The GM's Office: Houston Astros

Billy BeaneMichael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesIs Billy Beane done dealing? Some believe he has one more trade in him before the deadline.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The American League West has been the busiest of the six divisions so far, with the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels making the biggest trades thus far in July. The Athletics started the fireworks back on July 4, when they acquired both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in a blockbuster deal, and the Angels answered last week when they acquired one of the game's most consistent closers in Huston Street in a six–player deal.

Everyone is now waiting for the Seattle Mariners to respond and GM Jack Zduriencik is hoping not to let people down; he has been one of the most active GMs in terms of phone calls and texts over the past couple of weeks. The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are going to sell, and while neither one has an impact player they will be dealing, they both could still make multiple minor deals between now and the deadline.

And don't think the Athletics and Angels are done. Although neither team really has to make another move, both are still out there listening and trying to find ways to make one more deal to enhance their chances of winning this division.

Let's run through the objectives of each team
 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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Jonathan SingletonAndrew Woolley/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesJonathan Singleton is fourth in the Pacific Coast League with 14 homers.
In recent weeks we've heard reports of the Pittsburgh Pirates trying to lock up prospect Gregory Polanco while still in the minors (he apparently declined), and the Houston Astros making a similar attempt with George Springer before eventually promoting him without a contract. Undeterred, the Astros tried that tactic again with first base prospect Jonathan Singleton, and he has agreed to a long-term deal that comes with a corresponding promotion to the majors.

The deal is worth a guaranteed $10 million over the next five years, with three team options that could bring its value to $35 million if he also hits performance bonuses.

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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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The missing link for every AL team 

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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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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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Alex RodriguezGetty ImagesCould Chase Headley be a long-term solution to replace Alex Rodriguez at third base?

The New York Yankees should be pleased with how Alex Rodriguez has played since his return from hip surgery and the disabled list. His bat speed and ability to hit a good fastball have improved considerably compared to where he was at the end of the 2012 season.

However, the team also realizes that Rodriguez possibly will start the 2014 season on the suspended list for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, pending his appeal. If the appeal doesn't succeed, how long will the suspension be -- 50, 100, or the full 211 games originally handed down?

Therefore, general manager Brian Cashman must make preparations to start the 2014 season without Rodriguez -- either with a stopgap measure or long-term solution at third base. Cashman clearly knows the answer for either time frame is not in the Yankees’ farm system. Though Kevin Youkilis (on the DL after back surgery) and Mark Reynolds might still be options, Cashman has to wonder if Youkilis will ever perform at a high level again, and is likely concerned about Reynolds’ below-average defense at third and his strikeout ratio.

That means there are just two viable avenues Cashman can take -- trade or free agency. Cashman’s scouts should be out in force during September, bearing down on their evaluations of Rodriguez’s possible replacements.

In the following list, I grouped players by trade or free-agency targets and categorized them as long-, medium- or short-term solutions, depending on how long I think each player might fit with the Yankees. Long-term players would completely replace Rodriguez beyond his return from even a 211-game suspension. Medium-term solutions would replace Rodriguez from anything beyond 100 games and below 211. Short-term players fill the gap until Rodriguez returns from a 50- or 100-game suspension.

Here is a quick look at how the third-base market currently stands for the Yankees this offseason.

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George SpringerBrace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty ImagesGeorge Springer is three homers away from joining the 40/40 club.
Despite the minor league season being almost complete, the education and training of some young top prospects isn’t necessarily over. With major league rosters expanding in September, it's a great time for clubs to get a first glimpse of their top prospects to see whether they are ready to be a part of next year's 25-man roster.

Here's a list of the top prospects I would bring up in September.

George Springer | OF | Houston Astros


Springer’s power/speed combination is one of the best in all of minor league baseball, illustrated by his combined slash line of .303/.414/.611, 37 home runs and 43 stolen bases between Double- and Triple-A. It’s been a mere two years since the Astros selected Springer, now 23, as first-round pick from UConn. He really impressed me in the Futures Game in July, and think it’s time he became an every-day player for the Astros.


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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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With just 21 days left before baseball’s trade deadline, there’s already been a flurry of early activity.

The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Ricky Nolasco, the Baltimore Orioles added Scott Feldman and the Washington Nationals traded for Scott Hairston.

A number of factors are compelling teams to try to close deals earlier: a dearth of sellers and surplus of buyers created by two extra playoff slots, new free-agent compensation rules, and international bonus slots that teams have been trading left and right.

Still, if trades made in the next 21 days are of the caliber and size of the aforementioned trio, this year's deadline will prove to be somewhat ... boring. So I’ve cooked up five potential blockbuster trades I’d like to see. They make sense for all the teams involved and might add a little spice to the deadline.

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When the Los Angeles Dodgers gave Andre Ethier a five-year, $85 million contract 13 months ago, it seemed like a decent enough idea at the time. Ethier had strung together a series of decent seasons punctuated by one career year, and it seemed like he would age gracefully enough to make the deal worthwhile.

But Ethier’s production has declined. Combined with the emergence of super-rookie Yasiel Puig, Ethier has become the odd man out, and his contract looks like an albatross.

As a result, the Dodgers are quietly hoping they can find a taker for Ethier, although realistically they’ll have to eat approximately $5 million per season to make any deal work. The Dodgers might have to wait to the offseason to make the Ethier deal, which will make for an awkward situation once Carl Crawford returns from the disabled list next week. Paying Ethier $18 million as a fourth outfielder is not what the Dodgers had in mind when they signed him. He has become expendable.

Likewise, several other teams are in similar situations and will soon be forced to trade expendable players in what might end up being "buyer" for "buyer"-type deals at this year’s trade deadline. Here are five situations where arrivals of top prospects could create expendable players:

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20 hitters who could be traded 

June, 26, 2013
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Parity has really put a damper on baseball’s trade market.

Several contending teams are looking to add bats, but the problem is that there are so many buyers and so few sellers. The law of supply and demand is skewed. In my opinion there are just eight teams in baseball that should be sellers at the trade deadline, and two of those eight still are within 10 games of the playoffs.

For example, the Minnesota Twins are just seven games out of the AL Central lead and six games out of a wild-card berth. Likewise, the Seattle Mariners are just 9 1/2 back in the wild-card standings.

Thus, the market for quality bats will be limited. Non-contenders such as the Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and New York Mets, who could be trade partners, have very little proven offense to exchange. Several of these contenders might have to try and solve their offensive issues through the farm system, including the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants.

Regardless, based on the current standings there still are a number of good hitters who could be moved from non-contending teams by the July 31 trade deadline. Here are 20 of them, broken down by position.

First basemen

Paul Konerko | 1B | Age: 37
Contract status: $13.5M per year through 2013


Konerko is a free agent at the end of the year and general manager Rick Hahn already is talking about moving Dayan Viciedo to first base. He’d like to get to the postseason one more time and going to another team gives him the best chance of accomplishing that. The Baltimore Orioles or Rays could use him as a DH, while the Pittsburgh Pirates could use him at first base.
Chance traded: 60 percent


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Cliff Lee Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesIf the Phillies falter by July, Cliff Lee could be the No. 1 pitcher on the trade market.

With MLB's trade deadline just six weeks away, there are presently 22 teams within eight games of making the playoffs. This means just eight teams can be considered "sellers" at this juncture. Many of the contenders are looking for elite starting pitching, but the reality is probably only one or two will be traded and contending teams will have to settle for middle- or back-end rotation types.

I'm hearing teams that already have been in trade talks for potential available starters include the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles. Here is a list of the top 20 starting pitchers who could be traded between now and the July 31 trade deadline:


No. 1 starters

Cliff Lee | LHP | Age: 34
Contract status: $25M per year through '15 with vesting option of $27.5M

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