Recapping the Winter Meetings and looking ahead to the rest of the offseason

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A week in the sun and warmth is over. A week of the hottest hot stove action in recent memory preceded it. It’s pretty easy to say that a great bulk of the work teams needed to do before Opening Day 2014 has been accomplished since we tossed the last of our Thanksgiving leftovers. But there is still more to do, obviously. There are still many free agents out on the market and trade possibilities dancing along with the sugarplums in general managers’ heads.

So, first, let’s look at the big things that happened during the Winter Meetings:

So obviously there’s a lot left. For one thing, Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka is expected to be posted by his NPB team, and if that happens he will instantly be the most sought-after free agent of them all. Indeed, by HardballTalk’s reckoning, eight of the top 20 free agents plus Tanaka are still available, and that means a lot of heat still to come off the hot stove.

It’s a time when a lot of people are talking about the offseason’s winners and losers. But there is still a lot of offseason to go. While 20 years ago everything was pretty much done by Christmas, the baseball offseason has now come to be active all offseason long, with signings in late December, all through January and even after spring training begins. As many at the Winter Meetings say, there is no real offseason anymore.

And that’s why HardballTalk is here. For you to keep track of all the comings and goings and the state of your team and others as the new season approaches. Always keep a tab up dedicated to HBT and you’ll be the first to know what’s going on.

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.