The GM's Office: Jim Bowden

Pitchers and catchers to watch this spring 

February, 22, 2015
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Cliff Lee and Cole HamelsGetty ImagesPhillies pitchers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are two players worth tracking closely this spring.
Pitchers and catchers for nearly all MLB teams have reported by now, and the drama is ongoing. We are already monitoring injuries, trade rumors, comebacks and how players on new teams are fitting in. I'll be in Arizona and Florida at various times this spring, and here are 12 pitchers and catchers I'll be monitoring closely and talking to people about.

1. Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (trade candidate)

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The Hamels trade talks are not going away. It's pretty simple: The Phillies must rebuild, and teams needing the final piece to get them to October will stay engaged with the Phillies, as well as scout Hamels' every appearance. Every pitch, everything being said and any soreness, normal or otherwise, will be overanalyzed by scouts and front offices. If there's an injury to a key pitcher or a top prospect doesn't look quite as promising, that's what will make a Hamels deal happen.

Teams that improved most this offseason 

February, 8, 2015
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White SoxAP Photo/M. Spencer GreenJeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera were key acquisitions for the White Sox.
Several teams made key singular moves this offseason that could push them over the top and actually have more impact than the overhauls that other teams did. For instance, the Nationals' signing of Max Scherzer gives them the game's best and deepest starting rotation. The Mariners' signing of Nelson Cruz finally got them the right-handed power bat they needed between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the lineup. The Cardinals' trade for right fielder Jason Heyward gives them the game's best defensive right fielder.

These were some of the best moves, but which teams made the best series of moves to make their major league rosters drastically better this offseason? Here are my top five organizations

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ShieldsDenny Medley/USA TODAY SportsPitchers and catchers report in a couple of weeks, and James Shields remains a free agent.
Before the offseason began, I projected that James Shields would receive a five-year deal for around a $100 million (or a $20 million average annual value). But I also wrote that there was a question as to whether he would get that fifth year. I can answer that question now: He's not getting the fifth year.

As a former general manager, I can tell you that when a player gets to the first week of February unsigned, there's usually a good reason. If something were going to happen, it would have by then. Now Shields is looking at a four-year deal in the $70-$80 million range as the best possible result, and the price tag could be even lower than that.

There are still several clubs engaged with Shields, including the San Diego Padres, my current best guess to sign him. But the Miami Marlins and several other teams are in play, too.

Shields and his representatives overshot at the outset of free agency, and have been stubborn to come down. It has even been reported that his camp was claiming to have turned down a five-year, $110 million deal. If that’s true, it was a colossal blunder.

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Six managers already on the hot seat 

February, 1, 2015
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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.

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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
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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
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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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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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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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Dissecting the Rays' managerial search 

November, 23, 2014
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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.

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Top 10 players most likely to be traded 

November, 13, 2014
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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
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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.

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Teams that won't miss the playoffs in 2015 

November, 6, 2014
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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.

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Why Cubs rank 4th in Future Power Ranks 

October, 31, 2014
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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.

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