Possible pennant race X factors 

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
3:40
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    Jarrod DysonAP PhotoSpeed never slumps and Jarrod Dyson has plenty of it. He could impact KC's postseason chances.
    It's coming down to the wire, and every game counts in the pennant race. With several teams still clinging to postseason hopes, even the slightest developments -- an injury, a surprise performance, an emerging rookie -- can make the difference. These X factors can decide whether a team is playing October baseball or going home.

    Here are 14 American and National League players or managers who could be X factors for their teams as they march to the postseason.

    American League

    Kansas City Royals | Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore | OFs

    The Royals have the best two-speed weapons in the pennant race. Dyson and Gore, along with the Reds’ Billy Hamilton, are considered two of the fastest players in baseball right now. Dyson, 30, has stolen 33 bases this year and been caught just six times.

Top 5 Executive of the Year candidates 

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
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Billy Beane, David DombrowskiUSA TODAY Sports/AP Photo Billy Beane and Dave Dombrowski have been busy GMs over the past 10-plus months.
Major league general managers have remained busy on the trade and free-agency front all year long, and their hard work has created some of the best pennant races we've seen in years. In fact, as the calendar turned to September, 21 of the 30 teams were still within 9 1/2 games of a playoff berth.

But there are five general managers -- coincidentally, all of them are in the American League -- who have stood out for the job they did this year building teams that have legit playoff, and possibly World Series, aspirations. Three of these GMs happen to work in one division: Oakland's Billy Beane, Los Angeles' Jerry Dipoto and Seattle's Jack Zduriencik in the AL West.

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Mike Matheny AP Photo/Jeff RobersonManager Mike Matheny, a former MLB catcher, has the best method for how to fix the collision rule.
The new home plate collision rule has worked in terms of reducing collisions at home plate and lessening concussion risks. However, it has failed the game in terms of getting the correct safe or out call at home plate. This is why Major League Baseball must act fast to tweak the rule and end all the controversy.

There are varying opinions from managers and players on what changes should be implemented, but an overwhelming majority agree that at least something must be done. Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon told me last week he'd like to see the rule changed back to the old rule (which allowed collisions). Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the ESPN crew on "Sunday Night Baseball" that something needs to be done about the rule prior to the postseason, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told me earlier this week on my SiriusXM radio show that he would like to see a "must-slide, must-tag" rule implemented.

In fact, I haven't talked to a manager, catcher or GM who supports the present rule. In addition, multiple managers have told me they now plan to challenge almost every close play at the plate going forward because as one manager said, "You don't know what the umpire in the command center is going to call next." The command center can view only a certain number of camera angles, and it really can't get a true idea of the speed of a baserunner, position of the catcher or release of the throw by the fielder on the play. Managers tell me that often the call will go in their favor when it shouldn't, and vice versa. The bottom line is the rule is not working and needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Like Maddon, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington is one of my favorite managers and people in the game, and both represent a good number of baseball people who want the rule reverted to the old rule. But that's just not going to happen because the new generation of baseball executives are making it a priority to protect catchers from unnecessary collisions and possible season- or even career-ending injuries such as the ones we've witnessed (Buster Posey, Ray Fosse). Even though it can be argued that if Posey had been in better position, the injury wouldn't have happened, or tweaking the old rule to add that, in the judgment of the umpire, a baserunner who purposely injures a catcher could be subject to ejection or suspension, it still wouldn't stop the injury risks.

Therefore, the best solution is to implement Matheny's aforementioned suggestion. A "must-slide, must-tag" rule means that catchers must leave a lane for the runner to slide and the runner must slide on any play at the plate.

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Rookie rankings: Jose Abreu still top dog 

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
11:12
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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:

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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
12:31
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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
10:00
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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
6:46
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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
11:25
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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
1:18
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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
11:26
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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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