The GM's Office: Philadelphia Phillies

Seven bold predictions for 2014 

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
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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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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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The missing link for every NL team 

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
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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
12/15/13
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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 AL team 

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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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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One deal for every NL team 

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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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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GMs with the toughest offseason jobs 

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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Brian CashmanJohn Munson/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireBrian Cashman has a laundry list of issues to address in what looks like a long offseason.
Most assume the general managers of baseball’s small-market teams have the toughest jobs in baseball. After all, when you’re hamstrung by limited finances, it can be tough to win.

However, it’s the general managers of teams in baseball’s biggest markets who have the toughest jobs this offseason. They are the ones who are hamstrung, not by limited finances, but by their fan bases or an impatient ownership group that refuses to wait five years. Rather than rebuild, they continually retool.

After years of following this model, four large-market teams find themselves saddled with large, overpriced rosters filled with declining players and few tradable assets, as well as weak farm systems. They are heavily compromised going into free agency, so instead of enjoying huge financial advantages, they will have to compete with teams that have more free-agent appeal because their chances to win over the next few years are much better.

Here is a look at four of the toughest GM jobs in baseball this offseason:

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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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Reviewing my 10 bold predictions 

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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Alfonso SorianoAP Photo/Patrick SemanskyThe Yankees find themselves in the wild-card race, not the AL East basement.

Every year at some point during spring training, I offer my 10 bold predictions for the season. Instead of offering the obvious, I try to go out on a limb and prognosticate what most people wouldn’t expect. The tough part of that equation is at the end of the season when my editors ask me to go back and review those 10 predictions and assess how I did.

Thanks a lot, guys.

In retrospect, I think I fared reasonably well, but one way or another it’s time for me to man up and take responsibility for my predictions. Just remember, I was told to go out on that limb ... I didn't walk out there by choice.

Prediction: The New York Yankees will finish last in AL East.

Outcome: Wrong


This prediction came with a caveat: “All five teams in the AL East have a chance to finish anywhere from first to last place.” That included the Yankees. Instead, the Yankees find themselves smack in the middle of an AL wild-card chase. More than the Yankees overachieving, it was the Blue Jays’ rotation that underachieved. The rotation was plagued by injuries or underperformance. R.A. Dickey looked nothing like the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner; Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow combined for four wins and ERAs around 6.00; Ricky Romero made two starts with an ERA north of 12.00 and J.A. Happ also had an ERA north of 5.00.

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10 managers in limbo 

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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GirardiKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJoe Girardi is in the last year of his contract, but his return is very likely.

Baseball is a results-oriented business. It can be brutal and sobering, especially those charged with managing a team. Injuries aren't their fault, and most of the time, neither are players who don't perform up to expectations or can't execute properly. So when a manager makes it to the last year of his contract without some sort of preemptive extension, it's a quasi referendum on his team's performance, but it's usually his head that's on the line.

The following are 10 managers who sit in varying degrees of that limbo, all of whom are in the final year of their contract. It's fair to say that some are more secure than others, while some are with near 100-percent certainty, done.




Joe Girardi | Tenure: 7th season | New York Yankees

Girardi must be considered for American League Manager of the Year for dealing with a plethora of issues ranging from major injuries, suspensions, limited help from the farm system and at times a no-name lineup made up of free agents and waiver claims.

I would argue he has done an even a better job this season than in 2009, when he led the Yankees to a World Series title. His preference is to stay with the Yankees, but if for some reason the Steinbrenner family decides not to pay him what he deserves, Girardi should have an option with the Washington Nationals, who to this day regret not offering Girardi what he was seeking when they had the chance to hire him shortly before he landed the Yankees’ job.

A return to the Chicago Cubs would be a longshot but a perfect fit.

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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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Managers, GMs who must finish strong 

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
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Jerry Dipoto and Mike SciosciaKyle Terada/US PresswireCould Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, right, be on his way out in L.A.?

Stability and continuity in the general manager and field manager positions are how an organization wins championships.

In the early 1990s, the Atlanta Braves’ combination of general manager John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox set the bar. After Schuerholz and Cox retired, the Braves’ torch was passed on to GM Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez, but the Detroit Tigers’ Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland might be the closest parallel to the Schuerholz-Cox dynamic.

Up until Friday, when Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was fired, the 2013 season had been kind to both general managers and field managers as there hadn’t been a single firing -- which was good for baseball and its teams. Such stability underscores the success of competitive balance in the sport.

As was the case in Philadelphia, the lack of management upheaval elsewhere won’t last forever as there inevitably will be some changes this offseason. It’s simply the nature of the business. After polling executives in both leagues, here are four general managers or field managers who might have to finish this season strong in order to retain their jobs in 2014:


Jerry Dipoto | general manager | Los Angeles Angels

Dipoto is one of the bright young minds in the game. The problem is that he hasn’t been able to carry out his vision for the Angels because most of his moves have backfired. The decision to include shortstop Jean Segura in the Zack Greinke trade would have been justified had the Angels either won the World Series or re-signed Greinke. However, they didn’t win and Dipoto chose to sign free-agent Josh Hamilton instead of Greinke.

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Five August trades I'd like to see 

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
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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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Grading the GMs at the deadline 

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
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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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Cliff LeeAP Photo/Matt SlocumNow it's just a waiting game for Cliff Lee as to whether he will be traded by Wednesday.
With the clock ticking down to the major league trade deadline, there has been some activity the past two days, and we're bound to see some more between now and 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.

So I decided to handicap the odds of these players being traded and which teams they’d best fit based on what I’m hearing from around the front offices. You can bet any movement that happens will somehow involve one of these guys.


Starting pitchers

Jake Peavy | RHP | Chicago White Sox | Odds: 75 percent
The White Sox have been demanding prospect packages far beyond what the Texas Rangers gave up to the Chicago Cubs for Matt Garza. Although the White Sox should get slightly more than the Cubs got for impending free agent Garza -- because the acquiring club would be getting an additional year of control of Peavy in 2014 -- their asking price still must come down if they want to move him.

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