The GM's Office: Jim Bowden

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.

Advice to Rangers: It's time to rebuild 

March, 18, 2015
Mar 18
Jon DanielsAP Photo/LM OteroRangers GM Jon Daniels has done a great job in Texas, but it's time for him to trade some veterans.
As I walked into the lobby of the Texas Rangers' spring training headquarters in Surprise, Arizona, last week, the first thing I noticed was a huge picture of two Rangers executives, a manager and a player celebrating their American League championship in 2011. Something immediately seemed off to me: The only person in the picture still with the franchise is president of baseball operations (and GM) Jon Daniels. Josh Hamilton, who was at the time their best player, is gone. Nolan Ryan, their CEO then? Gone. Ron Washington, their manager? Gone. Then I thought about all the other good players from those 2010 and '11 World Series teams that are gone, from Ian Kinsler to Michael Young to Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, Vladimir Guerrero and Darren O'Day, among others. In just 3½ years, some of the team's braintrust and many of its best players have all moved on. Even though the Rangers were still good in 2012 and '13, it feels like it was eons ago they were celebrating AL titles. Injuries sunk this team in 2014. A lot of injuries, and to key players. But I have to wonder if their short-term thinking in terms of player moves -- in an attempt to stay on top in the AL West -- along with the departure of an owner, a CEO, a field manager and a bench coach has sent this team in the wrong direction for the first time since Daniels took over in October 2005. What the Rangers need to do now is look in the mirror and realize their run is over. Blame it on injuries, front-office departures or anything you want to, but it's over. It would be an unpopular decision, but the Rangers need to rebuild. We're talking a total shakeup, including trading away their best players. The good news is if they do it now and they do it right, they could be good again as soon as the second half of 2016. But if they don't, they could be looking at a three- to five-year process

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Five moves that need to happen soon 

March, 16, 2015
Mar 16
UtleyRich Schultz/Getty ImagesChase Utley, an L.A. area native and UCLA alum, would be a perfect fit for the Angels' 2B hole.
Each spring training has phases, and not just the obvious ones (how many guys are playing on the big club, etc.). There are also transaction phases, and as we approach the midway point of spring training, we're looking at the time we'd see contract extensions to lock down big names or last-ditch trades to fill roster holes. Let's get that ball rolling by laying out five moves I'd like to see happen between now and the end of spring training. 1. Los Angeles Angels acquire 2B Chase Utley from the Philadelphia Phillies for 2B Alex Yarbrough and P Victor Alcantara The Angels have quite the competition going on right now for the second-base starting job between Grant Green, Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella, Taylor Featherston and Yarbrough. But one thing that has become obvious is none of these guys is close to filling the vacancy left by the traded Howie Kendrick, especially for a team expecting to contend for a World Series title.

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Addison RussellMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAddison Russell leads an exciting new generation of elite shortstop prospects.
Scouts in Arizona and Florida covering spring training are buzzing over the game’s next generation of shortstops.

Corey Seager of the Dodgers, Francisco Lindor of the Indians, Carlos Correa of the Astros, J.P. Crawford of the Phillies and Addison Russell of the Cubs continue to impress everyone both on and off the field. None of them are expected to start the year in the major leagues, but at least a couple of them will arrive by early summer or September at the latest, with Lindor and Seager the favorites to arrive first.

Baseball has enjoyed a nice run of Hall of Fame shortstops over the past couple of decades, but we’ve had to say goodbye to five of the best during their time, including: Derek Jeter (2014), Omar Vizquel (2012), Barry Larkin (2004), Cal Ripken Jr. (2001) and Ozzie Smith (1996). Larkin, Ripken and Smith already are in the Hall and it's only a matter of time before Jeter and Vizquel join them.

Francisco Lindor
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinFrancisco Lindor is one of several elite shortstop prospects who also boast good personalities.
However, the next generation of young baseball fans should fasten their seat belts because this new group of five shortstops presently in the minor leagues will arrive in the next couple of years, following in the huge footsteps of those retired legends.

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Learning the method to Beane's madness 

March, 11, 2015
Mar 11
Billy BeaneMichael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesBowden sits down with A's GM Billy Beane to learn the renowned executive's current philosophy.
I've known Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane my entire baseball career. We had a lot of fun over the years talking (and making) trades; one thing we had in common is we weren't afraid to pull the trigger on a deal.

So it should come as no surprise that Beane -- and I -- love this new generation of GMs. Unlike a decade ago, when there were more passive GMs than aggressive ones, this new breed of GMs is full of wheelers and dealers like Beane. There's not a GM in baseball who has built his club more from trades than Beane has with the A's.

Most teams prefer to build through player development and scouting, while others -- those who have the funds -- prefer to go the free-agent route because they don't have to give up anything (other than money). Not Billy. He loves the stock market and loves to trade players, which is why his rosters are often made up of more trade acquisitions than any team in baseball.

This offseason was no different. And those who criticize Beane's perceived propensity to bounce between making moves to win today and moves to win down the road simply don't understand Beane or his overall strategy.

So I sat down with my old friend to hear firsthand the methods behind his madness, his latest philosophies on building a winner despite having one of the game's worst stadiums and lowest revenue streams

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AJ PrellerAndy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty ImagesA.J. Preller has gotten positive reviews from his MLB peers and, more importantly, Padres fans.
After a week-plus touring the Cactus League, I'm on to Florida and the Grapefruit League. I spend each day talking with GMs, managers, coaches and players, sometimes on the record, sometimes off it.

Spring training is the best time of year to get everyone's honest opinions of players, prospects, injuries, forecasts, trades, free-agent signings, contracts and potential breakout players, disappointments or surprises. I also do a two-hour radio show on SiriusXM featuring a different club each day, complete with GM, manager and player interviews.

I also, as most of you know by now, have strong personal opinions regarding teams and players. Whether you agree or disagree, it's always a fun debate or conversation.

With that, here are a few Bowden Bits from three of the teams I visited with last week:

San Diego Padres

Padres general manager A.J. Preller had a remarkable offseason, one that was full of wheeling and dealing via trades and free agency, and most analysts feel he won just about every trade and didn't overpay on his free-agent signings. As such, he has already achieved rock star status in San Diego.

Quite frankly, he might have just had the best offseason by a rookie general manager in baseball history, so the attention is well deserved.

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Andrew HeaneyRob Foldy/Getty ImagesNew Angel Andrew Heaney will be worth watching in spring training's early stages.
One of the most exciting aspects of spring training for me is the opportunity to put eyes on some of the top prospects in baseball, to see how they are developing and whether their timetables have moved up, moved back or stayed on pace.

This week I will be traveling throughout the Cactus League with stops that will include the following camps: Angels, Giants, Brewers, Padres, Rangers, White Sox and Athletics. I have targeted one prospect at each camp whom I will be watching closely, all for different reasons that include future trade value, major league timetable, what the prospect still needs to work on and how impactful he could be if and when he arrives this season.

My sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, microphone and Gulden’s mustard are all packed and ready to be put in play, with the latter for my first hot dog since the one I ate in Kansas City at Game 7 of the World Series.

Andrew Heaney, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels won an American League-best 98 games last year and in the offseason traded one of their best infielders in Howie Kendrick for the opportunity to get Heaney. It's a deal that the Angels know will hurt their chances of repeating this year but hope will help them win for years to come with Heaney as an important part of their starting rotation. He was the Marlins' first-round selection in the June 2012 draft and was the ninth player taken overall.

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Position players to watch this spring 

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
RamirezDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez makes the move to left field in Boston this year.
Infielders and outfielders have joined pitchers and catchers at spring training in Arizona and Florida, and the drama is ongoing. We are already monitoring injuries, position changes, trade rumors, comebacks and players with new teams. Here are 12 infielders and outfielders to keep an eye on during spring training:

1. Hanley Ramirez, LF, Boston Red Sox | Position change

The Red Sox reunited with Ramirez this offseason when they signed him to a four-year, $88 million contract. Now they have to hope they can keep him healthy and on the field, something that has derailed Ramirez most of his career. However, the biggest question surrounding him will be his move to left field.

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Pitchers and catchers to watch this spring 

February, 22, 2015
Feb 22
Cliff Lee and Cole HamelsGetty ImagesPhillies pitchers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are two players worth tracking closely this spring.
Pitchers and catchers for nearly all MLB teams have reported by now, and the drama is ongoing. We are already monitoring injuries, trade rumors, comebacks and how players on new teams are fitting in. I'll be in Arizona and Florida at various times this spring, and here are 12 pitchers and catchers I'll be monitoring closely and talking to people about.

1. Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (trade candidate)

The Hamels trade talks are not going away. It's pretty simple: The Phillies must rebuild, and teams needing the final piece to get them to October will stay engaged with the Phillies, as well as scout Hamels' every appearance. Every pitch, everything being said and any soreness, normal or otherwise, will be overanalyzed by scouts and front offices. If there's an injury to a key pitcher or a top prospect doesn't look quite as promising, that's what will make a Hamels deal happen.

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Offseason report card for all teams 

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
Matt KempAndy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty ImagesA.J. Preller's acquisition of Matt Kemp was only part of a busy offseason for the Padres.
Report card time! With most of the offseason moves complete, it's time to check in and see how teams graded this offseason. My last check-in was Dec. 12, just after the crazy winter-meetings week of moves, but plenty has changed since then.

With that, here are my final offseason grades, including key additions and an explanation. I've ranked them from best grade to lowest:

1. San Diego Padres

Key additions: James Shields, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks

Padres GM A.J. Preller had perhaps the best offseason of any rookie GM in baseball history, wheeling and dealing while making San Diego not only relevant again but a serious contender for the NL West title or a wild-card berth.

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Best fits for three key free-agent relievers 

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
Francisco Rodriguez #57 of the Milwaukee BrewersMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesFrancisco Rodriguez led the National League in games finished (66), including 44 saves.
Major League Baseball officially opens spring training next week, when pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona. However, there are still some free agents without teams, including three valuable relievers in Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain.

The Milwaukee Brewers appear to be the team holding up the reliever market as they wait to see if they can work out a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for their closer, Jonathan Papelbon. If they conclude that it’s not going to happen -- for either financial or prospect-return reasons -- they are prepared to turn their attention to a reunion with Rodriguez. That won’t be an easy negotiation with the Boras Corporation, but should get done because K-Rod wants to return.

The Miami Marlins are the next team in line, and it appears they also are looking to add a reliever before next week.

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Teams that improved most this offseason 

February, 8, 2015
Feb 8
White SoxAP Photo/M. Spencer GreenJeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera were key acquisitions for the White Sox.
Several teams made key singular moves this offseason that could push them over the top and actually have more impact than the overhauls that other teams did. For instance, the Nationals' signing of Max Scherzer gives them the game's best and deepest starting rotation. The Mariners' signing of Nelson Cruz finally got them the right-handed power bat they needed between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the lineup. The Cardinals' trade for right fielder Jason Heyward gives them the game's best defensive right fielder.

These were some of the best moves, but which teams made the best series of moves to make their major league rosters drastically better this offseason? Here are my top five organizations

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ShieldsDenny Medley/USA TODAY SportsPitchers and catchers report in a couple of weeks, and James Shields remains a free agent.
Before the offseason began, I projected that James Shields would receive a five-year deal for around a $100 million (or a $20 million average annual value). But I also wrote that there was a question as to whether he would get that fifth year. I can answer that question now: He's not getting the fifth year.

As a former general manager, I can tell you that when a player gets to the first week of February unsigned, there's usually a good reason. If something were going to happen, it would have by then. Now Shields is looking at a four-year deal in the $70-$80 million range as the best possible result, and the price tag could be even lower than that.

There are still several clubs engaged with Shields, including the San Diego Padres, my current best guess to sign him. But the Miami Marlins and several other teams are in play, too.

Shields and his representatives overshot at the outset of free agency, and have been stubborn to come down. It has even been reported that his camp was claiming to have turned down a five-year, $110 million deal. If that’s true, it was a colossal blunder.

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Six managers already on the hot seat 

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
Ron Roenicke and Don MattinglyGetty ImagesManagers Ron Roenicke and Don Mattingly enter 2015 with immense pressure to win their divisions.
Major League Baseball's lack of job security in the game's most prominent roles is evident year after year, given all the pressure to win in a $9 billion business. And as pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training, there are already at least six major league managers who will arrive to camps in Arizona or Florida already on some type of hot seat with their leadership positions on the line.

Here are the top six managers that the industry believes are at the top of the hot seat list:

1. Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers were in first place for the first five months of the 2014 season but collapsed at the end, losing 25 of their final 36 games.

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James Shields, Rafael SorianoGetty ImagesJames Shields and Rafael Soriano check in as the top available free agents.
We're less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, and several free agents are still stranded on the market looking for jobs, or in most cases improved offers. The list of free agents has been pared down considerably since I posted my top 50 free agents and financial expectations for them, but some big names remain. Sooner or later, however, they will find new homes, and here's my opinion on where I think they'd fit best (i.e., not necessarily where they're currently rumored to land):

1. James Shields, SP

The Washington Nationals didn't even get involved in the Max Scherzer sweepstakes until the calendar turned to 2015, and according to multiple sources, Shields' market has changed as well. Some teams who had bowed out initially have stepped back into the fray with the suggestion that the asking price of five years for $110-120 million drop.

Several American League teams would be a nice fit for Shields, including the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rangers and Tigers.

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