Most likely landing spots for James Shields 

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
James ShieldsAP Photo/Colin E. BraleyJames Shields is beginning to make his rounds to determine where he'll call home next season.
James Shields has pitched more than 200 innings and won double-digit games eight consecutive years with a 3.64 ERA during that time, and as the leader of the Kansas City Royals' pitching staff, he was instrumental in the development of many of their young successful pitchers. His intangibles are as strong as his durability, and that's why so many clubs covet him.

He did not pitch well in the 2014 postseason, but most teams will overlook that in part because, including spring training, he threw more than 270 innings on the season. His best fits, in my opinion, are the San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox, but they're not the only teams that have a chance to sign him.

1. San Francisco Giants

The world champions have had a difficult offseason after losing third baseman Pablo Sandoval to the Boston Red Sox (for basically the same offer they made) and then falling short on their bids for free agents Jon Lester, Melky Cabrera and Chase Headley. (They were able to retain reliever Sergio Romo, who signed for less to stay home.) However, they're still hard at work, and Shields is atop their wish list. They would love to be able to slot him behind Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain and ahead of Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy in their rotation.

The fact that Shields takes the ball for 32-plus starts a year and you can pencil him in for 220-plus innings per season makes him a perfect fit for a team in need of starting-pitching innings, plus his leadership and winning attitude would fit nicely in a clubhouse that has three championships in five years. The Giants also aren't afraid to be the highest bidder here.

Odds they get him: 3-to-1

2. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox failed in their attempt to bring Lester back to Boston, losing out to the Cubs by more than $20 million dollars. Given their unwillingness to spend a little extra on Lester, it's unlikely they would turn around and sign Max Scherzer for more years and money. Their best option on the trade market is Cole Hamels, but the prospect package it would take to get him makes that a reluctant option for Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto also have been mentioned as trade options, but that's doubtful given that both of their clubs are potential playoff teams. Therefore, signing Shields might be the team's best option.

Shields would fill the pitching leadership void that has been vacant since the Lester deal; his mentorship of the Red Sox's young pitchers could make overpaying to get him worthwhile here. A rotation of Shields, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello would make the Red Sox the favorites to win the AL East, in my mind. That said, this is the type of free agent the Red Sox normally offer at least one year less than other teams on the market, which could cost them Shields.

Odds: 5-to-1

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers have quietly met with Shields and realize that he would not only be an important signing for them to place behind Yu Darvish and ahead of Derek Holland in their rotation, but he would also give them protection if Darvish, Holland, Martin Perez and/or Colby Lewis don't come back fully healthy. Like other teams, they also value his leadership and mentorship qualities.

The real question here is whether the Rangers are willing to spend the kind of money it's going to take to sign Shields after the dreadful results they had last year with their free-agent signing of Shin-Soo Choo and trade for Prince Fielder, who spent much of the season on the disabled list (making eight figures in the process). Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine told me they had a great meeting with Shields and his wife, but the team would have to make a trade or two to lower payroll in order to sign him. That lowers the odds, but it's still quite possible.

Odds: 7-to-1

Three best and three worst moves so far 

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
Jeff Samardzija and Alex RiosGetty ImagesJim liked the White Sox's acquisition of Jeff Samardzija ... but not the Royals' signing of Alex Rios.
To me, the obvious best moves this offseason are the Cubs' hiring of Joe Maddon as manager and signing of free agent Jon Lester, the Mariners' signing of Nelson Cruz, and the Red Sox inking Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. However, most of those moves had more to do with the size of a team's checkbook, being a contending club or simply being the ideal market for the player. Therefore, I decided to pick the best and worst moves based on pure baseball decisions, eliminating the cost/location factors:

Three best moves

1. White Sox's trade for Jeff Samardzija

This was the best trade for a major leaguer so far this offseason.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Most likely landing spots for Max Scherzer 

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Max ScherzerBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsMax Scherzer went 18-5 with 252 strikeouts and a 3.15 ERA with the Tigers in 2014.
Max Scherzer is considered the No. 1 free agent in this year's class and is expected to get the largest contract of the offseason. In fact, I predicted he will get a seven-year, $189 million deal, a prediction I stand behind despite the fact that he is asking for at least $200 million.

The 30-year-old Scherzer is 91-50 in his career with a 3.58 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. However, it's his performance over the past three years that has separated him from his colleagues. He has become a true ace, with an average wins above replacement of 5.6, which essentially means he alone turns an 88-win team into a 94-win team and a 94-win team into a true championship contender. Scherzer has won 39 games over the past two years, the most of any American League pitcher, with a 3.02 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 10.2 K's per nine innings.

His fastball remains in the 92-95 mph range, and he has a hard, nasty slider, a deceptive changeup and an impressive curveball. He can throw all of his pitches in any count for strikes and has learned how to keep hitters off-balance, with the ability to punch them out with any pitch in his repertoire. He has struck out a staggering 723 hitters over the past three seasons.

Still not impressed? Maybe you need to hear the spiel being laid out by his agent, Scott Boras, who compares him to Peyton Manning. While that's an absurd comparison, Boras certainly makes a strong case as to why the two compare favorably. The bottom line is that Scherzer is an ace and a difference-maker for any team that signs him.

Teams should be lined up for his services. But they're not. One prominent GM told me this week it's due to his asking price and contract length.

"He’s looking for too many years and too much money for the injury risk of any pitcher," said the GM, "let alone a right-hander with a power arm and that type of delivery.”

Only a few teams can afford him, but many of them are passing either because of price, risk or budget constraints.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Five potential trades for Justin Upton 

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
UptonScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWith just one year remaining on his contract, Justin Upton has been the subject of recent trade talks.
When the offseason began, many insiders believed a trio of power-hitting outfielders would be dealt, including former Dodger Matt Kemp, former Red Sox left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and the Braves' Justin Upton. Kemp already has been traded (to the Padres), as has Cespedes (to the Tigers) … now we wait to see where the Braves trade Upton.

At age 27, Upton is just entering his prime years after another solid season (.270/.342/.491, 34 doubles, 29 home runs, 102 RBIs). The Braves would love to sign him long term, but with the recent signing of Giancarlo Stanton and the Braves' own signing of Freddie Freeman, the market has quickly inflated in terms of both years and dollars, which lessens the Braves' chances of retaining him. Atlanta also has Evan Gattis, who can play catcher and left field (albeit below average) and whom they control for five more seasons. If the Braves are unable to extend Upton, the smart business decision would be to trade Gattis as well. The team would take a step back in 2015, but the Braves would be building a squad that is ready to win when their new ballpark opens in 2017.

The Braves are ideally looking for young starting pitching and a second base upgrade in return for Upton, but like any other trade scenario, they're more concerned about the overall talent, affordability and controllability coming back in this type of transaction.

There are at least five clubs that remain interested in Upton, and here's an idea of what the return would look like with each of those teams:

1. San Diego Padres

Padres rookie GM A.J. Preller is focused on improving the Padres' lineup for 2015 and is off to a great start in landing Kemp.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Offseason grades thus far for all 30 teams 

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
Andrew Friedman and Theo EpsteinGetty ImagesAndrew Friedman (Dodgers) and Theo Epstein (Cubs) were busy during the winter meetings.
With the (transaction-filled) winter meetings complete, it's time to check in on how teams have done so far this offseason. Below, each team received a letter grade, with explanation. There's plenty of action left to happen, of course, but with the number of moves already made, it's time for a "mid-offseason" progress report.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles -- Grade: D

The Orioles have made no signings or trades this offseason. They weren't willing to go four years on Nelson Cruz and were concerned enough about Nick Markakis' neck situation that they let both players go via free agency. The Orioles have been working hard to replace at least one of them -- they have been in contact with the Phillies on Marlon Byrd and with free agent Michael Morse -- but so far have fallen short. For a team that was just in the ALCS, it has been a disappointing offseason.

Boston Red Sox -- Grade: B
The Red Sox flubbed the Jon Lester situation, losing him to the Cubs. However, they have solved third base with one of the game's best postseason performers in Pablo Sandoval and added an impact middle-of-the-order bat in Hanley Ramirez.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

And the next dominoes to fall will be ... 

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesWith Jon Lester unavailable, teams in need of starting pitching can now focus in on James Shields.
Now that Jon Lester has decided to call Chicago home, agreeing to a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs, it's time for the next dominoes to fall.

What's next on the agenda? The players below have been waiting patiently for one of the "big fishes" on the MLB free-agent market to decide on a destination, and now have a bit more clarity on what the market looks like.

James Shields, SP, free agent

So why isn't Max Scherzer the next domino to fall? Well, Scherzer is the top free agent on the market, but he's also a client of Scott Boras, who is notorious for waiting on the market to fully establish itself. Besides, the Tigers and Yankees are still the overwhelming favorites for him.

So Shields would be the next domino.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Executives under the most pressure 

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
Andrew FriedmanKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDodgers president Andrew Friedman will be under pressure at this year's winter meetings.
With baseball's winter meetings set to begin in San Diego, here are the five executives who are under the most pressure:

1. Andrew Friedman, Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers ownership decided they were going to put together the most expensive baseball operations department in the history of the sport, to couple with the game's biggest player payroll. With that comes the most pressure of any front office in the game.

Friedman’s rookie offseason with the Dodgers has seen the exit of Hanley Ramirez, and some smaller acquisitions, including trades that brought in pitchers Juan Nicasio and Joel Peralta and outfielders Chris Heisey and Kyle Jensen. On the surface, these moves look more like small-market deals than the Hollywood blockbusters that would help the team improve after a 94-win season.

The Dodgers have to move Andre Ethier at these meetings to finally eradicate the crowded outfield problem, and must also fill the need of a stopgap shortstop until top prospect Corey Seager is ready.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Team-by-team winter meetings checklist 

December, 5, 2014
Dec 5
Ben Cherington and Theo EpsteinGetty ImagesBen Cherington (Red Sox) and Theo Epstein (Cubs) figure to be busy at the MLB winter meetings.
With the MLB winter meetings right around the corner, there's no better time to check in and look at where all 30 MLB teams stand as of now.

Below we examine each team, using five categories: biggest needs, the current free agents they could be interested in, players they might be interested in trading for, their players on the block and their "aggressiveness scale," which is how aggressive we expect each team to be at the winter meetings only, with 1 being least aggressive and 10 being most aggressive.

Baltimore Orioles

Biggest team needs: Outfield and bullpen help

Free agents they could be interested in: Melky Cabrera, Andrew Miller, Colby Rasmus, Michael Morse, Norichika Aoki, Alex Rios, Delmon Young, Kendrys Morales, Luke Gregerson, Sergio Romo, Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Janssen, Pat Neshek, Jason Grilli

Trade options: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Dayan Viciedo, Brandon Moss, Dexter Fowler, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Nick Swisher, Marlon Byrd

Players on the block: Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Davis

Aggressiveness scale: 6

Boston Red Sox

Biggest team needs: Starting pitcher, catcher and bullpen depth

Free agents they could be interested in:

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Upcoming hitter FAs who could be traded 

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
Chris Davis and Matt WietersAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChris Davis, center, and Matt Wieters, right, are both candidates to be traded in 2015.
Much of the talk these days is about the current crop of free agents, but what about next year's crop? Those players could be in demand via trade between now and the July 31 trade deadline. On Tuesday, we looked at top-10 pitchers set to be free agents after the 2015 season who could be traded, and here are the top 10 hitters set to be free agents 11 months from now who could be traded in the coming months.

1. Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves

Braves general manager John Hart told me on my SiriusXM radio show Sunday that he hasn't made a single phone call about trading Upton and doesn't plan to. However, he also said he would listen like he does on all players. I can't imagine what the Braves would look like without Upton in the middle of their lineup, but if they can't extend him, they might have to trade him, just as they did with Jason Heyward: for a package of major league players they can control past this year and set them up for the opening of their new stadium in 2017.

2. Jason Heyward, RF, St. Louis Cardinals

Speaking of Heyward, the Cardinals plan on doing everything they can to sign him to a long-term deal after trading four years of control of Shelby Miller to the Braves.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

2015 FAs who could be traded: Pitchers 

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
CuetoAnthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports Johnny Cueto is one of many fine pitchers set to hit the free-agent market after the 2015 season.
Much of the talk these days is about the current crop of free agents, but what about next year's crop? Those players could be in demand via trade between now and the July 31 trade deadline. With that, here are the top 10 pitchers set to be free agents after the 2015 season who could be traded. I'll follow up with the top 10 hitters Wednesday.

1. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

It would be hard for me to believe that the Reds organization would commit to Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce but not leave enough in the checking account for Cueto, their staff ace. But with salaries soaring, it's possible the Reds feel they can't put another $140 million on their books. Therefore, they might listen now and trade him by July if they can't get an extension done in the meantime.

2. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Washington Nationals

The Nationals have tried for three years to extend Zimmermann's contract, without success.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Potential winter meetings trades 

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
 James Paxton,  Jean Segura, and Matt KempGetty ImagesCould there be a trade involving James Paxton, Jean Segura and Matt Kemp?
As we are just a week away from the Major League Baseball winter meetings in San Diego, we are reminded of how much fun trading can be -- particularly when clubs get together to make three-way blockbusters.

It was just five years ago at the winter meetings in Indianapolis when the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees came together in one of baseball’s biggest three-way deals.

In that three-way transaction, the Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks and Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. The Diamondbacks sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers. The Yankees sent Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Tigers, and Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks. The Tigers came away with one of baseball’s best pitchers in Scherzer, who would win a Cy Young Award, and center fielder Jackson -- who would later be used to land another former Cy Young Award winner in David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Could there be another three-way deal that occurs at this year’s winter meetings? It’s very possible. Here are three potential trades that would make sense:

Seattle Mariners | Los Angeles Dodgers | Milwaukee Brewers

Dodgers acquire:

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top targets, fallback options for all teams 

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
David Robertson, Jon LesterUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesWhich teams would list David Robertson or Jon Lester as their top targets this offseason?
A look at the top target(s) and fallback options for every MLB team:

AL East

Baltimore Orioles' top targets: Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis

The Orioles are focused on just keeping their own players and have a four-year offer on the table for Markakis and a three-year offer out there for Cruz. Now it's just a matter of seeing how the market unfolds and whether the two hitters will accept the deals, or whether any adjustments need to made.

Fallback options: Melky Cabrera, Justin Upton, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter

Boston Red Sox's top target: Jon Lester

The Red Sox solve their lineup issues with the signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez; now they turn their attention to their starting rotation, where they are committed to acquiring at least two pitchers.

Fallback options: Cole Hamels, James Shields, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Wade Miley, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Samardzija

New York Yankees' top target: Max Scherzer

The Yankees are telling everyone their focus is on signing Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy and not a top free agent such as Scherzer, but that's hard to believe, especially with the Red Sox agreeing to terms with both Hanley and Sandoval and being in pursuit of Lester and/or Hamels.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

How do the Giants replace Sandoval? 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
Brian SabeanChristopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsGiants GM Brian Sabean might have to be creative in figuring out a way to replace Pablo Sandoval.
The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series every other year since 2010,
and the departure of Pablo Sandoval to the Boston Red Sox via free agency makes it even more likely the Giants will continue that pattern of not being able to repeat as champs. But don't tell that to GM Brian Sabean or manager Bruce Bochy, who plan to get to work immediately on replacing Sandoval's bat in the middle of their lineup while improving or maintaining the starting rotation and the depth in their bullpen.

The Giants can go in many different directions here with both left field and third base now in need of a big bat. Their first option is free-agent Cuban defector Yasmani Tomas, whom the team is in the bidding process for.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

What's next for the Boston Red Sox? 

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
Cole HamelsHunter Martin/Getty ImagesNext up on the Red Sox's agenda should be trading a package of prospects for Cole Hamels.
After reportedly agreeing to terms with both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the Boston Red Sox can now turn their attention to the area of the team that has been their biggest need all along: their starting rotation.

And the signings of Sandoval and Ramirez don't hinder that, they help it.

The Sox have now positioned themselves perfectly to negotiate the biggest trade of this offseason with the Philadelphia Phillies to land left-handed starter Cole Hamels while still having enough resources for a reunion with Jon Lester or sending in the welcome wagon to James Shields.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Dissecting the Rays' managerial search 

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
Don Wakamatsu, Kevin Cash, and Raul IbanezGetty Images, USA TODAY Sports, USA TODAY SportsThe Rays will choose either Don Wakamatsu, Kevin Cash or Raul Ibanez as their next manager.
With some offseason dominoes having already fallen around Major League Baseball, let's check in with the latest buzz on the biggest topics around the sport:

The Tampa Bay Rays' managerial search

The Rays' managerial search took another bizarre twist Friday when it was announced that their three finalists were Don Wakamatsu, Raul Ibanez and Kevin Cash. Their initial list of eight individuals to interview was puzzling to begin with, considering just two of those candidates were former big league managers: Wakamatsu and Manny Acta.

Wakamatsu's first managerial stint lasted only 274 games with the Seattle Mariners, and he was 28 games under .500 when he was fired in 2010. Acta has six years of MLB managerial experience, but his career win percentage is just .418, and he hasn't had a winning season.

But the surprising part wasn't that those two got interviews; they're both solid baseball men and deserve another chance. Instead, it was more about which experienced managers did not get an interview.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider