The Rakuten Golden Eagles will not allow MLB teams to bid on star pitching Masahiro Tanaka (according to a report in the New York Times), which removes the presumed top pitcher off the market, and improves things for top remaining starters Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana.
Matt Garza now becomes the top pitching prize on the market, because not only is he seen by most as the best starter out there, he's also not tied to a draft pick, due to his having been traded during the 2013 season, and thus not eligible for a qualifying offer. Things are more complicated for Jimenez and Santana, as whatever team signs them will have to forfeit its first available draft pick (except for the top ten picks in the draft, which are protected). Teams value their high draft picks quite a bit, and factor its value into the cost of a signing, leading some teams to lose all interest in such players, while others at least discount the offer they're willing to make. This is what allowed the Indians to sign Michael Bourn for less than most expected him to get last offseason, as the Mets dropped out due to their unwillingness to forfeit their pick.
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On Tuesday ESPN's Buster Olney speculated (account required) that Jimenez and Santana might each return to their previous team because of the draft-pick factor (something numerous Tribe fans have also been saying for the last couple weeks). I wasn't particularly sold on that notion Tuesday, and I'm even less confident in it now, because whatever team would have won the bidding on Tanaka will now be looking elsewhere to fill that spot in their rotation.
I bet once the holidays pass (and perhaps before then) we'll see teams begin to move on Garza, Jimenez, and Santana, and at least a couple of those teams will be willing to give up a draft pick. Look at the Yankees, for example: For all their spending, their starting rotation isn't very good, and they're not looking to miss the playoffs for the second straight season. They've been planning on getting their 2014 payroll below $189 million for luxury tax purposes, but I think they'll decide to let that go and sign another starter (MLB might also bail them out on the payroll issue by determining that Alex Rodriguez's salary doesn't have to be counted). They've already signed other players who received qualifying offers, so the draft pick they'd give up isn't as significant.
Even if the market for Jimenez never really develops, and he were willing to return to Cleveland for something close to the $14.1 million of the qualifying offer, would the front office be given the green light to add that much salary at this point? The payroll is currently at ~$85 million, and I don't believe ownership will approve a $100 million budget. Someone substantial would have to be traded away, such as Michael Bourn, Asdrubal, or Nick Swisher.
It should also be noted that while the Indians wouldn't have to give up their 1st-round pick to re-sign Jimenez, they would be forfeiting the compensation pick they'd receive, were he to sign elsewhere. That pick will probably fall somewhere around #40 overall.
Ever since Jimenez turned in the best second half of any American League pitcher, I've believed he was finished as an Indian. This news about Tanaka only makes me more sure of it.