Six managers already on the hot seat 

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
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Ron Roenicke and Don MattinglyGetty ImagesManagers Ron Roenicke and Don Mattingly enter 2015 with immense pressure to win their divisions.
Major League Baseball's lack of job security in the game's most prominent roles is evident year after year, given all the pressure to win in a $9 billion business. And as pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training, there are already at least six major league managers who will arrive to camps in Arizona or Florida already on some type of hot seat with their leadership positions on the line.

Here are the top six managers that the industry believes are at the top of the hot seat list:

1. Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers were in first place for the first five months of the 2014 season but collapsed at the end, losing 25 of their final 36 games.
James Shields, Rafael SorianoGetty ImagesJames Shields and Rafael Soriano check in as the top available free agents.
We're less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, and several free agents are still stranded on the market looking for jobs, or in most cases improved offers. The list of free agents has been pared down considerably since I posted my top 50 free agents and financial expectations for them, but some big names remain. Sooner or later, however, they will find new homes, and here's my opinion on where I think they'd fit best (i.e., not necessarily where they're currently rumored to land):

1. James Shields, SP

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The Washington Nationals didn't even get involved in the Max Scherzer sweepstakes until the calendar turned to 2015, and according to multiple sources, Shields' market has changed as well. Some teams who had bowed out initially have stepped back into the fray with the suggestion that the asking price of five years for $110-120 million drop.

Several American League teams would be a nice fit for Shields, including the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rangers and Tigers.

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Bits: Hamels buzz, Desmond's status ... 

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
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Hamels/DesmondGetty ImagesWho are the front-runners to trade for Cole Hamels, and will the Nationals trade Ian Desmond?
The latest on Cole Hamels, James Shields, a few key Nationals players, Yoan Moncada and others …

Hamels trade talks

The Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers are not the only teams in the mix for Hamels, as teams such as the Blue Jays, Cubs, Astros and Dodgers also have kicked the tires -- at varying levels of interest -- and have stayed in touch with the Phillies this offseason.

The Red Sox and Padres are considered the front-runners for him because they have the best match prospect-wise for the Phillies.

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Updated landing spots for Max Scherzer 

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
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Max Scherzer Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesMax Scherzer will have a season-altering effect on whoever signs him. But who will that be?
Here we are in the middle of January and the industry’s No. 1 free agent, Max Scherzer, is still unsigned. So I spent this week checking with as many sources as possible, on teams and otherwise, to find out what is really going on with the elite starter.

I found mostly denials of involvement from teams we believe to be in the Scherzer sweepstakes, and then it dawned on me: Most of my sources are MLB team presidents, general managers, assistant general managers, managers, players and agents. Under Scott Boras, Scherzer's agent, modus operandi for players of this stature (in the $140 million to $200 million range) is to go directly to the owners. He knows that every GM would love to have Scherzer in their rotation; it just comes down to money, years and risk. It’s really an owner decision, not one made by the executives under them.

For most clubs, the GMs are in the loop at all times, but that's not always the case. Boras has always had carte blanche, access to meet with most owners directly in person or on the phone. Owners also know that GMs might recommend not signing Scherzer for economic reasons because of dollars or contract length, but owners want to win at the end of the day, too. They also know that Scherzer could be the difference in reaching the postseason. Therefore, as I went digging, although I couldn’t find a raging fire, I did find smoke, some smoldering and an occasional small fire.

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Players who benefit from 'non-moves' 

January, 12, 2015
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Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada Getty ImagesShortstops Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada had a combined OPS of just .655 for the Mets in 2014.
General managers use the offseason to improve their teams at various positions via free agency, trades, waiver claims and international signings. This offseason, we've witnessed more player movement than we've seen in more than a decade, and aggressive GMs throughout the industry have addressed most of their teams' perceived weaknesses and offseason goals.

However, some GMs simply haven't been able to improve certain positions because they didn't match up well with trade partners, they lacked the financial resources in their budget to persuade free agents to sign with them or they just weren't willing to pay the price, in terms of player talent or dollars, to get the deals done.

When this happens, players get opportunities to win a job in spring training that we otherwise didn't think they'd have a shot for. Or in some cases, players simply get a second chance to prove they belong. Unfortunately, it might their last or only chance.

Here are several pairs of players who, at the moment, look like they will get an opportunity to compete for an everyday job because their teams weren't able to address that position this offseason:

1. Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada, SS, New York Mets

The Mets were very thorough this offseason, checking in on practically every available and unavailable shortstop in baseball.

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Missing link for every NL team 

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
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ShieldsKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsSeveral NL teams could use a top-of-rotation starter such as free agent James Shields.
Just as I did with the American League on Wednesday, here's the missing link for each NL team and potential solutions:

Atlanta Braves

The Braves' offseason has been all about building for the opening of their new stadium in 2017. Braves GM John Hart has been active in rebuilding and reloading both the player development and scouting departments while doing a makeover of the major league team. The Braves traded two of their best players in Jason Heyward and Justin Upton after concluding they were not going to be able to extend their contracts until at least they reached free agency. Hart wasn't afraid to take huge gambles, including the acquisition of Max Fried, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, in the Upton deal.

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The missing link for every AL team 

January, 7, 2015
Jan 7
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Ben Cherington and Billy BeaneGetty ImagesGMs Ben Cherington and Billy Beane have been busy this offseason, but they still have work left to do.
There have been a lot of trades and signings already this offseason, but there's still time for more. Here's the missing link for each AL team and potential solutions:

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have had a disappointing offseason after reaching the ALCS in 2014, including the loss of free agents Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. The Orioles are hoping the returns of Manny Machado (knee injury), Chris Davis (suspension) and Matt Wieters (elbow) will help make up for it, but losing Cruz and Markakis definitely hurt. The Orioles feel they showed great restraint by not overpaying to keep both players, which might help them in the long run but will definitely hurt them in 2015. They've failed so far to replace them, but they are still working on signing lesser free agents such as Colby Rasmus and Nori Aoki and continue to have trade conversations with the Dodgers regarding Andre Ethier.

Missing link: Corner outfield power bat
Possible solutions: Colby Rasmus, Nori Aoki, Andre Ethier


Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have had a tremendous offseason, adding middle-of-the-order bats (Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez) and starting pitchers (Rick Porcello, Wade Miley). But they still lack a No. 1 starter. The good news is their farm system is loaded, and they have enough to make a run at Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto or Jordan Zimmermann if any of them are traded between now and the July trade deadline.

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Five hidden gems in offseason trades 

January, 5, 2015
Jan 5
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Steven SouzaElsa/Getty ImagesIt's been a long time coming, but Steven Souza is ready to contribute at the big league level.
This has been one of the most exciting, whirlwind offseasons in recent memory, loaded with major trades. High-profile players such as Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Jason Heyward, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Jeff Samardzija have all been traded, creating quite a stir at water coolers and Starbucks throughout major league cities.

However, there also have been a number of lesser-known prospects with bright futures who could develop into significant major league players. Their development could eventually change our opinions on these deals, although that might be three years from now.

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Young stars who should be extended now 

December, 24, 2014
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KluberNick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesIt might not be easy, but the Indians should look into signing Corey Kluber to a long-term extension.
In what has been one of the most exciting MLB offseasons in recent memory, GMs are now ready to shift their focus to resolving contracts for arbitration-eligible players and then to begin the process of inking their best young players to long-term deals. GMs will focus on these extensions starting now in the hopes of getting deals done prior to Opening Day so it doesn't become an in-season distraction.

It used to be that teams would wait to extend their star players until they were just a year away from free agency, but times have changed. Now that's too late. So they adjusted and began doing it two years out. Now clubs realize that in order to prevent their players from reaching free agency, they must begin the process three to five years out. With so many good young stars getting ready to hit free agency next fall, including Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond of the Nationals, Justin Upton of the Padres and David Price of the Tigers, it’s a reminder to GMs that it would be wise to try and sign their best young players now in order to: (1) avoid letting their stars hit free agency; and (2) save a significant amount of money.

Clubs prefer to have a long track record before awarding these multimillion-dollar deals, but nowadays they just don't have that luxury. Therefore, determining which players should get these deals and the risks that the clubs have to take is tricky. I am a believer that for position players, betting first and foremost on the hit tool is the least risky, though it's important these players don’t have huge holes and can handle the entire strike zone, different velocities and changing speeds of the game’s best pitchers. For pitchers, there is so much risk of injury these days that I would be comfortable signing only true aces.

Based on those criteria, here are the top seven players I think teams should try to extend between now and Opening Day:

1. Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
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Kluber would definitely be the most difficult of all the young players to sign, coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season.

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Likely landing spots for James Shields 

December, 22, 2014
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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


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Three best and three worst moves so far 

December, 19, 2014
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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

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

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Most likely landing spots for Max Scherzer 

December, 17, 2014
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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.

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Five potential trades for Justin Upton 

December, 15, 2014
12/15/14
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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.

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Offseason grades thus far for all 30 teams 

December, 12, 2014
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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.

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And the next dominoes to fall will be ... 

December, 10, 2014
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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

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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.

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