The GM's Office: Detroit Tigers

Adam Wainwright and Bryce HarperGetty ImagesAdam Wainwright and Bryce Harper hope to meet up in the 2015 NLCS.
After touring both Arizona and most recently Florida, I have come to a relatively easy conclusion that the two best teams in the National League -- at least on paper as well as from the scouting seats this spring -- are the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals. The Cardinals arrived in Jupiter, Florida, last month with a lot of questions surrounding their starting pitching mostly because of health reasons, but also because of the trade of Shelby Miller to the Braves in the offseason for right fielder Jason Heyward. Every single question has been answered positively. Adam Wainwright feels great and even clarified to me he is 100 percent. Michael Wacha looks like the Wacha of 2013 according to GM John Mozeliak. John Lackey and Lance Lynn look like the pitchers who helped the Cards win the division last year. In addition, all three starters fighting for the fifth job have pitched well enough to win the spot. Jaime Garcia has been the surprise of camp, not only completely healthy but pitching like he did when he was one of the league’s best left-handed starters. Carlos Martinez has shown that his fastball command is improving and he could start, even though he is expected to return to the eighth-inning role by Opening Day. Marco Gonzales has developed by light years this spring, adding a two-seam sinker, a cutter and a curveball, three new pitches to a repertoire that already included a solid four-seam fastball up in the zone and a plus-plus changeup he can use to get right- and left-handed hitters out. Heyward has fit in nicely in the clubhouse, has shown his elite defensive skills and the Cardinals’ brain trust is convinced it can get another level of talent out of Heyward's bat. With a completely healthy and happy clubhouse, this will be a tough team to beat, even for the ever-improving Pittsburgh Pirates. The Nationals entered spring training with MLB’s best team on paper, but unlike the Cardinals, they have not been so fortunate healthwise. Center fielder Denard Span will start the year on the disabled list with a right core muscle injury and is not expected to return until sometime in May. Anthony Rendon, their best position player, is also likely to start the year on the DL with a knee injury. They are waiting to see if left fielder Jayson Werth is ready for Opening Day and are cautiously optimistic according to GM Mike Rizzo, but I highly doubt he'll be ready to go either. Even when he is activated there is a big question of how much power he'll have because of the type of shoulder surgery he had.
Anthony Rendon
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Rendon probably will start the year on the DL with a knee injury.
The best news is that their top six starters are relatively healthy, with Stephen Strasburg's sprained ankle tweak being the only minor injury so far. As good as this team is, they'll have to fight off strong competition from both the Marlins and Mets, who are way better than most people think and will give them a pennant race until the end. For the Nationals to live up to their potential, their two high-ceiling talents in outfielder Bryce Harper and Strasburg will have to take their games to elite status. Harper was recently dubbed the most overrated player in baseball by his peers in a recent ESPN The Magazine article. I can understand this because scouts and analysts like myself have been riding high on Harper’s 40-home run power ceiling. However, MLB players haven't seen him do it yet nor have they seen a consistent professional approach like his teammate Rendon's. However, make no doubt about it, he will reach his ceiling and when he does, those who call him overrated will start focusing on another player who hasn't done it yet. Remember, Harper is just 22 years old. He also has to deal with more off-field drama than most players and it has been overwhelming for him. However, when he finally learns how to leave it at the clubhouse door and not think about it again until he heads home after the game, watch out because he will reach that potential. At least 30 home runs are needed this year for the Nats to win it all, and I think he'll provide it. Strasburg, on the other hand, has a chance to win the Cy Young Award, despite the fact he's the Nationals’ third starter behind Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann. I think Scherzer could be the key to Strasburg's success because Scherzer brings looseness, fun and happiness to the clubhouse and the tightly wound Strasburg will have to start having fun, especially with Gio Gonzalez and Matt Thornton on the same fun team as Scherzer. If the Nats can have a little more fun this year with their starting pitching, they should be facing the Cardinals in the NLCS.


Updated landing spots for Max Scherzer 

January, 15, 2015
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Max Scherzer Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesMax Scherzer will have a season-altering effect on whoever signs him. But who will that be?
Here we are in the middle of January and the industry’s No. 1 free agent, Max Scherzer, is still unsigned. So I spent this week checking with as many sources as possible, on teams and otherwise, to find out what is really going on with the elite starter.

I found mostly denials of involvement from teams we believe to be in the Scherzer sweepstakes, and then it dawned on me: Most of my sources are MLB team presidents, general managers, assistant general managers, managers, players and agents. Under Scott Boras, Scherzer's agent, modus operandi for players of this stature (in the $140 million to $200 million range) is to go directly to the owners. He knows that every GM would love to have Scherzer in their rotation; it just comes down to money, years and risk. It’s really an owner decision, not one made by the executives under them.

For most clubs, the GMs are in the loop at all times, but that's not always the case. Boras has always had carte blanche, access to meet with most owners directly in person or on the phone. Owners also know that GMs might recommend not signing Scherzer for economic reasons because of dollars or contract length, but owners want to win at the end of the day, too. They also know that Scherzer could be the difference in reaching the postseason. Therefore, as I went digging, although I couldn’t find a raging fire, I did find smoke, some smoldering and an occasional small fire.

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Most likely landing spots for Max Scherzer 

December, 17, 2014
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Max ScherzerBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsMax Scherzer went 18-5 with 252 strikeouts and a 3.15 ERA with the Tigers in 2014.
Max Scherzer is considered the No. 1 free agent in this year's class and is expected to get the largest contract of the offseason. In fact, I predicted he will get a seven-year, $189 million deal, a prediction I stand behind despite the fact that he is asking for at least $200 million.

The 30-year-old Scherzer is 91-50 in his career with a 3.58 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. However, it's his performance over the past three years that has separated him from his colleagues. He has become a true ace, with an average wins above replacement of 5.6, which essentially means he alone turns an 88-win team into a 94-win team and a 94-win team into a true championship contender. Scherzer has won 39 games over the past two years, the most of any American League pitcher, with a 3.02 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 10.2 K's per nine innings.

His fastball remains in the 92-95 mph range, and he has a hard, nasty slider, a deceptive changeup and an impressive curveball. He can throw all of his pitches in any count for strikes and has learned how to keep hitters off-balance, with the ability to punch them out with any pitch in his repertoire. He has struck out a staggering 723 hitters over the past three seasons.

Still not impressed? Maybe you need to hear the spiel being laid out by his agent, Scott Boras, who compares him to Peyton Manning. While that's an absurd comparison, Boras certainly makes a strong case as to why the two compare favorably. The bottom line is that Scherzer is an ace and a difference-maker for any team that signs him.

Teams should be lined up for his services. But they're not. One prominent GM told me this week it's due to his asking price and contract length.

"He’s looking for too many years and too much money for the injury risk of any pitcher," said the GM, "let alone a right-hander with a power arm and that type of delivery.”

Only a few teams can afford him, but many of them are passing either because of price, risk or budget constraints.

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What's next for the Detroit Tigers? 

October, 7, 2014
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Max Scherzer Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesWill Tigers ace Max Scherzer return to the club for 2015 or leave via free agency?
The Detroit Tigers' first order of business this offseason will be to address their impending free agents. This includes their staff ace Max Scherzer, team MVP Victor Martinez, clubhouse leader Torii Hunter and setup man Joba Chamberlain. The Tigers would like to bring them all back, but it's highly unlikely to happen. Scherzer already has turned down a six-year, $144 million offer, and Martinez will be the most sought-after American League bat on the free-agent market.

Detroit must have special emphasis this offseason in rebuilding its bullpen to a championship level, a weakness that was exposed during the regular season and postseason.

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Ranking the MLB playoff lineups 

October, 1, 2014
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Los Angeles DodgersRobert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsThe Dodgers scored 21 more runs than any other team in baseball during the month of September.
We ranked the playoff rotations and starting pitchers Monday and the playoff bullpens Tuesday; today we rank -- and discuss -- the lineups of the nine remaining playoff teams.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
MLB ranks (regular season):
Runs: 6th | OPS: 3rd | HR: 16th | SB: 2nd

Projected lineup
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C

The Dodgers enter this postseason with a much better lineup than last year's team, which reached the National League Championship Series before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Ranking the playoff bullpens 

September, 30, 2014
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HollandPeter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsGreg Holland anchors a Royals bullpen that was sixth in ERA in the second half of this season.
We ranked the playoff rotations and starting pitchers Monday; today we rank -- and discuss -- the bullpens of the 10 playoff teams.

1. Kansas City Royals

Closer: Greg Holland
Setup man: Wade Davis
Situational righties: Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow
Situational lefty: Brandon Finnegan

The Royals might not have the deepest bullpen, but they have the best, thanks mostly to a dominant trio of relievers in Herrera, Davis and the league's best closer in Holland, who has converted 46 of 48 save opportunities this year and has the most saves and best conversion rate of any closer in baseball since May 10, 2013.

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Playoff starting pitcher, rotation rankings 

September, 29, 2014
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Kershaw/GreinkeUSA TODAY SportsZack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw anchor a formidable Dodgers rotation.
The most important element of every major league team in the playoffs is its starting rotation; it's the closest equivalent to a quarterback on an NFL team or the top three players on an NBA team. History has shown us that elite starting pitching has played a greater role in winning championships than any other aspect of a team's infrastructure.

Evaluating starting rotations for the postseason is much different than doing so for the regular season. During the regular season, you concentrate on the team's depth, even the Nos. 6 and 7 spots on the depth chart. In the postseason, you emphasize the top three starters on each team, with little weight given to the fourth starter and no weight to the fifth starter, who's normally in the bullpen. You especially focus on the team's No. 1 starter, who often pitches twice in a five-game series and as many as three times in a seven-game series. You also must factor in how much workload a pitcher has had in the regular season, how they've pitched at the end of the season and any signs of fatigue, something that's not controllable outside of a cortisone shot to lessen the inflammation in a shoulder or elbow.

History shows that pitchers who can miss bats and post higher strikeout rates often perform better in the postseason than contact pitchers. Why is this? Well, these hurlers are facing the game's best lineups, and they need to have the stuff and command to win those battles. Having impeccable command of all pitches in and out of the strike zone is a necessity, because many hitters on playoff teams don't have many weaknesses to exploit.

With that as a preface, here are my rankings of this year's postseason rotations based on scouting, statistical and sabermetric analysis, with specific matchups, workloads, trends and intangibles all factored in:

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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 

July, 25, 2014
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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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Joaquin Benoit Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesJoaquin Benoit sports a sterling 1.86 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 38 2/3 innings 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: Joaquin Benoit | RP | San Diego Padres

Possible destinations: Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants


Milwaukee Brewers

Why? Because Doug Melvin is their GM, and his track record when his team is in contention at the trade deadline suggests he'll make a move. No one expects him to pull off a blockbuster like he has in the past -- to get CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke, just to name a few -- but most expect him to make a move of some kind.

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What would it take to get Papelbon? 

July, 15, 2014
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Jonathan PapelbonRick Yeatts/Getty ImagesJonathan Papelbon is holding opposing hitters to a .177 batting average 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: Jonathan Papelbon | RP | Philadelphia Phillies

Possible destinations: Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers


Los Angeles Angels

Why? Angels GM Jerry Dipoto stopped by the GM's office recently and said he's not done making moves; he'd like to add another reliever. Since DiPoto became the team's GM in October 2011, he has needed a defibrillator for many of the ninth innings; only three AL teams have blown more saves since the start of 2012. It's time for the Angels to solve it once and for all, and although they're hoping newly acquired Jason Grilli is the answer, they know Papelbon would be. Papelbon has converted 22 saves with a 1.21 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 37 1/3 innings pitched. This is a no-brainer move for the Angels if they can get it done.

Who? The Phillies will target all of the Angels' top prospects, focusing more on overall quality rather than positional needs, realizing they could always spin the acquired assets for needs down the road.

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Huston StreetAndy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty ImagesThe Padres' Huston Street could fill either the closer or setup role for a number of teams.
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: Huston Street | RHP | San Diego Padres

Possible destinations: Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati Reds

Baltimore Orioles

Why? Orioles GM Dan Duquette told me that the bullpen and offense at second base were the two main areas that needed improvement.

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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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Blue Jays should trade for Samardzija 

May, 17, 2014
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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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With the season's first month in the books, rookies have quickly had significant impact on their teams. The New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals have new top-of-the-rotation rookie starters, the Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners are enjoying pleasant surprises in the back of their rotations, while the rookie shortstops of the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks are holding their own.

Once again, I'll be keeping track of this season's rookie class every month, which will be based on performance, scouting reports, advanced metrics, the players' actual development reports from the teams' general managers, managers and front office executives, as well as input from teammates and coaches who will comment on the players' intangibles from inside the clubhouses.

Without further delay, here are my top 10 rookies after the first month of the 2014 season. (Note: When I say a player's stock is "up" or "down," I'm referring to my expectations of him coming into the season.)

1. Masahiro Tanaka | RHP | Stock: Up
Tanaka went 24-0 for Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles last season and has continued his undefeated streak here in the United States.

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