The GM's Office: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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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Seven bold predictions for 2014 

March, 29, 2014
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Cliff Lee Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesCliff Lee has a lot to be worried about if things go sideways for the Phillies.
With the start of the 2014 season upon us, it's time to take a guess at what might happen this year.

In this space last season, I predicted that Yasiel Puig would become an instant hit in Los Angeles and envisioned a last-place finish for the New York Yankees. Although the Yankees did not end up in the AL East cellar, they definitely fell off, and "Puigmania" did indeed ensue. So here are seven predictions I'm making for 2014.

1. Phillies finish last in the NL East

The Philadelphia Phillies might not have the worst roster in baseball, but they do have the oldest, and it's a team that has been on a steady decline for the past few years.

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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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Shin-Soo ChooJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsThe Texas Rangers might have wildly overpaid for free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
When a general manager makes a trade or a free-agent signing, he must always have significant justification for why the move was made. This could include:

• Scouting reports
• Advanced metrics and analytics
• Medical reports
• Evaluations of makeup and character
• Financial considerations
• Roster structure
• Team needs to wants

Most GMs will provide owners with at least 20 pages of documentation supporting any significant move. By the time everyone evaluates why the decision was made most of the organization should believe the move was made in the best interest of the organization.

However, after all the preparation and analysis is done, the decision is right only until something goes wrong. That could be an injury, a decline in performance, a personal problem that changes the player’s focus, a change of vibe in the clubhouse or even a change of league or position that all of a sudden makes the move go wrong, leaving the club with nothing but regrets.

Of course, anyone who's ever been a GM, president or owner would love to have a mulligan or two during their careers. Looking at this year’s offseason moves, here are the five that will backfire, either by season’s end or sometime in the next few years.

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Robinson CanoLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesRivals GMs don't understand why the Mariners stopped spending after getting Cano.
One of the advantages of being a former general manager is that there’s something of a fraternity among GMs. This proves advantageous when digging for information. Most are generous and readily available. As I bounced from spring camp to spring camp, here’s what some GMs and executives had to say:

• Several general managers told me they don't understand how the Seattle Mariners could give Robinson Cano almost a quarter-billion dollars and then claim not to have the money to bring back Kendrys Morales or make a run at Ervin Santana.

Seattle is emboldened by its lucrative local television deal, but many general managers are wondering what the Mariners’ plan is.

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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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video
One of the big stories of spring training has been Mike Trout's long-term contract negotiations with the Los Angeles Angels. The 22-year-old agreed to a deal Wednesday, but it was not the multiyear deal many fans were hoping for.

Instead, Trout agreed to a $1 million salary for 2014. Under the collective bargaining agreement, that's roughly twice as much as the Angels are required to pay him, so it's certainly a fair deal given the circumstances, and shows some good faith on the part of the club, which was criticized last year for not giving Trout a big enough raise.

In fact, the $1 million is largest one-year salary given to a pre-arbitration player, and that sends a great message to Trout. Sources tell me that a long-term deal is still being discussed, and I think it will done by the end of April. Here is how I expect it to play out.

The Angels really want to stay under the luxury tax, so by setting Trout's 2014 salary now, his long-term deal won't count against the tax until 2015, which is big for them.

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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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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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Post-Tanaka moves that will happen 

January, 22, 2014
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As you have probably heard by now, Masahiro Tanaka has agreed to a seven-year, $155 million contract with the New York Yankees. As Buster Olney noted Wednesday morning, this won’t necessarily set off the free-agent dominoes, but the deal does have serious implications for the suitors that missed out on Tanaka -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels -- as well as the remaining free-agent pitchers.

Here’s how I see things playing out from here.

1. Angels and D-backs will battle for Garza

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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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BeltranAP Photo/John MinchilloWith FAs like Carlos Beltran, it will be tough for the Yankees to stay below the tax threshold.
Some big free-agent names were signed over the holiday season, but that doesn't mean the market is dried up. With many teams waiting on the final destination of Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, several quality free-agent pitchers remain, as well as some trade possibilities.

Plenty of big moves are still likely to come. So, here are my 10 bold predictions of the rest of the offseason. Not all are personnel related, but most will have significant impact on teams or the game itself.

1. New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels go over the luxury-tax threshold
The Yankees have worked hard over the last couple of seasons to try and keep their payroll below $189 million dollars for this season, and the Angels have worked diligently this offseason to do the same.

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Seven underrated moves of the winter 

December, 31, 2013
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BourjosOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesPeter Bourjos is a much better defender than Jon Jay, St. Louis' incumbent center fielder.
While most of the discussion this winter has focused on the big-money deals given to the likes of Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury, there have been plenty of smaller moves that will shift pennant races in 2014.

Here are seven moves that I think have been the most underrated of the offseason.

1. St. Louis Cardinals trade for CF Peter Bourjos

The Cardinals were in obvious need of a defensive upgrade in center field and Bourjos is among the best defensive outfielders in the game. He's so good, in fact, that his former manager, Mike Scioscia, often played him in center field instead of Mike Trout. Bourjos has tremendous range in the gaps and there is not a ball he can't outrun.

To get Bourjos, the Cardinals gave up third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas, while also getting outfield prospect Randal Grichuk from Los Angeles.

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Five teams with the best shot at Tanaka 

December, 25, 2013
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After weeks of drama, the Masahiro Tanaka posting saga is finally over. Rakuten, his team in Japan, has agreed to post him, and now all MLB teams have a chance to negotiate with him if they agree to put up the posting fee, which likely will max out at $20 million per the new posting rules. (If a team doesn't sign him, no fee is paid.)

Now the question is: Which team will get the prized right-hander? As far as I'm concerned, these are the five clubs with the best shot:

1. New York Yankees

The Yankees' top free-agent pitching target has always been Tanaka. Although their goal was to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, it was more of a goal than a mandate, as GM Brian Cashman explained to me during the winter meetings.

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10 moves that still need to happen 

December, 17, 2013
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Matt Garza, C.J. WilsonGetty ImagesMatt Garza might look pretty good in the Angels' rotation with C.J. Wilson.
This has been a wild offseason so far, with blockbuster trades and free-agent signings taking place even before we got to Orlando for the Winter Meetings. Yet, with two weeks left in 2013, the free-agent and trade markets still have a lot of unfinished business.

As I look around the league, I can see 10 more moves that make a lot of sense and should to get done for their teams to remain viable contenders for 2014. Let's take a look:

1. Los Angeles Angels | Move: Sign free-agent RHP Matt Garza

The Angels have worked hard

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