The GM's Office: Jim Bowden

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.

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

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

Top 10 players most likely to be traded 

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
Cole Hamels and Yoenis CespedesGetty ImagesCole Hamels and Yoenis Cespedes are two players who could be dealt this offseason.
Get ready for a busy MLB offseason. Here is a ranking of the 10 players who I think are the most likely to be traded, from the most likely (No. 1) to the least likely (No. 10) among the group.

1. Cole Hamels, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies' rebuilding program doesn't officially begin until they deal their biggest trade asset in Hamels, who is also the player (among those available) with the most trade value in baseball right now.

Hamels, 30, is coming off his fifth consecutive year of 200 innings pitched and his lowest ERA (2.46) in his career. He has four years and $90 million remaining on his contract, with a team or vesting option at either $20 million or $24 million. The challenge for the Phillies with regard to dealing him is two-fold: Hamels has a 20-team no-trade list, and only a few of those remaining nine teams have enough in their farm system to satisfy the Phillies with three top prospects. However, once free agents Max Scherzer and Jon Lester find new homes, the interested teams that lose out will certainly be considering Hamels.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Robinson Cano Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsBowden's spoiler alert: GM Jack Zduriencik, Robinson Cano and Co. will make the playoffs in 2015.
The Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets fell short of the playoffs this season. In fact, the Mets fell well short.

But I predict all three of these teams will make the playoffs in 2015.

Granted, these early predictions are based on the assumption that all three organizations will add the necessary two to three pieces they need this offseason, because all three are that close to playing October baseball, just as the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles were at this time a year ago, when I predicted all three would make the playoffs (which they did).

The Mariners, Indians and Mets have more in common than you might realize. First of all, they all have the starting rotations in place to win next year without having to make a single move this winter. Second, they all need more offense in the middle of their lineups and have the trade weapons and/or cash to make these necessary acquisitions. Third, they all have enough in their farm systems to withstand in-season injuries or to trade to fill their needs.

So let's examine what went wrong for these three teams this year and why they should eclipse their 2014 performances in 2015:

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners made huge strides in 2014, finishing with a record of 87-75, only one game out of the second wild-card spot and just two games behind the eventual AL pennant winner Royals.

The Mariners' pitching staff led the American League in ERA and opponents' batting average-against while also finishing in the top five in WHIP, saves and strikeouts.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Why Cubs rank 4th in Future Power Ranks 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
Theo Epstein and Jed HoyerAP Images/Nam Y. HuhJed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have put together a nucleus that could have a long run of greatness.
The Chicago Cubs have had five consecutive losing seasons and haven't been to the playoffs since 2008. So why do they jump to fourth in our Future Power Ranks? Because things are changing on the North Side, and it's almost "go time" for this franchise. The Cubs are amassing all the necessary elements to become a world championship organization, and they're being built the right way, from top to bottom.

Team president Theo Epstein arrived in the Windy City in October 2011 after leading the Boston Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, ending an 86-year title drought and ridding the franchise of the "Curse of the Bambino" in the process. He came to Chicago with a clear blueprint on how he wanted to build the Cubs, and he hasn't deviated from it. The long-term plan he put in place normally takes 7-8 years based on the history of teams that have built from the ground up, such as the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins. However, it appears Epstein is ahead of schedule, as it looks like the Cubs will be ready to start winning in 2015 and be a legitimate contender by 2016.

The Cubs have one of the best front offices in baseball, led by Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, senior VP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod and one of the strongest scouting and player development departments in baseball, possessing elite evaluators and teachers.

[+] EnlargeJoe Maddon
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJoe Maddon reportedly is all set to sign on as the manager of the Cubs.
They have been missing an elite manager since Lou Piniella's decision to retire back in August 2010, but that's about to change soon; the Cubs are close to officially announcing Joe Maddon's long-term contract to manage the team.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

What's next for the Kansas City Royals? 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
James Shields and Billy ButlerUSA TODAY SportsTwo key Royals players, James Shields and Billy Butler, are expected to hit the free-agent market.
The Kansas City Royals' immediate concern will be the impending free agency of both right-handed pitcher James Shields and DH/1B Billy Butler.

The team has said all the right things about Shields, that it would like him back and will make a sincere effort to bring him back. However, the Royals also know that financially there's really no way to make it work. The bottom line is that Shields has pitched his last game for the Royals. The franchise took a lot of heat for its blockbuster deal to acquire him, but without him, Kansas City never would have made it to the World Series.

The Royals do have a chance of retaining Butler, but that might not be as easy as they think.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Bowden buzz: Non-World Series teams 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Theo Epstein, Anthony RizzoDavid Banks/Getty ImagesThings are looking up for Theo Epstein and the Cubs, whp boast MLB's top farm system.
While the 2014 World Series featuring the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals is off to an auspicious start and looking like it's going to become a classic, the other 28 teams are busy preparing for the offseason by laying the groundwork for future trades, free-agent signings and, in some cases, stadium renovations.

Here is a quick look at buzz from around the league not involving the two World Series clubs:

• The Milwaukee Brewers have made it known that improving first base is an offseason priority. While their No. 1 target appears to be impending free agent Adam LaRoche of the Washington Nationals, they're also looking at all options who could be available, including Adam Lind of the Toronto Blue Jays, Ike Davis of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles and even Royals designated hitter Billy Butler, who proved in August he can be at least an average defender at first base. If the Nationals move Ryan Zimmerman to first base as expected and let LaRoche go, the Brewers could be the front-runners for his services.

• The Chicago Cubs are thrilled with the rapid development of two of their top picks in this year's draft, as Kyle Schwarber (first round) and Mark Zagunis (third round) were putting on a show offensively at the Instructional League.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

What's next for the Washington Nationals? 

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
Ryan ZimmermanChuck Myers/MCT/Getty ImagesShould the Nationals trade Ryan Zimmerman or move him to first base or the outfield?
Regardless of what happens in the National League East this offseason, the Washington Nationals will be heavy favorites to repeat as NL East champions again in 2015. But that doesn't mean they'll have a quiet offseason.

The Nats have decisions to make on three significant free agents: first baseman Adam LaRoche, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and reliever Rafael Soriano. They also must address their next free-agent class (following the 2015 season), which includes Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Matt Thornton. Do they extend them? Do they trade them now while they have strong value? Or do they just prepare to let them depart via free agency next offseason, in which they may or may not get draft pick compensation for them?

Other areas the Nats will need to tend to include what to do with Ryan Zimmerman and how to improve the team's bench and bullpen depth.

Here is a look at each area heading into the offseason:

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

What's next for the Los Angeles Dodgers? 

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
Hanley RamirezRichard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsThe Dodgers will have to address Hanley Ramirez's impending free-agent status early this offseason.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' offseason begins with ownership making a decision on the status of GM Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly. Multiple media outlets are reporting that Mattingly's job is safe, but Colleti's job could be in jeopardy. Once those decisions are finalized, whether it's Colletti or a new GM, the objectives for the team this offseason are: addressing Hanley Ramirez's impending free-agent status, improving the bullpen (which was clearly exposed in their National League Division Series loss), dealing with the over-crowded outfield, adding another starter and, most importantly, getting the team younger.

Here's a look at each area:

Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez has played in 130 games just once since 2010 and has to be considered a health risk at this point.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

DipotoKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsGM Jerry Dipoto likely won't overhaul the Angels, but there are a few upgrades he needs to make.
The Los Angeles Angels finished the regular season with the American League's best record, but their questionable starting rotation let them down in the short division series against the Kansas City Royals. There is no doubt Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto's top priority this offseason will be to find an upgrade or two for their starting rotation.

Jered Weaver will return as their ace after another successful season; he tied for the AL lead with 18 wins to go along with a 3.59 ERA and 169 strikeouts. Garrett Richards is expected back for most or all of the season, giving the Angels two ace-type pitchers at the top of their rotation. Matt Shoemaker, who just had a breakout rookie season (16-4 record, 3.04 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), should be a solid No. 3. But after those three, Dipoto has to be concerned

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Players who are poised to rebound in '15 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
Jason Kipnis, Jay BruceGetty ImagesJay Bruce and Jason Kipnis, both former All-Stars, have been disappointing this season.
Every year there are players who underachieve, and when it happens, opposing general managers pick up the phone and call that team's GM to find out if they can "steal" the player in a trade. GMs view players with the same mindset they do the stock market, trying to acquire players when their stock is down, much like fantasy baseball owners do. Whether it's a real GM or a fantasy GM, identifying those players who will rebound early and getting them before their opponents can is important to success.

As such, I suspect Braves GM Frank Wren, for instance, will be calling Indians GM Chris Antonetti to see if he can pry away Jason Kipnis while his stock is down, and I would expect Yankees GM Brian Cashman to call Reds GM Walt Jocketty to see if he can steal Jay Bruce from them. Here are five players, including Kipnis and Bruce, who I expect to rebound, whether it's with their existing club or the teams they're traded to this offseason:

1. Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians

Kipnis, 27, signed a six-year, $52.5 million deal through 2019 last offseason, with a team option for 2020. His first year of the deal has been a disaster; he has not been getting on base, not hitting home runs and not driving in runs.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The secrets to the Cardinals' success 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Lance LynnAP Photo/Jeff RobersonLance Lynn (15 wins, 2.73 ERA) has been a key factor in St. Louis' rise to the top of the NL Central.
They trailed the Milwaukee Brewers for the first five months of the season, were trudging along at six games over .500 as recently as Aug. 12 and have had to hold off the surging Pittsburgh Pirates, but there the St. Louis Cardinals sit, right back on top of the National League Central. They're on their way to winning a second straight division title.

But this is not the same Cardinals team that won the NL pennant a year ago. Sure, they have many of the same pieces, but many things have had to go right, they've had to fight through some setbacks, and adjustments had to be made. Let's look at how the Cardinals have climbed from third place in the NL Central as of mid-August to the top of the division.

They've maintained consistency

The Cardinals have had some valleys, but they've managed to grind through them and avoid prolonged losing stretches. In fact, they've posted a winning record every month this season.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Possible pennant race X factors 

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
    Jarrod DysonAP Photo
    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.

    To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top 5 Executive of the Year candidates 

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
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.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider