Solutions for MLB Teams Whose Roster Problems Are Still Unresolved
Several teams are in the mix for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, who could sign with an MLB team any day now, as well as free agents Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. In the case of those four starting pitchers, however, they won't necessarily end up with teams, aside from the New York Yankees, that have a gaping hole in their starting rotations.
Teams hoping to fill obvious needs on their roster will be looking elsewhere in what has become a very thin market for trades and free agents this late in the offseason.
Here are five teams with roster problems and some possible solutions for each.
Baltimore Orioles: Designated Hitter
While Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore thinks that the Baltimore Orioles' signing of Delmon Young to a minor league deal would rule out the signing of free agent Kendrys Morales (pictured), citing a likely platoon between Young and rookie Henry Urrutia, the lack of potential landing spots for the 30-year-old Morales and the likelihood of his price taking a free fall still makes it a possible match.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are still in need of a first base upgrade, but aren't likely to give up their first-round draft pick and pay decent money for a player who is considered to be a better fit in the American League, where he won't have to play defense regularly.
All signs keep pointing back to Baltimore, where the O's could be more willing to part with a draft pick than other teams, which Roch Kubatko of MASN.com wrote earlier this month. That pick, which is currently slated to be No. 17, might not be as difficult to give up if they could add a proven middle-of-the-lineup hitter on a team-friendly deal.
After turning down the Seattle Mariners' qualifying offer of $14.1 million, Morales and agent Scott Boras will be lobbying for more than that amount on a one-year deal if they can't find a suitable multi-year contract. But at this point, it wouldn't be a surprise if the O's can get him for less than $10 million on a one-year deal.
That's not a bad deal for a player who posted a .785 OPS with 23 homers and 34 doubles in 156 games last season.
Cincinnati Reds: Backup Plan in CF
In their quest for a decent "Plan B" should rookie Billy Hamilton prove that he's not ready for the majors, the Cincinnati Reds appear to be making progress on signing former Cleveland Indians star Grady Sizemore.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Reds are in "advanced talks" with the 31-year-old Sizemore, who has sat out the past two seasons recovering from microfracture knee surgery. When last healthy over a full season, Sizemore posted an .876 OPS with 33 homers and 38 stolen bases. That was back in 2008, however, when he was in his age-25 season.
While bringing in Sizemore could have a very low-risk, high-reward payoff, it would essentially give the Reds two big question marks in center field instead of just one. It wouldn't be a surprise if Hamilton, who had a .309 on-base percentage in Triple-A last season, struggles and Sizemore gets a chance to play every day. But no one knows what kind of player he is now or if he can remain healthy while playing regularly.
A better backup plan, and one that might actually be "Plan A" if it were to happen, would be to trade for Chicago White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza (pictured), who might be expendable after the team acquired Adam Eaton earlier this offseason.
If Hamilton has a strong spring, De Aza could always share time in left field with Ryan Ludwick, who struggled in 2013 (.618 OPS), if he doesn't win the job from him outright. The 29-year-old De Aza posted a .729 OPS with 17 homers and 20 stolen bases while playing center field regularly for the White Sox last season.
Cleveland Indians: Innings Eater
The Cleveland Indians need another starting pitcher to help Justin Masterson lead an inexperienced rotation. And there are plenty of starting pitchers still available, though the Indians haven't been connected with any of the top selections.
So unless they emerge as a "mystery team," it looks like they could be shopping on the second tier of free agents. While there isn't much left available there, they'll find the pitcher who could be a perfect fit for their need.
Bronson Arroyo (pictured) will come at a much cheaper price than Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana or Masahiro Tanaka, mostly because of his age and his lack of a power repertoire. Nevertheless, the 36-year-old is as reliable as they come.
Over the past 10 seasons, Arroyo has a 4.10 ERA while averaging 33 starts and 207 innings per season. He's never been on the disabled list and had a 69 percent quality start rate in 2013 while making 19 of his 32 starts at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
While the focus is currently on the group of frontline starters, the Indians need to lock up Arroyo before several other teams decide to ramp up their aggressiveness.
Detroit Tigers: Middle-of-the-Order Slugger
In trading away first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers, the Detroit Tigers were able to free up their future payroll of a huge salary. And they also acquired a second baseman, Ian Kinsler, to replace free agent Omar Infante.
The hole they created in the middle of their lineup, though, is apparent. After Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, the Tigers do have several options to hit in the No. 5 spot. But none is particularly great. The fact that the list is so long gives that away. It can be anyone including Kinsler, Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Andy Dirks and rookie Nick Castellanos.
It's possible that someone else can emerge. It's also possible that they'll be looking to fill that void by midseason because they haven't found a good enough solution.
Or they could just fill the void now by signing free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz (pictured), whose high asking price and draft-pick compensation has caused teams to shy away from him.
If they signed the 33-year-old, who posted an .833 OPS with 27 homers in 109 games last season before getting hit with a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, they'd have to give up the 24th pick in the 2014 draft.
It's a small price to pay, especially if he comes at a reduced rate this late in the offseason, if it helps out the offense to the point where they aren't the weak link on an otherwise strong roster.
New York Yankees: Late-Inning Relief Help
It's very likely that the New York Yankees sign one of the top four starters available, giving a huge boost to a rotation that appear shaky at best right now. While this would be a huge improvement for the 25-man roster, the question remains as to who will be holding leads for them late in the game.
Currently, David Robertson is slated to replace the legendary Mariano Rivera, who retired after the 2013 season. The last time Robertston stepped into the closer's role was when Rivera suffered a season-ending knee injury.
He loaded the bases before nailing down the save in his first opportunity. The next day, he entered with a 1-0 lead and a chance to save his second consecutive game. He left with a 4-1 deficit after recording just two outs. Closing duties were handed over to Rafael Soriano, who was able to handle the job.
Still, Robertson could be perfectly fine in his second go-around as the team's closer. He might even be better prepared than any other pitcher they can bring in, considering he's held so many late-inning leads in high-pressure situations in front of a Yankees crowd that could be quite hostile if he struggled.
But if Robertson is closing games, who is getting him the ball in the ninth inning? As of now, that would be Shawn Kelley, who had an impressive 12.0 K/9 rate while allowing only 10 percent of inherited runners to score. It's the same deal as with Robertson, though: Even if he's capable of stepping into a role with which he's not very familiar, someone has to capably replace him. Those options appear to be few and far between for the Yankees.
They need another late-inning reliever and there aren't many more available who'd be willing to fill a non-closer role. Whether they're comfortable with Robertson and Kelley or not, the best bet to solidify the bullpen is signing Grant Balfour or Fernando Rodney (pictured), the best remaining relievers on the market.
Regardless of how much talent the Yankees have throughout their roster, things can get ugly if the late-inning relief crew struggles. Signing Rodney would allow Robertson and Kelley to remain in the roles they thrived in last season.