The GM's Office: Zack Greinke

Anibal SanchezAP Photo/Paul SancyaAnibal Sanchez has helped give the Tigers arguably the best rotation in baseball.
The cream of the 2013 free-agent crop was obvious and expensive.

Teams entered the offseason flush with cash and spent prodigiously. Outfielder Josh Hamilton was the best position player, while B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn followed not far behind. Right-hander Zack Greinke was clearly the top free-agent pitcher available. All together, the four top free agents signed multiyear contracts worth close to $300 million.

And what do those teams have to show for it? The trio of outfielders has hit a combined .205 with a paltry nine home runs, five stolen bases and 93 strikeouts. Greinke added a lone win and a broken collarbone.

Conversely, there are a number of lower-priced free agents who are more than earning their paychecks. Since the top four free agents haven’t lived up to their usual performance levels, which free agents have been the best bargains in baseball so far? Here’s a ranking of the top 10 so far:

Note: Performance to date, salary and long-term commitment were all considered for this ranking.

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How to fix the L.A. teams 

May, 8, 2013
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No, it isn’t a very happy time in Southern California.

SoCal fans just watched as the Lakers and Clippers got bounced out of the NBA playoffs in the first round, while the Dodgers and Angels have looked like they might not even make the playoffs.

Coming into 2013, both Los Angeles baseball teams boasted the largest payrolls in their respective divisions, hoping big offseason spending meant getting to the postseason. And on paper, their rosters are good enough to make the playoffs. However, both teams have been beset by injury and ineffectiveness, and as a result, postseason appearances are hardly assured. However, it’s not too late for the L.A. teams to save their seasons, although both clubs will have to make some major adjustments between now and the July 31 trade deadline.

Here’s why both the Angels and Dodgers are struggling and how they can turn their seasons around:


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Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke throws during spring training baseball at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. AP PhotosAfter Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, who else fills out the starting rotation?
The good news for the Los Angeles Dodgers is that Zack Greinke’s elbow ligaments and tendons are fine. The bad news is Greinke himself doesn’t know when he’ll be able to pitch again.

The right-hander has been dealing with inflammation in his pitching elbow and was given an injection of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) to settle down the elbow. In my experience, inflammation is a telltale sign of loose bodies -- perhaps a bone spur or something similar. But when I pressed Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, he told me there were no loose bodies or a bone spur in the back of Greinke’s elbow.

The Dodgers are hoping the PRP injection helps Greinke as it did his teammate Chad Billingsley, who is pain-free and throwing great. Greinke didn’t want to talk about the elbow, only saying that he was going to follow the direction of the training staff. To him, the best-case scenario might be pitching the second game of the season, but he definitely won't be able to throw 120 pitches by then even if all goes well.

Greinke is emblematic of the Dodgers right now: lots of star power with lots of questions. The star power sends expectations through the roof -- expectations that don’t match the team’s actual ability level and health. A good season has the Dodgers winning 90 games and a playoff berth, but the fact is they simply aren’t better than clubs such as the Giants, Nationals, Reds and Tigers.

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Ranking the offseason for all 30 teams 

February, 12, 2013
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It was an active offseason that witnessed the trade of a Cy Young Award winner, several large, multiteam trades and an inflated free-agent market. So to evaluate and rank the offseason of all 30 teams, I took into account the following factors:

• How it improved the team for 2013, as well as the next five years.
• How it affected payroll and budgets -- both short and long term.
• How it affected team chemistry and clubhouse culture.
• How effectively needs were filled -- through free agency, trade or farm system.
• The amount of money committed compared with the value received.
• Aggressiveness.

With spring camp upon us, we'll see whose offseason produces the best results. Here are the rankings of all 30 teams’ offseason campaigns.

1. Toronto Blue Jays | GM: Alex Anthopoulos
Acquired: RHPs R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, LHPs Mark Buehrle, Darren Oliver, SS Jose Reyes, C's Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, IFs Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, OF Melky Cabrera
Analysis: Anthopoulos had a tremendous offseason, making two of the biggest offseason trades in baseball history. It cost him some prospects, and when the dust settled the Blue Jays added three top-of-the-rotation starters to complement Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow to give the Jays the best five-man rotation in the division -- on paper. They now have the veteran leadership, speed, energy and enthusiasm to be a legitimate World Series contender.


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Agents to watch at winter meetings

November, 28, 2012
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Scott BorasKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireScott Boras won't be the only agent to watch at baseball's annual Winter Meetings this weekend.
Make no mistake -- Scott Boras is always the headliner among agents at baseball’s annual winter meetings.

He loves the limelight and will make sure to walk by the media area at optimum times and hold court. He’s always entertaining, and his strong and often controversial opinions make the TV cameras' red lights go on and writers fill their notepads. This year will be no different with his representation of free agents Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Rafael Soriano, among many others.

However, there’s been a not-so-subtle changing of the guard. For decades, high-profile agents like Tom Reich and Adam Katz, Ron Shapiro, Jim Bronner and Bob Gilhooley and Randy and Alan Hendricks often stood front and center with Boras, dominating the meetings from behind the scenes. But now, larger corporations such as CAA and SFX have taken over a lot of the game’s player representations.

Regardless, the game’s top power brokers will gather this weekend at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. Here is a quick glance at some of this year’s most important agents to watch:

Excel Sports Management | Lead agent: Casey Close

Top free agent: Zack Greinke | Others: Andy Pettitte, Scott Hairston, Jeremy Guthrie (recently signed three-year, $25M deal with Royals), Casey Kotchman, Jamey Wright Greinke's likely suitors: Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals

Background brief: After beginning his career at IMG and accruing 20 years of experience, Close joined Excel in 2011, partnering up with Jeff Schwartz and Mark Steinberg. Their client list is cross-sport, ranging from Derek Jeter and Clayton Kershaw to the NBA’s Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin and Deron Williams, as well as golf’s Tiger Woods.

Style/strategy: They are well-prepared, engaging and have a tremendous track record. They operate in a very private and professional manner and seem to attract the kind of players who handle their own business the same way. Excel is particularly good at recognizing its clients’ value and market and often gets top dollar for its clients. Excel's honest, straightforward approach has gained the respect of the industry.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: There are not a lot of clubs that have the financial wherewithal to play on Greinke.


MVP Sports Group | Lead Agent: Dan Lozano

Top free agent: Nick Swisher | Others: Brian Wilson, Jonny Gomes (recently signed two-year, $10M deal with Boston)

Swisher's likely suitors: Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas

Background brief: Lozano boasts 24 years of experience, negotiating some of the game’s largest deals, including Albert Pujols’ $240 million deal with the Angels last December and Joey Votto’s $225 million contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds during spring training. The two deals totaled more than half a billion dollars, a record for any agency in any one offseason.

Style/strategy: Lozano and his staff are hard-working, loyal, passionate and treat their clients like family. His firm uses a stealth approach, as demonstrated by the Albert Pujols negotiations last December, when the Angels swooped in to get him at the last minute. Lozano doesn’t play games, preferring direct and straightforward negotiations with club executives. He always comes extremely prepared with top-notch communication skills.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Swisher’s poor postseason performance could undermine the fact he’s had eight straight years of 20-plus home runs.


Reynolds Sports Management | Lead agent: Larry Reynolds

Top free agent: B.J. Upton (recently signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Atlanta) | Others: Torii Hunter (recently signed a two-year, $26M deal with Detroit)

Upton's likely suitors: Atlanta, Philadelphia, mystery team

Background brief: Reynolds possesses 28 years of experience as an agent, and prior to negotiating Hunter's recent two-year deal, he got him a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels in 2007, which was then the largest contract in club history.

Style/strategy: Reynolds makes a concerted effort to tailor each negotiation to the player and club he is dealing with. He spends a great deal of time studying the negotiating styles of the club executives in order to formulate the best plan to maximize the player’s compensation. Reynolds has a wide array of knowledge of the collective bargaining rights, performance comparables and how to stretch the present market. Negotiations can get adversarial and difficult depending on the situation. At the same time, Reynolds always tries to be reasonable and isn’t afraid to close deals earlier in the process than most agents.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Getting a sixth year for Upton could be difficult.


Paragon Sports International | Lead agent: Brian Grieper

Top free agent: Mike Napoli

Napoli's likely suitors: Red Sox, Rangers and Mariners

Background brief: Paragon is a medium-sized baseball agency with offices in Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago and represents some of baseball’s top young talent and prospects. Grieper has cultivated relationships with club officials at all levels over a decade in the agent business. Many of these officials have gone on to become GMs, assistant GMs and scouting directors.

Style/strategy: Grieper stresses open dialogue, intense preparation and creative analytical and statistical analysis. He develops personal relationships with clients through trust and loyalty. The quality of representation was best illustrated when Grieper made Napoli -- who he has represented since high school -- the highest paid catcher during arbitration, earning him a one-year deal worth $9.4 million. His raise of $3.6 million is the second highest in the history of third- or fourth-time eligible hitters, ranking behind only Prince Fielder. Grieper is very direct and accurate with information, and he negotiates in a respectful and professional manner.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Napoli is best suited with an American League team because of his value being able to DH along with playing first base and catcher. Obviously this could limit the number of teams that bid on Napoli’s services.

For more on Michael Moye, who is representing Josh Hamilton, check out Jerry Crasnick’s piece today.

Best fits for 10 elite free agents

November, 13, 2012
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Michael Bourn, Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton AP PhotoWith which team will Michael Bourn, Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton sign?

Every team entering the offseason would love a shot at even one (if not several) of the top available players on the free-agent market. But that often only comes with a particular equilibrium of financial resources and baseball needs.

Below are 10 of the top available free agents, and I've ordered them based on how much I think they will earn in their next contract. I've also indicated where they fit best -- never listing a team more than once -- as well as how probable that signing might be.

(Check out the Bowden Big Board, which ranks the top 50 free agents based on what I expect them to earn on their next contact based on average annual value or AAV.)

Josh Hamilton | OF | Best fit: Texas Rangers
I won’t be surprised if Hamilton’s best offer comes from a surprise team like the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles or Milwaukee Brewers. But I think the best fit for Hamilton remains the Rangers. They are the most familiar with Hamilton and all the issues that come with him. They have a strong support team in place for him and are willing to give him a competitive average annual value. I don’t think three years will get it done, and I’ll be shocked if the Rangers don’t go to a fourth or even a fifth year for him. Simply, the Rangers have been a much better team over the past three years with Hamilton in the lineup and he won’t be easily replaced if he leaves.
Probability: Medium
Zack Greinke | RHP | Best fit: Los Angeles Dodgers
Greinke might end up the highest-paid right-handed starting pitcher in baseball history by the time the winter meetings conclude in Nashville, Tenn., next month. The Los Angeles Angels, Dodgers and Rangers appear to be the teams with the most interest and wherewithal to make a play at this level, though the Nationals could be a dark horse.

I think Southern California is the best spot for Greinke, and he proved last September that he can handle the pressure of the large market. In fact, he pitched his best games against contending teams down the stretch. I think he ends up signing with the Angels because they’re more likely than the Dodgers to give him an extra year. However, the Dodgers would be a tremendous fit for him, pitching alongside Clayton Kershaw at the top of the Dodgers’ rotation. And by signing Greinke, the Dodgers certainly would assume sole possession of the highest payroll in baseball. West Coast New York Yankees, indeed.
Probability: Medium

Michael Bourn | CF | Best fit: Washington Nationals
Bourn is the best leadoff hitter available on the free-agent market. Possible fits for the two-time Gold Glove Award winner include the Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves. However, he’s potentially a postseason game-changer for the Nationals. They would love to move Bryce Harper to one of the outfield corners and put a defender in center field who can run down fly balls as well as anyone.

Offensively, having a leadoff hitter who can help manufacture runs with his speed would really improve the Nats' chances of winning the World Series, but general manager Mike Rizzo told me this week that Adam LaRoche is his top priority this offseason. If the Nationals re-sign him, they will probably keep Harper in center field until their top center field prospect, Brian Goodwin, is ready. It sounds like the only way they make a play on Bourn is if LaRoche signs with the Boston Red Sox, Rangers or Orioles.
Probability: Low

B.J. Upton | CF | Best fit: Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies’ No. 1 priority this offseason is improving center field with a long-term solution and Upton is their No. 1 free-agent target. Upton would be an excellent fit with the Phillies because they need another right-handed bat to better balance their lineup, and his raw power should result in more than 30 home runs per season at Citizens Bank Park.

Upton would also give the team some much-needed speed, and he’s a No. 2 or No. 6 hitter in a championship-caliber lineup. From my discussions with Rays manager Joe Maddon it sounds like Upton’s really starting to mature. Sure, he’s going to strike out 160 times, but with his power, speed and above-average defense, Upton would be a huge plus for the Phillies.
Probability: Medium

Anibal Sanchez | RHP | Best fit: Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles made their mark in 2012 and are set up as a solid contender in the AL East for the next several years. However, to win the division or a wild-card berth next year, they’ll have to count on their starting pitchers to repeat their 2012 success, which is easier said than done with so many first-year pitchers.

Sanchez would really help improve the Orioles’ chances, and he looks like he’s finally figured it out, as illustrated by his impressive postseason performances with the Tigers. Sanchez, 29, was throwing mostly 93-95 mph down the stretch with a nasty change, solid slider and decent curveball and his free-agent value might have soared more than any other free agent this past season.
Probability: Medium

Rafael Soriano | RHP | Best fit: Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are not going to spend the kind of money Soriano’s seeking on a closer because it’s against the philosophy of GM Jerry DiPoto, who would prefer to fill the role with more inexpensive options like Ernesto Frieri or Jordan Walden. However, Soriano would be a perfect fit for the Angels, who suffered in 2012 without a lockdown closer. The Angels had a whopping 22 blown saves and would have made the playoffs if the bullpen was more effective protecting leads late in games.
Probability: Low

Hiroki Kuroda | RHP | Best fit: New York Yankees
The Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees all have strong interest in Kuroda, who I expect will either return to the Yankees or go back to Japan. Kuroda had a solid first year with the Yankees and handled New York like he’d pitched there his entire career. He had his best ground ball rate of his career in 2012 and developed a strong working relationship with Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
Probability: High

Kyle Lohse | RHP | Best fit: Kansas City Royals
The Royals’ early acquisitions of Ervin Santana and Chris Volstad were a start, but the Royals must be aggressive this offseason in building up their starting rotation. Lohse was the Cardinals’ best starting pitcher in the regular season this year, going 16-3 with an ERA of 2.86 and he pounds the zone with the ability to keep it on the black on both sides of the plate and rarely misses in the middle.

Lohse will consider his family needs when making a choice, and it appears that the Royals and Kansas City fit that criteria. Seems like a solid fit for both Lohse and the Royals.
Probability: Medium

Torii Hunter | RF | Best fit: Detroit Tigers

I expect Hunter to sign with the Tigers or another team before Thanksgiving. Hunter is a perfect fit for the Tigers, who can use his leadership and positive energy on the field, in the dugout and around their young players. With the Angels, Hunter was a great influence on Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo, and would be a phenomenal teacher for the Tigers’ young outfielders Avisail Garcia and Austin Jackson. Manager Jim Leyland told me that he’d like to add a 15-20 home run bat who can drive in 80 and play above-average defense on one of the corners. Obviously, Hunter fits the bill better than anyone else on the open market.
Probability: High

Stephen Drew | SS | Best fit: St. Louis Cardinals
Drew is the best available free agent on the market at his position, and there isn't much else out there. He owns a strong arm and plus range to both sides. He has the ability to hit 20 home runs and should be close to 100 percent health by spring training. Drew’s consistent play at shortstop and offensive game would be a significant upgrade.

With an aging Rafael Furcal trying to come back from injury, there is a high probability his decline will continue and include future injuries. If they can sign Drew and Furcal shows up to camp healthy, they can trade him during spring training. The Cardinals liked what they saw from Pete Kozma in September, but after his NLCS meltdown, I’m not so sure it wouldn’t make sense to park him in Triple-A for a year and let him keep developing.
Probability: Medium

Time to blow up the Yankees

October, 20, 2012
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Alex Rodriguez and Nick SwisherGetty ImagesThe Yankees must resolve the Alex Rodriguez issue and upgrade over Nick Swisher.

Let’s consider these facts from ESPN’s Stats & Information department regarding the New York Yankees’ historically poor performance in the American League Championship Series:

• The Yankees' .188 batting average in the 2012 postseason is the lowest in MLB postseason history by any team that played at least seven games. They scored just 22 runs in nine games, for an average of 2.4 runs per game. That's the fourth-fewest runs per game in a single postseason by any team that played at least seven games.

• The Yankees had played 36 consecutive postseason series without being swept -- that was the longest streak in MLB history. This is the first time they've been swept in any series since the 1980 ALCS, when the Royals swept them in a best-of-five series. The last time the Yankees were swept in a best-of-seven series was in the 1976 World Series, when the Reds beat them.

• The Yankees enter an offseason filled with uncertainty. Although they're almost certain to exercise a pair of club options for 2013 on Robinson Cano ($14 million) and Curtis Granderson ($13 million), the key players who are eligible for free agency are Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Nick Swisher, Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda and Russell Martin.

Add the fact that Rafael Soriano also has an opt-out clause in his deal, so he is no lock to return.

With all that uncertainty on their roster and questions about things, I've come to one conclusion: It’s time to blow up the Yankees.

It’s time for the Yankees to get younger and more athletic. For this storied franchise, anything less than a World Series championship is considered a failure. The team is built to withstand a 162-game season in which an aging lineup can routinely feast on fourth and fifth starters. But in the postseason, when those same aging bats see the absolute best pitching in a short series, as the statistics above indicate, they fall short. Outside of Derek Jeter and Cano, the lineup’s holes and weaknesses were exposed.

But the only way to rebuild and win now is for Hal Steinbrenner to take a page out of his father’s strategy -- which sometimes worked, sometimes did not -- and that means spend money and trade prospects.

Start with Rodriguez


The most prudent thing to do is to try to persuade Alex Rodriguez to waive his no-trade clause. The Yankees likely would have to pay nearly all of his salary with the exception of perhaps a few million. This would come with the stipulation that the Yankees would pay only if Rodriguez plays and is on an active roster.

There’s simply no hiding or denying Rodriguez’s decline. As Dan Szymborski pointed out, it has been coming for years. Rodriguez at 37 might still be a serviceable player capable of hitting .260 with 20 home runs, but the Yankees would do well to turn the page. Ideally, it would be best to cut ties and pay his salary and move on. But if they cannot, the next move is to convert him to designated hitter.

The Yankees have a track record of leading aging sluggers out to pasture by converting them to designated hitters. In the footsteps of Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Rodriguez should follow suit and join Raul Ibanez in what could be turn out to be an effective lefty-righty platoon, albeit perhaps the most expensive DH combination in baseball history.

Resolving Rodriguez would free up the Yankees to chase, well, Chase Headley, the Kansas City Royals’ Mike Moustakas or Washington Nationals prospect Anthony Rendon. To acquire someone like Headley, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will have to do that which he most despises: trade prospects.

Frankly, I say empty the farm system to get whatever pieces they need. New York's farm system took a hit this year with the poor performance of top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos, and he is going to miss the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Still, the Yankees could get this kind of deal done if they were willing to part with outfield prospect Mason Williams and catching prospect Gary Sanchez. George Steinbrenner never had a problem sacrificing prospects, and New York needs to be aggressive.

Cashman has said repeatedly that he wants complete players, and Headley, for example, is exactly that. Even with Petco Park as his home field, switch-hitting Headley batted .286 with 31 home runs, stole 17 bases and led the NL with 115 RBIs while playing very solid defense. At 28, he enters 2013 in his prime and is about to get very expensive in arbitration. The Padres have built an incredibly deep farm system, and if they sell high on Headley, they can further fortify their farm while freeing payroll to lock up some of their top youngsters.

To get Headley, it probably will take a prospect package similar to what the Cincinnati Reds forked over to San Diego for pitcher Mat Latos in December.

Buy, buy, buy


Outfielder Josh Hamilton will be by far the biggest name on the free-agent market. Fittingly, the team in the biggest market should be the one to reel him in.

Hamilton fits Cashman’s proclivity for “complete” players, and his left-handed swing is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. They Yankees need a better postseason hitter than Swisher, who has been exposed in October, hitting .169 in the playoffs in his career.

Likewise, the Yankees should pursue speedster Michael Bourn. Signing Bourn would free Cashman to trade or decline the club option ($2 million buyout) on Granderson and his 195 strikeouts and move Brett Gardner to left field. Bourn also would serve as the leadoff man the Yankees desperately need and, once again, add some much-needed speed.

On the mound, Pettitte will announce soon whether he will return in 2013. Outside of CC Sabathia, and perhaps Hughes, the rest of the rotation is simply not World Series caliber. Michael Pineda should be back from shoulder surgery and could be an upgrade, but there is no way the Yankees can assume he will be an impact player in 2013.

Re-signing Kuroda will help, but signing Zack Greinke or Kyle Lohse will be necessary to deepen the Yankees’ starting rotation. None of the prospects they have will do that, and the Yankees can’t afford to wait for kids.

I know there has been talk about the Yankees wanting to avoid the luxury tax, but they’re the Yankees -- they should be paying the luxury tax. And let's be honest, George Steinbrenner would have been this aggressive.

Bring back Russell Martin?


As our own Buster Olney suggests, the Yankees loved Martin’s toughness and winning attitude, but a long-term contract just wouldn’t work.

If the Yankees miss out on Hamilton or Greinke, they might think about turning to Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. The Twins probably would love the chance to shed Mauer's huge contract, and the Yankees are one of the few teams that can afford him. As noted, the Yankees could end up clearing a lot of payroll this year if Soriano opts out, Swisher leaves and Granderson's option is declined.

As with Hamilton, Mauer’s swing is perfect for Yankee Stadium. The Twins are desperate to rebuild their pitching staff, and giving some prospects might appeal to them.

To be sure, the Yankees can't make all of these moves, but the point I'm making is that the team needs to think aggressively. The Yankees have been relatively inactive the past couple of winters, but it's time for them to channel some of The Boss' bold mentality. They are baseball’s uber-team, and they should be prepared to lose draft picks and pay the luxury tax. The Yankees have never settled for mediocrity, and they shouldn’t now. The time has come for Hal to become George for just a few years to get the Yankees back to where they belong.

What's next for Orioles, Nationals? 

October, 15, 2012
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Kyle LohseDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesLohse might look good in a Washington Nationals or Baltimore Orioles uniform next season?

It was a summer of success for baseball's mid-Atlantic teams. After much losing over the past decade, both the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals took their divisions by storm. One surprised, the other finally arrived, but both buoyed fan bases thirsting for a winner.

Considering the success of both teams, neither needs to do anything drastic this offseason. Both need to supplement their current roster with one big acquisition and perhaps a small tweak here and there. So what's next for the Nationals and Orioles?

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Best fits for top free agents 

September, 11, 2012
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As end of the regular season approaches, every major league club that plans to delve into the free-agent market has its best scouts at the ballpark looking at the best guys who will be available during the offseason. They are evaluating every plate appearance and/or every pitch while the front office is using video technology to further evaluate prospective free agents. A club simply cannot do enough homework on a player’s health, character, work ethic and makeup.

Taking an early look at this year’s free-agent class, center field is clearly the position that offers the most depth and quality. However, there will be several quality pitchers available, too, both top-of-the-rotation types as well as closers.

Here is a list of the 11 best free agents -- in no particular order -- who will be on the market this November and with which team they might best fit. (You may notice that Mariano Rivera, David Ortiz and Torii Hunter are not listed here, and that's because I am almost certain they will re-sign with their current teams.)

Josh Hamilton, CF | Best fits: Rangers, Yankees
Hamilton is the best position player in this year’s class, and the 31-year-old would like to get a deal in the range of what Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols received last year, which would mean a 10-year contract for more than $200 million. However, Hamilton’s well-documented issues with addiction and nagging health issues will dissuade some teams. Remember, though, it only takes one team to set the market.

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Teams set for quick turnarounds in 2013 

September, 6, 2012
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Chase HeadleyMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Phillies should acquire Chase Headley if Chase Utley isn't moved to third base in the offseason.

As the pennant races come down the stretch, many teams already have set their sights on 2013. There are three that stand out to me as poised to make a quick turnaround. In fact, two of the three teams won their division in 2011, and all three have set themselves up well -- whether by acquiring players or jettisoning them at the July 31 trade deadline -- for 2013. With just a couple of additional pieces, as well as some star players returning to form and a precocious prospect or two, these three teams will be in the postseason hunt next year.


Arizona Diamondbacks


Arizona’s 94-68 record and NL West title in 2011 were driven mainly by MVP candidate Justin Upton and Cy Young Award candidate Ian Kennedy. Only a year later, however, both have struggled mightily. Arizona might not even finish .500, leaving management no recourse but to retool. As such, the left side of the infield has been traded, with Ryan Roberts sent to the Tampa Bay Rays and Stephen Drew to the Oakland Athletics. But that retooling also has left the Diamondbacks in great position to jump right back in the race in 2013.


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Jered WeaverJayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireAlong with Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Zack Greinke offer histories of late-season success.
It was a year ago when the St. Louis Cardinals sat five games over .500 at 67-62, 10 games behind the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers and 10½ games behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL wild card. The Cardinals ended up going 23-10 the rest of the way to overtake the collapsing Braves en route to the World Series championship.

The Cardinals’ incredible finish had much to do with a complete and balanced attack led by veteran starting pitching featuring Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook. With veteran hurlers, a good litmus test is how well they hold up through innings 150 to 200 in a given season. Having pitchers who can finish a season strong is like having a thoroughbred with a good kick at the end of the race. For the Cardinals, Carpenter, Garcia, Jackson, Lohse and Westbrook were all coming off seasons during which they had success in innings 150 through 200.

Teams that have workhorse pitchers like the Cardinals did typically will finish stronger than clubs with pitchers who have entered the 150-200 inning range for the first time in their careers or haven't sniffed that range for a couple of years due to injury.

This season, the Tampa Bay Rays, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels are the three teams most likely to pull off a feat of the Cardinals' magnitude. Just like the Cardinals from a year ago, all three clubs have deep starting pitching and are loaded with arms who have proved they can pitch deep into a season.

Let's take a look at how these teams stack up going into the stretch run.

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Grading the trade deadline 

August, 1, 2012
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Zack GreinkeJeff Golden/Getty ImagesBy acquiring right-hander Zack Greinke, the Angels are poised for a postseason run.
Now that baseball’s July 31 trade deadline has come and gone, it’s time to assess the aftermath. The flurry of activity up until the very end underscores just how many teams still feel they are in the hunt for postseason play, as well as some very shrewd moves (and non-moves) by both contenders and rebuilders.

Note: Teams that made no notable moves did not receive grades.

Los Angeles Angels

Notable additions: RHP Zack Greinke
Notable losses: RHP John Hellweg, RHP Ariel Pena, IF Jean Segura

Analysis: The Angels clearly won the trade deadline with the acquisition of former American League Cy Young Award winner Greinke. Segura was expendable because of the long-term deals shelled out to Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar. The Angels now have the best top four starters in the American League.


Los Angeles Dodgers

Notable additions: 3B Hanley Ramirez, OF Shane Victorino, LHP Randy Choate, RHP Brandon League
Notable losses: RHPs Ethan Martin, Nathan Eovaldi, Josh Lindblom

Analysis: The acquisition of Ramirez was a steal for the Dodgers, especially considering they will control him for two more years. Ramirez, 28, should benefit from the change of scenery and help protect Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the lineup. Victorino gives the Dodgers a table setter and a stolen base threat while improving their defense in left field. League and Choate improve their sixth- and seventh-inning relief corps.



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Josh BeckettBob DeChiara/US PresswireAfter losing out on Zack Greinke, Texas could pursue Josh Beckett, but still can't equate to Greinke.
Mike Trout is putting himself in position to win not only AL Rookie of the Year but AL MVP, and his general manager is making a case for executive of the year. By swinging a blockbuster for Zack Greinke on Friday, Los Angeles Angels GM Jerry Dipoto has built a club that is set up perfectly for postseason success.

Dipoto’s shrewd move to jump in the market and find a way to get the game's best available starting pitcher from the Milwaukee Brewers was brilliant. Jean Segura -- the key prospect who went to Milwaukee -- is a promising middle infielder, but most Angels evaluators had him slotted behind second baseman Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, who are each locked up for a few years.

Whether the Texas Rangers, who also were in on Greinke, played "chicken" and lost, or just weren’t willing to part with prospects Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez or Mike Olt can be debated for years depending whom you talk to, but only Rangers GM Jon Daniels and Brewers GM Doug Melvin know for sure.

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Jon DanielsAP Photo/LM OteroRangers general manager Jon Daniels has a lot to consider during the next few days.

The buildup to the 2012 trade deadline has been better than advertised. We've already seen the Detroit Tigers trade a couple of top prospects for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, the Los Angeles Dodgers swing a deal for Hanley Ramirez, and the New York Yankees make a surprising move for Ichiro Suzuki, and we still have four days to go!

For me, the real drama these next few days centers on the best rivalry in baseball, and I'm not talking about the Yankees and Red Sox, but rather the Rangers and Angels. These two AL West teams are in an "arms race" that is more crucial to how the rest of the season turns out than any head-to-head series.

The GMs for these two clubs -- Jon Daniels (Rangers) and Jerry Dipoto (Angels) -- ultimately will determine where Zack Greinke goes, and that could have an impact on a number of races beyond the AL West.

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Five blockbusters that make sense 

July, 26, 2012
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Francisco LirianoCliff Welch/Icon SMI Francisco Liriano could go back to the team that originally signed him in 2000.

With less than a week before baseball's July 31 trade deadline, activity has picked up considerably. With so few sellers and contenders looking to solidify their rosters for a run at the postseason, some clubs might have to think much bigger on possible trades. To pry away some impact talent, they will have to give away some talent, too. Here are five major moves I think could work for both "buyers" and "sellers."

Minnesota Twins send Francisco Liriano, Jared Burton, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham and cash to the San Francisco Giants for Brandon Belt, Kyle Crick, Mike Kickham and Heath Hembree

The Giants make a blockbuster move to get back to the World Series but at a serious long-term price. In Liriano, the Giants get another quality starting pitcher to put behind Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum. In Burton, the Giants upgrade the back end of their bullpen to help struggling Santiago Casilla. The Giants also add two middle-of-the-order bats with Willingham in right field and Morneau at first base.

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