The GM's Office: Chicago Cubs

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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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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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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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
Mar 10
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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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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
12/17/13
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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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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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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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One deal for every NL team 

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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The hot stove league is already fired up, as the Philadelphia Phillies struck first by signing outfielder Marlon Byrd last week. With such a weak free-agent class this offseason, teams will look heavily in the trade market.

Below you will find a proposed trade or free-agent signing that could help each National League team. On Tuesday I'll address the American League.

NL East

Atlanta Braves

The move: Trade top pitching prospect Lucas Sims, shortstop Jose Peraza and Alex Wood to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for left-handed pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner David Price and outfield prospect Drew Vettleson.

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Moving the "immovable" contracts 

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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B.J. UptonKevin Liles/Getty ImagesThe Braves might like a mulligan on signing the disappointing B.J. Upton.

In 2008, the Toronto Blue Jays shocked the baseball world when they signed outfielder Vernon Wells to a seven-year, $126 million deal. His career .319 OBP and a dismal 2009 season and perceived decline as well as a base salary that escalated to $21 million quickly made Wells’ contract such an albatross that no one thought Wells could ever be traded.

However, Wells actually was traded ... twice. First he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in 2011 for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, then again this past March to the New York Yankees for minor leaguers.

There are two ways an "immovable" contract can be, well, moved. A team can do what the Angels did and assume a majority of the remaining salary; they paid $28.1 million to the Yankees, leaving just $12.9 million for the Yankees to pay in 2013 and 2014. Or a team can trade a bad contract for another bad contract, as the New York Mets and Angels did in 2001, when they swapped first baseman Mo Vaughn for right-hander Kevin Appier.

And swapping gargantuan contracts can sometimes benefit both teams. Such was the case in August 2012 when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox made a blockbuster deal that transformed both clubs into legitimate World Series contenders. The Dodgers got the big-name player they wanted (Adrian Gonzalez) while the Red Sox got the financial freedom they needed to rebuild.

Also, when clubs don’t have trade chips in either their farm system or major league club, and don’t like the cost of the present free-agent market, they might take a chance on a bad contract because it’s the only way they can make their team better, just as the Yankees did with Wells.

So, teams can trade some "immovable" contracts. Let’s take a look at the present market for them. I’ve categorized them into somewhat likely and unlikely, as some have a better possibility of being moved than others, but no matter what it will take a couple of very motivated teams on both sides to get a deal done.

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Yankees still the best fit for Girardi 

October, 8, 2013
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With his contract with the New York Yankees due to expire Oct. 31, Joe Girardi sits in the catbird seat, as the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners are all posting “help wanted” signs.

Girardi fits well with several clubs for various reasons, but the overarching and most important reason he chooses a team will be his family. Girardi has said continuously that his family will be the deciding factor, and it’s believed that his wife, Kim, and three children are happy living in the New York suburbs.

Let’s examine all the potential landing spots for Girardi to see which one is the best fit.

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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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