The offseason for most teams is over, but in some cases that doesn't mean that it's complete.
It's very rare that a team will ever publicly admit that they were unable to reach the goals they set for themselves -- internally or out in the open -- going into an offseason. Moreover, there are times when the goals a team sets for itself for an offseason have nothing to do with making the onfield baseball product better; indeed, there are times when achieving those goals can make the team worse, in either the short or long term. Just look at the New York Yankees' ultimately-abandoned Plan 189, for example, or the questionable wisdom surrounding the Seattle Mariners' signing of Robinson Cano. That said, most teams go into each December looking to improve their major league club by filling the holes that are practical to fill in free agency and making other moves in the trade market to address those that aren't, and sometimes things just don't work out. Here are some of the more notable holes remaining around the league as Spring Training approaches.
San Francisco Giants: Left Field
Essentially the only position the Giants had any real leeway in addressing this offseason -- the only position that wasn't filled by a veteran on a weighty contract or a young player under team control -- was left field. And in signing Michael Morse to a one-year, $6 million deal the Giants will say they addressed that issue -- but, well, not really. Morse had a disastrous 2013, a pedestrian 2012, and there's no reason to believe he'll be able to replicate his 2011 -- not only the best season of his career, but the only year in which he was able to log a full season's worth of plate appearances at the major league level. Morse turns 32 in March and doesn't even have the platoon history that would allow him to pair with left-handed hitting Gregor Blanco in left field. The Giants wanted Carlos Beltran to fill that hole in left, but weren't willing to give him the 3-year, $45 million committment to which the Yankees ended up signing him (and for good reason); for a team whose three best offensive players in 2013 -- Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Hunter Pence -- had a combined OPS in the .830s and was in the bottom third of the league in runs scored, the fall off from Beltran to Morse is disappointing at best.
Baltimore Orioles: Starting Pitching
The Orioles are once again pretending they're a small market franchise that can't spend money -- note that under the current regime, Wei-Yin Chen's 3-year, $11.4 million contract (with a $4.75 million 2015 club option that will certainly be exercised) remains the largest free agent deal that wasn't torpedoed by a "failed" physical -- and that means that they're going to be going into next season insisting that Chris Tillman is their staff ace and that Tillman, Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris are a perfectly legitimate top four starters for a team with playoff aspirations. There's a couple different ways this could work out: The first is that Chris Tillman is finally able to command his fastball at a consistently high velocity for 90 percent of his starts instead of the 40-60 percent that's normal for him and actually becomes a pitcher worthy of the All-Star honors bestowed upon him last year; the second is that Kevin Gausman learns how to command his fastball, stops hanging his change-ups, and turns into the elite starter he has the pedigree to become; and the third is that the rotation turns out to be just what it looks like: a collection of third, fourth, and fifth starters who are mostly still in town because they don't cost much money. Note that the first two options here aren't exclusive, and if Tillman and Gausman figure things out the Orioles rotation could be quite good -- but then, just about every team has two young pitchers that could make their rotation phenomenal if they hit their absolute upside, and the two in Baltimore are far from the most certain of the bunch.
Cleveland Indians: Starting Pitching
The Indians have similar issues, but they have two saving graces that distance them from the Orioles: The first is they've actually spent money and made moves in the free-agent market over the past two seasons; they've simply used that money and those moves to address positions of need other than the rotation. The second is that Ubaldo Jimenez remains a free agent, and the Indians are the only team in baseball that can sign him without forfeiting a draft pick. Still, Jimenez isn't the pitcher his 2010 in Colorado suggested he'd become, and the question marks with the Indians rotation are more narrowly attached to the end of sentences like "Will Danny Salazar be able to build on his success at the end of last season?" and "Will anyone ever get through to Trevor Bauer that it's important he be able to locate his fastball?" instead of "Can the Indians compete without re-signing Ubaldo Jimenez?" Bringing him back would give the rotation a certain amount of stability, however, along with the kind of possible upside that simply isn't present in arms like Justin Masterson's or Zach McAllister's.
New York Yankees: Third Base
Even if the Yankees hadn't gone out of their way to help Major League Baseball torpedo their Hall of Fame third baseman's 2014 season, they were going to need to do something about the position; even a healthy Alex Rodriguez who wasn't taking the league to federal court wasn't going to be able to play a full season at the hot corner. This is one of those unmet needs that has no real great, silver bullet answer; there was no fantastic third baseman sitting on the market waiting for a phone call from New York that never came. The closest thing to that was Jhonny Peralta, and St. Louis is a better fit for Peralta for any number of reasons, not the least of which being that the Cardinals are set up to be a perennial contender until around the end of the decade. Still, the New York Yankees should be able to do better than a Kelly Johnson/Eduardo Nunez/maybe Brendan Ryan monstrosity. And this writeup applies to second base as well, so long as you replace Peralta's name with Robinson Cano's, the St. Louis Cardinals with the Seattle Mariners, and strike any mention of that team contending.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Starting Pitching
The Angels have been the "We Tried" team of the offseason when it comes to starting pitching; they were in the running for Masahiro Tanaka, until they weren't; they had a deal on the table for Matt Garza identical to the one he signed with the Brewers, until they didn't; they might still end up with either Jimenez or Ervin Santana, but that's far from a sure thing considering the draft pick compensation involved and the fact that the Angels desperately need to restock their farm system. They signed Mark Mulder, though. Mark Mulder, the 36-year-old who has been out of the game since 2008. That's essentially where the Angels rotation is right now. In fairness, it's probably good on the whole that the team have an offseason where they don't throw a ludicrous amount of money at a free agent due to their ownership's desire to make a splash, but that doesn't mean that going into the season with CJ Wilson as the No. 2 starter is going to make Mike Trout any more enthusiastic about another three or four years in Orange County.
Houston Astros: Everything But Closers
I considered excusing the Astros from this exercise for a second straight season, but it's worth at least mentioning what they're doing. Once again, it's not trying to win games -- the biggest signings they've made this offseason are Scott Feldman (3 years, $30 million), Chad Qualls (1 year, $6 million with a team option for $3.5 million), Jesse Crain (1 year, $3.25 million) and Matt Albers (1 year, $2.45 million). That's one starting pitcher and three late-inning relievers, and if you follow baseball that should be setting off roughly the same kind of alarms that start blaring when you get e-mails from displaced nobility asking for your bank account numbers. Feldman isn't going anywhere any time soon, but Qualls, Crain, and Albers satisfy two -- and only two -- goals for a team that has no intention of contending: First, they keep the players' union from making the same kind of press releases about the Astros that they made about the Marlins a few years back when that franchise was spending nothing on player payroll; second, they allow the team to groom a "closer" to flip to a team like Detroit that needs relief help late in the season -- the Astros sent Jose Veras to the Tigers last season, and considering Detroit's adamant refusal to address their bullpen situation this offseason it's likely they'll be sending Qualls or Crain their way in six or seven months' time. This is hardly against the rules or unexpected, and it's not even that bad of a move on Houston's part -- but this absolutely must be the last season of this kind of horseplay.
The usual caveats about team construction not being final apply, although the Cleveland Indians are the only team of the above that can still sign their way out of their specific roster problems -- as amusing as it would be to see Ervin Santana back on the mound for the Angels, it probably isn't in the cards. And as always, there's plenty of room for surprises; remember how weak the Orioles were at first base going into last season?