The GM's Office: Cleveland Indians

Robinson Cano Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsBowden's spoiler alert: GM Jack Zduriencik, Robinson Cano and Co. will make the playoffs in 2015.
The Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets fell short of the playoffs this season. In fact, the Mets fell well short.

But I predict all three of these teams will make the playoffs in 2015.

Granted, these early predictions are based on the assumption that all three organizations will add the necessary two to three pieces they need this offseason, because all three are that close to playing October baseball, just as the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles were at this time a year ago, when I predicted all three would make the playoffs (which they did).

The Mariners, Indians and Mets have more in common than you might realize. First of all, they all have the starting rotations in place to win next year without having to make a single move this winter. Second, they all need more offense in the middle of their lineups and have the trade weapons and/or cash to make these necessary acquisitions. Third, they all have enough in their farm systems to withstand in-season injuries or to trade to fill their needs.

So let's examine what went wrong for these three teams this year and why they should eclipse their 2014 performances in 2015:


Seattle Mariners

The Mariners made huge strides in 2014, finishing with a record of 87-75, only one game out of the second wild-card spot and just two games behind the eventual AL pennant winner Royals.

The Mariners' pitching staff led the American League in ERA and opponents' batting average-against while also finishing in the top five in WHIP, saves and strikeouts.

Possible pennant race X factors 

September, 5, 2014
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    Jarrod DysonAP Photo
    It's coming down to the wire, and every game counts in the pennant race. With several teams still clinging to postseason hopes, even the slightest developments -- an injury, a surprise performance, an emerging rookie -- can make the difference. These X factors can decide whether a team is playing October baseball or going home.

    Here are 14 American and National League players or managers who could be X factors for their teams as they march to the postseason.

    American League

    Kansas City Royals | Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore | OFs

    The Royals have the best two-speed weapons in the pennant race. Dyson and Gore, along with the Reds’ Billy Hamilton, are considered two of the fastest players in baseball right now. Dyson, 30, has stolen 33 bases this year and been caught just six times.

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Trade deadline objectives: AL Central 

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DombrowskiAP Photo/Paul SancyaEven after acquiring Joakim Soria, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski isn't done just yet.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The Detroit Tigers have the biggest lead of all six division leaders and are the heavy favorites to not only win the American League Central but also be the first team to clinch their division.

The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals are both within striking distance of the second wild-card spot, and both likely will be buyers. The Indians could use another starting pitcher, while the Royals need an offensive upgrade in right field.

The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins should be sellers, although neither team has an impact player to trade.

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A.J. BurnettAP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWe may see A.J. Burnett suiting up for a former team again by the end of 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.

Player: A.J. Burnett | RHP | Philadelphia Phillies

Possible destinations: Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians


Pittsburgh Pirates

Why? The Pirates' rotation has been given a boost of late by Vance Worley and Jeff Locke, and the team is hoping Francisco Liriano not only returns from the disabled list soon but is more like the Liriano of 2013 than the one with a 4.60 ERA this season. However, the Pirates would feel better about their rotation if they could add one more veteran starter for the stretch drive, and Burnett could fill that void without a huge return. Burnett was well-respected in the Pirates' clubhouse, and viewed as a leader by their young pitchers. After a rough May, Burnett has thrown six consecutive quality starts, increasing his trade value.

Who? A package of 19-year outfielder Harold Ramirez and right-hander Clay Holmes should get the deal done from a player perspective, but the Pirates won’t even consider the deal unless the Phillies send back a significant amount of cash to help with the salary and buyout of the mutual option year on Burnett's contract.

Will it happen? Baseball-wise, this is a good fit for both teams.

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Top 10 early trade candidates 

May, 12, 2014
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David PriceKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsIn what has become a yearly refrain, David Price should be on the July 31 deadline trading block.
The July 31 trade deadline is a little less than three months away. While every team is focused primarily on the draft right now, they’re also realizing that because of the sport’s parity and competitive balance, there could be fewer “sellers” at this year’s deadline than perhaps we’ve seen in decades.

In fact, there are just three teams more than 4 games out of the postseason: the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks.

I expect that group of teams to grow between now and the middle of July, but it will be no larger than more than seven or eight teams. With so few sellers expected, the asking prices for top talent will be exorbitant.

Here is my early list of 10 trade candidates to watch:

1. David Price | LHP | Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are hoping to be in a pennant race come the end of July, but after the season-ending injury to Matt Moore and a below .500 start, Price will have to be considered the early most sought after trade candidate in baseball. General manager Andrew Friedman knows that he’ll get more value for Price at the July trade deadline than he will in the offseason with only one year left on Price’s contract.

Further hurting Friedman's leverage is the fact that Price is off to a slow start, and he'll be hoping to get a haul similar to the one he received for James Shields prior to the 2013 season.

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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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Seattle should sign Santana and Morales 

February, 28, 2014
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Ervin Santana, Kendrys MoralesGetty ImagesThe Mariners would improve their chances to contend by signing Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales.
All the Seattle Mariners needed to become relevant again was Robinson Cano.

Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik also made some other shrewd moves, signing free agents Corey Hart and Fernando Rodney, as well as trading for Logan Morrison.

But those moves won't be enough to overtake the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics or Texas Rangers in the tough American League West. That's why they should take advantage of the depressed markets for free agents Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales, who can make them a wild-card contender.

I believe three years and $36 million for Santana and one year at $10 million for Morales should be enough to sign both of them. Zduriencik could easily mitigate any cash-flow concerns by back-loading Santana's contract and perhaps deferring some of Morales' deal.

These two moves not only would position the Mariners as a better overall team, but they would offer Seattle a chance to compete for a divisional title, as well as being a legitimate wild-card contender. Let's look at how:

Weakened AL West starting rotations

If the Mariners compete for a wild-card berth with any AL West teams, they'll probably do it against the Rangers and Angels.

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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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Players who could lose jobs this spring 

February, 19, 2014
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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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10 bold predictions for spring training 

February, 14, 2014
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Matt KempLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesIs it possible Matt Kemp might miss all of spring training? Could be.
It was in March 2013 that I predicted that some time during the season, Yasiel Puig would become a star on the level of past star rookies such as Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo and create his own mania -- "Puigmania."

Well, it's time for more bold predictions, and I'm beginning with spring training. Let's take a look at my 10 bold predictions for 2014 spring training. (Don't worry, I'll make more bold predictions for the regular season.)

1. Matt Kemp doesn't play in a single major league spring training game.

Kemp is still recovering from microfracture surgery on his left talus bone (a major weight-bearing bone in his ankle), and I think he will begin the season on the disabled list.

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GM buzz: Latest on free agents 

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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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Elite pitchers set for big 2015 paydays 

January, 21, 2014
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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 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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2015 FAs who should be traded now 

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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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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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