The GM's Office: Pittsburgh Pirates

Ranking the MLB playoff lineups 

October, 1, 2014
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Los Angeles DodgersRobert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsThe Dodgers scored 21 more runs than any other team in baseball during the month of September.
We ranked the playoff rotations and starting pitchers Monday and the playoff bullpens Tuesday; today we rank -- and discuss -- the lineups of the nine remaining playoff teams.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
MLB ranks (regular season):
Runs: 6th | OPS: 3rd | HR: 16th | SB: 2nd

Projected lineup
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C

The Dodgers enter this postseason with a much better lineup than last year's team, which reached the National League Championship Series before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ranking the playoff bullpens 

September, 30, 2014
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HollandPeter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsGreg Holland anchors a Royals bullpen that was sixth in ERA in the second half of this season.
We ranked the playoff rotations and starting pitchers Monday; today we rank -- and discuss -- the bullpens of the 10 playoff teams.

1. Kansas City Royals

Closer: Greg Holland
Setup man: Wade Davis
Situational righties: Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow
Situational lefty: Brandon Finnegan

The Royals might not have the deepest bullpen, but they have the best, thanks mostly to a dominant trio of relievers in Herrera, Davis and the league's best closer in Holland, who has converted 46 of 48 save opportunities this year and has the most saves and best conversion rate of any closer in baseball since May 10, 2013.

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Playoff starting pitcher, rotation rankings 

September, 29, 2014
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Kershaw/GreinkeUSA TODAY SportsZack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw anchor a formidable Dodgers rotation.
The most important element of every major league team in the playoffs is its starting rotation; it's the closest equivalent to a quarterback on an NFL team or the top three players on an NBA team. History has shown us that elite starting pitching has played a greater role in winning championships than any other aspect of a team's infrastructure.

Evaluating starting rotations for the postseason is much different than doing so for the regular season. During the regular season, you concentrate on the team's depth, even the Nos. 6 and 7 spots on the depth chart. In the postseason, you emphasize the top three starters on each team, with little weight given to the fourth starter and no weight to the fifth starter, who's normally in the bullpen. You especially focus on the team's No. 1 starter, who often pitches twice in a five-game series and as many as three times in a seven-game series. You also must factor in how much workload a pitcher has had in the regular season, how they've pitched at the end of the season and any signs of fatigue, something that's not controllable outside of a cortisone shot to lessen the inflammation in a shoulder or elbow.

History shows that pitchers who can miss bats and post higher strikeout rates often perform better in the postseason than contact pitchers. Why is this? Well, these hurlers are facing the game's best lineups, and they need to have the stuff and command to win those battles. Having impeccable command of all pitches in and out of the strike zone is a necessity, because many hitters on playoff teams don't have many weaknesses to exploit.

With that as a preface, here are my rankings of this year's postseason rotations based on scouting, statistical and sabermetric analysis, with specific matchups, workloads, trends and intangibles all factored in:

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Jorge De La RosaAP Photo/Joe MahoneyRockies LHP Jorge De La Rosa could make an excellent addition for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The National League Central has the best four-team race in baseball, with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds all battling for either a division title or a wild-card berth.

And so, with the exception of the Chicago Cubs, every team in the division will likely be buyers at the deadline. The Reds are unique in that they are the only team that really needs to make a significant trade to stay in the race. They'll be looking for a bat. The Brewers, on the other hand, need only an extra bullpen arm, while the Pirates and Cardinals are searching for starting pitching help.

Outside of bullpen arms and bench pieces, the Cubs don't have much left to sell.

I wouldn't expect a blockbuster deal to come out of this division over the next week. Still, I think the NL Central will be active with some smaller deals. Here's the breakdown of what might be coming.

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A.J. BurnettAP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWe may see A.J. Burnett suiting up for a former team again by the end of 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: A.J. Burnett | RHP | Philadelphia Phillies

Possible destinations: Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians


Pittsburgh Pirates

Why? The Pirates' rotation has been given a boost of late by Vance Worley and Jeff Locke, and the team is hoping Francisco Liriano not only returns from the disabled list soon but is more like the Liriano of 2013 than the one with a 4.60 ERA this season. However, the Pirates would feel better about their rotation if they could add one more veteran starter for the stretch drive, and Burnett could fill that void without a huge return. Burnett was well-respected in the Pirates' clubhouse, and viewed as a leader by their young pitchers. After a rough May, Burnett has thrown six consecutive quality starts, increasing his trade value.

Who? A package of 19-year outfielder Harold Ramirez and right-hander Clay Holmes should get the deal done from a player perspective, but the Pirates won’t even consider the deal unless the Phillies send back a significant amount of cash to help with the salary and buyout of the mutual option year on Burnett's contract.

Will it happen? Baseball-wise, this is a good fit for both teams.

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So far this season we have been treated to a number of exciting young rookies, such as George Springer, Billy Hamilton, Nick Castellanos and Yordano Ventura (not to mention Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu, though they aren't traditional rookies).

The good news for baseball fans is that there is another wave of prospects ready to join them soon. Here is my list of seven top prospects whom I am most excited about and will likely be called up before the All-Star Game.

I communicated with all of their general managers this week to get an update on their progress:

1. Gregory Polanco | OF | Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates' long-term outfield blueprint has been clear for the past couple of years: Starling Marte in left, Andrew McCutchen in center and Polanco in right. When Polanco arrives, he will complete the best overall Pirates outfield since 1990, when Barry Bonds was in left, Andy Van Slyke was in center and Bobby Bonilla was in right.

Polanco, 22, is tearing up Triple-A, batting .400/.457/.632.

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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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Five players who benefit from non-moves 

January, 26, 2014
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Will MiddlebrooksRon Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsWill Middlebrooks will get a lot more at-bats if Stephen Drew isn't around.
General managers use the offseason to improve their team at various positions via free agency, trades and waiver claims. Some of these moves are significant upgrades, others are slight improvements.

Yet some general managers simply aren’t able to improve a position because they don’t match up well enough to get a trade done with the other clubs, or they don’t have enough money in their budget to persuade free agents to sign with them.

When this happens, a number of players get second chances or an opportunity to win the job in spring training. Here are five players who might benefit this season because their teams didn’t make a move:


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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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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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GMs who will make a splash in Orlando 

December, 4, 2013
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Brian CashmanAP Photo/Mark HumphreyExpect Brian Cashman at the podium sometime during the Winter Meetings.
Baseball’s annual winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., don’t commence until Sunday, Dec. 8, but several general managers already have made waves this offseason.

Tigers president/GM Dave Dombrowski has made the biggest splash of the offseason so far after dealing first baseman Prince Fielder and right-hander Doug Fister, and signing free-agent closer Joe Nathan.

But St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak isn’t far behind after trading for center fielder Peter Bourjos and signing free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Likewise, Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan has been active, bolstering his starting rotation by signing free-agent pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to long-term deals.

However, 12 out of the top 15 free agents this offseason are still without homes, and there are several prominent players being mentioned in trade rumors, including David Price and Jeff Samardzija.

So let’s take a look at some of the GMs who could join Dombrowski, Mozeliak and Ryan in making a huge splash of their own at the winter meetings.

Brian Cashman | Needs: starting pitching, second base, closer

I know what you are thinking: Cashman already made a splash by signing Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract and Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year pact. But as I see it, that was just the appetizer.

Cashman remains focused on second baseman Robinson Cano, and once CAA and RocNation move a little closer to Cashman’s numbers, an eight-year, $200 million deal could get done before Cashman leaves the winter meetings.

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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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Pirates just moves away from greatness 

October, 10, 2013
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Gerrit ColeJeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsGerrit Cole is part of a strong foundation for the Pirates' future.

It was quite the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had their first winning season since 1992 and won an exciting NL wild-card playoff against the Cincinnati Reds -- also their first playoff win since 1992.

They then pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to a fifth and deciding game in the NLDS, finally succumbing 6-1 to a simply overpowering Adam Wainwright.

As disappointing as the loss to the Cardinals might have been for the Bucs, I think there is greatness ahead for this team if they make a few shrewd moves. Here's what I see as their priorities for this winter.

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FAs who could cash in this October 

October, 4, 2013
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Jacoby Ellsbury John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsWith a great postseason, Jacoby Ellsbury could see his free agent value rise.

Just a season ago, Detroit Tigers right-handed pitcher Anibal Sanchez entered the postseason with a 9-13 record, a 3.86 ERA and a track record that saw him post double-digit wins just twice in six previous seasons, all with the Marlins. At best, he was considered a middle-of-the-rotation, innings-eater type of pitcher. His market value going into the postseason was perhaps four years at $12 million per season.

However, after three big starts, a 1.77 ERA and 0.984 WHIP in the 2012 postseason, his value skyrocketed, allowing him to land a five-year, $88 million deal. In turn, the 29-year-old rewarded with a league-leading 2.57 ERA in the first year of a deal he wouldn’t have gotten if it weren’t for his stellar postseason performance.

Indeed, postseason performances can change the value of a potential free agent. Here are seven players from this postseason who could see their value improve.

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Eight make-or-break players in the LDS 

October, 3, 2013
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Jake PeavyJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesOther pitchers might have better stuff, but nobody competes harder than Jake Peavy.

This October, most of the ink will be used on the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera and Dustin Pedroia, but it's nondescript, under-the-radar players who write history in the postseason. Winning championships isn’t about stars; it’s about players who step up at a critical time.

Consider some past World Series MVPs: New York Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius in 1998; the White Sox’s Jermaine Dye in 2005; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein in 2006; Boston’s Mike Lowell in 2007 and San Francisco’s Edgar Renteria in 2010.

This type of player or pitcher can play a key role in any team’s postseason success. So here is one player from each LDS club who might not be his team’s best player but will prove crucial to his team’s aspirations to advance deep into the postseason.

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