The GM's Office: Baltimore Orioles

A large slate of games Monday offered glimpses of what could be an exciting 2014 season. There were unexpected performances (Alejandro De Aza's two home runs) and disappointing ones (Cliff Lee’s eight earned runs in five innings), too, as well as a walk-off win in Pittsburgh.

There’s still a long way to go for any of my bold predictions to play out, but here are my five best takeaways from Opening Day 2014.

1. So far, so good for Sizemore and Sox

Grady Sizemore was the best and biggest story of spring training, and he kept it going Opening Day with a single in his first at-bat and a long home run in his second.

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When will Trout's reign end? 

March, 27, 2014
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videoLos Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout clearly has established himself as the best player in Major League Baseball. He is ranked No. 1 in the "Baseball Tonight" 100, and he will be the favorite to remain on the top of this list for the next five years.

The rest of the top five will turn over, as there are a number of players who will move in and out over the next half-decade. Let’s have some fun and take a look at the guys who I think will populate the list of top-five players each year through the 2019 season.

Understand these lists are purely what I think could happen, and I'm assuming some amount of good health and luck during these five years, while hypothesizing some outcomes based on current performance and trajectory. I added some statistical projections courtesy of Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections system, just to give you a sense of what the stats say about these guys. In some case, I'm a bit more optimistic than the computer models.

Top 5 players in 2015 (projected via ZiPS)

1. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels (.289/.384/.505, 42 SB, 8.9 WAR)
2.

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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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Will MiddlebrooksRon Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsWill Middlebrooks will get a lot more at-bats if Stephen Drew isn't around.
General managers use the offseason to improve their team at various positions via free agency, trades and waiver claims. Some of these moves are significant upgrades, others are slight improvements.

Yet some general managers simply aren’t able to improve a position because they don’t match up well enough to get a trade done with the other clubs, or they don’t have enough money in their budget to persuade free agents to sign with them.

When this happens, a number of players get second chances or an opportunity to win the job in spring training. Here are five players who might benefit this season because their teams didn’t make a move:


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The missing link for every AL team 

January, 15, 2014
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Matt Garza AP Photo/Colin E. BraleyIf the Los Angeles Angels lose out on Masahiro Tanaka, they should go after Matt Garza.
On Tuesday, I focused on the missing piece for every National League team heading in to spring training, and today we turn our attention to the American League.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Houston Astros

Missing link: Pitching prospects
Solution: Trade 3B Matt Dominguez for prospects
The Astros are doing a masterful job of following the blueprint of general manager Jeff Luhnow, building through the draft and player development while mixing in a few veteran free agents who will have some trade value at the deadline.

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10 moves that still need to happen 

December, 17, 2013
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Matt Garza, C.J. WilsonGetty ImagesMatt Garza might look pretty good in the Angels' rotation with C.J. Wilson.
This has been a wild offseason so far, with blockbuster trades and free-agent signings taking place even before we got to Orlando for the Winter Meetings. Yet, with two weeks left in 2013, the free-agent and trade markets still have a lot of unfinished business.

As I look around the league, I can see 10 more moves that make a lot of sense and should to get done for their teams to remain viable contenders for 2014. Let's take a look:

1. Los Angeles Angels | Move: Sign free-agent RHP Matt Garza

The Angels have worked hard

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Offseason grades thus far: AL 

December, 14, 2013
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McCann & GirardiAP Photo/Seth WenigManager Joe Girardi was all smiles after the Yankees signed free-agent catcher Brian McCann.
Entering the offseason, the 2013 free agent class was generally regarded as one of the weaker ones in recent memory. Thus, most industry insiders were banking on a healthy trade market to develop and they were right.

In addition to the generous free-agent signings, blockbuster trades dominated the news, re-sculpting several teams in a single move. Here's how each American League team has done this winter, thus far. Mind you, there's still a long way to go, several big-name free agents to sign and blockbuster trades to make.

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Four trades for Jeff Samardzija 

December, 3, 2013
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Jeff SamardzijaJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJeff Samardzija's trade value is at its peak right now. Should the Cubs trade him?
Should the Chicago Cubs trade Jeff Samardzija?

Certainly their priority is to re-sign their ace right-hander to a long-term contract. However, if they enter the winter meetings without closure to negotiations with Samardzija, don’t be surprised if they deal him. As the rumor mill has probably told you by now, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer also have been checking the trade market to find out which avenue is best for their long-term goals.

With a free-agent market thin on top-of-the-rotation starters, Samardzija is arguably better than what’s available, including Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo. After Japan and MLB agree on a posting system, you possibly can add even Masahiro Tanaka to that list.

However, the Cubs don’t have to trade Samardzija -- they control him for two more seasons and have the ability to move him at the July trade deadline or next offseason. However, as we discussed with Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price, the 28-year-old Samardzija is entering his prime, as his trade value will likely never be higher.

Samardzija pitched a career-high 213 2/3 innings this season, finishing with a 4.34 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He has a nasty fastball in the 93-96 mph range, which he also cuts in the low 90s, with a hard slider (84 mph) and nasty split-finger fastball (also 84 mph). The repertoire says he should be a top-of-the-rotation type starter and in a new environment should reach that potential this upcoming season.

To deal him, however, the Cubs have to receive a significant package in return. And since their system is flush with elite hitting prospects but few pitchers, they would be looking to add elite arms in any major deal. So here are four trades for Samardzija that would make sense for the Cubs. If they can’t get this type of return, they should just hold on to him.

1. Baltimore Orioles trade RHP Kevin Gausman straight up

The Orioles’ window to win a World Series title with their present corps of stars will close over the next two seasons. And without a top-of-the-rotation starter, that’s going to be difficult.

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Five trades for Matt Wieters 

November, 22, 2013
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Matt Wieters is one of the best all-around catchers in baseball. The Baltimore Orioles’ 2007 first-round pick is entering what should be the prime years of his career. He is a 27-year-old switch-hitter, a two-time All-Star and has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last three seasons. He’s also a two-time Gold Glove Award winner who has thrown out at least 35 percent of runners trying to steal against him each of the last three seasons.

He’s arbitration-eligible right now and will be a free agent after the 2015 season. The Orioles would love to tie him up to a long-term contract extension. But with the industry’s revenue soaring along with player contracts, and Scott Boras as his agent, it’s unlikely the Orioles will be able to extend Wieters before he reaches free agency.

Therefore, Wieters’ trade value will never be higher than it is now.

Of course, the Orioles have a contending team, so trading Wieters doesn’t make much sense unless they’re able to get a top-level catcher back in a trade or they sign the best free-agent catcher on the market -- Brian McCann, who will cost much less than what Wieters will ask for on his next deal. The return for Wieters must include one of these four options:

1. Top-of-the-rotation starter
2. Corner outfielder with power
3. Impact second baseman
4. Prospect package to help rebuild a thin farm system

Here are some possible trade partners for the Orioles in a Wieters blockbuster deal.

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One deal for every AL team 

November, 19, 2013
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On Monday I offered up one move I'd like to see for every team in the National League, and today we will cover the AL clubs.


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These teams won't miss playoffs in 2014 

September, 27, 2013
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Jordan Zimmermann AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyJordan Zimmermann emerged as Washington's ace, which bodes well for 2014.
With the introduction of a second wild-card team in 2012, teams are in the postseason hunt later and longer than ever. Three teams in particular were expected to contend for a playoff berth but fell short for various reasons. What sets them apart is their potential to reach the postseason in 2014.

The Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles have the pieces to get there next season, but so do the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. However, the fates of the latter two teams are still pending, so for the purposes of this exercise, I didn’t include them.

So let’s examine what went wrong for these three teams this year and why they should eclipse their 2013 performances in 2014.

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Ranking aces of AL contenders 

September, 25, 2013
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On Monday, I ranked all the National League aces of postseason contenders. The list featured a mixture of young power arms and seasoned veterans with postseason experience. What's more important: ability or experience? While veteran savvy is important and can help to a point, as I wrote, velocity is effective. I lean toward the best and most successful power arms. Usually postseason teams have the best lineups in the game, so the best way to win is with velocity and pitch-ability.

With the postseason almost upon us, I've ranked the No. 1 starters on all the teams still mathematically alive for an AL playoff spot.

1. Max Scherzer | Detroit Tigers

20-3, 3.00 ERA, 230 K's, 0.97 WHIP
I asked Tigers manager Jim Leyland this week whether he would have believed me if I had told him in spring training Justin Verlander would be his third best starter come October? He responded with a resounding "No!" But that's exactly where the Tigers are, as both Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez have not only outpitched Verlander, but outpowered him, too, giving the Tigers arguably the best 1-2 punch in the AL this postseason. Scherzer is the frontrunner for AL Cy Young Award and his power fastball/slider combo and devastating changeup will be formidable in the postseason’s short series.

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10 X factors down the stretch 

September, 11, 2013
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With just two and a half weeks left in the regular season, we still have dramatic division races in the National League Central and American League West as well as an intense wild-card race in the AL where five teams are separated by just three games for the final playoff berth.

Most fans following these races will concentrate on the teams’ best players, such as Yadier Molina, Joey Votto, Yu Darvish and David Price. However, the reality is that the difference-makers aren't whom you would expect.

Here are 10 X factors to watch in the final few weeks of the season:

1. Billy Hamilton | Impact: Game-changing pinch runner

Hamilton is by far the fastest human to wear a Reds uniform since I was their general manager and acquired Deion Sanders from the Atlanta Braves for Roberto Kelly in 1994. Hamilton already is in the record books having stolen four bases in his first four major league appearances, and most impressively, his first two were against Molina, the game’s best defensive catcher.

Hamilton has a chance to affect the pennant race with his legs, bringing back memories of Dave Roberts’ stolen base in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.

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Major League Baseball is loaded with more impact stars who are non-arbitration eligible than the game has seen in decades. Although teams can control the salaries of these young stars for the first three years of their service time, it won’t be long before they become arbitration eligible and their salaries skyrocket to record-breaking levels.

The fact is that for young superstar players, the closer they get to free agency, the more likely they are to reach it. So smart teams are locking them up early and buying out their arbitration years in order to save money in the long run.

Signing their non-arbitration-eligible young stars to long-term contracts keeps the players relatively cost efficient. In turn, these young stars net millions of guaranteed dollars early in their careers, which sets them up for life and eliminates any injury and/or baseball risk. And everyone agrees that it’s difficult for a player in his early 20s to turn down approximately $100 million to instead wait four or five more years with the hopes of getting more. It’s a smart play for both the team and the player.

Before this type of action is taken, however, position players must prove to the team they can hit all types of pitches and can sufficiently counter all the adjustments pitchers have when facing them. Teams need to make sure these guys are two-way players (offensively and defensively), low medical risks and that their makeup and character fits the team in the long term. Clubs also have to make sure that long-term security won’t negatively impact these young players' work ethic, passion and will to be the best they can be.

It should be noted that two of the best young starting pitchers in baseball, Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins and Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, should also be under consideration for long-term deals if their respective teams aren’t afraid of the inherent injury risk that often accompanies pitchers.

The deliveries of both Harvey and Fernandez are so clean that both pitchers are solid bets to succeed and stay healthy. Both are No. 1 starters and, in my mind, represent the lowest risks of any non-arbitration-eligible pitchers in baseball. But to be clear, I am not a proponent of signing pitchers to long-term deals until they have logged at least four consecutive years of approximately 200 innings pitched without arm troubles.

Therefore, here are the six position players who match the criteria I laid out above. Their long-term contracts should avoid the three years of salary arbitration and tie up at least two years of free agency, ending no later than when the players are between the ages of 30 and 32.

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Grading the GMs at the deadline 

July, 31, 2013
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While many people are going to say this year's trade deadline was a bit of a dud, there were still plenty of deals made. Here's the way I would grade how every GM did leading up to the deadline, but please keep in mind that sometimes standing pat is the best course of action, and some GMs who did very little still received good grades.

So here are the grades for every GM, with the teams listed in alphabetical order.

Kevin Towers, Arizona Diamondbacks

This was a team that I thought should stand pat, but they did make one notable move, shipping Ian Kennedy to San Diego for Joe Thatcher, pitching prospect Matt Stites and a competitive balance draft pick. Kennedy once looked like a potential No. 2 starter, but he's had a terrible year and would have been the odd man out in Arizona's deep rotation next year. Thatcher is one of the best situational lefties in the game, and he will come in handy against Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier in September, when the D-backs face the Dodgers seven times.

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