The GM's Office: Washington Nationals

Mike Rizzo and Frank WrenAP PhotoWashington GM Mike Rizzo and Atlanta GM Frank Wren don't need to pull off a blockbuster this season.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The National League East has become a two-team race between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, with the second-place team still having a good chance to reel in one of the two wild-card berths. Neither team is expected to make a blockbuster deal by the trade deadline, but both are looking for the same thing: left-handed relief help and bench upgrades. Sometimes improving a team by inches rather than feet or yards can be the difference between making the postseason or going home.

The rest of the division should be sellers. The Marlins are hoping for enough wins between now and the deadline to become buyers, but realistically, they should be in sell mode. The Mets have Bartolo Colon and Daniel Murphy to offer in deals, while the Phillies should be open to trading every veteran on their roster.

In fact, the Phillies should be the center of attention between now and July 31 because there is not a "seller" in baseball with more talented difference-makers to trade. The difficult part for teams getting deals done with them will be dealing with all of the bad contracts, no-trade provisions and high return the Phillies are asking for in return.

With that in mind, let's take a look at where each team stands and who they should be looking to either acquire or trade away:


1. Washington Nationals: Buyers

Needs: Left-handed reliever and a bat off the bench.

Lefty reliever targets: Antonio Bastardo, Phillies; Neal Cotts, Rangers; Andrew Miller, Red Sox; James Russell, Cubs; Oliver Perez, Diamondbacks; Tony Sipp, Astros; Mike Dunn, Marlins.

Bench targets: Chris Carter, Astros; Chris Denorfia, Padres; Alejandro De Aza, White Sox; Jonny Gomes, Red Sox; Dayan Viciedo, White Sox; Jake Smolinski, Rangers; Mike Olt, Cubs; Drew Stubbs, Rockies.

What to expect: The Nationals don't need to make a move; they are the team to beat in the NL East and should be considered a legitimate World Series contender. They could stand to improve the two areas above, and I expect GM Mike Rizzo to upgrade one or the other by the trade deadline.

Trade I'd like to see happen: Right-handed pitching prospect Austin Voth to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for lefty reliever James Russell.

Three heated draft debates 

June, 4, 2014
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There are spirited debates going on within the walls of big league clubs, as the 2014 draft is just a day away. In my 25 years of draft experience, I’ve seen my share of drama and water bottles flung across the room. Quite frankly, it was one of my favorite times of the year. The baseball discussions among some of the game’s best evaluators are priceless. If a team would ever consent to a camera crew, it would make for great television.

The disagreements in the rooms from scouts, national crosscheckers and front office executives can get heated because one wrong placement of a player on the list can change the future of the franchise. And this year’s draft offers as much debate as there has been in years.

Let’s look at three of the most debated topics teams are dealing with right now.

Debate 1: Who’s the best position player on the board?

A majority of teams have two high school players –-- catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson from Rancho Bernardo HS (San Diego), and shortstop Nick Gordon from Olympia HS (Orlando, Fla.) -- as the top position players in this year’s draft.

Clubs normally don’t draft for positional need, especially with high school players because they change so much over the three to five years it takes to reach the major leagues. So they take the best player on the board.

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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 takeaways from Opening Day 

April, 1, 2014
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A large slate of games Monday offered glimpses of what could be an exciting 2014 season. There were unexpected performances (Alejandro De Aza's two home runs) and disappointing ones (Cliff Lee’s eight earned runs in five innings), too, as well as a walk-off win in Pittsburgh.

There’s still a long way to go for any of my bold predictions to play out, but here are my five best takeaways from Opening Day 2014.

1. So far, so good for Sizemore and Sox

Grady Sizemore was the best and biggest story of spring training, and he kept it going Opening Day with a single in his first at-bat and a long home run in his second.

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When will Trout's reign end? 

March, 27, 2014
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Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout clearly has established himself as the best player in Major League Baseball. He is ranked No. 1 in the "Baseball Tonight" 100, and he will be the favorite to remain on the top of this list for the next five years.

The rest of the top five will turn over, as there are a number of players who will move in and out over the next half-decade. Let’s have some fun and take a look at the guys who I think will populate the list of top-five players each year through the 2019 season.

Understand these lists are purely what I think could happen, and I'm assuming some amount of good health and luck during these five years, while hypothesizing some outcomes based on current performance and trajectory. I added some statistical projections courtesy of Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections system, just to give you a sense of what the stats say about these guys. In some case, I'm a bit more optimistic than the computer models.

Top 5 players in 2015 (projected via ZiPS)

1. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels (.289/.384/.505, 42 SB, 8.9 WAR)
2.

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10 guys scouts are raving about 

March, 10, 2014
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Ryan ZimmermanGreg Fiume/Getty ImagesRyan Zimmerman's shoulder is finally healthy, which should help him at third and at the plate.

While you never like to put too much stock in spring training performance, there is no question that scouts, coaches and execs take notice when a player looks particularly good during camp. I'm not talking about the stat sheet, but rather their actions on the field, which could be anything from their swing, to their fastball, to the way they move.

Here are 10 players who have evaluators excited this year.

1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals

Zimmerman is taking some grounders at first base this spring, but that is only to give the Nationals more lineup flexibility when a left-hander is on the mound. He looks great at third this spring and his arm strength has returned. This will allow him to once again play a deeper third base and restore his inclusion within any Gold Glove conversation. More important for fantasy players, with a healthy right shoulder for the first time in years, they should anticipate a return to his 2009 numbers.

2. Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants

Around the trade deadline last July, Belt made some significant changes at the plate.

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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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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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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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Yankees still the best fit for Girardi 

October, 8, 2013
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With his contract with the New York Yankees due to expire Oct. 31, Joe Girardi sits in the catbird seat, as the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners are all posting “help wanted” signs.

Girardi fits well with several clubs for various reasons, but the overarching and most important reason he chooses a team will be his family. Girardi has said continuously that his family will be the deciding factor, and it’s believed that his wife, Kim, and three children are happy living in the New York suburbs.

Let’s examine all the potential landing spots for Girardi to see which one is the best fit.

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These teams won't miss playoffs in 2014 

September, 27, 2013
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Jordan Zimmermann AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyJordan Zimmermann emerged as Washington's ace, which bodes well for 2014.
With the introduction of a second wild-card team in 2012, teams are in the postseason hunt later and longer than ever. Three teams in particular were expected to contend for a playoff berth but fell short for various reasons. What sets them apart is their potential to reach the postseason in 2014.

The Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles have the pieces to get there next season, but so do the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. However, the fates of the latter two teams are still pending, so for the purposes of this exercise, I didn’t include them.

So let’s examine what went wrong for these three teams this year and why they should eclipse their 2013 performances in 2014.

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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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10 managers in limbo 

September, 5, 2013
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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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Yanks' third-base options after A-Rod 

August, 30, 2013
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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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