli ($32 million, two years) on Friday.
Looking at the rankings of the top 50 free agents compiled by SI's Ben Reiter in early November, four of the top six have now signed, three of them doing so this week, and one of the remaining top six, Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, continues to wait for an official posting agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, though an agreement is finally in the works. The top remaining free agent on Reiter's list is Shin-Soo Choo, and many of those who follow him are pitchers, including Tanaka, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Bartolo Colon and Bronson Arroyo, all of whom are in the top 16.
It seems that, for all of the action we've seen thus far, the delay in Tanaka's availability has put a freeze on the market's top starters. Thus far, the highest-ranked starting pitchers to sign have been Kuroda (No. 12) who had reportedly limited his options to the Yankees or a return to Japan, and Nolasco, who was ranked 19th, below the six top starters mentioned above. Overall, 28 of Reiter's top 50 have signed contracts for the coming season, ranging from top-ranked Cano's $240 million deal to 38th-ranked Colby Lewis' minor-league deal with the Rangers (which could prove to be worth as much as $6 million if he earns a spot on the 25-man roster and hits his performance bonuses).
It's difficult to imagine another week as busy at this one. Yet, there are enough players still out there and enough teams that still have work to do, that, with the Winter Meetings commencing on Monday, the Hot Stove action could continue at this pace for at least another week. After that, the resolution of Tanaka's situation could cause things to bubble over yet again as the teams that attempt and fail to acquire him scramble after the remaining pitchers on the market. Then there are the Hall of Fame results (the results for the Veterans Committee expansion-era ballot will be announced on Monday) in January and arbitration-eligible players signing contracts and extensions, often in February. Before you know it, pitchers and catchers will be stretching in Florida and Arizona.