The GM's Office: Detroit Tigers

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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videoMiguel Cabrera's new contract, which is reportedly worth close to $300 million, should keep him with the Detroit Tigers for the rest of his career.

Most of the industry is shell-shocked and isn't sure how to react to this news. Here are my five key takeaways.

1. The timing is weird

If Cabrera happened to be a free agent this offseason, this is the kind of contract I would expect him to get. Problem is, he's not a free agent. In fact, he's under team control for two more years.

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videoFor those who weren't interested in the Dodgers-Diamondbacks series in Australia -- and the latest Yasiel Puig controversy -- the big story of the weekend was the Detroit Tigers' announcement that Max Scherzer has turned down a "substantial" contract extension, and that talks will be tabled until next winter.

The offer was reportedly worth a little more than $25 million per season over six years, for a total value of $150 million or so. Scherzer supposedly wanted something closer to Clayton Kershaw's recent seven-year, $215 deal. With the two sides so far apart, it's no surprise they decided to call off negotiations.

The Boras factor

It's no secret that Scott Boras, Scherzer's agent, prefers to take his clients to free agency, believing that is how he can maximize their value. And while he may have misread the market for players such as Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew this winter, his strategy generally works for players at the top end of the market, such as Scherzer.

Now, once in a while, a player will overrule Boras and take a deal that is below market value if he is in a situation he likes. A prime example is Jered Weaver, who surprised a lot of people by signing a five-year, $85 million extension in 2011.

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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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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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GM awards for best trades, signings 

February, 7, 2014
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Billy Beane and Brian CashmanGetty Images, AP PhotoBilly Beane and Brian Cashman enjoyed very fruitful offseasons.
I'm all packed with spring training just days away. So before I depart I thought it was time to give my offseason awards and hand out some hardware to the general managers for their offseason work.

BEST OFFSEASON -- BIG-MARKET GM: Brian Cashman | New York Yankees

It was the most expensive free-agent spending spree in baseball history when the Yankees committed a combined $438 million for 22 years of contracts to Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. The Yankees quickly rebuilt their outfield, catching and starting pitching with All-Star caliber players and imported the best overall talent of any team in baseball this offseason. They also get credit for walking away from Robinson Cano by refusing to acquiesce to 10 years and approximately $240 million for a player in his 30s.

Runners-up:
Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers:

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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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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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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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Lessons from the offseason thus far 

December, 9, 2013
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Dave DombrowskiAP Photo/Paul SancyaDave Dombrowski has made some odd moves, but they will likely work out.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The hot stove season typically doesn’t get white-hot until the winter meetings, but general managers decided to break the rules this year and we’ve seen tons of action already, with the Robinson Cano contract and Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade being the most notable.

As we head into the winter meetings, I thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and reflect on what has happened thus far. Here are three key takeaways from everything we’ve seen leading up to the winter meetings.

Lesson No. 1: The Tigers improved despite being on the wrong end of two big trades

Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski is no stranger to blockbuster trades, and he made a pair of surprising deals this winter that left many in the industry puzzled.

First, he sent Fielder and $30 million in cash to Texas for Kinsler. Fielder is younger and a much more potent hitter, and despite a down year, he hasn’t shown the same kind of decline Kinsler has over the last couple of seasons.

The other deal was sending right-hander Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for lefty reliever Ian Krol, utilityman Stephen Lombardozzi and lefty pitching prospect Robbie Ray. Again, a light return even if you think Ray is a solid prospect, which he is.

To make matters worse, this was the worst time to trade Fister.

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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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Tigers need a proven winner at the helm 

October, 21, 2013
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videoThe baseball world was taken a bit by surprise Monday morning with the news that Jim Leyland is stepping down as manager of the Detroit Tigers. I assumed that he'd want to take one more shot at the World Series with this talented team, but at age 68 I guess he decided he's had enough.

Between the available managerial jobs in Washington, Cincinnati and now Detroit, there are a lot of desirable positions out there, as all three clubs have serious World Series potential for 2014.

However, I think the Tigers job is the best of the three, as they have strongest talent base for the next two years. The Nationals are right behind them in terms of talent, but they need someone who can come in with a long-term outlook, while the Reds lag behind just a little bit as their roster isn't quite as good as the Tigers' or Nationals'.

As good as the Tigers are, they have a few players who are peaking now, which means their realistic window to win a World Series is the next two seasons. As a result, they need someone with a track record of winning, and two names immediately come to mind.

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