The GM's Office: St. Louis Cardinals

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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Bryan PriceAP Photo/Paul SancyaNew Reds manager Bryan Price has some very specific changes for the 2014 season.
Somewhat fittingly, the Cincinnati Reds open their season on Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty built the Cardinals into a perennial power and 2006 World Series champion during his tenure as St. Louis’ GM from 1994 to 2007.

With the Reds, Jocketty is trying to do the same, and although some have criticized him for "standing pat" this winter, I believe he built a team that is poised to be in the mix for the National League Central crown once again.

Jocketty still is scouring the trade market for more offensive help for his lineup, and at the very least, some offensive help that can also back up in the infield. But believe in the Reds; they're going to be better than everyone thinks. This past offseason, the Reds made no significant moves, and that was the right move, for another 90-win season and a wild-card berth are well within their grasp in 2014.

No moves, better team



So how can the Reds lose Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo via free agency and still have a better team? Thanks to its farm system, Cincinnati has a chance to be better, and here's why:

Hamilton takes over center field: Billy Hamilton might get some bad jumps and take some poor angles, but because of his speed he has so much more range than Choo.

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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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Matt KempLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesIs it possible Matt Kemp might miss all of spring training? Could be.
It was in March 2013 that I predicted that some time during the season, Yasiel Puig would become a star on the level of past star rookies such as Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo and create his own mania -- "Puigmania."

Well, it's time for more bold predictions, and I'm beginning with spring training. Let's take a look at my 10 bold predictions for 2014 spring training. (Don't worry, I'll make more bold predictions for the regular season.)

1. Matt Kemp doesn't play in a single major league spring training game.

Kemp is still recovering from microfracture surgery on his left talus bone (a major weight-bearing bone in his ankle), and I think he will begin the season on the disabled list.

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Every year at spring training there is a lot of focus on the star players who switched teams, with Robinson Cano being a prime example this year. However, what I am most excited about for this spring is the chance to scout some of the game's top rookies.

It’s fun to watch young players develop in real time, and to see if they can do enough to convince their managers and GMs to take them up north. It’s a time when the game’s best evaluators get a taste of just how good some young players can be.

So here are 10 rookies I am looking forward to scouting during spring training. And trust me, just getting the list down to 10 was not easy.

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GM awards for best trades, signings 

February, 7, 2014
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Billy Beane and Brian CashmanGetty Images, AP PhotoBilly Beane and Brian Cashman enjoyed very fruitful offseasons.
I'm all packed with spring training just days away. So before I depart I thought it was time to give my offseason awards and hand out some hardware to the general managers for their offseason work.

BEST OFFSEASON -- BIG-MARKET GM: Brian Cashman | New York Yankees

It was the most expensive free-agent spending spree in baseball history when the Yankees committed a combined $438 million for 22 years of contracts to Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. The Yankees quickly rebuilt their outfield, catching and starting pitching with All-Star caliber players and imported the best overall talent of any team in baseball this offseason. They also get credit for walking away from Robinson Cano by refusing to acquiesce to 10 years and approximately $240 million for a player in his 30s.

Runners-up:
Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers:

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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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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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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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When word got out about the four-year, $52 million contract that Jhonny Peralta signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, many people in the baseball industry were not pleased.

Perhaps most notably, Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler tweeted that he didn't like seeing players "rewarded" for PED use, and some other players expressed similar sentiments through social media.

While I can understand why players would see it this way, I can assure you that Peralta is not being "rewarded" for his PED use, but rather benefiting from a barren shortstop market.

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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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Six trades for David Price 

November, 8, 2013
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PriceKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDavid Price might be wondering just where he'll land if he's traded this offseason.
There might be several quality free agent starting pitchers available this offseason, but the best pitcher on most teams' radars is a former Cy Young Award winner whose team simply can't afford him anymore.

Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price has two more years left on his contract. With the cost of ace pitchers soaring toward $30 million per season and no new stadium deal in sight, the fiscally strapped Rays realize it's only a matter of time before they must deal Price.

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Teams best-positioned for the offseason 

November, 4, 2013
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David FreeseRichard Mackson,USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals' depth would allow them to trade David Freese in the offseason.
In the offseason, teams bid for the same free agents, try to negotiate trades for many of the same players, and even vie for the same players in December’s Rule 5 draft at the annual winter meetings. However, that doesn’t mean the teams are on a level playing field as they compete for those players. Some teams will have definite advantages going into the offseason, and not simply because of financial wherewithal.

Indeed, the teams that are best-positioned for the offseason already have gone to great lengths to ensure they have trade assets on their major league rosters and in their farm systems as well as adequate money to spend on free agents. And these teams usually feature a general manager who’s ready to wheel and deal. The teams that have this positioning usually are the ones that are playing deep into October.

On Friday we discussed which general managers had the toughest jobs this offseason. Let’s take a look at the four teams best-positioned for this offseason. I evaluated them using five categories: major league roster, farm system, payroll/money to spend, trade bait and needs (plus a quick look at the GM's priorities).



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How the Cardinals get even better 

October, 30, 2013
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St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos BeltranDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesCarlos Beltran has been a leader and a major contributor, but will he stay in St. Louis?
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has quickly developed into one of the game’s best managers. A year after falling just five wins short of a World Series title, this season he came within two.

In order for Matheny to get the Cardinals over the hump next year, he'll need general manager John Mozeliak to tweak the roster and improve a couple of areas, specifically shortstop and center field. The Cardinals also have an important decision to make on impending free agent Carlos Beltran.

However, even if the Cardinals make zero moves this offseason, with the depth of their starting pitching, plethora of power arms, strong farm system and one of the league’s best lineups, they'll still enter 2014 as the team to beat in the National League.

Here are five issues the Cardinals need to address in order to get better for 2014.

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