The GM's Office: Atlanta Braves

Mike Rizzo and Frank WrenAP PhotoWashington GM Mike Rizzo and Atlanta GM Frank Wren don't need to pull off a blockbuster this season.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The National League East has become a two-team race between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, with the second-place team still having a good chance to reel in one of the two wild-card berths. Neither team is expected to make a blockbuster deal by the trade deadline, but both are looking for the same thing: left-handed relief help and bench upgrades. Sometimes improving a team by inches rather than feet or yards can be the difference between making the postseason or going home.

The rest of the division should be sellers. The Marlins are hoping for enough wins between now and the deadline to become buyers, but realistically, they should be in sell mode. The Mets have Bartolo Colon and Daniel Murphy to offer in deals, while the Phillies should be open to trading every veteran on their roster.

In fact, the Phillies should be the center of attention between now and July 31 because there is not a "seller" in baseball with more talented difference-makers to trade. The difficult part for teams getting deals done with them will be dealing with all of the bad contracts, no-trade provisions and high return the Phillies are asking for in return.

With that in mind, let's take a look at where each team stands and who they should be looking to either acquire or trade away:


1. Washington Nationals: Buyers

Needs: Left-handed reliever and a bat off the bench.

Lefty reliever targets: Antonio Bastardo, Phillies; Neal Cotts, Rangers; Andrew Miller, Red Sox; James Russell, Cubs; Oliver Perez, Diamondbacks; Tony Sipp, Astros; Mike Dunn, Marlins.

Bench targets: Chris Carter, Astros; Chris Denorfia, Padres; Alejandro De Aza, White Sox; Jonny Gomes, Red Sox; Dayan Viciedo, White Sox; Jake Smolinski, Rangers; Mike Olt, Cubs; Drew Stubbs, Rockies.

What to expect: The Nationals don't need to make a move; they are the team to beat in the NL East and should be considered a legitimate World Series contender. They could stand to improve the two areas above, and I expect GM Mike Rizzo to upgrade one or the other by the trade deadline.

Trade I'd like to see happen: Right-handed pitching prospect Austin Voth to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for lefty reliever James Russell.
David Price Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesMany believe it's only a matter of time before David Price gets traded.
Over the course of July, Jim Bowden will be looking at a number of high-profile trade candidates and explain what it would take for certain clubs to acquire that player.

Player: David Price | LHP | Tampa Bay Rays
Possible destinations: St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays


St. Louis Cardinals

Why? The Cardinals have had a plethora of pitching injuries lately, including shoulder injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, a forearm injury to Kevin Siegrist, a hamstring injury to Joe Kelly and a back injury to Shelby Miller. A trade for Price would give them a postseason rotation of Price, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Wacha, a group that compares favorably to those in Los Angeles (the Dodgers) and D.C.

Who? The Rays will start by asking for outfield prospect Oscar Tavares. If they could get Wil Myers for James Shields, then Tavares for Price only makes sense. However, St. Louis GM John Mozeliak will say "no," as he will when Rays GM Andrew Friedman follows up with "how about Wacha?"

Then the conversation will get serious and the Cardinals will probably have to part with either right-hander Miller or Carlos Martinez, as well as left-hander Marco Gonzalez.

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Jeff SamardzijaScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWith Toronto desperately in need of pitching, Jeff Samardzija would fit in well.
General managers use the first two months of the season to evaluate their teams, then try to improve the team through trades or calling up top prospects in the next two months. Then they try to tweak the team with waiver deals and September call-ups in the last two months.

Given this, teams are mainly concentrating on the draft and don’t focus full-time on trades until after the draft (June 5-7). However, GMs still are talking to each other and laying the foundation for deals. This includes letting other GMs know their interest in a particular player and at least offer a fair chance to trade for that player. Many GMs are also letting other teams know exactly who’s available and who’s untouchable.

Most of the big trades happen between the All-Star Game and the July 31 trade deadline as well as in August via waiver deals. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t deals in May or June, and I like to think of these deals as "appetizer" trades, with the entrees coming closer to July 31. Often, these are minor deals, like when Chris Nelson was dealt from the Colorado Rockies to the New York Yankees last May. However, we sometimes get major deals in May.

For example, it was mid-May 1998 when the Dodgers traded Mike Piazza to the Marlins, who then traded him to the Mets a week later.

With 27 of the 30 teams within four games of the playoffs coming into the weekend, it is safe to assume there will be fewer teams "selling" than normal. More likely trades will be made between contenders that match up in roster depth and weaknesses.

Here are some possible "appetizer" trades I would like to see that would fill some important needs of these contending teams:

1. Toronto Blue Jays acquire RHP Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs

OK, this is not a traditional "appetizer" deal, and is more in line with those aforementioned Piazza deals. The Blue Jays lead the AL in home runs and are third in runs scored. They might have the best lineup in the AL East. However, for the Blue Jays to contend all season, they must make a trade for a starting pitcher.

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videoWith the season's first month in the books, rookies have quickly had significant impact on their teams. The New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals have new top-of-the-rotation rookie starters, the Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners are enjoying pleasant surprises in the back of their rotations, while the rookie shortstops of the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks are holding their own.

Once again, I'll be keeping track of this season's rookie class every month, which will be based on performance, scouting reports, advanced metrics, the players' actual development reports from the teams' general managers, managers and front office executives, as well as input from teammates and coaches who will comment on the players' intangibles from inside the clubhouses.

Without further delay, here are my top 10 rookies after the first month of the 2014 season. (Note: When I say a player's stock is "up" or "down," I'm referring to my expectations of him coming into the season.)

1. Masahiro Tanaka | RHP | Stock: Up
Tanaka went 24-0 for Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles last season and has continued his undefeated streak here in the United States.

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Manny MachadoBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsManny Machado is one of several young stars Jim Bowden would lock up long term now.
As baseball’s revenues continue to break records year over year, clubs are well aware that, based on baseball history, those revenues normally get passed right down to the players.

Indeed, we’ve recently seen a flurry of six-year contract extensions by clubs for non-arbitration-eligible players in the past few months, including:

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, $144.5 million
Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians, $23 million
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, $32.4 million
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays, $25.5 million
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians, $52.5 million

In addition to those six-year deals, there was also Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135 million extension, which is the longest contract in Braves history.

This proactive method benefits the team and the player. For the teams, they get to pre-emptively buy out some of the player's free-agent years, which should save them millions of dollars considering the ridiculous pace at which free-agent salaries are escalating. In exchange, the players receive lifetime security yet are still able to test the free-agent market again at a reasonably young age.

The Trout deal broke records at almost every aspect, and the Teheran and Archer deals were riskier because of pitchers’ greater chance of landing on the disabled list at some point in their six-year contract.

Gomes was the biggest gamble because he hasn’t established the track record the others did to justify committing those types of dollars. Regardless of the risk, clubs cannot ignore the opportunity to save so much money, making contracts such as these no-brainers.

When I look around the league, I see a number of other candidates for these kind of long-term deals. Here are nine pre-arbitration players I think teams would have a chance to lock up, plus four Boras Corp. clients who probably have very little chance to sign now -- Scott Boras almost always recommends his players hold out for free agency ASAP -- but should try anyway.

As always, agents will use recent deals as a framework when negotiating, and I've noted some recent deals that would provide a guideline for each player in question.

Non-arbitration-eligible players clubs should extend now

1. Manny Machado | 3B | Service time: 1+056 | Agent: MVP Sports

Note: Service time is as of Opening Day, and "1+056" means one year, 56 days.

Machado had offseason knee surgery and started the year on the disabled list, so of course the Orioles will need to make sure he is 100 percent upon his return before doing a deal. However, once he is back to full strength, they should be aggressive in getting him locked up. The time will never be better, the price and value never lower.

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10 undervalued fantasy targets 

February, 26, 2014
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Ryan BraunMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesDespite the Biogenesis scandal, don't forget about Ryan Braun, who could put up big numbers.
Most fantasy baseball players are going to have the usual suspects atop their draft boards: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen.

However, to "win" drafts, the key is to find the undervalued players. Perhaps a player is coming off of an injury-plagued campaign. Or he has perennially flown under the radar like Baltimore’s Chris Davis did for a couple of years before breaking out in 2013.

The one thing these undervalued targets all have in common is they’re coming off relatively poor seasons so a shrewd fantasy player could nab one or two at a lower draft slot than that player has traditionally had.

Here is a list of 10 players who I think will have significantly better seasons than they did in 2013. If you select them at the right spot, they could become difference-makers for your team.

1. Ryan Braun | RF | Milwaukee Brewers

Braun is coming off his worst season after being suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Certainly there are reasons to be concerned -- we don’t know if his career numbers were influenced by PED use, and he’s also switching positions.

I don't think Braun's success was a product of PEDs and believe he wants to prove that to the world.

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Simmons deal a steal for Atlanta 

February, 20, 2014
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The Atlanta Braves recently locked up Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel with long-term deals, and by adding Andrelton Simmons to that group with a seven-year, $58 million extension, they have identified what they believe is their long-term core.

As for the Simmons deal itself, there is no other way to put this: It is a fantastic bargain for the club.

The reason why this is such good value for the Braves is that they are signing Simmons for his spectacular defense, which typically costs less than offense, but I think he is going to develop into a much better hitter in time.

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Some players use spring training to get into playing shape, get their timing down, work on a new pitch or tweak their mechanics. Other players, however, know that time is running out, and if they have a poor spring, they could be out of a job.

Nothing is guaranteed during spring training, and that includes jobs. Here are seven players who are at risk of losing their jobs this spring.

1. Dan Uggla | 2B | Atlanta Braves

Uggla, 33, was a consistent performer from 2007 to '11, belting 30 home runs a season and playing a solid second base. He’s a three-time All-Star who signed a five-year, $62 million deal back in 2011.

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KimbrelPouya Dianat/Getty ImagesCraig Kimbrel has fanned 14.9 batters per nine innings over the past two seasons.
The Atlanta Braves have been locking up young talent left and right. In recent weeks they have given long-term contracts to Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran that bought out arbitration and free-agent years, and on Sunday they did the same with Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel and the club were headed toward a potentially contentious arbitration battle, but they avoided the hearing by agreeing to a four-year deal worth $42 million with a fifth-year team option valued at $13 million. The Braves have to be thrilled with this deal, and I bet execs from other clubs are pleased to see it, as well.

Braves win

Kimbrel is just 25 years old, and in each of the past two years he posted an ERA lower than Mariano Rivera ever did.

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When the Atlanta Braves signed first baseman Freddie Freeman to an eight-year, $135 million extension recently, I loved the deal.

Here was a team taking the expected revenue from the new stadium it will soon have and locking up a young position player who not only has a track record of success, but also has shown steady improvement. The deal continued the trend of teams locking up promising young players before they hit free agency in order to better control cost, and it also recognizes that salaries are only going to keep increasing along with revenues.

With that in mind, I can see why the Braves chose to give right-hander Julio Teheran a six-year extension -- reportedly worth $32.4 million -- with a team option for 2020, but I think Atlanta should have waited a little longer before locking up Teheran, and I question the decision to sign him now.

Unlike Freeman, Teheran does not have much of a track record.

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GM awards for best trades, signings 

February, 7, 2014
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Billy Beane and Brian CashmanGetty Images, AP PhotoBilly Beane and Brian Cashman enjoyed very fruitful offseasons.
I'm all packed with spring training just days away. So before I depart I thought it was time to give my offseason awards and hand out some hardware to the general managers for their offseason work.

BEST OFFSEASON -- BIG-MARKET GM: Brian Cashman | New York Yankees

It was the most expensive free-agent spending spree in baseball history when the Yankees committed a combined $438 million for 22 years of contracts to Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. The Yankees quickly rebuilt their outfield, catching and starting pitching with All-Star caliber players and imported the best overall talent of any team in baseball this offseason. They also get credit for walking away from Robinson Cano by refusing to acquiesce to 10 years and approximately $240 million for a player in his 30s.

Runners-up:
Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers:

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GM buzz: Latest on free agents 

February, 3, 2014
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Nelson Cruz Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsNelson Cruz is still looking for a home. Will he find one in Seattle?
With pitchers and catchers due to report to spring training in a couple of weeks, the rumor mill continues to churn because many quality free agents are still on the market, including: Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Paul Maholm, Stephen Drew and Nelson Cruz.

Why are so many players still on the market? Well, the agents and union have their theory, while the clubs have a different view. Multiple agents representing free agents who are still on the market told me over the weekend that they, as well as the players' union, are concerned that social networking and the media’s advanced coverage of the sport are hurting the market value of their clients.

Some even went so far as to suggest that teams are possibly violating the clause in the collective bargaining agreement that prevents clubs from influencing a free agent's market value by relaying to the media the offers they’ve made to free agents, and whether clubs plan to make an offer or decline to make an offer. Certainly media coverage of baseball’s offseason is the best it’s ever been, but these conclusions have very little merit when you look at the enormous contracts that were given out this offseason to the likes of Robinson Cano, Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka, among others.

On the other hand, general managers and assistant GMs have a different opinion. The majority believe the main reason so many free agents remain on the market is that all have some type of negative issue surrounding them, whether that's injury history, a performance-enhancing drug suspension, career inconsistency or draft-pick compensation. GMs also point to the agents’ inflated expectations in terms of years and dollars considering the risks associated with these players.

With that in mind, here’s the latest scuttlebutt from the front offices around the league.

Where will they land?

David Price is staying in Tampa. Rays GM Andrew Friedman has listened to every club that had a trade proposal for Price and came away knowing his best decision is to keep him and try to win this year.

The Rays know that trading Price at the deadline probably won’t be an option because the team will be in a pennant race, so it will be next offseason when he’s finally traded.

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The missing link for every NL team 

January, 14, 2014
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Clayton KershawAP Photo/Jeff RobersonThe Dodgers likely will cease chasing Masahiro Tanaka after Clayton Kershaw gets his extension.
For the vast majority of major league teams, pitchers and catchers will report to spring training exactly a month from now. Usually teams are simply fine-tuning their rosters, whether it's that last utility bench guy or an additional bullpen arm.

But with teams from both leagues waiting on the fate of free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, many teams still have significant moves they must make to shape their team into a championship club. What is the missing link for each team? On Tuesday I will focus on the National League teams and Wednesday I’ll present the American League.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks

Missing link: Top-of-the-rotation starter
Solution: Sign RHP Masahiro Tanaka or Ervin Santana or Matt Garza
Both general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson’s option years for 2015 were not picked up, leading Towers to admit that both are on the hot seat to win this year. Every move they’ve made this offseason has involved trading future assets for win-now results. With this type of pressure on him, Towers knows the best way to keep his job is to add an elite starter.

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Five teams with the best shot at Tanaka 

December, 25, 2013
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After weeks of drama, the Masahiro Tanaka posting saga is finally over. Rakuten, his team in Japan, has agreed to post him, and now all MLB teams have a chance to negotiate with him if they agree to put up the posting fee, which likely will max out at $20 million per the new posting rules. (If a team doesn't sign him, no fee is paid.)

Now the question is: Which team will get the prized right-hander? As far as I'm concerned, these are the five clubs with the best shot:

1. New York Yankees

The Yankees' top free-agent pitching target has always been Tanaka. Although their goal was to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, it was more of a goal than a mandate, as GM Brian Cashman explained to me during the winter meetings.

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Eight big names who could be traded 

December, 7, 2013
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David Price, Jeff Samardzija and Matt KempGetty ImagesDavid Price, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Kemp will keep the rumor mill churning.
General managers have been feasting this offseason on blockbuster trades and huge free-agent acquisitions. Some of the game’s biggest names -- Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann -- have new homes, as do major players such as Jim Johnson, David Freese, Doug Fister, Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Joe Nathan.

However, consider that the appetizer. The main course awaits at baseball’s annual winter meetings in Orlando. Expect to see another slew of big names swap teams. Here are eight players who are most likely to be on the move.

1. David Price | LHP | Tampa Bay Rays

I think the Rays most likely will trade Price during the winter meetings. While they have the option of waiting until next July’s trade deadline or even next offseason if they don’t get the prospect package they’re looking for, their history says he’s gone.

The Rays will likely be in the pennant race by July so it will be difficult to trade Price at that point. The 2014 offseason is just too late to trade him considering Price’s value would be much lower because his new club would only control him for one season and thus net a correspondingly lower trade package. And an extension simply is cost prohibitive based on the present market.

But where will he go? After acquiring Wil Myers in the deal for James Shields last year, executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman will insist on a prospect of at least the same caliber, but this time around will prefer a starting pitching prospect who could develop into a No. 1 starter.

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