Rookie rankings: Jose Abreu still top dog 

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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Jose AbreuScott W. Grau/Icon SMINot only is Jose Abreu a top rookie, he also should garner some votes for the AL MVP award.
This spring, many analysts predicted that this year's best rookies would likely consist of a group of position players that included Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco and Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez and possibly a top pitching prospect -- the Arizona Diamondbacks' Archie Bradley, Colorado Rockies' Jonathan Gray or Seattle Mariners' Taijuan Walker -- or two.

Many of those players have surfaced and played a factor, but none of them reach the top 10 in our rookie rankings. The top of this year’s rookie rankings is anchored by a certain slugging Cuban import, with emerging youngsters and another import (Masahiro Tanaka) to follow. Certainly those aforementioned prospects still could end up being the best long-term players of the class. In fact, I'm sure at least a few of them will be. But they haven't been the best in their rookie seasons.

As we head down the stretch and into the final five weeks of the season, here's my ranking of the 10 best rookies in baseball:
Bartolo Colon Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsWith the injury to Garrett Richards, the Angels could use a return of their 2005 Cy Young Award winner, Bartolo Colon.
As front-running teams gear up for the home stretch, these leading clubs have the chance to impact the last month of the season with a significant move or two. Making these moves could mean the difference in having great postseason success or perhaps not even making the postseason.

Here are five moves I'd like to see before Aug. 31, the deadline for which players can be traded after clearing waivers and the date by which a player must be on a roster in order to be eligible for the postseason.


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Rob ManfredAP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoRob Manfred has a laundry list of improvements he could make during his tenure.
Major League Baseball owners made the right call by electing Rob Manfred as the 10th commissioner in baseball history. His experience, track record and leadership skills made him the obvious choice.

Most importantly, he was the candidate most likely to proceed in the same philosophies and direction as outgoing commissioner Bud Selig. Like Selig, Manfred’s modus operandi will be to gain the consensus of all 30 owners on major decisions, with an emphasis on continued competitive balance. During his news conference, Manfred referred to competitive balance as the bedrock of baseball.

He also understands that most owners want to see the game progress in many areas. My colleague Buster Olney explained some of the major issues Manfred must deal with immediately.

In addition to the issues Buster identified, here are 10 more issues and their various subtopics that I’d like to see Manfred pursue over the next couple of years.

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'94 strike: From 1st place to headed home 

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
10:45
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Davey JohnsonStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesManager Davey Johnson and the Reds led the NL Central with a 66-48 record when the strike arrived.
Oh, what could have been.

We, the Cincinnati Reds, had worked to get to the top of our division and become one of the better teams in baseball. Over the course of a short, 20-month span, we had rebuilt and reshaped the team to make a playoff run. We were finally there. We felt we even had a shot at a World Series title.

Had a shot, that is, until Aug. 11, 1994, when at 9:45 p.m. PT, Mariners pitcher Randy Johnson struck out Oakland's Ernie Young, and the baseball players went on strike, resulting in a devastating 7-month work stoppage, which at that time was the longest in the history of major North American professional sports leagues.

The 1994 season was taken from us, and I wonder to this day how far that team could have gone.

1993 struggles

For me, the general manager of the Reds, it was especially tough to take, given the years that led up to it. I was hired by Marge Schott to become the GM of the Reds on Oct. 16, 1992. At the time, I was the youngest GM in the history of baseball, at age 31, and I came out swinging by hiring Tony Perez as manager, trading for Kevin Mitchell and Roberto Kelly, and signing free-agent starting pitcher John Smiley to a four-year contract. I was feeling pretty good about the progress we had made, and Baseball America even referred to me with the headline "Boy Wonder."

The next several months were a different story, and after them, the more appropriate headline would have been "Boy Blunder." Let's just say everything quickly turned into a nightmare.

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Seven moves to make Rockies contenders 

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
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Troy TulowitzkiIcon SMITroy Tulowitzki has grown frustrated with his team's lack of success in recent seasons.
Future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter has announced that he will retire at season’s end and when he does, he’ll pass the torch to the next most important shortstop who wears No. 2 in major league baseball: Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies, who might be handed the NL MVP award this offseason. Tulowitzki is not only the best player on the Rockies, he’s also their team leader and he made that fact extremely clear this week when he publicly ripped the Rockies' front office by saying, “something needs to change” with his team before the 2015 season.

Here's a direct quote from his recent comments:

“I think that’s why I came out numerous times and said I want to win. It doesn’t mean I want out of here. It means I’m sick and tired of losing. Something needs to change. Hopefully that comes fairly quickly. You can’t force it. But at the same time, we’re all frustrated with this year, especially me.”

The Rockies have had a difficult time over the years trying to find pitching that can win at Coors Field and the balance of power, speed and defense that can score enough runs at home as well as on the road. It hasn’t been an easy task as shown by their win-loss records and splits.

The best way to make the changes that Tulowitzki and Rockies fans would like to see made is to look back in history to see how the Rockies actually did win while playing half of their games at Coors Field.

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Grading the GMs: Dombrowski on top 

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
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DombrowskiAP Photo/Paul SancyaTigers GM Dave Dombrowski has a good vantage point for the postseason following his July moves.
That was quite a busy and entertaining MLB trade deadline. Today we grade all 30 major league general managers based on how they did. But first, a few key points: 1) Just because a team didn't do anything at the deadline doesn't mean they should get a low grade, because in some cases, doing nothing is best for a team; and 2) There are more positive grades than negative ones because some trades are win-win based on the objectives of the general managers.

Let's get right to it:

Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers

A
Trades: Drew Smyly, Austin Jackson and Willy Adames in three-way deal for David Price; Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel for Joakim Soria.

Analysis: Dombrowski solidified himself once again as one of the best GMs of his era when he landed Price in a surprise blockbuster at the deadline, trading his fifth starter and starting center fielder for the former Cy Young Award winner.

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What's next for the Boston Red Sox? 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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John Lackey, Jon Lester Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesThe Red Sox still have work to do following the John Lackey and Jon Lester trades to retool for 2015.
The Boston Red Sox didn't trade Jon Lester and John Lackey on Thursday with a "rebuild" in mind.

Given its core of veteran talent, this is not a team that needs to rebuild. Instead, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington's objective in trading Lester and Jonny Gomes to the Oakland Athletics for Yoenis Cespedes and Oakland's competitive balance draft pick, and then trading Lackey to the Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, is to retool and get back to competing for a division title next year. That's what management and Red Sox fans expect.

And frankly, I think he did a phenomenal job doing that.

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Five GMs under pressure to make a deal 

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
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Ruben Amaro Jr. AP Images/Matt SlocumThe Phillies must start the rebuilding process; Ruben Amaro Jr. has until 4 p.m. Thursday to begin it.
It's go time for major league general managers. This is the time they shine and broker deals that could make or break a team's season, or set in motion its offseason. But certain GMs are under more pressure to make deals than others. Who's under the most pressure? Let's take the temperature of the following GMs and see just how critical it will be for them to get something done.

1. Ruben Amaro Jr. | Philadelphia Phillies

There hasn't been a GM under this much pressure to make multiple deadline deals in a decade.


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Trade deadline objectives: AL East 

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
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Dan Duquette and Buck ShowalterAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarOrioles GM Dan Duquette made multiple trades before the 2012 and 2013 trade deadlines.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

It's looking like the AL East could become quite a race, with two teams (the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees) being within four games of the division-leading Baltimore Orioles, with the fourth-place Tampa Bay Rays having won nine of their past 10 games. Only the last-place Boston Red Sox check in as potential sellers, though we're not quite sure what the Rays will do at this point.

With that, let's have a look at the AL East deadline objectives:

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Trade deadline objectives: NL West 

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
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Ben ZobristRob Tringali/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesThe Giants already added Jake Peavy and could target an upgrade at second base as well.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The five teams in the National League West have stratified themselves into two distinct classes as the trade deadline and the final portion of the season approach. The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers continue to jostle for the division title while the San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies are all at least 11 games back as of Sunday.

The teams have been active on the trade front, as the Padres shipped Huston Street and Chase Headley off recently and the Giants made a major acquisition Saturday, landing Jake Peavy. But the division's buyers still have some remaining needs, and the division's sellers still have some valuable pieces that can help to restock their farm system.

Here's a breakdown of what each team is buying or selling, along with a trade that I'd like to see each franchise make:

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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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Trade deadline objectives: AL Central 

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
12:05
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DombrowskiAP Photo/Paul SancyaEven after acquiring Joakim Soria, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski isn't done just yet.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The Detroit Tigers have the biggest lead of all six division leaders and are the heavy favorites to not only win the American League Central but also be the first team to clinch their division.

The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals are both within striking distance of the second wild-card spot, and both likely will be buyers. The Indians could use another starting pitcher, while the Royals need an offensive upgrade in right field.

The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins should be sellers, although neither team has an impact player to trade.

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Trade deadline objectives: AL West 

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
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Billy BeaneMichael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesIs Billy Beane done dealing? Some believe he has one more trade in him before the deadline.
Deadline objectives: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central | AL West

The American League West has been the busiest of the six divisions so far, with the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels making the biggest trades thus far in July. The Athletics started the fireworks back on July 4, when they acquired both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in a blockbuster deal, and the Angels answered last week when they acquired one of the game's most consistent closers in Huston Street in a six–player deal.

Everyone is now waiting for the Seattle Mariners to respond and GM Jack Zduriencik is hoping not to let people down; he has been one of the most active GMs in terms of phone calls and texts over the past couple of weeks. The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are going to sell, and while neither one has an impact player they will be dealing, they both could still make multiple minor deals between now and the deadline.

And don't think the Athletics and Angels are done. Although neither team really has to make another move, both are still out there listening and trying to find ways to make one more deal to enhance their chances of winning this division.

Let's run through the objectives of each team

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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.

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Chase HeadleyDenis Poroy/Getty ImagesChase Headley started off slowly, but has been hitting much better as the deadline approaches.
Throughout July, Jim Bowden will look at a number of high-profile trade candidates and explain what it would take for certain clubs to acquire each player.

Player: Chase Headley | 3B/LF | San Diego Padres

Possible destinations: Toronto Blue Jays, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees

The 30-year-old Headley will be a free agent after this season, and although he has a modest slash line for the season -- .229/.296/.355 -- he has batted .323 in the month of July, and his stock is soaring as the trade deadline approaches. Here's more on what it would take for these three contenders to land him:


Toronto Blue Jays

Why? The Blue Jays would like to keep Brett Lawrie at second base long-term, so third base remains their biggest positional need. The Jays also need better balance in their lineup, and with Headley being a switch-hitter, that would improve them in that area as well.

Who? Left-handed pitcher Sean Nolin and shortstop Dawel Lugo should get the deal done. Nolin finally reached the majors with the Blue Jays in May 2013 and struggled in his first start, getting knocked out in the second inning after giving up six runs in a loss to the Orioles. However, he pitched well at three different stops in the minor leagues this year, making 12 starts with a 3.52 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and a strikeout rate of 8.7 per 9 innings. While 19-year-old Lugo shows 15-20 homer power in batting practice, he has yet to show it in games because he struggles to hit pitches on the outside part of the plate -- a weakness he'll be able to overcome in time. He has soft hands and, combined with a strong arm, can make plays in the hole. He has average speed at best, but he makes up for it with good jumps and angles off the bat. Those two make for a fair package for Headley.

Will it happen?

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