Nationals infield plan now set? 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
11:33
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Even though he had hoped to return to the Washington Nationals for the 2015 season, Adam LaRoche knew it would be a long shot. On Thursday, the Nationals did indeed decline the their half of a mutual $15 million option for next year, buying him out for $2 million and making LaRoche a free agent.

Rangers looking to rebuild rotation? 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
10:20
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The Texas Rangers saw their pitching staff finish next-to-last in the American League in ERA (4.49) and their starting rotation's 4.75 ERA was a healthy chunk of that disappointment. That said, the team is hoping to keep Colby Lewis -- one of only two pitchers to win 10 games for the team last season -- around for 2015.

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Could Royals trade Gordon? 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
9:08
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The Kansas City Royals spent Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, taking in one last set of cheers from the thousands of fans who gathered to salute the team before they all went their separate ways for the winter. However, the reality of baseball is that chances are not all of these players will be back with the team in 2015.

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MLB Future Power Ranks rumors 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
9:07
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With the release of the MLB Future Power Rankings, it's interesting to see which teams our panel of esteemed experts think might be headed toward a five-year run similar to the recent success story of the San Francisco Giants, and which franchises seem doomed to endure a long stretch of rebuilding rosters and empty stadium seats.

Here's a quick look at five teams whose placement in this list jumped out at me, and the latest buzz from the rumor mill that might help to explain why those teams are ranked where they are:


Boston Red Sox at No. 3

Even though they're coming off an awful last-place season in which they lost at least 90 games for the second time in three seasons (after having not been so similarly inept at winning since 1966), the future still seems bright for the Red Sox. This franchise has a plethora of young talent that includes Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Garin Cecchini, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart that can just as easily be worked into the lineup as they could be packaged in a deal for an ace pitcher such as Cole Hamels.

Rumors of a falling-out between the coaching staff and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes could easily end up in a trade with the New York Mets or Cincinnati Reds that would help replace the pitching lost at this season's trade deadline.

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NL Central Hot Stove preview, by team 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
1:18
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The World Series is officially over, which means all 30 major league teams are ready to look ahead to 2015 in hopes that they might be the ones holding the championship trophy next year at this time. Free agency doesn't officially kick in until five days from now, but the rumor mill is already buzzing with potential moves that might help those clubs who were watching on television this year become the center of attention next October.

Our snapshot of each of the six MLB divisions and what teams might have in the works this offseason continues today with a look at the National League Central.


Chicago Cubs

Big decisions: The biggest one -- who will manage this team? -- seems to be out of the way, as it seems the team's hiring of Joe Maddon is inevitable. As ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers notes, "It comes down to this: The Cubs can pay Maddon, have no deep ties to their current manager, who isn't a former player with the club or an up-and-comer such as Brad Ausmus or Matt Williams. The Cubs didn't finish above .500 like Seattle and even Milwaukee. In short, it's an easy decision to make, if it can get done."

Team needs: In terms of player makeup, as Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune notes, the Cubs are "intent to strike quickly with free-agent players … [and will] seek to add impact pitching as well as catching and a left-handed-hitting outfielder." … Once Maddon is in town, it might not be hard to imagine James Shields being willing to entertain a reunion with his former manager, and as Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes, "nobody is hungrier for the kind of reliability, durability and quality that Shields brings than the Cubs."

Early buzz: With a glut of middle infielders to sift through and a ton of prospects on the verge of being ready for the major leagues, ESPN.com's Jim Bowden thinks that the Cubs "not only [have] a lethal group of position players coming to join Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Starlin Castro, but also enough top prospects to make deals for pitchers, such as Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto, if they decide to go that route." … Torii Hunter could provide the Cubs with a veteran presence in the clubhouse that would be welcome for what projects to be a very young lineup.


Cincinnati Reds

Big decisions: The Reds have four starting pitchers who are scheduled to become free agents after the 2015 season. They're unlikely to sign the entire quartet to extensions, so in order to maximize return, they'll have to decide if they want to deal away Cueto this winter. Picking up his 2015 option doesn't remove that possibility.

Team needs: Offense was a problem for the Reds last season, particularly in left field, which, as John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes, "was the most-shared position on the club" in 2014, with seven players starting there. Fay correctly predicted that Ryan Ludwick's contract would be bought out, leaving the door open for a change, most likely achieved through trade.

Early buzz: Talk that the Boston Red Sox, a team that could use some pitching help, might be looking to deal away Yoenis Cespedes makes it possible that the Reds explore that possibility. … Because of his high salary and the potential to promote either Jesse Winker or Kyle Waldrop, Jay Bruce has been named as a trade possibility. ESPN.com's Mark Simon suggests the New York Mets might be willing to "[buy] low on someone who has two years (with an option) and more than $25 million left on his contract."


Milwaukee Brewers

Big decisions: When it comes to 2015 roster decisions, the most pressing decision is at third base, with Aramis Ramirez and the team holding a mutual 2015 option for $14 million. It could go either way, but the team's recent claim of Luis Jimenez from the Los Angeles Angels certainly was made in order to give the Brewers at least one alternative should things not work out.

Team needs: Assuming Ramirez does return and the Brewers don't need to explore options such as Pablo Sandoval, their primary focus likely will be in the bullpen. Tom Gorzelanny, Francisco Rodriguez and Zach Duke are all headed for free agency. While top-tier options might be in short supply, adding an arm from a tier that includes Chris Perez, Jason Motte and Jim Johnson may end up being the path this team chooses to travel. … With Lyle Overbay looking likely to retire and free agent Mark Reynolds having not quite lived up to expectations in his half of the 2014 platoon at first base, an upgrade in the form of Adam LaRoche or Michael Cuddyer is clearly in order.

Early buzz: Toward the end of the season, there was some discussion that Ryan Braun could potentially be moved to first base in 2015, which would allow Milwaukee to start Khris Davis, Carlos Gomez and Gerardo Parra in the outfield on a regular basis, and also let the team devote free-agent dollars to the pitching staff. If Ramirez does end up getting a big contract to stay, there might not be enough extra cash lying around to prevent that experiment from becoming a necessity.


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Giants preparing for giant void at 3B? 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
12:15
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In what might have been his last play for the San Francisco Giants, Pablo Sandoval squeezed tight the final out of the World Series that kicked off the franchise's third victory celebration in the last five years. So what are the chances that we've seen the last of Sandoval in a Giants uniform?

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Royals already looking ahead? 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
11:15
AM ET
Although the Kansas City Royals watched their last-ditch effort to tie Game 7 of the World Series fall just 90 feet short just yesterday, it's still not too soon to speculate on what the team might be preparing to do to make sure they get all the way to a title in 2015.

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Twins getting closer to decision? 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
10:20
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While the Minnesota Twins have had a month to interview potential replacement managers after having let Ron Gardenhire go at the end of September, the team still doesn't seem to be ready to announce an end to their search.

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Questions in Braves rotation 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
9:10
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With the return of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy from Tommy John surgeries nowhere near a sure thing for the Atlanta Braves, the team is preparing to start the 2015 season without both of them.

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Where do O's go from here? 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
12:31
PM ET
When free agency begins on Thursday morning, the Baltimore Orioles will be in jeopardy of losing Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Delmon Young to other teams. Nick Markakis, Nick Hundley and Wei-Yin Chen could all soon follow, should their options not be picked up by the team.

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Pool of Cuban infielders grows 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
11:14
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Andy Ibanez, a second baseman who played for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, has reportedly left the island nation and will pursue a major league career. Ibanez becomes the third second baseman believed to have defected from Cuba this year, joining Hector Olivera and Jose Fernandez.

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Will Red Sox make push for Sandoval? 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
10:20
AM ET
With a .338 batting average this postseason, Pablo Sandoval has certainly saved his best for last as his contract with the San Francisco Giants comes to an end. Could the third baseman be headed across the country to Fenway Park once the World Series is over?

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Cubs and Maddon ready to decide? 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
9:04
AM ET
With the World Series guaranteed to be over after Wednesday night's Game 7, the fate of the Chicago Cubs courtship of Joe Maddon may now be just a few days away from being resolved.

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Could Lind be traded quickly? 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
4:50
PM ET
With the official start of the hot stove season almost here, who will be the first team to fan the flames? Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggests it could be the Toronto Blue Jays finding a new home for Adam Lind.

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Impact of Chapman switching agents 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
1:19
PM ET
Aroldis Chapman, who put up some numbers as historically dominant as any closer this side of Mariano Rivera, reportedly as changed agents. Jeff Passan on Yahoo Sports tweets the Cincinnati Reds' lefthander has switched from Hendricks Sports to Relativity Baseball.

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