The GM's Office: Cincinnati Reds

Bryan PriceAP Photo/Paul SancyaNew Reds manager Bryan Price has some very specific changes for the 2014 season.
Somewhat fittingly, the Cincinnati Reds open their season on Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty built the Cardinals into a perennial power and 2006 World Series champion during his tenure as St. Louis’ GM from 1994 to 2007.

With the Reds, Jocketty is trying to do the same, and although some have criticized him for "standing pat" this winter, I believe he built a team that is poised to be in the mix for the National League Central crown once again.

Jocketty still is scouring the trade market for more offensive help for his lineup, and at the very least, some offensive help that can also back up in the infield. But believe in the Reds; they're going to be better than everyone thinks. This past offseason, the Reds made no significant moves, and that was the right move, for another 90-win season and a wild-card berth are well within their grasp in 2014.

No moves, better team



So how can the Reds lose Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo via free agency and still have a better team? Thanks to its farm system, Cincinnati has a chance to be better, and here's why:

Hamilton takes over center field: Billy Hamilton might get some bad jumps and take some poor angles, but because of his speed he has so much more range than Choo.

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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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Reds betting on Bailey's improvement 

February, 19, 2014
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Homer BaileyJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesHomer Bailey has thrown a no-hitter in each of the last two seasons.
Earlier this winter, I estimated that a contract extension for Homer Bailey would come in at six years for $102 million. Therefore, I am not at all surprised that the right-hander agreed to a six-year, $105 million deal to stay with the Cincinnati Reds.

A gamble on the future

It is not uncommon for a player to get a big contract based on what he has already accomplished. In Bailey's case, he is getting paid for what the Reds still think he can be.

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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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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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Max ScherzerLeon Halip/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw's contract could lead to a $200 million payday for Max Scherzer next winter.
Clayton Kershaw's seven-year, $215 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers has set the ceiling for next offseason's free-agent starting pitching market. This is a significant event for a market that’s seen record-breaking deals for almost every top-tier pitching free agent over the past several years.

While the 2015 free-agent class is light on position players, it has plenty of elite pitchers, led by Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson and Homer Bailey. None of them are expected to top Kershaw's deal; it probably will be the next generation of Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey to do that.

Nonetheless, Scherzer, Shields, Lester, Masterson and Bailey should all benefit from Kershaw and his agent, Casey Close, eclipsing the $30 million bar because that will only bring their deals closer to that threshold. Here is a quick look at the top of next year's free-agent starting pitching class with my early contract predictions and the chances of each pitcher leaving his current team:




1. Max Scherzer, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Predicted contract:
Seven years, $196 million ($28M average annual value)

As soon as Kershaw closed his deal with the Dodgers, Scherzer quickly became the No. 1 starting pitcher expected to hit the free-agent market next November.

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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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2015 FAs who should be traded now 

December, 20, 2013
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Chase Headley Mike McGinnis/Getty ImageThe tough competition in the NL West should force the Padres to trade Chase Headley.
Next year’s free-agent class is top-heavy, and features three of baseball’s best starting pitchers in Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. While seen some big-name players traded a year before free agency, that won't happen with any of these guys because their teams have a shot at the World Series and they all play for big-market clubs that can afford to re-sign them.

In fact, don't be surprised if these guys get contract extensions before hitting the market next winter, with Kershaw being the most likely of the three to get a new deal.

However, there are five players who will be eligible for free agency next fall who probably should have already been traded since they haven’t been locked up to multiyear deals. Some of these players are on contending teams, but none of which are large markets and really can’t afford to let them walk as a free agent and receive only a draft pick as compensation.

Here is the breakdown of the five players I think should be traded by Opening Day if they are not given a contract extension.

1. Chase Headley, 3B | San Diego Padres
Headley, 29, had 31 doubles and 31 homers in 2012 and finished in the top five in NL MVP voting. His power numbers were down this year (.400 slugging), but he still plays a position where there is a lot more demand than supply and could fetch a lot in a trade.

The Angels, Dodgers, Marlins and Yankees all started the offseason with needs at third base and could have matched up well in a deal for the Padres, though the Angels and Dodgers have patched that hole for at least the next couple of years with David Freese and Juan Uribe, respectively.

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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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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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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 NL team 

November, 18, 2013
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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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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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Ranking aces of NL contenders 

September, 23, 2013
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Clayton KershawStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw is hands-down the best ace among postseason contenders.

As we've all learned by now, baseball's postseason is pretty much a crapshoot, with all 10 participants having a legitimate chance at a world championship.

Just before last year's postseason began I predicted the San Francisco Giants would win the World Series. I chose the Giants because 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 is with velocity and pitchability.

With the postseason almost upon us, I decided to rank the No. 1 starters on all of the likely playoff participants. We'll start with the NL today as the playoff picture in the Senior Circuit is a bit more clear cut.

1. Clayton Kershaw | Los Angeles Dodgers

15-9, 1.88 ERA, 224 K's, 0.92 WHIP
Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, period. If I had to predict an ace or team to run the table, it has to be Kershaw and the Dodgers. He knows how to use his four-pitch mix with the best in the game and he has learned how to get outs in early counts, which has allowed him to pitch deeper into games.

Because of all this, I predict that he will become the highest-paid pitcher the game has ever seen this winter, earning an extension from the Dodgeers that will pay him $30 million annually. The Dodgers’ No. 2 starter, Zack Greinke, gives them the best 1-2 starter combination in the NL.

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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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