The GM's Office: Chicago Cubs

Jorge De La RosaAP Photo/Joe MahoneyRockies LHP Jorge De La Rosa could make an excellent addition for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The National League Central has the best four-team race in baseball, with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds all battling for either a division title or a wild-card berth.

And so, with the exception of the Chicago Cubs, every team in the division will likely be buyers at the deadline. The Reds are unique in that they are the only team that really needs to make a significant trade to stay in the race. They'll be looking for a bat. The Brewers, on the other hand, need only an extra bullpen arm, while the Pirates and Cardinals are searching for starting pitching help.

Outside of bullpen arms and bench pieces, the Cubs don't have much left to sell.

I wouldn't expect a blockbuster deal to come out of this division over the next week. Still, I think the NL Central will be active with some smaller deals. Here's the breakdown of what might be coming.
Jason HammelMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesJason Hammel has a career-best 4.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season.
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. Note that this file was posted prior to the trade sending Hammel to the Athletics along with Jeff Samardzija in exchange for Addisson Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily.

Player: Jason Hammel | RHP | Chicago Cubs
Possible destinations: New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners


New York Yankees

Why: Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has made it clear that he’s prepared to open the checkbook to acquire a starting pitcher to help the Yankees' chances of making the postseason in Derek Jeter's final season.

Michael Pineda won't return until August (at the earliest), there is no guarantee CC Sabathia will be effective when he returns later this month, and Vidal Nuno has been mediocre at best. In other words, a rotation upgrade has become a necessity.

GM Brian Cashman has been speed-dialing his peers on a daily basis trying to add a starter sooner rather than later.

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Rookie Rankings: Tanaka dominating 

June, 20, 2014
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 Masahiro TanakaAP Photo/Kathy WillensIt's been all thumbs up for Masahiro Tanaka this season.
As we near the halfway point in the season, a dozen rookies are having impact upon their pennant-chasing teams thus far. Let's look at my latest rankings and assess the best of the 2014 rookie class.

1. Masahiro Tanaka | RHP | New York Yankees
If the season ended today, Tanaka would win both the AL Cy Young Award and the AL Rookie of the Year Award. I also expect him to start the All-Star Game for the American League if he continues to pitch at this level. Tanaka has been brilliant -- his split-fingered fastball already is the best in the sport, and his late life and command is special, especially when coupled with his vastly underrated secondary pitches.

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Kris BryantTony Farlow/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesCubs prospect Kris Bryant won't be seeing the majors anytime soon.
Perhaps the most obvious reason a top prospect isn't called up to the big leagues is he's simply not ready. For others, serious injuries have derailed their timeline to the big leagues, such as Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins), Archie Bradley (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Addison Russell (Oakland Athletics).

Then there those prospects who are major league-ready but won't be brought up until mid-to-late June simply because their clubs want to ensure they don't qualify for Super Two status. This refers to their major league service time, which would allow them to become arbitration-eligible at the end of the 2016 season, as opposed to 2017. Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Andrew Heaney (Miami Marlins) are prime examples of this phenomenon.

As much as fans might want to see their teams' top prospects, a few who simply won't be in the big leagues anytime soon, regardless of injury or service time. Here are five:

1. Kris Bryant | 3B | Chicago Cubs

Just 12 months ago I said the Astros should draft Bryant as the first overall pick.

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A GM makes the top 10 picks 

May, 28, 2014
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As fans of Insider's NFL draft coverage know, Mel Kiper likes to do what he calls the "Grade A" draft, in which he puts himself in the GM's seat for every team and makes a first-round pick for each. I decided it would be fun to try something similar for the first 10 picks of the MLB draft.

The ground rules are simple: At each slot, I make a pick in the best interest of the team holding the pick. I won't pass on a player at No. 5 just because I like how he fits better at No. 7. This is not a projection. If you want that, check out Keith Law's mock draft from Tuesday.

A general manager's involvement

There is a common misconception that the GM makes the selection of a team's draft picks. In fact, with nearly every team, it's the scouting director who makes the call in consultation with the GM.

Usually, the GMs of teams picking in the top 10 will go out and see the elite prospects and settle debates at the top of the draft board. Most organizations will say their philosophy is to take the best player on the board, but very few do. For example, a team needing pitching at the major league level might move a college pitcher up on the board a few places to take him. And some teams will bypass players for financial, medical or makeup reasons. I've tried to incorporate that mindset into my picks.

These selections were based mostly on talking with more than a dozen general managers and scouting directors, but I've also watched video of a number of the top prospects. This year's draft doesn't feature a generational talent like Bryce Harper, but it is deep, and there are roughly a dozen players who will get serious consideration for picks No. 5 through 10.




1. Houston Astros | Pick: Carlos Rodon | LHP | NC State

Without a top-notch bat to debate in this spot, the Astros should take one of the top three pitchers in Rodon, Brady Aiken or Tyler Kolek.

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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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Seven bold predictions for 2014 

March, 29, 2014
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Cliff Lee Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesCliff Lee has a lot to be worried about if things go sideways for the Phillies.
With the start of the 2014 season upon us, it's time to take a guess at what might happen this year.

In this space last season, I predicted that Yasiel Puig would become an instant hit in Los Angeles and envisioned a last-place finish for the New York Yankees. Although the Yankees did not end up in the AL East cellar, they definitely fell off, and "Puigmania" did indeed ensue. So here are seven predictions I'm making for 2014.

1. Phillies finish last in the NL East

The Philadelphia Phillies might not have the worst roster in baseball, but they do have the oldest, and it's a team that has been on a steady decline for the past few years.

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When will Trout's reign end? 

March, 27, 2014
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Los 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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MLB has never had more parity 

March, 15, 2014
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One of the main purposes of ESPN Insider's Future Power Rankings is to offer fans hope.

Even if your team is bad now, it might be really good in three years. The rankings are designed to peer into the projected future. However, this year’s FPR also illustrated something else: baseball has achieved a tremendous amount of parity. If you look at the overall scores, you'll see that the gap between No. 1 and No. 5 (25.8 points) is larger than the gap between No. 5 and No. 25 (23.8). This kind of parity keeps fans’ hopes alive because, year to year, any team could be that surprise contender.

The rankings showed there were four elite teams with scores well above the average: the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers. Conversely, there was a significant drop to the last four teams: the Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins. But what about that middle 22 teams?

For fans celebrating their teams ranked just below the elite at fifth or sixth, not so fast. For fans upset their teams ranked as low as 24th or 25th, not to worry. The reality is, there isn’t much difference between the fifth-ranked team and the 26th-ranked team, thanks to this new competitive balance. Any of the teams within this range can easily move up or down within a year with some solid moves and decisions.

But how did baseball create such competitive balance so quickly?

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Buzz: Baez and Bryant's MLB timetables 

March, 13, 2014
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Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonCubs fans could see top prospect Javier Baez in the majors as early as June.
PHOENIX -- Just 90 miles of Interstate 94 separates the North Side of Chicago and Milwaukee. Fans in other parts of the country might not have noticed, but a nice little geographic rivalry has developed between the Brewers and Cubs.

However, instead of competing for the NL Central crown as they did four or five years ago, last season the two clubs jockeyed to simply stay out of the cellar. This season the clubs are going in opposite directions; the Brewers could compete for a wild-card berth, while the Cubs probably are looking at 90 or more losses.

Here’s a look at both the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, and the buzz surrounding their spring training camps.

Chicago Cubs

• The Cubs’ plan is to start top shortstop prospect Javier Baez in Triple-A. If he tears it up, they will call him up in June after he no longer is eligible for Super Two status.

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10 guys scouts are raving about 

March, 10, 2014
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Ryan ZimmermanGreg Fiume/Getty ImagesRyan Zimmerman's shoulder is finally healthy, which should help him at third and at the plate.

While you never like to put too much stock in spring training performance, there is no question that scouts, coaches and execs take notice when a player looks particularly good during camp. I'm not talking about the stat sheet, but rather their actions on the field, which could be anything from their swing, to their fastball, to the way they move.

Here are 10 players who have evaluators excited this year.

1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals

Zimmerman is taking some grounders at first base this spring, but that is only to give the Nationals more lineup flexibility when a left-hander is on the mound. He looks great at third this spring and his arm strength has returned. This will allow him to once again play a deeper third base and restore his inclusion within any Gold Glove conversation. More important for fantasy players, with a healthy right shoulder for the first time in years, they should anticipate a return to his 2009 numbers.

2. Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants

Around the trade deadline last July, Belt made some significant changes at the plate.

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Rookies I can't wait to scout this spring 

February, 12, 2014
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Every year at spring training there is a lot of focus on the star players who switched teams, with Robinson Cano being a prime example this year. However, what I am most excited about for this spring is the chance to scout some of the game's top rookies.

It’s fun to watch young players develop in real time, and to see if they can do enough to convince their managers and GMs to take them up north. It’s a time when the game’s best evaluators get a taste of just how good some young players can be.

So here are 10 rookies I am looking forward to scouting during spring training. And trust me, just getting the list down to 10 was not easy.

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Post-Tanaka moves that will happen 

January, 22, 2014
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As you have probably heard by now, Masahiro Tanaka has agreed to a seven-year, $155 million contract with the New York Yankees. As Buster Olney noted Wednesday morning, this won’t necessarily set off the free-agent dominoes, but the deal does have serious implications for the suitors that missed out on Tanaka -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels -- as well as the remaining free-agent pitchers.

Here’s how I see things playing out from here.

1. Angels and D-backs will battle for Garza

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BeltranAP Photo/John MinchilloWith FAs like Carlos Beltran, it will be tough for the Yankees to stay below the tax threshold.
Some big free-agent names were signed over the holiday season, but that doesn't mean the market is dried up. With many teams waiting on the final destination of Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, several quality free-agent pitchers remain, as well as some trade possibilities.

Plenty of big moves are still likely to come. So, here are my 10 bold predictions of the rest of the offseason. Not all are personnel related, but most will have significant impact on teams or the game itself.

1. New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels go over the luxury-tax threshold
The Yankees have worked hard over the last couple of seasons to try and keep their payroll below $189 million dollars for this season, and the Angels have worked diligently this offseason to do the same.

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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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