* With Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka now off the table, having signed with the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays may set their focus on veteran free agents Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez to help bolster their thin rotation. .... Sign up for CBN Newsletter
By Bob Elliott
You expected Masahiro Tanaka to go elsewhere?
The New York Yankees kicked off Super Bowl festivities by giving Tanaka a seven-year, $155 million contract on Wednesday.
That’s similar to the $175 million deal the Seattle Mariners gave Felix Hernandez, but King Felix has actually thrown a pitch in the majors and won a Cy Young Award.
So, now that the Yankees scouts — including former Blue Jays coach Don Wakamatsu, — have given their stamp of approval on the Japanese right-hander and the biggest off-season domino has fallen, what now?
Who will the Blue Jays wind up with to bolster their starting rotation?
While the Jays liked Tanaka and were among the teams willing to pay the $20-million to talk contract, they were not willing to make a seven-year commitment.
However, with the second-worst ERA in the majors last year, the Jays are looking to either add a free-agent starter and are believed to be targeting one of Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, both right-handers.
While signing either would cost most teams a draft pick, that’s not a worry for the Jays. They have two first-round picks (ninth and 11th overall) which are protected under the draft rules, since teams with woefully bad records can’t lose their first-round picks.
So, signing either would cost the Jays their second-rounder.
The Jays get the added first-round selection for not signing Phil Bickford, whom they drafted 10th overall in 2013 and is ranked by Perfect Game scouting service as the top prospect in 2016.
And ranked sixth overall by Perfect Game for this June’s draft is Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede, whom the Jays took in the first round in 2011 and failed to sign.
As of this morning, the Jays have a rotation of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and the fifth spot going to one of Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Chad Jenkins, Sean Nolin or Marcus Stroman.
Santana, 31, was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts with the Kansas City Royals last season as he walked 51 and fanned 161 in 211 innings.
Jimenez, who turned 30 on Wednesday, was 13-9 with a 3.30 in 32 starts for the Cleveland Indians. He walked 80 and struck out 194 in 182.2 innings. He had the second lowest ERA in the majors in the second half of last year: 1.82 behind only lefty Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. His ERA has been below 4.00 three of the past four years, while exceeding 200 innings.
Signing Tanaka does not guarantee a World Series title for the Yankees. There is also a lot of talk that just because the Yankees signed Tanaka, they are not done looking for another free-agent starter, be it Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza, Santana or Jimenez.
Another highly touted Japanese import, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched fewer than 41 innings his final three seasons with the Boston Red Sox while, despite the fanfare, both starter Hideki Irabu and reliever Kei Igawa arrived to great fanfare and were duds.
There is not anyone else out there with Tanaka’s 24-0 season for the Ratuken Golden Eagles — in Japan, an independent league powerhouse or the Erindale Little League.
The Indians, meanwhile, still have interest in Jimenez.
So what can the Jays do now?
Trade for Tampa Bay Rays lefty David Price? That’s highly unlikely as the Jays don’t have the prospects that the Kansas City Royals moved for James Shields.
Santana or Jimenez?
Jimenez or Santana?
It’s not like the Jays are picking first in this free-agent game of red rover, red rover let the right-hander from the Dominican Republic come over.
They will battle teams who were runners-up in the Tanaka race — the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, the Los Angeles Angels, the Arizona Diamondbacks and others with cash.
Or the Jays can sit back and wait for the prices on free-agent arms to go down.
That’s a dangerous business.
Back in the 1970s, we recall our late boss, the legendary Eddie MacCabe, telling a story about his father coming home from serving in the war.
Someone asked his father “are you going to buy a new car?”
And MacCabe’s pop responded “nope, I’m waiting until the prices go down.”
Did he ever buy a car?