The GM's Office: Jim Bowden

videoThe three major rule changes/adjustments that MLB made over the winter -- instant replay, banning collisions at home and the "transfer" rule -- have already caused a lot of controversy this season. On one hand, I think MLB should be commended for being proactive, but it's clear all of the modifications need a little tweaking.

While I understand why the sport would want to wait until the winter to change anything, I think MLB should look to make some needed tweaks before the first of May, even if it means invoking the "best interests of baseball" clause. Remember, MLB instituted instant replay on home runs in August 2008, so there is precedent for major rule changes during the season.

Here are the changes I would recommend for each controversial rule.

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Manny MachadoBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsManny Machado is one of several young stars Jim Bowden would lock up long term now.
As baseball’s revenues continue to break records year over year, clubs are well aware that, based on baseball history, those revenues normally get passed right down to the players.

Indeed, we’ve recently seen a flurry of six-year contract extensions by clubs for non-arbitration-eligible players in the past few months, including:

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, $144.5 million
Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians, $23 million
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, $32.4 million
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays, $25.5 million
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians, $52.5 million

In addition to those six-year deals, there was also Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135 million extension, which is the longest contract in Braves history.

This proactive method benefits the team and the player. For the teams, they get to pre-emptively buy out some of the player's free-agent years, which should save them millions of dollars considering the ridiculous pace at which free-agent salaries are escalating. In exchange, the players receive lifetime security yet are still able to test the free-agent market again at a reasonably young age.

The Trout deal broke records at almost every aspect, and the Teheran and Archer deals were riskier because of pitchers’ greater chance of landing on the disabled list at some point in their six-year contract.

Gomes was the biggest gamble because he hasn’t established the track record the others did to justify committing those types of dollars. Regardless of the risk, clubs cannot ignore the opportunity to save so much money, making contracts such as these no-brainers.

When I look around the league, I see a number of other candidates for these kind of long-term deals. Here are nine pre-arbitration players I think teams would have a chance to lock up, plus four Boras Corp. clients who probably have very little chance to sign now -- Scott Boras almost always recommends his players hold out for free agency ASAP -- but should try anyway.

As always, agents will use recent deals as a framework when negotiating, and I've noted some recent deals that would provide a guideline for each player in question.

Non-arbitration-eligible players clubs should extend now

1. Manny Machado | 3B | Service time: 1+056 | Agent: MVP Sports

Note: Service time is as of Opening Day, and "1+056" means one year, 56 days.

Machado had offseason knee surgery and started the year on the disabled list, so of course the Orioles will need to make sure he is 100 percent upon his return before doing a deal. However, once he is back to full strength, they should be aggressive in getting him locked up. The time will never be better, the price and value never lower.

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A large slate of games Monday offered glimpses of what could be an exciting 2014 season. There were unexpected performances (Alejandro De Aza's two home runs) and disappointing ones (Cliff Lee’s eight earned runs in five innings), too, as well as a walk-off win in Pittsburgh.

There’s still a long way to go for any of my bold predictions to play out, but here are my five best takeaways from Opening Day 2014.

1. So far, so good for Sizemore and Sox

Grady Sizemore was the best and biggest story of spring training, and he kept it going Opening Day with a single in his first at-bat and a long home run in his second.

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Bryan PriceAP Photo/Paul SancyaNew Reds manager Bryan Price has some very specific changes for the 2014 season.
Somewhat fittingly, the Cincinnati Reds open their season on Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty built the Cardinals into a perennial power and 2006 World Series champion during his tenure as St. Louis’ GM from 1994 to 2007.

With the Reds, Jocketty is trying to do the same, and although some have criticized him for "standing pat" this winter, I believe he built a team that is poised to be in the mix for the National League Central crown once again.

Jocketty still is scouring the trade market for more offensive help for his lineup, and at the very least, some offensive help that can also back up in the infield. But believe in the Reds; they're going to be better than everyone thinks. This past offseason, the Reds made no significant moves, and that was the right move, for another 90-win season and a wild-card berth are well within their grasp in 2014.

No moves, better team



So how can the Reds lose Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo via free agency and still have a better team? Thanks to its farm system, Cincinnati has a chance to be better, and here's why:

Hamilton takes over center field: Billy Hamilton might get some bad jumps and take some poor angles, but because of his speed he has so much more range than Choo.

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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.

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When will Trout's reign end? 

March, 27, 2014
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videoLos Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout clearly has established himself as the best player in Major League Baseball. He is ranked No. 1 in the "Baseball Tonight" 100, and he will be the favorite to remain on the top of this list for the next five years.

The rest of the top five will turn over, as there are a number of players who will move in and out over the next half-decade. Let’s have some fun and take a look at the guys who I think will populate the list of top-five players each year through the 2019 season.

Understand these lists are purely what I think could happen, and I'm assuming some amount of good health and luck during these five years, while hypothesizing some outcomes based on current performance and trajectory. I added some statistical projections courtesy of Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections system, just to give you a sense of what the stats say about these guys. In some case, I'm a bit more optimistic than the computer models.

Top 5 players in 2015 (projected via ZiPS)

1. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels (.289/.384/.505, 42 SB, 8.9 WAR)
2.

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Shin-Soo ChooJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsThe Texas Rangers might have wildly overpaid for free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
When a general manager makes a trade or a free-agent signing, he must always have significant justification for why the move was made. This could include:

• Scouting reports
• Advanced metrics and analytics
• Medical reports
• Evaluations of makeup and character
• Financial considerations
• Roster structure
• Team needs to wants

Most GMs will provide owners with at least 20 pages of documentation supporting any significant move. By the time everyone evaluates why the decision was made most of the organization should believe the move was made in the best interest of the organization.

However, after all the preparation and analysis is done, the decision is right only until something goes wrong. That could be an injury, a decline in performance, a personal problem that changes the player’s focus, a change of vibe in the clubhouse or even a change of league or position that all of a sudden makes the move go wrong, leaving the club with nothing but regrets.

Of course, anyone who's ever been a GM, president or owner would love to have a mulligan or two during their careers. Looking at this year’s offseason moves, here are the five that will backfire, either by season’s end or sometime in the next few years.

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Chris OwingsJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsIt looks like Chris Owings -- not Didi Gregorius -- will be Arizona's Opening Day shortstop.
This week we checked in at several camps, including the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics. We continue our tour through the Cactus League, with a couple of stop in NL camps, both of which are located at the gorgeous facility in Talking Stick, Ariz., that is shared by the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. Let's look at the buzz surrounding their spring camps thus far:

Arizona Diamondbacks

• I'm hearing that Chris Owings will be the everyday shortstop.

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Robinson CanoLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesRivals GMs don't understand why the Mariners stopped spending after getting Cano.
One of the advantages of being a former general manager is that there’s something of a fraternity among GMs. This proves advantageous when digging for information. Most are generous and readily available. As I bounced from spring camp to spring camp, here’s what some GMs and executives had to say:

• Several general managers told me they don't understand how the Seattle Mariners could give Robinson Cano almost a quarter-billion dollars and then claim not to have the money to bring back Kendrys Morales or make a run at Ervin Santana.

Seattle is emboldened by its lucrative local television deal, but many general managers are wondering what the Mariners’ plan is.

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Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonCubs fans could see top prospect Javier Baez in the majors as early as June.
PHOENIX -- Just 90 miles of Interstate 94 separates the North Side of Chicago and Milwaukee. Fans in other parts of the country might not have noticed, but a nice little geographic rivalry has developed between the Brewers and Cubs.

However, instead of competing for the NL Central crown as they did four or five years ago, last season the two clubs jockeyed to simply stay out of the cellar. This season the clubs are going in opposite directions; the Brewers could compete for a wild-card berth, while the Cubs probably are looking at 90 or more losses.

Here’s a look at both the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, and the buzz surrounding their spring training camps.

Chicago Cubs

• The Cubs’ plan is to start top shortstop prospect Javier Baez in Triple-A. If he tears it up, they will call him up in June after he no longer is eligible for Super Two status.

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Buzz: Kemp will be ready soon 

March, 12, 2014
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KempAP Photo/Paul SancyaMatt Kemp will break camp on the DL, but the Dodgers are stacked in the outfield.
Yesterday we looked at three AL spring training camps in Arizona and took stock of some of the buzz surrounding each one. The beauty of the Cactus League is the relative close proximity of all the team complexes to one another. It makes it very easy to jump from one camp to another and cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

Today, let’s take a look at two NL teams in particular, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. The two franchises share a storied rivalry that dates back to their beginnings as the Brooklyn and New York teams, and followed them out to California. These teams are primed to reignite that rivalry again this season.

Los Angeles Dodgers

• For now, the Dodgers are committed to keeping all five of their outfielders. Their Opening Day alignment should be Yasiel Puig in right, Andre Ethier in center, Carl Crawford in left, Matt Kemp on the DL and Joc Pederson in Triple-A. Long-term, however, picture Puig, Pederson and Kemp from right to left.

It is wise to keep all of them now, even though at some point it will become a problem if all of them are healthy, because they all deserve to play.

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10 guys scouts are raving about 

March, 10, 2014
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Ryan ZimmermanGreg Fiume/Getty ImagesRyan Zimmerman's shoulder is finally healthy, which should help him at third and at the plate.

While you never like to put too much stock in spring training performance, there is no question that scouts, coaches and execs take notice when a player looks particularly good during camp. I'm not talking about the stat sheet, but rather their actions on the field, which could be anything from their swing, to their fastball, to the way they move.

Here are 10 players who have evaluators excited this year.

1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals

Zimmerman is taking some grounders at first base this spring, but that is only to give the Nationals more lineup flexibility when a left-hander is on the mound. He looks great at third this spring and his arm strength has returned. This will allow him to once again play a deeper third base and restore his inclusion within any Gold Glove conversation. More important for fantasy players, with a healthy right shoulder for the first time in years, they should anticipate a return to his 2009 numbers.

2. Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants

Around the trade deadline last July, Belt made some significant changes at the plate.

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Ervin Santana, Kendrys MoralesGetty ImagesThe Mariners would improve their chances to contend by signing Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales.
All the Seattle Mariners needed to become relevant again was Robinson Cano.

Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik also made some other shrewd moves, signing free agents Corey Hart and Fernando Rodney, as well as trading for Logan Morrison.

But those moves won't be enough to overtake the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics or Texas Rangers in the tough American League West. That's why they should take advantage of the depressed markets for free agents Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales, who can make them a wild-card contender.

I believe three years and $36 million for Santana and one year at $10 million for Morales should be enough to sign both of them. Zduriencik could easily mitigate any cash-flow concerns by back-loading Santana's contract and perhaps deferring some of Morales' deal.

These two moves not only would position the Mariners as a better overall team, but they would offer Seattle a chance to compete for a divisional title, as well as being a legitimate wild-card contender. Let's look at how:

Weakened AL West starting rotations

If the Mariners compete for a wild-card berth with any AL West teams, they'll probably do it against the Rangers and Angels.

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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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Mets need to sign Stephen Drew 

February, 21, 2014
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Stephen Drew Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesStill searching for a home this spring, Stephen Drew would fit perfectly with the Mets.
Over the past few years, the New York Mets have made great strides in improving the franchise. Under the leadership of general manager Sandy Alderson, they’ve had a productive offseason and are cultivating a healthy crop of young pitching in their farm system.

However, despite all the moves Alderson has made this offseason, the Mets’ one glaring weakness remains at shortstop. The Mets have left no stone unturned in searching outside the organization for an upgrade at the position. Indeed, there was little available on both the free agent or trade markets -- just ask the St. Louis Cardinals, who had to turn to free agency, finally overpaying shortstop Jhonny Peralta with a four-year deal worth $53 million.

That said, one player who matches up perfectly with the Mets’ needs is free agent Stephen Drew. Unlike Peralta, Drew received a qualifying offer, which has crushed the demand for his services because he will cost the team that signs him a draft pick.

However, circumstances have aligned perfectly for the Mets, who should step up and sign Drew, offering a contract in the neighborhood of two years at $22 million (with no limited no-trade clause or opt-out clause). Alderson and Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, should put their egos aside and get this deal done. Let’s take a look at why.

Drew versus Tejada

Right now, the Mets’ starting shortstop (by default) is light-hitting Ruben Tejada. At the plate, he’s done little to prove he’s the Mets’ long-term solution, and his numbers bear that out, posting a weak 2013 slash line of .202/.259/.260.

Conversely, Drew finally is completely healthy and as such, his projected production is in.265/.330/.440 range, with 12-15 homers.

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