The GM's Office: Tampa Bay Rays

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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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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GM buzz: Latest on free agents 

February, 3, 2014
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Nelson Cruz Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsNelson Cruz is still looking for a home. Will he find one in Seattle?
With pitchers and catchers due to report to spring training in a couple of weeks, the rumor mill continues to churn because many quality free agents are still on the market, including: Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Paul Maholm, Stephen Drew and Nelson Cruz.

Why are so many players still on the market? Well, the agents and union have their theory, while the clubs have a different view. Multiple agents representing free agents who are still on the market told me over the weekend that they, as well as the players' union, are concerned that social networking and the media’s advanced coverage of the sport are hurting the market value of their clients.

Some even went so far as to suggest that teams are possibly violating the clause in the collective bargaining agreement that prevents clubs from influencing a free agent's market value by relaying to the media the offers they’ve made to free agents, and whether clubs plan to make an offer or decline to make an offer. Certainly media coverage of baseball’s offseason is the best it’s ever been, but these conclusions have very little merit when you look at the enormous contracts that were given out this offseason to the likes of Robinson Cano, Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka, among others.

On the other hand, general managers and assistant GMs have a different opinion. The majority believe the main reason so many free agents remain on the market is that all have some type of negative issue surrounding them, whether that's injury history, a performance-enhancing drug suspension, career inconsistency or draft-pick compensation. GMs also point to the agents’ inflated expectations in terms of years and dollars considering the risks associated with these players.

With that in mind, here’s the latest scuttlebutt from the front offices around the league.

Where will they land?

David Price is staying in Tampa. Rays GM Andrew Friedman has listened to every club that had a trade proposal for Price and came away knowing his best decision is to keep him and try to win this year.

The Rays know that trading Price at the deadline probably won’t be an option because the team will be in a pennant race, so it will be next offseason when he’s finally traded.

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The GM stars of winter 

January, 30, 2014
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General Manager Billy Beane of the Oakland AthleticsMichael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesOakland GM Billy Beane worked some serious magic this offseason.
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman certainly made the biggest splash this offseason, spending more than $440 million on free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka. After trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Shoo Choo, Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels probably made the second loudest noise.

However, if history has taught baseball GMs anything, teams that make the biggest moves rarely end up winning the World Series. Just ask Los Angeles Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, whose 2011 and 2012 teams disappointed greatly after the organization signed big-name free agents Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton in successive years.

So while Cashman and Daniels made big splashes, they weren’t the general manager stars of the offseason. That title belongs to a pair of small-market geniuses: the Oakland Athletics’ Billy Beane and the Tampa Bay Rays’ Andrew Friedman.

Indeed, much of baseball has grown accustomed to Beane and Friedman dominating the sport with limited resources and always finding ways to contend with the big-market teams who spend two and three times what they spend, and this offseason was no different.

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The missing link for every AL team 

January, 15, 2014
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Matt Garza AP Photo/Colin E. BraleyIf the Los Angeles Angels lose out on Masahiro Tanaka, they should go after Matt Garza.
On Tuesday, I focused on the missing piece for every National League team heading in to spring training, and today we turn our attention to the American League.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Houston Astros

Missing link: Pitching prospects
Solution: Trade 3B Matt Dominguez for prospects
The Astros are doing a masterful job of following the blueprint of general manager Jeff Luhnow, building through the draft and player development while mixing in a few veteran free agents who will have some trade value at the deadline.

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BeltranAP Photo/John MinchilloWith FAs like Carlos Beltran, it will be tough for the Yankees to stay below the tax threshold.
Some big free-agent names were signed over the holiday season, but that doesn't mean the market is dried up. With many teams waiting on the final destination of Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, several quality free-agent pitchers remain, as well as some trade possibilities.

Plenty of big moves are still likely to come. So, here are my 10 bold predictions of the rest of the offseason. Not all are personnel related, but most will have significant impact on teams or the game itself.

1. New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels go over the luxury-tax threshold
The Yankees have worked hard over the last couple of seasons to try and keep their payroll below $189 million dollars for this season, and the Angels have worked diligently this offseason to do the same.

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Offseason grades thus far: AL 

December, 14, 2013
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McCann & GirardiAP Photo/Seth WenigManager Joe Girardi was all smiles after the Yankees signed free-agent catcher Brian McCann.
Entering the offseason, the 2013 free agent class was generally regarded as one of the weaker ones in recent memory. Thus, most industry insiders were banking on a healthy trade market to develop and they were right.

In addition to the generous free-agent signings, blockbuster trades dominated the news, re-sculpting several teams in a single move. Here's how each American League team has done this winter, thus far. Mind you, there's still a long way to go, several big-name free agents to sign and blockbuster trades to make.

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Eight big names who could be traded 

December, 7, 2013
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David Price, Jeff Samardzija and Matt KempGetty ImagesDavid Price, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Kemp will keep the rumor mill churning.
General managers have been feasting this offseason on blockbuster trades and huge free-agent acquisitions. Some of the game’s biggest names -- Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann -- have new homes, as do major players such as Jim Johnson, David Freese, Doug Fister, Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Joe Nathan.

However, consider that the appetizer. The main course awaits at baseball’s annual winter meetings in Orlando. Expect to see another slew of big names swap teams. Here are eight players who are most likely to be on the move.

1. David Price | LHP | Tampa Bay Rays

I think the Rays most likely will trade Price during the winter meetings. While they have the option of waiting until next July’s trade deadline or even next offseason if they don’t get the prospect package they’re looking for, their history says he’s gone.

The Rays will likely be in the pennant race by July so it will be difficult to trade Price at that point. The 2014 offseason is just too late to trade him considering Price’s value would be much lower because his new club would only control him for one season and thus net a correspondingly lower trade package. And an extension simply is cost prohibitive based on the present market.

But where will he go? After acquiring Wil Myers in the deal for James Shields last year, executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman will insist on a prospect of at least the same caliber, but this time around will prefer a starting pitching prospect who could develop into a No. 1 starter.

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One deal for every AL team 

November, 19, 2013
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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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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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PriceStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesEvery offseason the Rays bid adieu to a star. This year it could be David Price.

The Tampa Bay Rays have won at least 90 games five out of the past six seasons despite constant roster turnover because of financial constraints. Offseason after offseason they’ve watched players such as Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton depart as free agents or have had to trade top starting pitchers such as Matt Garza and James Shields. They owe much of this success to Joe Maddon, one of the game’s best managers, and Andrew Friedman, one of the shrewdest general managers around.

Unfortunately, this offseason will be no different. Expect some tough decisions regarding former AL Cy Young Award winner David Price as well as other major contributors such as closer Fernando Rodney, catcher Jose Molina, first baseman James Loney, outfielder Delmon Young and designated hitter Luke Scott.

Here is a quick glance at what lies ahead for the Rays this winter.

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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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5 crucial matchups in Rays-Rangers 

September, 30, 2013
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We weren't supposed to have a game on Monday night, but thanks to some exciting baseball over the course of the final weekend, we're going to be treated to a one-game tiebreaker between the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers to decide the second American League wild card. The winner will head to Cleveland to play the Indians on Wednesday night.

The Rangers and Rays are no strangers when it comes to playoff baseball, as they met in the wild-card round in both 2010 and 2011, with the Rangers winning both times. The Rangers have home-field advantage on Monday, but the Rays have the starting pitcher edge. Here are the five most important matchups that will determine the winner.

1. David Price vs. Martin Perez

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Ranking aces of AL contenders 

September, 25, 2013
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On Monday, I ranked all the National League aces of postseason contenders. The list featured a mixture of young power arms and seasoned veterans with postseason experience. What's more important: ability or experience? While veteran savvy is important and can help to a point, as I wrote, velocity is effective. 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 with velocity and pitch-ability.

With the postseason almost upon us, I've ranked the No. 1 starters on all the teams still mathematically alive for an AL playoff spot.

1. Max Scherzer | Detroit Tigers

20-3, 3.00 ERA, 230 K's, 0.97 WHIP
I asked Tigers manager Jim Leyland this week whether he would have believed me if I had told him in spring training Justin Verlander would be his third best starter come October? He responded with a resounding "No!" But that's exactly where the Tigers are, as both Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez have not only outpitched Verlander, but outpowered him, too, giving the Tigers arguably the best 1-2 punch in the AL this postseason. Scherzer is the frontrunner for AL Cy Young Award and his power fastball/slider combo and devastating changeup will be formidable in the postseason’s short series.

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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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