The GM's Office: Milwaukee Brewers

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.
Manny MachadoBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsManny Machado is one of several young stars Jim Bowden would lock up long term now.
As baseball’s revenues continue to break records year over year, clubs are well aware that, based on baseball history, those revenues normally get passed right down to the players.

Indeed, we’ve recently seen a flurry of six-year contract extensions by clubs for non-arbitration-eligible players in the past few months, including:

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, $144.5 million
Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians, $23 million
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, $32.4 million
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays, $25.5 million
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians, $52.5 million

In addition to those six-year deals, there was also Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135 million extension, which is the longest contract in Braves history.

This proactive method benefits the team and the player. For the teams, they get to pre-emptively buy out some of the player's free-agent years, which should save them millions of dollars considering the ridiculous pace at which free-agent salaries are escalating. In exchange, the players receive lifetime security yet are still able to test the free-agent market again at a reasonably young age.

The Trout deal broke records at almost every aspect, and the Teheran and Archer deals were riskier because of pitchers’ greater chance of landing on the disabled list at some point in their six-year contract.

Gomes was the biggest gamble because he hasn’t established the track record the others did to justify committing those types of dollars. Regardless of the risk, clubs cannot ignore the opportunity to save so much money, making contracts such as these no-brainers.

When I look around the league, I see a number of other candidates for these kind of long-term deals. Here are nine pre-arbitration players I think teams would have a chance to lock up, plus four Boras Corp. clients who probably have very little chance to sign now -- Scott Boras almost always recommends his players hold out for free agency ASAP -- but should try anyway.

As always, agents will use recent deals as a framework when negotiating, and I've noted some recent deals that would provide a guideline for each player in question.

Non-arbitration-eligible players clubs should extend now

1. Manny Machado | 3B | Service time: 1+056 | Agent: MVP Sports

Note: Service time is as of Opening Day, and "1+056" means one year, 56 days.

Machado had offseason knee surgery and started the year on the disabled list, so of course the Orioles will need to make sure he is 100 percent upon his return before doing a deal. However, once he is back to full strength, they should be aggressive in getting him locked up. The time will never be better, the price and value never lower.

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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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MLB has never had more parity 

March, 15, 2014
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One of the main purposes of ESPN Insider's Future Power Rankings is to offer fans hope.

Even if your team is bad now, it might be really good in three years. The rankings are designed to peer into the projected future. However, this year’s FPR also illustrated something else: baseball has achieved a tremendous amount of parity. If you look at the overall scores, you'll see that the gap between No. 1 and No. 5 (25.8 points) is larger than the gap between No. 5 and No. 25 (23.8). This kind of parity keeps fans’ hopes alive because, year to year, any team could be that surprise contender.

The rankings showed there were four elite teams with scores well above the average: the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers. Conversely, there was a significant drop to the last four teams: the Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins. But what about that middle 22 teams?

For fans celebrating their teams ranked just below the elite at fifth or sixth, not so fast. For fans upset their teams ranked as low as 24th or 25th, not to worry. The reality is, there isn’t much difference between the fifth-ranked team and the 26th-ranked team, thanks to this new competitive balance. Any of the teams within this range can easily move up or down within a year with some solid moves and decisions.

But how did baseball create such competitive balance so quickly?

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Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonCubs fans could see top prospect Javier Baez in the majors as early as June.
PHOENIX -- Just 90 miles of Interstate 94 separates the North Side of Chicago and Milwaukee. Fans in other parts of the country might not have noticed, but a nice little geographic rivalry has developed between the Brewers and Cubs.

However, instead of competing for the NL Central crown as they did four or five years ago, last season the two clubs jockeyed to simply stay out of the cellar. This season the clubs are going in opposite directions; the Brewers could compete for a wild-card berth, while the Cubs probably are looking at 90 or more losses.

Here’s a look at both the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, and the buzz surrounding their spring training camps.

Chicago Cubs

• The Cubs’ plan is to start top shortstop prospect Javier Baez in Triple-A. If he tears it up, they will call him up in June after he no longer is eligible for Super Two status.

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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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Some players use spring training to get into playing shape, get their timing down, work on a new pitch or tweak their mechanics. Other players, however, know that time is running out, and if they have a poor spring, they could be out of a job.

Nothing is guaranteed during spring training, and that includes jobs. Here are seven players who are at risk of losing their jobs this spring.

1. Dan Uggla | 2B | Atlanta Braves

Uggla, 33, was a consistent performer from 2007 to '11, belting 30 home runs a season and playing a solid second base. He’s a three-time All-Star who signed a five-year, $62 million deal back in 2011.

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The missing link for every NL team 

January, 14, 2014
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Clayton KershawAP Photo/Jeff RobersonThe Dodgers likely will cease chasing Masahiro Tanaka after Clayton Kershaw gets his extension.
For the vast majority of major league teams, pitchers and catchers will report to spring training exactly a month from now. Usually teams are simply fine-tuning their rosters, whether it's that last utility bench guy or an additional bullpen arm.

But with teams from both leagues waiting on the fate of free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, many teams still have significant moves they must make to shape their team into a championship club. What is the missing link for each team? On Tuesday I will focus on the National League teams and Wednesday I’ll present the American League.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks

Missing link: Top-of-the-rotation starter
Solution: Sign RHP Masahiro Tanaka or Ervin Santana or Matt Garza
Both general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson’s option years for 2015 were not picked up, leading Towers to admit that both are on the hot seat to win this year. Every move they’ve made this offseason has involved trading future assets for win-now results. With this type of pressure on him, Towers knows the best way to keep his job is to add an elite starter.

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Offseason grades thus far: NL 

December, 15, 2013
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Curtis Granderson AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackCurtis Granderson went across town and helps the Mets' outfield substantially.
On Saturday, I graded every American League team based on the moves they have made thus far this season, and today we move to the NL.

While the free-agent class wasn't as exciting in years past, we've seen some bold trades that should change the baseball landscape in 2014 and beyond. (Teams are listed in order of their grade, by division.)

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One deal for every NL team 

November, 18, 2013
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The hot stove league is already fired up, as the Philadelphia Phillies struck first by signing outfielder Marlon Byrd last week. With such a weak free-agent class this offseason, teams will look heavily in the trade market.

Below you will find a proposed trade or free-agent signing that could help each National League team. On Tuesday I'll address the American League.

NL East

Atlanta Braves

The move: Trade top pitching prospect Lucas Sims, shortstop Jose Peraza and Alex Wood to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for left-handed pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner David Price and outfield prospect Drew Vettleson.

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Moving the "immovable" contracts 

October, 17, 2013
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B.J. UptonKevin Liles/Getty ImagesThe Braves might like a mulligan on signing the disappointing B.J. Upton.

In 2008, the Toronto Blue Jays shocked the baseball world when they signed outfielder Vernon Wells to a seven-year, $126 million deal. His career .319 OBP and a dismal 2009 season and perceived decline as well as a base salary that escalated to $21 million quickly made Wells’ contract such an albatross that no one thought Wells could ever be traded.

However, Wells actually was traded ... twice. First he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in 2011 for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, then again this past March to the New York Yankees for minor leaguers.

There are two ways an "immovable" contract can be, well, moved. A team can do what the Angels did and assume a majority of the remaining salary; they paid $28.1 million to the Yankees, leaving just $12.9 million for the Yankees to pay in 2013 and 2014. Or a team can trade a bad contract for another bad contract, as the New York Mets and Angels did in 2001, when they swapped first baseman Mo Vaughn for right-hander Kevin Appier.

And swapping gargantuan contracts can sometimes benefit both teams. Such was the case in August 2012 when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox made a blockbuster deal that transformed both clubs into legitimate World Series contenders. The Dodgers got the big-name player they wanted (Adrian Gonzalez) while the Red Sox got the financial freedom they needed to rebuild.

Also, when clubs don’t have trade chips in either their farm system or major league club, and don’t like the cost of the present free-agent market, they might take a chance on a bad contract because it’s the only way they can make their team better, just as the Yankees did with Wells.

So, teams can trade some "immovable" contracts. Let’s take a look at the present market for them. I’ve categorized them into somewhat likely and unlikely, as some have a better possibility of being moved than others, but no matter what it will take a couple of very motivated teams on both sides to get a deal done.

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Seven players poised to rebound in '14 

September, 18, 2013
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Matt KempKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMatt Kemp has endured a nightmare 2013, but all signs point to a resurgent 2014.

Teams can rely on offseason trades and free agency to supplement their teams for the next season. But one of the easiest and most gratifying methods is simply having an important player return to form.

In 2013, baseball has witnessed the comebacks of a number of players who have had a direct impact on their teams' success this season.

Pitchers bouncing back from lackluster 2012 seasons include Ubaldo Jimenez (Cleveland Indians), Francisco Liriano (Pittsburgh Pirates), Jorge De La Rosa (Colorado Rockies), John Lackey (Boston Red Sox) and Ervin Santana (Kansas City Royals).

Bounce-back position players who made the biggest impacts include Jayson Werth (Washington Nationals), Eric Hosmer (Royals), Shane Victorino (Red Sox), Hanley Ramirez (Los Angeles Dodgers), Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox) and James Loney (Tampa Bay Rays).

Forecasting how well these players will bounce back can be tricky, but based on a player’s track record and work ethic, general managers often will take gambles based on hunches. They often are the best offseason acquisitions because they cost nothing in terms of trade assets or signing values.

Here are seven players who I believe will have bounce-back seasons in 2014 after subpar 2013 seasons:

1. Matt Kemp | CF | Los Angeles Dodgers

Kemp’s injury-plagued 2013 season was nothing short of a nightmare. Early in the season he didn’t display his typical power, and while the team maintained he was healthy, most observers attributed his lack of power to a surgically repaired shoulder. He also was hampered by a sore right hamstring in May, then again in June.

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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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Bowden's rookie rankings 

August, 9, 2013
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Wil MyersJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesWil Myers has been quickly rising up these rankings since his debut.

With less than two months left in the 2013 season, we’re heading down the stretch for this season’s top rookies.

It’s been a list dominated thus far by National League pitchers such as Shelby Miller, Jose Fernandez and Julio Teheran, to name a few, as well as outfielder Yasiel Puig. However, an American League outfielder and shortstop finally cracked the top 10.

Keep in mind that most minor league campaigns conclude at the end of August. For some, this will be far more innings pitched or games played than they’ve ever experienced, so September and the postseason could be taxing.

Regardless, below are my monthly rookie rankings, and there are some new names on the list, mostly because I've extended it from 30 names to 50.

1. Jose Fernandez | RHP | Miami Marlins


For the second month in a row, Fernandez leads the way, this time after going 6-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 11 starts since the start of June. Batters still are hitting just .182 against Fernandez after starting an at-bat with a first-pitch ball. He was named July NL Rookie of the Month and co-player of the week for the week of July 29.

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Five August trades I'd like to see 

August, 7, 2013
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Even though the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, trades still can happen in August. A player must be passed through waivers first, and if no one claims him he can be traded to any team. Or if a player is claimed, the team that made the claim has a chance to broker a deal with the player's current team. Alternatively, the current team can simply pull the player back off waivers if a deal can't be made.

For some contending teams, it's their last shot at adding an impact player for the pennant race. For selling teams, it represents an opportunity to clear some payroll and a roster spot as they look ahead to the offseason. Here are five trades I'd like to see in August.

Philadelphia Phillies trade 3B Michael Young to the New York Yankees in exchange for minor leaguer Dante Bichette Jr.

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