12/23/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
The Week Ahead: Christmas gifts await clubs
Price, Balfour, Butler, Garza could find new homes over the holidays
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Christmas week isn't just time for joyous celebration with family, egg nog, visions of sugarplums and yuletide carols. In fact, when it comes to The Week Ahead in Major League Baseball, the Hot Stove is more about cooking up winter deals than figgy pudding.
In other words, in the big leagues, there's no such thing as merely taking time off to stare at a log burning on TV and open presents.
For hardball executives, the smart phones have to always be charged and ready, even as Santa's sleigh pulls away, the ornaments are packed back into the backyard shed, and New Year's resolutions are starting to be conjured.
That's because there's still a lot left to be resolved this offseason.
One of the more intriguing angles will be the whereabouts of Tampa Bay starter David Price when the clock strikes 2014, or maybe even sooner. The young left-hander already has a Cy Young Award to his credit, but he also only has two seasons left before free agency, and the cagey Rays have made him available.
While teams such as prospect-rich Seattle are reportedly in discussions with Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman about the price of Price, the Rays indicated at the Winter Meetings, while not being particularly specific, that they're willing to be patient.
"Our longstanding goal, as we head into any offseason, is to try and thread a very narrow middle, which is to be as good as we can be in the upcoming season, and continue to keep one eye on the future in terms of being able to sustain success for as long as we can," Friedman said.
"Every guy in our organization has a little different fit in how they help us in the short-term and how they help us in the long-term. It's our job to kind of navigate that to figure out how we put together as competitive a team as we can."
To that end, you can either expect something to happen with Price very quickly or not at all while remaining aware that Friedman won't hesitate to make moves that he feels improve his club.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, baseball keeps its eyes on Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and his current boss, Rakuten Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana.
Tanaka, who is 25 and is coming off a 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA in the 2013 season in Nippon Professional Baseball, would set the starting pitching market in a hurry if his club agreed to post him, but that hasn't happened yet. Reports have indicated a decision might be made around the time you take your Christmas ham out of the oven, but nothing is written in stone.
If Tanaka is cleared to sign with an MLB team and lands on one of the 30 clubs of the American and National Leagues, expect the mailing addresses of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana to be figured out in short order, because they're the next three arms at the top of the starters' market.
That market includes Bronson Arroyo, Jason Hammel, A.J. Burnett, Joe Saunders, Jake Westbrook, Chris Capuano, Barry Zito, Scott Baker, Bruce Chen and Tommy Hanson. Teams can also pick from position players Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales, Juan Pierre, Delmon Young, Placido Polanco and Michael Young; and relievers Chris Perez, Jose Veras, Joaquin Benoit, Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan, Jesse Crain, Francisco Rodriguez, Fernando Rodney and Kevin Gregg.
And let's not forget Grant Balfour.
One of the big stories of last week was that Balfour, the closer who was just about sealed and delivered to Baltimore on a two-year deal, was suddenly no longer headed to the Orioles after Baltimore brass had issues with the 35-year-old's physical.
"The Orioles are moving on from this situation," Orioles GM Dan Duquette said. "There was no contract. There was an understanding pending a physical exam."
Balfour, whose representatives insist that he's healthy and has the opinions of doctors to prove it, will now look for a new team, and it could happen this week.
So could a Billy Butler trade.
The Royals designated hitter's name has been bandied about a bit more than usual of late, and Kansas City GM Dayton Moore has been very active over the past few winters. Butler addressed the rumors on Friday and offered a perspective on the potential situation that shows he's a big league veteran.
"I've been around long enough now," Butler said. "Every year I've been rumored, ever since I've been in big leagues and that's coming up on quite a while now, and I'm still a Kansas City Royal, so you kind of take it with a grain of salt. I never got a call from Dayton, so I know nothing was serious.
"He'd have let me know what's going on. There's a lot of speculation, especially at the Winter Meetings. That's what it's all about. That's what they thrive on. That's the reason why everybody's in one spot. A lot of moves are made there, but there's also a lot more moves talked about that aren't made."
We'll sort them out once again during what could be an eventful Christmas week.