The MLB rumor mill has slowed down since the end of the winter meetings last week, but there are still plenty of moves to be made before pitchers and catchers report for spring training in about two months.
As Jerry Crasnick of ESPN noted, there is a bevy of big bullpen names out there on the open market:
Time for closer-late relief market to get moving. Balfour, Benoit, Rodney, Crain, Hanrahan, Gregg, Chris Perez still looking— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 16, 2013
Meanwhile, the most coveted right-handed starter in baseball is still in limbo half the world away.
Here's a look at the latest rumblings surrounding three high-profile pitchers in free agency.
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
The status of 25-year-old Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka is still up in the air as his club, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, weighs its options following the new posting fee system agreed upon by MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball earlier this offseason.
Under the new system, Rakuten can only receive a maximum bid of $20 million for Tanaka, far lower than the $51.7 million secured under the old agreement in 2011 in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes. With Tanaka's value diminished so much, Rakuten might be better off holding on to him instead of selling him away.
Patrick Newman of NPBTracker.com recently translated news from Japanese outlet Sponichi, relaying Rakuten's desired outcome for the Tanaka situation:
Sponichi is saying that Rakuten is going to try to get Tanaka to hang around for 1 more year. http://t.co/I8O2J05tfq— Patrick Newman (@npbtracker) December 16, 2013
George A. King III of the New York Post reported similar news this weekend, which doesn't bode well for MLB teams in 2014.
Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and possesses a mean split-finger fastball, but it sounds like we might have to wait until 2015 to see him pitching in the United States.
Joaquin Benoit, RHP
As Crasnick noted earlier, there are still a lot of moves to be made in the late-inning, free-agent pitching market. According to the Associated Press, John Axford agreed to a deal Monday (via USA Today) with the Indians to serve as the team's closer.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports offered his perspective on how it could affect the negotiations for Joaquin Benoit:
with axford set as indians closer (pending physical), padres chance to land benoit may be improved.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 16, 2013
Benoit, 36, made a successful transition from setup man to closer last year for the Detroit Tigers, converting 24 of 26 save attempts while posting a 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 ratio. But after the Tigers signed closer Joe Nathan to a reported two-year, $20 million deal, it's safe to assume Benoit is on his way out of Detroit.
Earlier this week, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported the Indians and San Diego Padres each extended Benoit two-year offers worth more than $14 million, which is a nice payday for the veteran. Benoit would be wise to take the deal from the Padres if it's still on the table, even though he might just be a high-salary setup man for Huston Street, who is still under contract after converting 33 saves in 2013.
Grant Balfour, RHP
It sounds like Grant Balfour and the Baltimore Orioles are playing hardball with each other at the negotiating table.
Jen Royle of the Boston Herald recently shared what she's heard regarding the Balfour/Orioles situation:
Orioles went 2 yrs/$6M per, then 3/$7M (incentives), but Balfour wants 3/$8M w/ vesting option. Source says "they'll be no vesting option."— Jen Royle (@Jen_Royle) December 15, 2013
Royle mentioned that a second team was in the mix for the veteran closer's services, but that the Orioles were his top choice. Heyman also reported similar information regarding Baltimore on Monday morning:
#orioles are determined to get closer soon. balfour is clear 1st choice, but if no deal by week's end, they may try another— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 16, 2013
It sounds like Balfour is Baltimore-bound, which would mean the A's and O's would essentially swap closers for 2014, as former Orioles ninth-inning option Jim Johnson was traded to the Oakland Athletics earlier this month.
Over the past two seasons, Balfour has converted 62 of his 67 save chances while posting a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 ratio. Balfour turns 36 in two weeks, but he would be a great fit for the back end of Baltimore's bullpen.