The GM's Office: Pittsburgh Pirates

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.
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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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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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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Ranking aces of NL contenders 

September, 23, 2013
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Clayton KershawStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw is hands-down the best ace among postseason contenders.

As we've all learned by now, baseball's postseason is pretty much a crapshoot, with all 10 participants having a legitimate chance at a world championship.

Just before last year's postseason began I predicted the San Francisco Giants would win the World Series. I chose the Giants because I lean toward the best and most successful power arms. Usually postseason teams have the best lineups in the game, so the best way to win is is with velocity and pitchability.

With the postseason almost upon us, I decided to rank the No. 1 starters on all of the likely playoff participants. We'll start with the NL today as the playoff picture in the Senior Circuit is a bit more clear cut.

1. Clayton Kershaw | Los Angeles Dodgers

15-9, 1.88 ERA, 224 K's, 0.92 WHIP
Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, period. If I had to predict an ace or team to run the table, it has to be Kershaw and the Dodgers. He knows how to use his four-pitch mix with the best in the game and he has learned how to get outs in early counts, which has allowed him to pitch deeper into games.

Because of all this, I predict that he will become the highest-paid pitcher the game has ever seen this winter, earning an extension from the Dodgeers that will pay him $30 million annually. The Dodgers’ No. 2 starter, Zack Greinke, gives them the best 1-2 starter combination in the NL.

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Ranking bullpens for October contenders 

September, 20, 2013
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Craig KimbrelKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCraig Kimbrel is arguably the best closer in baseball, but the rest of the Braves pen is pretty good, too.

A simple fact of the baseball postseason is you don’t get in without a strong bullpen, and you certainly don't survive without one.

These teams believe in their pens, and they tend to especially have supreme confidence in their closer. Almost invariably you look at the numbers and see that when these teams have the lead in the ninth inning, the game is over. And that kind of confidence must carry into the postseason.

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Reviewing my 10 bold predictions 

September, 13, 2013
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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 X factors down the stretch 

September, 11, 2013
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With just two and a half weeks left in the regular season, we still have dramatic division races in the National League Central and American League West as well as an intense wild-card race in the AL where five teams are separated by just three games for the final playoff berth.

Most fans following these races will concentrate on the teams’ best players, such as Yadier Molina, Joey Votto, Yu Darvish and David Price. However, the reality is that the difference-makers aren't whom you would expect.

Here are 10 X factors to watch in the final few weeks of the season:

1. Billy Hamilton | Impact: Game-changing pinch runner

Hamilton is by far the fastest human to wear a Reds uniform since I was their general manager and acquired Deion Sanders from the Atlanta Braves for Roberto Kelly in 1994. Hamilton already is in the record books having stolen four bases in his first four major league appearances, and most impressively, his first two were against Molina, the game’s best defensive catcher.

Hamilton has a chance to affect the pennant race with his legs, bringing back memories of Dave Roberts’ stolen base in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.

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