Position players to watch this spring 

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
RamirezDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez makes the move to left field in Boston this year.
Infielders and outfielders have joined pitchers and catchers at spring training in Arizona and Florida, and the drama is ongoing. We are already monitoring injuries, position changes, trade rumors, comebacks and players with new teams. Here are 12 infielders and outfielders to keep an eye on during spring training:

1. Hanley Ramirez, LF, Boston Red Sox | Position change

The Red Sox reunited with Ramirez this offseason when they signed him to a four-year, $88 million contract. Now they have to hope they can keep him healthy and on the field, something that has derailed Ramirez most of his career. However, the biggest question surrounding him will be his move to left field.

Pitchers and catchers to watch this spring 

February, 22, 2015
Feb 22
Cliff Lee and Cole HamelsGetty ImagesPhillies pitchers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are two players worth tracking closely this spring.
Pitchers and catchers for nearly all MLB teams have reported by now, and the drama is ongoing. We are already monitoring injuries, trade rumors, comebacks and how players on new teams are fitting in. I'll be in Arizona and Florida at various times this spring, and here are 12 pitchers and catchers I'll be monitoring closely and talking to people about.

1. Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (trade candidate)

The Hamels trade talks are not going away. It's pretty simple: The Phillies must rebuild, and teams needing the final piece to get them to October will stay engaged with the Phillies, as well as scout Hamels' every appearance. Every pitch, everything being said and any soreness, normal or otherwise, will be overanalyzed by scouts and front offices. If there's an injury to a key pitcher or a top prospect doesn't look quite as promising, that's what will make a Hamels deal happen.

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Offseason report card for all teams 

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
Matt KempAndy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty ImagesA.J. Preller's acquisition of Matt Kemp was only part of a busy offseason for the Padres.
Report card time! With most of the offseason moves complete, it's time to check in and see how teams graded this offseason. My last check-in was Dec. 12, just after the crazy winter-meetings week of moves, but plenty has changed since then.

With that, here are my final offseason grades, including key additions and an explanation. I've ranked them from best grade to lowest:

1. San Diego Padres

Key additions: James Shields, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks

Padres GM A.J. Preller had perhaps the best offseason of any rookie GM in baseball history, wheeling and dealing while making San Diego not only relevant again but a serious contender for the NL West title or a wild-card berth.

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Best fits for three key free-agent relievers 

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
Francisco Rodriguez #57 of the Milwaukee BrewersMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesFrancisco Rodriguez led the National League in games finished (66), including 44 saves.
Major League Baseball officially opens spring training next week, when pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona. However, there are still some free agents without teams, including three valuable relievers in Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain.

The Milwaukee Brewers appear to be the team holding up the reliever market as they wait to see if they can work out a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for their closer, Jonathan Papelbon. If they conclude that it’s not going to happen -- for either financial or prospect-return reasons -- they are prepared to turn their attention to a reunion with Rodriguez. That won’t be an easy negotiation with the Boras Corporation, but should get done because K-Rod wants to return.

The Miami Marlins are the next team in line, and it appears they also are looking to add a reliever before next week.

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Teams that improved most this offseason 

February, 8, 2015
Feb 8
White SoxAP Photo/M. Spencer GreenJeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera were key acquisitions for the White Sox.
Several teams made key singular moves this offseason that could push them over the top and actually have more impact than the overhauls that other teams did. For instance, the Nationals' signing of Max Scherzer gives them the game's best and deepest starting rotation. The Mariners' signing of Nelson Cruz finally got them the right-handed power bat they needed between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the lineup. The Cardinals' trade for right fielder Jason Heyward gives them the game's best defensive right fielder.

These were some of the best moves, but which teams made the best series of moves to make their major league rosters drastically better this offseason? Here are my top five organizations

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ShieldsDenny Medley/USA TODAY SportsPitchers and catchers report in a couple of weeks, and James Shields remains a free agent.
Before the offseason began, I projected that James Shields would receive a five-year deal for around a $100 million (or a $20 million average annual value). But I also wrote that there was a question as to whether he would get that fifth year. I can answer that question now: He's not getting the fifth year.

As a former general manager, I can tell you that when a player gets to the first week of February unsigned, there's usually a good reason. If something were going to happen, it would have by then. Now Shields is looking at a four-year deal in the $70-$80 million range as the best possible result, and the price tag could be even lower than that.

There are still several clubs engaged with Shields, including the San Diego Padres, my current best guess to sign him. But the Miami Marlins and several other teams are in play, too.

Shields and his representatives overshot at the outset of free agency, and have been stubborn to come down. It has even been reported that his camp was claiming to have turned down a five-year, $110 million deal. If that’s true, it was a colossal blunder.

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Six managers already on the hot seat 

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
Ron Roenicke and Don MattinglyGetty ImagesManagers Ron Roenicke and Don Mattingly enter 2015 with immense pressure to win their divisions.
Major League Baseball's lack of job security in the game's most prominent roles is evident year after year, given all the pressure to win in a $9 billion business. And as pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training, there are already at least six major league managers who will arrive to camps in Arizona or Florida already on some type of hot seat with their leadership positions on the line.

Here are the top six managers that the industry believes are at the top of the hot seat list:

1. Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers were in first place for the first five months of the 2014 season but collapsed at the end, losing 25 of their final 36 games.

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James Shields, Rafael SorianoGetty ImagesJames Shields and Rafael Soriano check in as the top available free agents.
We're less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, and several free agents are still stranded on the market looking for jobs, or in most cases improved offers. The list of free agents has been pared down considerably since I posted my top 50 free agents and financial expectations for them, but some big names remain. Sooner or later, however, they will find new homes, and here's my opinion on where I think they'd fit best (i.e., not necessarily where they're currently rumored to land):

1. James Shields, SP

The Washington Nationals didn't even get involved in the Max Scherzer sweepstakes until the calendar turned to 2015, and according to multiple sources, Shields' market has changed as well. Some teams who had bowed out initially have stepped back into the fray with the suggestion that the asking price of five years for $110-120 million drop.

Several American League teams would be a nice fit for Shields, including the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rangers and Tigers.

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Bits: Hamels buzz, Desmond's status ... 

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
Hamels/DesmondGetty ImagesWho are the front-runners to trade for Cole Hamels, and will the Nationals trade Ian Desmond?
The latest on Cole Hamels, James Shields, a few key Nationals players, Yoan Moncada and others …

Hamels trade talks

The Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers are not the only teams in the mix for Hamels, as teams such as the Blue Jays, Cubs, Astros and Dodgers also have kicked the tires -- at varying levels of interest -- and have stayed in touch with the Phillies this offseason.

The Red Sox and Padres are considered the front-runners for him because they have the best match prospect-wise for the Phillies.

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Updated landing spots for Max Scherzer 

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
Max Scherzer Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesMax Scherzer will have a season-altering effect on whoever signs him. But who will that be?
Here we are in the middle of January and the industry’s No. 1 free agent, Max Scherzer, is still unsigned. So I spent this week checking with as many sources as possible, on teams and otherwise, to find out what is really going on with the elite starter.

I found mostly denials of involvement from teams we believe to be in the Scherzer sweepstakes, and then it dawned on me: Most of my sources are MLB team presidents, general managers, assistant general managers, managers, players and agents. Under Scott Boras, Scherzer's agent, modus operandi for players of this stature (in the $140 million to $200 million range) is to go directly to the owners. He knows that every GM would love to have Scherzer in their rotation; it just comes down to money, years and risk. It’s really an owner decision, not one made by the executives under them.

For most clubs, the GMs are in the loop at all times, but that's not always the case. Boras has always had carte blanche, access to meet with most owners directly in person or on the phone. Owners also know that GMs might recommend not signing Scherzer for economic reasons because of dollars or contract length, but owners want to win at the end of the day, too. They also know that Scherzer could be the difference in reaching the postseason. Therefore, as I went digging, although I couldn’t find a raging fire, I did find smoke, some smoldering and an occasional small fire.

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Players who benefit from 'non-moves' 

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12
Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada Getty ImagesShortstops Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada had a combined OPS of just .655 for the Mets in 2014.
General managers use the offseason to improve their teams at various positions via free agency, trades, waiver claims and international signings. This offseason, we've witnessed more player movement than we've seen in more than a decade, and aggressive GMs throughout the industry have addressed most of their teams' perceived weaknesses and offseason goals.

However, some GMs simply haven't been able to improve certain positions because they didn't match up well with trade partners, they lacked the financial resources in their budget to persuade free agents to sign with them or they just weren't willing to pay the price, in terms of player talent or dollars, to get the deals done.

When this happens, players get opportunities to win a job in spring training that we otherwise didn't think they'd have a shot for. Or in some cases, players simply get a second chance to prove they belong. Unfortunately, it might their last or only chance.

Here are several pairs of players who, at the moment, look like they will get an opportunity to compete for an everyday job because their teams weren't able to address that position this offseason:

1. Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada, SS, New York Mets

The Mets were very thorough this offseason, checking in on practically every available and unavailable shortstop in baseball.

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Missing link for every NL team 

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
ShieldsKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsSeveral NL teams could use a top-of-rotation starter such as free agent James Shields.
Just as I did with the American League on Wednesday, here's the missing link for each NL team and potential solutions:

Atlanta Braves

The Braves' offseason has been all about building for the opening of their new stadium in 2017. Braves GM John Hart has been active in rebuilding and reloading both the player development and scouting departments while doing a makeover of the major league team. The Braves traded two of their best players in Jason Heyward and Justin Upton after concluding they were not going to be able to extend their contracts until at least they reached free agency. Hart wasn't afraid to take huge gambles, including the acquisition of Max Fried, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, in the Upton deal.

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The missing link for every AL team 

January, 7, 2015
Jan 7
Ben Cherington and Billy BeaneGetty ImagesGMs Ben Cherington and Billy Beane have been busy this offseason, but they still have work left to do.
There have been a lot of trades and signings already this offseason, but there's still time for more. Here's the missing link for each AL team and potential solutions:

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have had a disappointing offseason after reaching the ALCS in 2014, including the loss of free agents Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. The Orioles are hoping the returns of Manny Machado (knee injury), Chris Davis (suspension) and Matt Wieters (elbow) will help make up for it, but losing Cruz and Markakis definitely hurt. The Orioles feel they showed great restraint by not overpaying to keep both players, which might help them in the long run but will definitely hurt them in 2015. They've failed so far to replace them, but they are still working on signing lesser free agents such as Colby Rasmus and Nori Aoki and continue to have trade conversations with the Dodgers regarding Andre Ethier.

Missing link: Corner outfield power bat
Possible solutions: Colby Rasmus, Nori Aoki, Andre Ethier

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have had a tremendous offseason, adding middle-of-the-order bats (Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez) and starting pitchers (Rick Porcello, Wade Miley). But they still lack a No. 1 starter. The good news is their farm system is loaded, and they have enough to make a run at Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto or Jordan Zimmermann if any of them are traded between now and the July trade deadline.

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Five hidden gems in offseason trades 

January, 5, 2015
Jan 5
Steven SouzaElsa/Getty ImagesIt's been a long time coming, but Steven Souza is ready to contribute at the big league level.
This has been one of the most exciting, whirlwind offseasons in recent memory, loaded with major trades. High-profile players such as Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Jason Heyward, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Jeff Samardzija have all been traded, creating quite a stir at water coolers and Starbucks throughout major league cities.

However, there also have been a number of lesser-known prospects with bright futures who could develop into significant major league players. Their development could eventually change our opinions on these deals, although that might be three years from now.

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Young stars who should be extended now 

December, 24, 2014
KluberNick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesIt might not be easy, but the Indians should look into signing Corey Kluber to a long-term extension.
In what has been one of the most exciting MLB offseasons in recent memory, GMs are now ready to shift their focus to resolving contracts for arbitration-eligible players and then to begin the process of inking their best young players to long-term deals. GMs will focus on these extensions starting now in the hopes of getting deals done prior to Opening Day so it doesn't become an in-season distraction.

It used to be that teams would wait to extend their star players until they were just a year away from free agency, but times have changed. Now that's too late. So they adjusted and began doing it two years out. Now clubs realize that in order to prevent their players from reaching free agency, they must begin the process three to five years out. With so many good young stars getting ready to hit free agency next fall, including Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond of the Nationals, Justin Upton of the Padres and David Price of the Tigers, it’s a reminder to GMs that it would be wise to try and sign their best young players now in order to: (1) avoid letting their stars hit free agency; and (2) save a significant amount of money.

Clubs prefer to have a long track record before awarding these multimillion-dollar deals, but nowadays they just don't have that luxury. Therefore, determining which players should get these deals and the risks that the clubs have to take is tricky. I am a believer that for position players, betting first and foremost on the hit tool is the least risky, though it's important these players don’t have huge holes and can handle the entire strike zone, different velocities and changing speeds of the game’s best pitchers. For pitchers, there is so much risk of injury these days that I would be comfortable signing only true aces.

Based on those criteria, here are the top seven players I think teams should try to extend between now and Opening Day:

1. Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians

Kluber would definitely be the most difficult of all the young players to sign, coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season.

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