The hot stove was relatively cold in the first week or so of the new year, but two of the biggest stories of MLB's offseason came into focus over the past few days. Masahiro Tanaka inched another step closer in his agonizingly slow march to sign with an MLB team, and a decision was handed down in Alex Rodriguez's appeal of his 211-game suspension.
Tanaka's Beatles-like invasion of the States concluded late last week after he met with a handful of teams. Nothing seems imminent based on anything I've read, but with so many suitors available to him under the new posting system, Tanaka looks to be in an enviable position of leverage in upcoming dealings.
Those dealings, and their conclusion, probably can't come soon enough for the domestic pitching trio of Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, whose markets remain held up, presumably by the Tanaka saga. Tanaka must make a decision by Jan. 24, according to Paul White of USA Today, so they may have to wait a while still.
Meanwhile, per Paul Hagen of MLB.com, the waiting is over for Alex Rodriguez, whose weeks-long arbitration hearing over his performance-enhancing drug suspension concluded Saturday with an arbitrator reducing his 211-game suspension to 162 games. A-Rod is out for 2014, his career perhaps in jeopardy, and his legacy, already in tatters, is irreparably damaged. Not that the issue is really about dollars and cents, but A-Rod will lose his entire 2014 salary of $25 million.
The New York Yankees sure don't mind, though. They've been relieved of A-Rod's burdensome contract at a time when they're readying for a run at Tanaka while reportedly trying to stay within shouting distance of the luxury tax threshold according to White. And financial implications aside, they've got to be tired of dealing with the circus around Rodriguez by now. This is a win on those fronts, for sure.
How should the Yankees handle third base?
While the Yankees' executive types were probably high-fiving over Rodriguez's ban, the reality must have set in that the team now has a gaping hole at third base. Kelly Johnson would man the hot corner if the season were to start today.
That could be good news for a free-agent third baseman like, say, Mark Reynolds or Michael Young, whom the Yanks are interested in signing, according to Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com. Neither is ideal, in my opinion, but going the trade route may not be an option.
The A-Rod decision was out of the Yankees' hands, but they made a prudent maneuver in their own right by designating Vernon Wells for assignment last week. They're on the hook for $2.4 million of his $21 million salary, according to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, but they'll live with that in order to clear up a dead roster spot and alleviate their outfield logjam.
With Wells gone, Ichiro Suzuki emerges as a survivor of said logjam. Despite reports earlier in the offseason that the Yanks were looking to unload Ichiro from Chad Jennings of the Journal News, he should have a good chance of sticking with them as their fourth outfielder, which seems like a good role for him given that he is still regarded as a good defensive player.
Wells, who has hit a paltry .226/.267/.387 in 1,249 plate appearances over the past three seasons, may be looking at the end of the road.
For just a $1.1 million more than what the Yankees are paying Wells not to play for them, the Houston Astros procured the services of reliever Jesse Crain earlier this month. Crain was enjoying an absurd career year (0.74 ERA) when he went down with a shoulder injury that cost him the entire second half. The investment by both the Astros and Crain is modest here, and I like it for both of them for that reason.
With a good, healthy year, Crain can easily outproduce his $3.25 million salary, which is good for the team, and reestablish his value so he can get back to free agency next offseason.