Most likely landing spots for Max Scherzer 

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Max ScherzerBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsMax Scherzer went 18-5 with 252 strikeouts and a 3.15 ERA with the Tigers in 2014.
Max Scherzer is considered the No. 1 free agent in this year's class and is expected to get the largest contract of the offseason. In fact, I predicted he will get a seven-year, $189 million deal, a prediction I stand behind despite the fact that he is asking for at least $200 million.

The 30-year-old Scherzer is 91-50 in his career with a 3.58 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. However, it's his performance over the past three years that has separated him from his colleagues. He has become a true ace, with an average wins above replacement of 5.6, which essentially means he alone turns an 88-win team into a 94-win team and a 94-win team into a true championship contender. Scherzer has won 39 games over the past two years, the most of any American League pitcher, with a 3.02 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 10.2 K's per nine innings.

His fastball remains in the 92-95 mph range, and he has a hard, nasty slider, a deceptive changeup and an impressive curveball. He can throw all of his pitches in any count for strikes and has learned how to keep hitters off-balance, with the ability to punch them out with any pitch in his repertoire. He has struck out a staggering 723 hitters over the past three seasons.

Still not impressed? Maybe you need to hear the spiel being laid out by his agent, Scott Boras, who compares him to Peyton Manning. While that's an absurd comparison, Boras certainly makes a strong case as to why the two compare favorably. The bottom line is that Scherzer is an ace and a difference-maker for any team that signs him.

Teams should be lined up for his services. But they're not. One prominent GM told me this week it's due to his asking price and contract length.

"He’s looking for too many years and too much money for the injury risk of any pitcher," said the GM, "let alone a right-hander with a power arm and that type of delivery.”

Only a few teams can afford him, but many of them are passing either because of price, risk or budget constraints.

Five potential trades for Justin Upton 

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
UptonScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWith just one year remaining on his contract, Justin Upton has been the subject of recent trade talks.
When the offseason began, many insiders believed a trio of power-hitting outfielders would be dealt, including former Dodger Matt Kemp, former Red Sox left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and the Braves' Justin Upton. Kemp already has been traded (to the Padres), as has Cespedes (to the Tigers) … now we wait to see where the Braves trade Upton.

At age 27, Upton is just entering his prime years after another solid season (.270/.342/.491, 34 doubles, 29 home runs, 102 RBIs). The Braves would love to sign him long term, but with the recent signing of Giancarlo Stanton and the Braves' own signing of Freddie Freeman, the market has quickly inflated in terms of both years and dollars, which lessens the Braves' chances of retaining him. Atlanta also has Evan Gattis, who can play catcher and left field (albeit below average) and whom they control for five more seasons. If the Braves are unable to extend Upton, the smart business decision would be to trade Gattis as well. The team would take a step back in 2015, but the Braves would be building a squad that is ready to win when their new ballpark opens in 2017.

The Braves are ideally looking for young starting pitching and a second base upgrade in return for Upton, but like any other trade scenario, they're more concerned about the overall talent, affordability and controllability coming back in this type of transaction.

There are at least five clubs that remain interested in Upton, and here's an idea of what the return would look like with each of those teams:

1. San Diego Padres

Padres rookie GM A.J. Preller is focused on improving the Padres' lineup for 2015 and is off to a great start in landing Kemp.

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Offseason grades thus far for all 30 teams 

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
Andrew Friedman and Theo EpsteinGetty ImagesAndrew Friedman (Dodgers) and Theo Epstein (Cubs) were busy during the winter meetings.
With the (transaction-filled) winter meetings complete, it's time to check in on how teams have done so far this offseason. Below, each team received a letter grade, with explanation. There's plenty of action left to happen, of course, but with the number of moves already made, it's time for a "mid-offseason" progress report.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles -- Grade: D

The Orioles have made no signings or trades this offseason. They weren't willing to go four years on Nelson Cruz and were concerned enough about Nick Markakis' neck situation that they let both players go via free agency. The Orioles have been working hard to replace at least one of them -- they have been in contact with the Phillies on Marlon Byrd and with free agent Michael Morse -- but so far have fallen short. For a team that was just in the ALCS, it has been a disappointing offseason.

Boston Red Sox -- Grade: B
The Red Sox flubbed the Jon Lester situation, losing him to the Cubs. However, they have solved third base with one of the game's best postseason performers in Pablo Sandoval and added an impact middle-of-the-order bat in Hanley Ramirez.

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And the next dominoes to fall will be ... 

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesWith Jon Lester unavailable, teams in need of starting pitching can now focus in on James Shields.
Now that Jon Lester has decided to call Chicago home, agreeing to a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs, it's time for the next dominoes to fall.

What's next on the agenda? The players below have been waiting patiently for one of the "big fishes" on the MLB free-agent market to decide on a destination, and now have a bit more clarity on what the market looks like.

James Shields, SP, free agent

So why isn't Max Scherzer the next domino to fall? Well, Scherzer is the top free agent on the market, but he's also a client of Scott Boras, who is notorious for waiting on the market to fully establish itself. Besides, the Tigers and Yankees are still the overwhelming favorites for him.

So Shields would be the next domino.

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Executives under the most pressure 

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
Andrew FriedmanKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDodgers president Andrew Friedman will be under pressure at this year's winter meetings.
With baseball's winter meetings set to begin in San Diego, here are the five executives who are under the most pressure:

1. Andrew Friedman, Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers ownership decided they were going to put together the most expensive baseball operations department in the history of the sport, to couple with the game's biggest player payroll. With that comes the most pressure of any front office in the game.

Friedman’s rookie offseason with the Dodgers has seen the exit of Hanley Ramirez, and some smaller acquisitions, including trades that brought in pitchers Juan Nicasio and Joel Peralta and outfielders Chris Heisey and Kyle Jensen. On the surface, these moves look more like small-market deals than the Hollywood blockbusters that would help the team improve after a 94-win season.

The Dodgers have to move Andre Ethier at these meetings to finally eradicate the crowded outfield problem, and must also fill the need of a stopgap shortstop until top prospect Corey Seager is ready.

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Team-by-team winter meetings checklist 

December, 5, 2014
Dec 5
Ben Cherington and Theo EpsteinGetty ImagesBen Cherington (Red Sox) and Theo Epstein (Cubs) figure to be busy at the MLB winter meetings.
With the MLB winter meetings right around the corner, there's no better time to check in and look at where all 30 MLB teams stand as of now.

Below we examine each team, using five categories: biggest needs, the current free agents they could be interested in, players they might be interested in trading for, their players on the block and their "aggressiveness scale," which is how aggressive we expect each team to be at the winter meetings only, with 1 being least aggressive and 10 being most aggressive.

Baltimore Orioles

Biggest team needs: Outfield and bullpen help

Free agents they could be interested in: Melky Cabrera, Andrew Miller, Colby Rasmus, Michael Morse, Norichika Aoki, Alex Rios, Delmon Young, Kendrys Morales, Luke Gregerson, Sergio Romo, Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Janssen, Pat Neshek, Jason Grilli

Trade options: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Dayan Viciedo, Brandon Moss, Dexter Fowler, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Nick Swisher, Marlon Byrd

Players on the block: Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Davis

Aggressiveness scale: 6

Boston Red Sox

Biggest team needs: Starting pitcher, catcher and bullpen depth

Free agents they could be interested in:

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Upcoming hitter FAs who could be traded 

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
Chris Davis and Matt WietersAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChris Davis, center, and Matt Wieters, right, are both candidates to be traded in 2015.
Much of the talk these days is about the current crop of free agents, but what about next year's crop? Those players could be in demand via trade between now and the July 31 trade deadline. On Tuesday, we looked at top-10 pitchers set to be free agents after the 2015 season who could be traded, and here are the top 10 hitters set to be free agents 11 months from now who could be traded in the coming months.

1. Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves

Braves general manager John Hart told me on my SiriusXM radio show Sunday that he hasn't made a single phone call about trading Upton and doesn't plan to. However, he also said he would listen like he does on all players. I can't imagine what the Braves would look like without Upton in the middle of their lineup, but if they can't extend him, they might have to trade him, just as they did with Jason Heyward: for a package of major league players they can control past this year and set them up for the opening of their new stadium in 2017.

2. Jason Heyward, RF, St. Louis Cardinals

Speaking of Heyward, the Cardinals plan on doing everything they can to sign him to a long-term deal after trading four years of control of Shelby Miller to the Braves.

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2015 FAs who could be traded: Pitchers 

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
CuetoAnthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports Johnny Cueto is one of many fine pitchers set to hit the free-agent market after the 2015 season.
Much of the talk these days is about the current crop of free agents, but what about next year's crop? Those players could be in demand via trade between now and the July 31 trade deadline. With that, here are the top 10 pitchers set to be free agents after the 2015 season who could be traded. I'll follow up with the top 10 hitters Wednesday.

1. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

It would be hard for me to believe that the Reds organization would commit to Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce but not leave enough in the checking account for Cueto, their staff ace. But with salaries soaring, it's possible the Reds feel they can't put another $140 million on their books. Therefore, they might listen now and trade him by July if they can't get an extension done in the meantime.

2. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Washington Nationals

The Nationals have tried for three years to extend Zimmermann's contract, without success.

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Potential winter meetings trades 

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
 James Paxton,  Jean Segura, and Matt KempGetty ImagesCould there be a trade involving James Paxton, Jean Segura and Matt Kemp?
As we are just a week away from the Major League Baseball winter meetings in San Diego, we are reminded of how much fun trading can be -- particularly when clubs get together to make three-way blockbusters.

It was just five years ago at the winter meetings in Indianapolis when the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees came together in one of baseball’s biggest three-way deals.

In that three-way transaction, the Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks and Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. The Diamondbacks sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers. The Yankees sent Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Tigers, and Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks. The Tigers came away with one of baseball’s best pitchers in Scherzer, who would win a Cy Young Award, and center fielder Jackson -- who would later be used to land another former Cy Young Award winner in David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Could there be another three-way deal that occurs at this year’s winter meetings? It’s very possible. Here are three potential trades that would make sense:

Seattle Mariners | Los Angeles Dodgers | Milwaukee Brewers

Dodgers acquire:

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Top targets, fallback options for all teams 

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
David Robertson, Jon LesterUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesWhich teams would list David Robertson or Jon Lester as their top targets this offseason?
A look at the top target(s) and fallback options for every MLB team:

AL East

Baltimore Orioles' top targets: Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis

The Orioles are focused on just keeping their own players and have a four-year offer on the table for Markakis and a three-year offer out there for Cruz. Now it's just a matter of seeing how the market unfolds and whether the two hitters will accept the deals, or whether any adjustments need to made.

Fallback options: Melky Cabrera, Justin Upton, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter

Boston Red Sox's top target: Jon Lester

The Red Sox solve their lineup issues with the signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez; now they turn their attention to their starting rotation, where they are committed to acquiring at least two pitchers.

Fallback options: Cole Hamels, James Shields, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Wade Miley, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Samardzija

New York Yankees' top target: Max Scherzer

The Yankees are telling everyone their focus is on signing Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy and not a top free agent such as Scherzer, but that's hard to believe, especially with the Red Sox agreeing to terms with both Hanley and Sandoval and being in pursuit of Lester and/or Hamels.

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How do the Giants replace Sandoval? 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
Brian SabeanChristopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsGiants GM Brian Sabean might have to be creative in figuring out a way to replace Pablo Sandoval.
The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series every other year since 2010,
and the departure of Pablo Sandoval to the Boston Red Sox via free agency makes it even more likely the Giants will continue that pattern of not being able to repeat as champs. But don't tell that to GM Brian Sabean or manager Bruce Bochy, who plan to get to work immediately on replacing Sandoval's bat in the middle of their lineup while improving or maintaining the starting rotation and the depth in their bullpen.

The Giants can go in many different directions here with both left field and third base now in need of a big bat. Their first option is free-agent Cuban defector Yasmani Tomas, whom the team is in the bidding process for.

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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.

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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
Major 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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