What's next for the Boston Red Sox? 

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
Cole HamelsHunter Martin/Getty ImagesNext up on the Red Sox's agenda should be trading a package of prospects for Cole Hamels.
After reportedly agreeing to terms with both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the Boston Red Sox can now turn their attention to the area of the team that has been their biggest need all along: their starting rotation.

And the signings of Sandoval and Ramirez don't hinder that, they help it.

The Sox have now positioned themselves perfectly to negotiate the biggest trade of this offseason with the Philadelphia Phillies to land left-handed starter Cole Hamels while still having enough resources for a reunion with Jon Lester or sending in the welcome wagon to James Shields.

Dissecting the Rays' managerial search 

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
Don Wakamatsu, Kevin Cash, and Raul IbanezGetty Images, USA TODAY Sports, USA TODAY SportsThe Rays will choose either Don Wakamatsu, Kevin Cash or Raul Ibanez as their next manager.
With some offseason dominoes having already fallen around Major League Baseball, let's check in with the latest buzz on the biggest topics around the sport:

The Tampa Bay Rays' managerial search

The Rays' managerial search took another bizarre twist Friday when it was announced that their three finalists were Don Wakamatsu, Raul Ibanez and Kevin Cash. Their initial list of eight individuals to interview was puzzling to begin with, considering just two of those candidates were former big league managers: Wakamatsu and Manny Acta.

Wakamatsu's first managerial stint lasted only 274 games with the Seattle Mariners, and he was 28 games under .500 when he was fired in 2010. Acta has six years of MLB managerial experience, but his career win percentage is just .418, and he hasn't had a winning season.

But the surprising part wasn't that those two got interviews; they're both solid baseball men and deserve another chance. Instead, it was more about which experienced managers did not get an interview.

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10 bold predictions for this offseason 

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
videoMajor League Baseball's offseason is in full swing, complete with 13-year contracts, a trade including a Gold Glover and a good, young pitcher, and a key free-agent signing or two. But that's just the beginning of this wild and wooly offseason.

With that, here are 10 bold predictions I see happening in the weeks ahead:

1. Jon Lester re-signs with the Boston Red Sox

Most analysts think Lester has pitched his last game for the Red Sox. … I'm not one of them. I think the Chicago Cubs will offer the most years (six) and dollars, but a return to Boston for fewer years (five) and less money is my prediction. The Red Sox desperately need a top-of-rotation starter and won't be a legitimate contender unless they get one. Lester was happy in Boston, and unless the Cubs blow the Sox's offer away, I think that's where he lands.

2. Marlins sign James Shields

The Marlins shocked the baseball world with the signing of Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year deal, and they'll do it again by landing a top-of-rotation starter.

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Status check: Where each team stands 

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
Jack ZduriencikGetty ImagesGMs Jack Zduriencik (Mariners) and Sandy Alderson (Mets) have teams that are ready to contend.
As the offseason trades, signings and re-signings get underway, it behooves us to take a step back and lay out where each MLB team stands right now, what its current big-picture objective is. So here's the current landscape, division by division and team by team:

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: Working to repeat as AL East champs. The Orioles made it all the way to the American League Championship Series and should have an even better team in 2015. Re-signing Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz or acquiring similar players will be key to defending their division title.

Boston Red Sox: Retooling to contend again in 2015. After going from first to last in the division this season, the Red Sox hope to reverse that in '15, and they have the bullpen, defense and lineup to do it. However, they must completely rebuild their starting rotation to be a legitimate threat again.

New York Yankees: Aspirations of contending, but currently a middle-of-division team. The Yanks have a lot of question marks in their rotation, especially healthwise. They'll need guys like Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia to bounce back, and will also need rebound years from Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann to have any hope of making a playoff run.

Tampa Bay Rays: New leadership trying to maintain contender status. The previous regime left the Rays in a good spot to contend, including a strong young rotation. But the team will need to hire a new manager who hits the ground running. Tampa Bay's long-term success will be dependent on an improved draft performance in June after a few years of below-average drafts.

Toronto Blue Jays: Trying to win now while still developing prospects. They have a strong core of veterans (and just added one in Russell Martin) and were wise not to trade any of their talented young starting pitching at the trade deadline. They'll fill a few key positions with prospects -- Dalton Pompey will start in center field and newly acquired Devon Travis will take over second base by at least midseason -- but likely will look to spend more this offseason.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: Rebuilding, and probably two years away. The White Sox have been building a strong core to their team (including Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia and Adam Eaton), and they're now just waiting patiently for their top prospects, such as left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon and shortstop Tim Anderson, to arrive.

Cleveland Indians: Ready to contend for a division title. They had the second-youngest rotation in baseball in 2014, and yet it was the best in the majors in the second half, led by Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. But they need bounce-back years from Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn if they're going to win the division. The arrive of Francisco Lindor will help.

Detroit Tigers: Keeping the window cracked for a playoff run, but also trying to get younger. The offense is pretty much in place, especially after they re-signed Victor Martinez and traded for Anthony Gose to improve their defense in center field. Jose Iglesias' return will also help, although he and Gose are light-hitting players. But they might need to replace Max Scherzer, and that bullpen needs improvement.

Kansas City Royals: Stacked with enough young talent to be perennial contenders. The Royals' position players grew up in the postseason, and Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy are ready to take over the top of their rotation. The Royals are now the team to beat in the AL Central, not the Tigers.

Minnesota Twins: A last-place team desperately trying to build a starting rotation. The Twins are waiting for young phenoms Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano to arrive in Minnesota, but it won't matter in the win-loss column until they're able to build a starting rotation that is at least competitive.

AL West

Houston Astros: Only a year or two away from being contenders. The Astros are making significant progress toward and should get at least close to .500 in 2015. Top-of-rotation prospect Mark Appel should arrive sometime in 2015, and when shortstop prospect Carlos Correa arrives sometime in 2016 or 2017, the Astros should be ready to be perennial contenders.

Los Angeles Angels: Legit World Series contenders. The emergence of Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker filled out the rotation, and the lineup is just fine. They could use bounce-back years from Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson, though, and they're hoping Tyler Skaggs returns successfully from Tommy John surgery at some point in 2015.

Oakland Athletics: Still legit playoff contenders. They've taken a beating via free agency, but that won't stop them from contending again in '15. They still have a strong, controllable starting rotation, and could get Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin back from their Tommy John surgeries in 2015. They just need a middle-of-the-order bat and a possible replacement for Jed Lowrie.

Seattle Mariners: Their time has finally arrived. The Mariners are just one big impact bat -- to put between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager -- away from being a playoff contender in 2015. Their starting rotation has a chance to be special, especially if James Paxton and Taijuan Walker live up to their potential.

Texas Rangers: Seeking to rebound in 2015. No rebuilding here; the Rangers are simply hoping to have a healthy team next year after being decimated with injuries in 2014. They still need to upgrade in left field and behind the plate and need another starting pitcher, and they'll likely try to solve those deficiencies via trade rather than free agency.

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So what's next, Marlins management? 

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
Giancarlo StantonSteve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsThe Marlins have more than just slugger Giancarlo Stanton to build a team around.
The Miami Marlins just agreed to terms with their star slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, for 13 years and $325 million, but that doesn't mean they're done spending money.

They're looking at contract extensions for their top young players, another top-of-rotation type starting pitcher and more offensive punch from some of their infield positions. Here's my quick breakdown of what's next for the Marlins:

Contract extensions

The Marlins would like to sign Jose Fernandez to a long-term contract next, but based on initial negotiations with his agent Scott Boras, it's highly unlikely something gets done anytime soon. That's better for the club anyway since they don't know how well he'll bounce back from Tommy John surgery.

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Four potential trades for Cole Hamels 

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
Cole HamelsAP Photo/John BazemoreMany teams would love to have Cole Hamels, but four teams have the best chance to get him.
The Phillies' rebuilding program really won't commence until they deal their most valuable asset, left-handed starting pitcher Cole Hamels, who is also the most valuable player on the trade market right now.

The Phillies probably will have to wait until free agents Max Scherzer and Jon Lester have found new homes before they find the right trade partner, but that won't stop Phillies GM Ruben Amaro from laying the groundwork between now and then. Hamels, 30, is one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball and is coming off another sensational year (6.6 WAR, 2.46 ERA, 3.07 FIP and 1.15 WHIP in 30 starts). His contract is also club-friendly, with four years remaining at a fair market value of $22.5 million per season.

One of the problems the Phillies have to deal with, however, is Hamels has 20 teams on his no-trade list, which leaves just nine teams. He might be willing to waive it for certain clubs, especially if they agree to pick up his option year or if he is given some type of assignment bonus, but the Phillies also have a limited market of teams that both can afford to take on Hamels' contract and have the top prospects to send back in this magnitude of a deal.

Although there are other possibilities, the Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers and Red Sox are probably the four teams that match up the best with the Phillies.

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Top 10 players most likely to be traded 

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
Cole Hamels and Yoenis CespedesGetty ImagesCole Hamels and Yoenis Cespedes are two players who could be dealt this offseason.
Get ready for a busy MLB offseason. Here is a ranking of the 10 players who I think are the most likely to be traded, from the most likely (No. 1) to the least likely (No. 10) among the group.

1. Cole Hamels, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies' rebuilding program doesn't officially begin until they deal their biggest trade asset in Hamels, who is also the player (among those available) with the most trade value in baseball right now.

Hamels, 30, is coming off his fifth consecutive year of 200 innings pitched and his lowest ERA (2.46) in his career. He has four years and $90 million remaining on his contract, with a team or vesting option at either $20 million or $24 million. The challenge for the Phillies with regard to dealing him is two-fold: Hamels has a 20-team no-trade list, and only a few of those remaining nine teams have enough in their farm system to satisfy the Phillies with three top prospects. However, once free agents Max Scherzer and Jon Lester find new homes, the interested teams that lose out will certainly be considering Hamels.

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Robinson Cano Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsBowden's spoiler alert: GM Jack Zduriencik, Robinson Cano and Co. will make the playoffs in 2015.
The Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets fell short of the playoffs this season. In fact, the Mets fell well short.

But I predict all three of these teams will make the playoffs in 2015.

Granted, these early predictions are based on the assumption that all three organizations will add the necessary two to three pieces they need this offseason, because all three are that close to playing October baseball, just as the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles were at this time a year ago, when I predicted all three would make the playoffs (which they did).

The Mariners, Indians and Mets have more in common than you might realize. First of all, they all have the starting rotations in place to win next year without having to make a single move this winter. Second, they all need more offense in the middle of their lineups and have the trade weapons and/or cash to make these necessary acquisitions. Third, they all have enough in their farm systems to withstand in-season injuries or to trade to fill their needs.

So let's examine what went wrong for these three teams this year and why they should eclipse their 2014 performances in 2015:

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners made huge strides in 2014, finishing with a record of 87-75, only one game out of the second wild-card spot and just two games behind the eventual AL pennant winner Royals.

The Mariners' pitching staff led the American League in ERA and opponents' batting average-against while also finishing in the top five in WHIP, saves and strikeouts.

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Why Cubs rank 4th in Future Power Ranks 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
Theo Epstein and Jed HoyerAP Images/Nam Y. HuhJed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have put together a nucleus that could have a long run of greatness.
The Chicago Cubs have had five consecutive losing seasons and haven't been to the playoffs since 2008. So why do they jump to fourth in our Future Power Ranks? Because things are changing on the North Side, and it's almost "go time" for this franchise. The Cubs are amassing all the necessary elements to become a world championship organization, and they're being built the right way, from top to bottom.

Team president Theo Epstein arrived in the Windy City in October 2011 after leading the Boston Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, ending an 86-year title drought and ridding the franchise of the "Curse of the Bambino" in the process. He came to Chicago with a clear blueprint on how he wanted to build the Cubs, and he hasn't deviated from it. The long-term plan he put in place normally takes 7-8 years based on the history of teams that have built from the ground up, such as the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins. However, it appears Epstein is ahead of schedule, as it looks like the Cubs will be ready to start winning in 2015 and be a legitimate contender by 2016.

The Cubs have one of the best front offices in baseball, led by Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, senior VP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod and one of the strongest scouting and player development departments in baseball, possessing elite evaluators and teachers.

[+] EnlargeJoe Maddon
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJoe Maddon reportedly is all set to sign on as the manager of the Cubs.
They have been missing an elite manager since Lou Piniella's decision to retire back in August 2010, but that's about to change soon; the Cubs are close to officially announcing Joe Maddon's long-term contract to manage the team.

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What's next for the San Francisco Giants? 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
Pablo Sandoval, Jake PeavyGetty ImagesThird baseman Pablo Sandoval and pitcher Jake Peavy are expected to become free agents soon.
What's next for the San Francisco Giants? Well, how 'bout a parade back in San Fran, with the expectation that starting pitcher Jake Peavy will buy a trolley to ride in the parade. (He rode a duck boat last year to celebrate the Red Sox's World Series win in their parade.) After the parade, the Giants will prepare for speaking engagements, vacations and an eventual trip to the White House to celebrate their third championship in five years.

In terms of baseball operations, there's a lot of work ahead for GM Brian Sabean, assistant GM Bobby Evans and manager Bruce Bochy. On the top of the their list is trying to retain their key free agents, starting with third baseman Pablo Sandoval, starting pitchers Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, and setup reliever Sergio Romo. Both Sabean and Evans told me they didn't think they could afford to bring them all back, and Sabean added that the team's payroll will not spike in 2015 despite the World Series win. Evans said it might come down to what players want to return the most and are willing to accept salaries within the team's budget.

Sandoval will be the team's top priority, but it will not be an easy sign after baseball's new Mr. October dominated the postseason once again.

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What's next for the Kansas City Royals? 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
James Shields and Billy ButlerUSA TODAY SportsTwo key Royals players, James Shields and Billy Butler, are expected to hit the free-agent market.
The Kansas City Royals' immediate concern will be the impending free agency of both right-handed pitcher James Shields and DH/1B Billy Butler.

The team has said all the right things about Shields, that it would like him back and will make a sincere effort to bring him back. However, the Royals also know that financially there's really no way to make it work. The bottom line is that Shields has pitched his last game for the Royals. The franchise took a lot of heat for its blockbuster deal to acquire him, but without him, Kansas City never would have made it to the World Series.

The Royals do have a chance of retaining Butler, but that might not be as easy as they think.

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Joe Maddon could land with the Cubs 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
With the news now official that Joe Maddon has opted out of his contract in Tampa Bay, there will be speculation that he could soon follow Andrew Friedman to Los Angeles. But there’s another team to watch here.

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Bowden buzz: Non-World Series teams 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Theo Epstein, Anthony RizzoDavid Banks/Getty ImagesThings are looking up for Theo Epstein and the Cubs, whp boast MLB's top farm system.
While the 2014 World Series featuring the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals is off to an auspicious start and looking like it's going to become a classic, the other 28 teams are busy preparing for the offseason by laying the groundwork for future trades, free-agent signings and, in some cases, stadium renovations.

Here is a quick look at buzz from around the league not involving the two World Series clubs:

• The Milwaukee Brewers have made it known that improving first base is an offseason priority. While their No. 1 target appears to be impending free agent Adam LaRoche of the Washington Nationals, they're also looking at all options who could be available, including Adam Lind of the Toronto Blue Jays, Ike Davis of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles and even Royals designated hitter Billy Butler, who proved in August he can be at least an average defender at first base. If the Nationals move Ryan Zimmerman to first base as expected and let LaRoche go, the Brewers could be the front-runners for his services.

• The Chicago Cubs are thrilled with the rapid development of two of their top picks in this year's draft, as Kyle Schwarber (first round) and Mark Zagunis (third round) were putting on a show offensively at the Instructional League.

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Value of impending FAs Sandoval, Shields 

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
Pablo SandovalGetty ImagesPablo Sandoval and James Shields are both expected to hit the free-agent market soon.
When the World Series is over between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants and all the champagne bottles have been popped, the general managers of the respective teams will not be able to enjoy their celebration or wallow in their mourning (in the case of the losing GM) for very long because each of them could be looking at a significant free-agent loss.

In the case of Giants GM Brian Sabean, it's third baseman Pablo Sandoval; for Royals GM Dayton Moore, it's the team's No. 1 starter, James Shields.

Let's look at where things stand right now:

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, age 28

The Giants have tried to extend Sandoval's contract on several occasions

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Ranking the World Series players, 1-50 

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
Royals and GiantsGetty ImagesThe Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants both have great roster depth.
With the start of the World Series just two days away, let's take a look at both rosters. Every year someone rises to the occasion and has a profound impact. It could be one of the team's stars, or it could be a role player called upon to do a specific task.

Here is my annual ranking of the 50 World Series players, putting all active players from the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants on one handy list. They are ranked based on their potential positive impact in the World Series only (not on their regular-season performances or their future potential). One final note: Position designations are pretty standard. However, I use RHR and LHR for relievers and RHS and LHS for starting pitchers.

1. Buster Posey, C, Giants
He's won the Rookie of the Year award in 2010 and the NL MVP award in 2012, and this is already his third World Series. He entered the poststeason on a tear, posting a .354/.403/.575 slash line in the second half.

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