The GM's Office: Albert Pujols

Seven bold predictions for 2014 

March, 29, 2014
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Cliff Lee Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesCliff Lee has a lot to be worried about if things go sideways for the Phillies.
With the start of the 2014 season upon us, it's time to take a guess at what might happen this year.

In this space last season, I predicted that Yasiel Puig would become an instant hit in Los Angeles and envisioned a last-place finish for the New York Yankees. Although the Yankees did not end up in the AL East cellar, they definitely fell off, and "Puigmania" did indeed ensue. So here are seven predictions I'm making for 2014.

1. Phillies finish last in the NL East

The Philadelphia Phillies might not have the worst roster in baseball, but they do have the oldest, and it's a team that has been on a steady decline for the past few years.

10 undervalued fantasy targets 

February, 26, 2014
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Ryan BraunMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesDespite the Biogenesis scandal, don't forget about Ryan Braun, who could put up big numbers.
Most fantasy baseball players are going to have the usual suspects atop their draft boards: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen.

However, to "win" drafts, the key is to find the undervalued players. Perhaps a player is coming off of an injury-plagued campaign. Or he has perennially flown under the radar like Baltimore’s Chris Davis did for a couple of years before breaking out in 2013.

The one thing these undervalued targets all have in common is they’re coming off relatively poor seasons so a shrewd fantasy player could nab one or two at a lower draft slot than that player has traditionally had.

Here is a list of 10 players who I think will have significantly better seasons than they did in 2013. If you select them at the right spot, they could become difference-makers for your team.

1. Ryan Braun | RF | Milwaukee Brewers

Braun is coming off his worst season after being suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Certainly there are reasons to be concerned -- we don’t know if his career numbers were influenced by PED use, and he’s also switching positions.

I don't think Braun's success was a product of PEDs and believe he wants to prove that to the world.

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Moving the "immovable" contracts 

October, 17, 2013
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B.J. UptonKevin Liles/Getty ImagesThe Braves might like a mulligan on signing the disappointing B.J. Upton.

In 2008, the Toronto Blue Jays shocked the baseball world when they signed outfielder Vernon Wells to a seven-year, $126 million deal. His career .319 OBP and a dismal 2009 season and perceived decline as well as a base salary that escalated to $21 million quickly made Wells’ contract such an albatross that no one thought Wells could ever be traded.

However, Wells actually was traded ... twice. First he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in 2011 for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, then again this past March to the New York Yankees for minor leaguers.

There are two ways an "immovable" contract can be, well, moved. A team can do what the Angels did and assume a majority of the remaining salary; they paid $28.1 million to the Yankees, leaving just $12.9 million for the Yankees to pay in 2013 and 2014. Or a team can trade a bad contract for another bad contract, as the New York Mets and Angels did in 2001, when they swapped first baseman Mo Vaughn for right-hander Kevin Appier.

And swapping gargantuan contracts can sometimes benefit both teams. Such was the case in August 2012 when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox made a blockbuster deal that transformed both clubs into legitimate World Series contenders. The Dodgers got the big-name player they wanted (Adrian Gonzalez) while the Red Sox got the financial freedom they needed to rebuild.

Also, when clubs don’t have trade chips in either their farm system or major league club, and don’t like the cost of the present free-agent market, they might take a chance on a bad contract because it’s the only way they can make their team better, just as the Yankees did with Wells.

So, teams can trade some "immovable" contracts. Let’s take a look at the present market for them. I’ve categorized them into somewhat likely and unlikely, as some have a better possibility of being moved than others, but no matter what it will take a couple of very motivated teams on both sides to get a deal done.

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Seven players poised to rebound in '14 

September, 18, 2013
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Matt KempKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMatt Kemp has endured a nightmare 2013, but all signs point to a resurgent 2014.

Teams can rely on offseason trades and free agency to supplement their teams for the next season. But one of the easiest and most gratifying methods is simply having an important player return to form.

In 2013, baseball has witnessed the comebacks of a number of players who have had a direct impact on their teams' success this season.

Pitchers bouncing back from lackluster 2012 seasons include Ubaldo Jimenez (Cleveland Indians), Francisco Liriano (Pittsburgh Pirates), Jorge De La Rosa (Colorado Rockies), John Lackey (Boston Red Sox) and Ervin Santana (Kansas City Royals).

Bounce-back position players who made the biggest impacts include Jayson Werth (Washington Nationals), Eric Hosmer (Royals), Shane Victorino (Red Sox), Hanley Ramirez (Los Angeles Dodgers), Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox) and James Loney (Tampa Bay Rays).

Forecasting how well these players will bounce back can be tricky, but based on a player’s track record and work ethic, general managers often will take gambles based on hunches. They often are the best offseason acquisitions because they cost nothing in terms of trade assets or signing values.

Here are seven players who I believe will have bounce-back seasons in 2014 after subpar 2013 seasons:

1. Matt Kemp | CF | Los Angeles Dodgers

Kemp’s injury-plagued 2013 season was nothing short of a nightmare. Early in the season he didn’t display his typical power, and while the team maintained he was healthy, most observers attributed his lack of power to a surgically repaired shoulder. He also was hampered by a sore right hamstring in May, then again in June.

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Reviewing my 10 bold predictions 

September, 13, 2013
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Alfonso SorianoAP Photo/Patrick SemanskyThe Yankees find themselves in the wild-card race, not the AL East basement.

Every year at some point during spring training, I offer my 10 bold predictions for the season. Instead of offering the obvious, I try to go out on a limb and prognosticate what most people wouldn’t expect. The tough part of that equation is at the end of the season when my editors ask me to go back and review those 10 predictions and assess how I did.

Thanks a lot, guys.

In retrospect, I think I fared reasonably well, but one way or another it’s time for me to man up and take responsibility for my predictions. Just remember, I was told to go out on that limb ... I didn't walk out there by choice.

Prediction: The New York Yankees will finish last in AL East.

Outcome: Wrong


This prediction came with a caveat: “All five teams in the AL East have a chance to finish anywhere from first to last place.” That included the Yankees. Instead, the Yankees find themselves smack in the middle of an AL wild-card chase. More than the Yankees overachieving, it was the Blue Jays’ rotation that underachieved. The rotation was plagued by injuries or underperformance. R.A. Dickey looked nothing like the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner; Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow combined for four wins and ERAs around 6.00; Ricky Romero made two starts with an ERA north of 12.00 and J.A. Happ also had an ERA north of 5.00.

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Albert Pujols Harry How/Getty ImagesPujols is going to fall short of 30 homers for the first time in his 13-year career.
A disappointing season got a whole lot worse for the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday when they found out that Albert Pujols is headed to the disabled list with a foot injury that could end his season.

The Angels probably should have dealt with this earlier, as Pujols has been plagued by plantar fasciitis for years, and it was clearly affecting him in spring training. They should have tried to treat it then, even it meant Pujols missing some time.

Instead, he played at 80 percent all season and wasn't all that productive, hitting .258 while grounding into a league-leading 18 double plays. He aggravated the injury on Friday night and will now miss "significant time" in the words of manager Mike Scioscia.

Any hope the Angels had of making a second-half push was predicated on Pujols recapturing his All-Star form, so this certainly changes their outlook with 72 hours to go until the trade deadline. If there was any doubt about the Angels being "sellers" before, it has been removed. Problem is, they have nothing to sell.

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Joe GirardiMike Stobe/Getty ImagesIs Yankees skipper Joe Girardi staring at a last-place finish in 2013?

With Friday’s news of right-hander Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers agreeing to a record-setting contract, the drama of whether baseball’s best pitcher would see free agency in two years came to an end.

Some could say it was predictable in a sense. After all, the Tigers would look extremely foolhardy to allow Verlander to walk via free agency after his current contract expires after 2014. Saying Verlander was going to sign an extension at some point isn’t going out very far on that proverbial limb. It’s just not a bold prediction.

So, what craziness could happen in 2013? With Opening Day just around the corner, here are my 10 bold predictions for the 2013 baseball season:

1. New York Yankees finish last in AL East.

It hasn’t happened in 22 years, since the Yankees finished 67-95 and seven games in back of the Milwaukee Brewers, but the Yankees could very easily go from first in 2012 to worst in 2013. And, with the American League’s largest payroll, there is additional pressure to win in addition to their own high standards of success.

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Mark TrumboAP Photo/Chris CarlsonTrumbo's versatility and production makes him the Angels' MVP so far.

When the Los Angeles Angels dropped a 10-year, $240 million contract on Albert Pujols, the No. 1 free agent this past offseason, the media and fans immediately turned their attention toward Anaheim. The three-time National League Most Valuable Player quickly became the front-runner to win the AL version this year. But his early season slump, as well as the team’s losses, dominated April's headlines.

When the Los Angeles Angels sought an elixir for what ailed them, they called up outfielder Mike Trout, who ESPN’s own Keith Law deemed the game’s No. 1 prospect in the minor leagues. Pujols and the Angels’ play improved while talk continued of Trout as a candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.

But perhaps lost in the shuffle of all the news and bombast surrounding Trout and Pujols has been the consistency and versatility of Mark Trumbo. Quietly, Trumbo has done all that has been asked of him and more and has been arguably the Angels’ MVP this year.

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How the Twins can move Morneau 

April, 12, 2012
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Joe Mauer & Justin MorneauTom Dahlin/Getty ImagesJoe Mauer (right) is virtually untradable, but there could be a market for Justin Morneau.

Oh, how things can change in 18 months.

It was just a short time ago when baseball was talking about its best hitting tandems. Among them were the St. Louis CardinalsAlbert Pujols and Matt Holliday, the Milwaukee BrewersRyan Braun and Prince Fielder, and the Minnesota TwinsJoe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Now, 18 months later, Pujols is in Los Angeles and Fielder is in Detroit, but Mauer and Morneau remain Twins, literally and figuratively, joined by their sheer lack of tradability due to their massive contracts.

They were supposed to be the Twins’ cornerstones after helping the team to division titles in 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010. Their contracts ensured the duo would remain together through the opening of Target Field and beyond. Morneau signed first, inking a six-year, $80 million deal in 2008. Then Mauer signed a club-record eight-year, $184 million deal after the 2010 season.

However, what seemed like a dream scenario with the Twins' two biggest stars devolved into a nightmare of injuries from the 2009 season through the 2011 season.

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Zack Greinke AP Photo/Morry GashThe Brewers are hoping to lock up ace Zack Greinke before Opening Day.

PHOENIX -- In the Cactus League, the weather is basically sunny and 75 degrees every day, and the best part is the short commute to all of the ballparks, which differs greatly from the Grapefruit League in Florida, where the ballparks are spread out across the state. With exhibition games having started this past weekend, here's a look at five things I've seen around camps thus far that stand out to me.

1. The attitude in the Los Angeles Angels' clubhouse


The Angels' clubhouse already has that special karma that you usually find with teams on the cusp of doing great things. Manager Mike Scioscia already has set the tone by making camp fun, yet serious when they need to be. This team has come together quick and has the best feel of all the camps I’ve visited so far. And the presence of Albert Pujols has definitely impacted the club already.

Angels closer Jordan Walden told me: “It seems so surreal, I keep pinching myself thinking this is just a dream.”


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Chapman should go to Triple-A 

February, 29, 2012
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Aroldis ChapmanAndrew Carpenean/US PresswireIf the Reds really want to get the most out of their investment in Chapman, they'll send him to Triple-A.


PHOENIX -- The Cincinnati Reds are excited about the potential of their rotation for the short- and long-term, but don’t be surprised if left-hander Aroldis Chapman isn’t a part of it come Opening Day as there is strong sentiment that he could start the year in Triple-A. The Reds committed $30.5 million on Chapman to be a starter, but he’s spent most of his career in the Reds' bullpen, which hasn’t allowed him to develop his secondary pitches or his command. (He walked 7.4 men per nine innings last season.)

In order to develop his off-speed stuff and refine his command, he needs innings. Remember, his 101 mph fastball is supplemented only by an inconsistent slider, which at times can be devastating but he doesn’t have command in the zone. He had a forkball when he pitched in Cuba and a changeup he rarely uses. Therefore, to eventually earn the $30.5 million he’s being paid, starting in Triple-A and getting the innings to refine those secondary pitches could be the best thing for him and the Reds. It also would give them a starter to go get if one of their top five starters stumbles or gets injured.

The Reds' projected rotation is Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey, and they have veterans such as Jeff Francis and Brett Tomko ready to step in if injury strikes. That means Chapman starting the year in Triple-A is a real possibility.

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Phil HughesChris Trotman/Getty ImagesThe Yankees and their fans are hoping Phil Hughes can regain his 18-win form from 2010.

Heading into spring training, every general manager has a list of questions that he wants answered. Whether that's seeing if a player has rebounded from surgery or if an aging veteran has any gas left in the tank. It might be a position battle that needs resolving or which youngster might step up and make the team. Here's a look at all 30 teams and what remains the biggest question for each. We'll start with the American League.

American League

Baltimore Orioles
This team has plenty of questions, including whether any of its young players will develop any further. But after trading pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, the rotation is nothing but question marks. What will it look like come Opening Day? If guys like Brian Matusz can't figure it out, this could easily be a 100-loss team.

Boston Red Sox
Although there are questions regarding the back end of the starting rotation and bullpen, right field and the health of Carl Crawford, the most pressing concern is shortstop. Can rookie Jose Iglesias hit enough to win the starting job?


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Grading the offseason: American League 

February, 17, 2012
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Albert PujolsStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Los Angeles Angels enjoyed the most fruitful offseason by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.


To say baseball's landscape has shifted this offseason is an understatement. There was an exodus of talent to the American League, and teams like the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees find themselves amid baseball's power elite. There's a chasm between the top and the bottom of the American League, and much of that canyon was dug this offseason. Here's how each team did during the winter. (For a look at my NL grade, click here.)

Los Angeles Angels - Grade: A

Key Transactions: Acquired C Chris Iannetta from Colorado for RHP Tyler Chatwood; signed 1B Albert Pujols, 10 years, $240 million; signed LHP C.J. Wilson, five years, $77.5 million; signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins, one year, $3 million.

Bowden's Take
The Angels signed the best position player and starting pitcher available on the free-agent market in Pujols and Wilson, respectively, which placed them among a group of six elite AL teams. The signings have bolstered the offense. The Angels also own arguably the best four-man rotation in baseball. Hawkins adds depth and leadership to the bullpen. The Angels won the offseason and put themselves in the position of being World Series contenders.


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Jerry DipotoAP Photo/Jae C. HongJerry Dipoto (right) has made aggressive moves this offseason, to the delight of Angels owner Arte Moreno.


An active offseason that witnessed some of baseball’s best players changing teams clearly would buoy some and sink others. For the following five teams, their offseason moves could vault them into bona fide postseason contention and divisional relevance, due mainly to the wheeling and dealing of their general managers. Here are five GMs who have improved their clubs to “win now” (tomorrow: five GMs who helped their teams long-term):

1. Jerry Dipoto, Los Angeles Angels


In Albert Pujols, the Angels acquired the best power hitter in the game, and they stole left-hander C.J. Wilson, the ace of the division rival Texas Rangers, and slotted him into their rotation behind Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Dipoto also tendered a contract to first baseman Kendrys Morales, who has recovered from a serious leg injury. Morales offers another possible 100-RBI bat in the lineup with Pujols. Another key acquisition was reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who helped the Brewers win the NL Central in 2011 with critical sixth- and seventh-inning appearances. His veteran leadership should be valuable to a young closer and bullpen. In all, the Angels are poised for the postseason and perhaps to take back the American League West.

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Transaction of the Year: Angels ink Pujols

December, 29, 2011
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Albert Pujols Kirby Lee/US PresswireIn 2011, Pujols found greener pastures in a land bathed in Angels red, not Cardinals.

Albert Pujols’ name already is often mentioned among a trio of baseball legends – Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. His prodigious career thus far has earned him that nod of respect, as well as a mammoth 10-year, $254 million contract in December from the Los Angeles Angels, which is justifiably the 2011 Transaction of the Year.

The speed with which the deal was completed, as well as the sheer financial numbers turned baseball’s annual winter meetings on its head. But there also was symmetry; Pujols left the only team he’s ever known, similar to Ruth, Aaron and Bonds. And as the sport’s best active player his departure was made all the more curious by St. Louis’ zeal to sign teammate Matt Holliday to an extension rather than Pujols. Despite his accolades and production Pujols never felt he got a full market value offer from the Cardinals. Likewise, the Pittsburgh Pirates knew Bonds would leave after the 1992 season, seemingly too expensive to re-sign.

To many, the historical significance of his deal was on par with Boston’s selling of Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees in 1919, if not equal to Bonds leaving for San Francisco or an aging Aaron traded from Atlanta. Indeed, there’s little doubt Pujols eventually will rank among that trio of home run hitters, so perhaps it was a move destined to happen.

Honorable mention:

1. Colby Rasmus traded to the Toronto Blue Jays
In a complex, three-team trade that involved 11 players, the Cardinals netted several players who were integral to their World Series championship run. On July 27, they sent former No. 1 pick Rasmus to Toronto, which had coveted the 24-year-old Rasmus for some time. Knowing that the departures of Pujols and manager Tony La Russa were distinct possibilities after the season, trading a talent like Rasmus was worth the risk to try and win now. Without role players such as Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski, the Cardinals’ run might never have reached the heights that it eventually would.

2. Doug Fister traded to the Detroit Tigers
Tigers President/CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski’s main intent in acquiring right-hander Doug Fister on July 30 from the Seattle Mariners was to improve his team’s fifth starter. Production from that slot in the first half of the season had proven disastrous. In Fister, however, they got a No. 3 starter. With Fister’s off-balance approach, the Tigers said good bye to the rest of the American League Central and said hello to the playoffs. Like the Cardinals, it is likely their postseason run would never have started without this trade.

3. Hunter Pence traded to the Philadelphia Phillies
The Houston Astros were selling, and the Phillies needed another right-handed bat. Pence had always been an above-average player, but after he arrived in Philadelphia on July 30, he completely changed the offense and became one of the team’s best players. Even more significant was the fact the Phillies did not surrender either No. 1 prospect Domonic Brown or emerging right-handed starter Vance Worley. Instead, the Phillies gave up a decent package including pitcher Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton.

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