There were two teams that were very disappointed to hear that Hiroki Kuroda had re-signed with the New York Yankees on Tuesday: The Angels and Tigers.
Not because either of them had an interest in Kuroda, though the Angels were said to have at least inquired on the Japanese right hander, but because Kuroda was the top target of the Los Angels Dodgers. With Kuroda off the market, the Dodgers will turn their attentions to Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez.
The Angels have made no secret their desire to re-sign Greinke, even going so far as to jettison both Ervin Santana and Dan Haren in order to free up money to lure Greinke. Detroit has made retaining Sanchez a priority this off-season as well and have said that if they miss out on him, they would not pursue another starter.
While the Angels and Tigers both boast payrolls near the top of baseball, neither team would be willing to compete with the money the Dodgers are able and willing to throw at any player they desire. With Kuroda gone, Dodger GM Ned Colletti is likely to turn his attention to the top two right handers left on the market and that spells trouble for anyone else looking to sign them.
Kuroda settled for a one-year deal from the Yankees because he wanted the flexibility to return to Japan after the season. He signed for $15 million when he probably could have gotten an extra million or two to play in Los Angeles. But Kuroda, at age 38, has a specific plan for the end of his major league career; he’s not your typical free agent.
Pitchers like Greinke and Sanchez will be looking not only for a chance to win, but for the most money and longest contract they can find. A Southern California location probably wouldn’t hurt, either. Greinke is already familiar with greater Los Angeles and knows the media one faces there; a concern often voiced by the Bostons and New Yorks of the world when Greinke’s name comes up. “He can’t handle a large market,” they say. He seemed to do just fine with the Angels last season when he went 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts after being traded from Milwaukee.
Like Greinke, Sanchez was a mid-season trade from the National League when he went from Miami to Detroit at the deadline. Sanchez took a few starts to get acclimated to the new surroundings, but pitched to a 2.15 ERA over the season’s final eight starts. If the Tigers miss out on Sanchez, GM Dave Dombrowski says they’ll move ahead with Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly in their rotation. Signing Sanchez would probably prompt a trade of Porcello.
The Angels have a much more desperate situation in their rotation. If they miss out on Greinke, they have just three starters under contract and one of them, Garrett Richards, has been working in relief. Even with Greinke, they’d probably still need to sign another starter.
The Dodgers are the new version of the late-90s Yankees. They’re willing to out-spend the league in order to get what they want. When the dust settles, I expect either Greinke or Sanchez to wind up wearing Dodger blue and then the Angels had better pounce on whichever one is left.
The only thing that seems certain is that starting pitchers at every level of the free agent market stand to benefit from a bidding war at the top.