1/10/2014 2:57 P.M. ET
Plenty of unfinished Hot Stove business remains
Players looking for landing spots, teams trying to fill holes before Spring Training
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
We're quickly approaching that point in the offseason when folks start to get nervous. Free agents are beginning to rethink everything from their asking price to potential landing spots. Mostly, they just want to know where they'll be playing in 2014.
Plenty of general managers understand the players' anxiety. For those who got their work done quickly, this is the time to apply a finishing touch or two to the roster. For others, though, this is a critical time.
Despite a flurry of deals this offseason, there's a long list of teams that still have significant unfinished business. So, here goes:
Are the Yankees going to close the deal with Masahiro Tanaka or not? If not the Yanks, where will the Japanese star land?
This is the most fascinating piece of business remaining on the table. If the Yankees sign Tanaka, they will have completed a terrific offseason, one in which they made significant upgrades with the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. If Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have productive seasons, the Yanks could have an offense as good as almost any despite the loss of Robinson Cano to the Mariners.
But if the Yankees don't fix their rotation, they're going to need all the runs they can muster, and then some. At the moment, their rotation is CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, David Phelps and Michael Pineda. To pass the Red Sox and Rays in the American League East with that rotation, they would need Sabathia to be better than he was last season (14-13, 4.78 ERA) and to get some quality work from Pineda, who hasn't been on a big league mound since Sept. 21, 2011.
Tanaka, a 25-year-old right-hander with top-of-the-rotation stuff, would dramatically alter the look of the Yanks. If he didn't suddenly elevate them back to the top of the AL East, they'd almost certainly have a team capable of getting back to the postseason.
Because the Yankees need Tanaka so badly, many baseball people believe that's where he'll end up. But Tanaka will have an assortment of options, from the Dodgers, D-backs, Mariners and perhaps others. As the Yanks painfully learned with Cano, there are no certainties in free agency. If they can't sign Tanaka, they may have to rekindle interest in one of the remaining starting pitchers on the market.
Speaking of starting pitching, why are all those quality starting pitchers still on the market?
When players are unsigned at this point in the offseason, there's usually only one explanation: money.
Regardless, to have four starters as good as Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo still available provides a very nice safety net for the teams that are unable to land Tanaka.
The D-backs would feel great about their ability to compete in the National League West with one more starting pitcher. Tanaka seems to be No. 1 on their list, but as prices fall, they could make a run at Garza, Santana or any of the others.
The Blue Jays, Indians and Mariners would also like to add at least one more starting pitcher.
Closing the closer's market.
Fernando Rodney and Grant Balfour remain unsigned and could remain so until the starting-pitching market is cleared up. The Orioles seem to be the best fit for Rodney after their deal with Balfour came undone. As for Balfour, he, too, seems a nice fit for the Rays. Don't be surprised if both players end up with one-year deals, or maybe one-year deals that include an option for 2015.
Is A.J. Burnett retiring?
As the days pass, it seems more likely Burnett is going to give retirement a try. The Pirates are prepared to move on without him, and the O's, who have interest, seem uncertain what his intentions are.
It seems unlikely Burnett has thrown his last pitch in the big leagues, because he was too good last season for the Bucs and because he's a tough, gritty, lead-by-example competitor who has plenty to offer.
Besides the Yankees, is there another team as anxious to make a move?
That would be your Baltimore Orioles. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would like to add a starting pitching and a reliever. He'll also be shopping for a bargain-basement offensive player in an attempt to keep the club in contention.
Is there a sleeper team out there that is about to get everyone's attention with a move or two?
The Milwaukee Brewers are the leaders in the clubhouse in this department. They've been patient this winter in waiting for prices to lower. However, with an assortment of needs, don't be surprised if the Brewers end up as baseball's busiest January team.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.