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MLB Trade Rumors: Updates on Jeff Samardzija, Cliff Lee and More

At this point of the MLB season, it’s all about spring training as players get tuned up for 2014 in Arizona and Florida.

While trades during spring training are pretty rare, the MLB trade rumor mill is still alive with a few rumblings that involve a couple of starters and other players that could have big impacts this season.

Here’s a look at the latest buzz from around the league on the trade front.


RHP Jeff Samardzija

The Chicago Cubs don’t have many bright spots on their roster to start the 2014 season.

After going 66-96 last year in the competitive National League Central, the Cubs essentially stood pat during this past offseason and didn’t make many major moves.

That leaves right-hander Jeff Samardzija as arguably the top player on the team, for a franchise that is trying to develop its minor league system under general manager Theo Epstein. While it’s a smart way to build an organization, Samardzija might not have enough time to wait around to see top prospects like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez make major impacts with the Cubs.

He has two years of club control left on his contract, which makes him an attractive trade candidate, and the Cubs might be spurred to move him now while the rebuilding phase continues under first-year manager Rick Renteria. Reports surfaced earlier in the offseason about stalled extension talks between Samardzija and the Cubs, but nothing much has come up recently.

While Samardzija is expected to start the season in the Windy City, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times cited MLB sources who said the righty could be shipped out before he makes his Opening Day start for the Cubs.

But teams including Texas and Toronto still have starting pitching needs. And two more industry sources said they believe ­Samardzija could be traded before the season starts.

‘I would be surprised,’ said Samardzija, who started Opening Day for the Cubs last year. ‘From what it sounds like, we’re going head over heels for this season with this team. Rick’s made it very clear that we’re here to win, which I love.

‘I love to hear him talk about his excitement for winning. Not development. Obviously, development’s part of it, but Rick’s No. 1 goal is winning, and me and him are 100 percent on the same page when it comes to that. We want to win. We want to win here. And we want to win now.’

Samardzija‘s spring outings have reportedly been heavily attended by scouts, adding more fuel to the trade rumors that have surrounded him all offseason. While he sounds like he’s keeping a level head about the situation, this seems like a matter of when and not if.

In 2013, his second full season as a starter, Samardzija topped the 200-innings-pitched mark (213.2) and 200-strikeout mark (214) while going 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA, 91 ERA+ and 1.35 WHIP. According to Wittenmyer, an MLB team executive labeled Samardzija a “monster in the making,” and he’ll surely have suitors lined up for his services whenever the Cubs make him available.


LHP Cliff Lee

There aren’t many players that Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro can trade away from this high-priced, underperforming roster, but southpaw Cliff Lee is one of them.

Even though he is owed $50 million combined the next two years and potentially $77.5 million over the next three, Lee’s consistent production over the course of his career might make him worth the investment to a contending big-market team.

Jim Salisbury of gave his take on Lee’s situation heading into 2014.

Lee has been the subject of trade rumors each of the last two seasons, but Phillies management, hoping for one more run at a championship, has hung on to him.

If the 2014 Phillies aren’t positioned to make that run in July, this might end up being the season that management pulls the trigger on Lee.

That’s the conventional wisdom around baseball. Lee’s salary, though still huge, will be more manageable in July and his value, provided he’s healthy and effective, will be strong because a contending team can have him for two Octobers -– and maybe three if option for 2016 kicks in.

Could a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees add Lee by the trading deadline? It certainly seems conceivable.

Lee didn’t show any signs of slowing down in 2013 when he turned 35, going 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA, 133 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP and 222 strikeouts in 222.2 innings of work.

While his age might scare some teams off right now, he can convince them otherwise with a strong start to the season. The Phillies figure to have a tough shot to contend against the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals in the National League East, so they might as well get some salary relief while they can, even it means trading away a front-line starter like Lee.


Arizona Diamondbacks

General manager Kevin Towers has been busy for the D-backs this offseason, as he traded away three prospects to get two players who figure to play key roles on the 2014 squad while also signing veteran right-hander Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $23.5 million deal.

But Towers might not be done wheelin‘ and dealin‘ just yet.

Towers’ decision to deal young right-hander Tyler Skaggs and outfielder Adam Eaton away in order to acquire one-dimensional slugger Mark Trumbo was met with some criticism, but Trumbo should provide some nice power along with MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup. In the other major trade of the offseason, the Diamondbacks acquired closer candidate Addison Reed for third base prospect Matt Davidson.

According to Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic, Towers is at least entertaining the thought of trading away one of his club’s shortstops.

‘It’s been pretty quiet of late,’ General Manager Kevin Towers said of the trade market. ‘With Stephen Drew still out there right now, I haven’t had much trade discussions.’

But Towers didn’t shoot down the idea of a trade. In fact, he spelled out what the Diamondbacks probably would be looking for in return if they were going to trade one of their shortstops.

‘For us, it would have to be the right deal,’ Towers said. ‘Our biggest needs in our system are catching. If it’s the right, top-notch catching prospect. Someone we could have right behind (Miguel Montero). More of an upper-level guy. Maybe a top, upper-end starter. We have a lot of bullpen depth, infielders. Maybe an outfielder, but probably more catching and Double-A, Triple-A type starter.’

Towers spelled out a possible trade scenario, as his club currently has two MLB-caliber shortstops in Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius battling it out for the starting job, along with MLB veteran backup Cliff Pennington.

Piecoro labeled the New York Mets, Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox as teams that could be potential trade partners, so we’ll keep an eye on this situation as spring training unfolds.

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MLB Rumors: Extension Buzz for Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Justin Masterson

While Stephen Drew, Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales are still free agents as February comes to a close, the rest of Major League Baseball is in the full swing of spring training.

For now, most of the MLB rumor mill is filled with trade speculation and talks about possible contract extensions. Looking around the league, there are a few legit starting pitchers who are trying to be locked by their teams long term.

Here’s a look at a trio of quality hurlers who are in discussions with their respective clubs about new deals or are expected to be in the near future.


RHP Max Scherzer 

Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski shook up the core of his team this offseason, and it looks like there were several moves made with an extension for Max Scherzer in mind.

The reigning American League Cy Young winner is set to become a free agent following the 2014 season, unless the Tigers can lock him up to an extension before then. But with super agent Scott Boras representing him, history says Scherzer is a prime candidate to test his worth on the open market.

But that hasn’t stopped Dombrowski from putting his team in a position to make a serious run at Scherzer. The team shaved off about $76 million in payroll while trading away Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler earlier this offseason and dealt away another extension candidate in starter Doug Fister

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports offered the latest on the Scherzer contract talks.

No surprise, early indications are that locking him up won’t be easy. There is said to have been little sign of common ground in previous confabs, with a major gap seen in preliminary discussions. Though the trend is that all teams lock up its ace pitchers, and Detroit’s M.O. in this regime always has been to secure all its best players, it may take a late March miracle to keep Scherzer, 29, from becoming baseball’s biggest free agent next winter.

Scherzer has been mum with the media on the topic, though, telling Heyman, “I’m just not going to get into it, really. That’s between me and the Tigers.”

Following an offseason when Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka secured a seven-year, $155 million deal for the New York Yankees and National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million extension, you can be sure Boras and Scherzer saw the dollar signs.

Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has a history of opening up his pockets for franchise players (see: Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera), and Scherzer is right up there in terms of importance to this team.

Then again, Heyman cites Tigers sources who say, “this is their toughest sign in years,” so it will be interesting to see if they can lock him up by Opening Day. If not, don’t expect Scherzer to let contract talks drag into the regular season, setting the stage for a big bidding war for his services next winter.


LHP Jon Lester

Joining Scherzer as another established veteran starter set to enter the final year of his contract in 2014 in Boston Red Sox southpaw Jon Lester.

According to Rob Bradford of WEEI in Boston, Lester’s agents have landed in Florida, where the Red Sox hold their spring training.

Lester’s agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, arrived in town Thursday to meet with their Red Sox clients and perhaps team officials. It was unclear if the Levinsons‘ appearance in camp will signal talks regarding an extension for the Red Sox starter. The agents also represent Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and pitchers Rich Hill and Drake Britton.

Lester said Friday morning he was unaware if talks were going to kick off over the weekend, having met with the Levinsons Thursday night. 

The Red Sox picked up the 30-year-old lefty’s $13 million club option this winter after he went 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA, 109 ERA+, 1.29 WHIP and 7.5 K/9 ratio in 2013.

What makes Lester such an attractive extension candidate is his consistency and durability. Since 2008, Lester has averaged 205 innings and 32 starts per year while posting an 89-54 record, 3.65 ERA, 120 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 ratio.

General manager Ben Cherington has established a reputation of signing players to short deals with high average annual values in recent years, but for the most part those contracts have been offered to hitters.

It will be interesting to see how he and the front office view reliable starting pitching in a market where they are getting paid handsomely. Given his credentials, Lester figures to be in for a bigger deal than the four-year, $50 million-range contracts signed by this year’s crop of top starters.


RHP Justin Masterson

The Cleveland Indians will be leaning heavily on Justin Masterson this year after losing 2013 starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. 

Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer recently reported that Masterson and the club are in extension talks.

Masterson recently told Hoynes, “I figure somehow, someway I’ll end up still being here for a few more years,” which is an encouraging thing for Indians fans.

The two parties avoided arbitration earlier this offseason by agreeing to a one-year deal worth about $9.76 million, but Masterson‘s agent Randy Rowley told Hoynes that there is still an ongoing dialogue.

Over the past three seasons, Masterson has been a key contributor to the Cleveland rotation, posting a combined record of 37-35, with a 3.86 ERA, 100 ERA+, 1.31 WHIP and 7.5 K/9 ratio. Given Masterson‘s comments and Cleveland’s need to retain a proven commodity in their rotation, look for a deal to be announced in the coming weeks before Opening Day.

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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2014: Rankings, Stat Predictions for Late-Round Gems

Finding sleepers in the late rounds of fantasy baseball drafts can be one of the most rewarding parts about being a fantasy baseball owner.

It’s always nice to snag a guy in the 20th round and watch him blossom into a legit everyday player. Now that the 2014 spring training season is about to get started with games this week, it’s a good time to get studied up on some sleepers for the upcoming year.

Here’s a position-by-position list of some of the top sleepers for 2014, followed by a closer look at three players on the rise who are poised to become legit fantasy contributors throughout the regular season.

*Average draft info via RotoWire.


2B Jurickson Profar, Rangers

Average draft position: 214

ADP 8-team league: 27th round

ADP 10-team league: 22nd round

ADP 12-team league: 18th round

The Texas Rangers have assembled a deadly lineup in Arlington, and Jurickson Profar figures to benefit big time from the new look.

When the Rangers acquired slugging first baseman Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers this offseason, they also opened up a spot for Profar at second base by dealing away Ian Kinsler. Profar showed good power during his minor league career, but he could never find a rhythm as a bench player for Texas in 2013.

With an everyday playing opportunity in this robust batting order, I expect Profar to put up some big numbers in 2014. He’ll likely be a nice hitter near the bottom of the lineup and should have plenty of opportunities to contribute while hitting in front of table-setters Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus.

There’s certainly risk involved whenever you’re drafting a prospect, but Profar has all the tools and a great lineup to produce in 2014.


OF Oscar Taveras, Cardinals

Average draft position: 225

ADP 8-team league: 29th round

ADP 10-team league: 23rd round

ADP 12-team league: 19th round

As it stands now, the St. Louis Cardinals are expected to have a starting outfield of Matt Holliday in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Allen Craig in right. But with a big spring training, Oscar Taveras could earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.

According to a recent report from Jenifer Langosch of, Taveras is ramping up his physical activity in spring training:

Taveras, who had right ankle surgery in August, estimated that he pushed himself at an “80 percent” effort level during Monday’s conditioning work. He likely won’t be included in the Cardinals’ lineup for their Grapefruit League opener on Friday, but his spring debut should not come that much later.

The organization is merely taking its time building Taveras up to full speed. Running the bases and changing directions while sprinting are some of the last hurdles Taveras still has to clear.

Hopefully Taveras can stay healthy, because he has “future star” written all over him. While Carlos Beltran will certainly be missed by the Cardinals, I suspect Taveras will be able to impress during spring training and be an instant contributor to this team from Day 1.

His 2013 was derailed by the balky ankle, but his stellar minor league career and St Louis’ reputation of cultivating homegrown talent bodes well for his future. I expect Taveras to win the National League Rookie of the Year race in 2014 while putting up solid numbers for fantasy owners in the process.


RHP Danny Salazar, Indians

Average draft position: 205

ADP 8-team league: 26th round

ADP 10-team league: 21st round

ADP 12-team league: 18th round 

Danny Salazar made quite the impression during his 2013 major league debut with the Cleveland Indians.

Still, fantasy owners seem to be overlooking the 24-year-old righty, who posted an 11.3 K/9 ratio in 52 innings pitched last year. Over the course of those 10 starts, Salazar went 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and had 65 strikeouts against 15 walks.

As Jordan Bastian of detailed, Salazar is expected to play a big role for the franchise in 2014:

Salazar’s right arm provides hope that losing key starters such as Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir will not be as devastating to the Tribe’s quest to build on last season as it appears on the surface. The kid’s poise on the mound provides promise and has the Indians daydreaming about an ace in the making.

When Cleveland clinched a spot in the American League Wild Card Game last fall, Salazar was announced as the starting pitcher while the champagne was still flowing. The fact that he was young on years and experience did not matter. The Indians believed in Salazar then, and the organization is pinning a great deal of hope on him now.

“It’s going to be exciting to see what he can do,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “He can probably be one of the better pitchers in baseball.”

Salazar was dominant from 2011 to 2013 as a minor leaguer, and he showed he could hang with the big leaguers down the stretch last year. While he often drives his pitch count up too fast, his high strikeout totals make him a savvy sleeper draft option.

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10 Most Crucial Linchpins to the Upcoming 2014 MLB Season

At long last, MLB spring training has taken hold in Arizona and Florida.

As position players trickle in early to join the pitchers and catchers, full-squad workouts are just around the corner. Looking ahead to 2014, we have a good idea of who will be contending for playoff spots come September.

In no particular order, here’s a look at 10 key players who will play roles in shaping the postseason picture. Some are veterans, some are young up-and-comers and others are bona fide superstars trying to carry their teams, but all will be worth following throughout the year.

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Fact or Fiction on All of MLB’s Hottest Free-Agency, Trade Rumors

Major League Baseball is officially here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks have opened up their respective spring training camps early in preparation for their season-opening series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia. The rest of the league is set to follow suit with pitchers and catchers reporting the coming days throughout Arizona and Florida.

Still, there are a handful of quality free agents on the market looking for work. Now that the season is so close, things are sure to pick up in the coming days, so here’s a look at the latest batch of MLB rumors complete with fact or fiction predictions.

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MLB Predictions 2014: Projecting the Stat Leaders in Every Major Category

Every now and then, a surprise player takes MLB by storm to lead the league in a major category seemingly out of the blue.

Such was the case in 2013, when slugging Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis exploded for an MLB-best 53 homers and 138 RBI. But as we look ahead to 2014, we can expect a lot of the same from the usual suspects.

Last year’s MVP-winners and other top candidates like Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Paul Goldschmidt highlight a few of the favorites to win some of the major statistical categories again in 2014. Meanwhile, aces like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish will be counted on to do big things following their respective successes in 2013.

With about a week left before spring training starts, here’s a look at projected leaders for each of the major statistical categories for the upcoming season.

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MLB’s All-Underpaid Team Entering 2014

Arbitration hearings between MLB teams and players can lead to some awkward interactions at the negotiating table.

After the two sides exchange their figures, they often can come to agreements without the help of arbiter. If not, you have players trying to tout their worth and squeeze every dollar out of their team’s ownership, while the club offers reasons why the player isn’t worth so much money.

In many situations, this process has benefited baseball clubs, who have a lot of leverage and have been able to sign players to team-friendly deals.

Heading into 2014, there are a lot of players who have been affected by this process and aren’t scheduled to make as much money as they deserve. As such, here’s a look around the diamond at baseball’s most underpaid players that are at least in their arbitration years or have negotiated MLB deals with their respective clubs.


All stats via Baseball Reference. Contract info via Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ideal Draft Strategy, Top Sleepers and Player Rankings

With MLB spring training set to start in a couple of weeks, it also signals the beginning of a new fantasy baseball season. Drafting is always one of best parts about fantasy (besides winning your championship, of course) and there’s plenty of research to be done before you get ready to dominate your fellow owners.

While there are still a few marquee free agents available like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz and Stephen Drew, we have a good feel for the MLB landscape heading into 2014. It’s never too soon to take a look at fantasy baseball player rankings, so here’s an early peek at the top talents around the league for this season.


Draft Strategy

Baseball provides fantasy baseball players with a couple of different scenarios for leagues. While rotisserie-style leagues are still going strong more than 30 years after their inception in a New York restaurant, points-based leagues are also very popular in the world of fantasy baseball.

When drafting for roto leagues, balance is essential. Statistics like stolen bases and saves are just as important as home runs or ERA, which comes into play especially during the mid- to late rounds of the draft. Once they get past the top level of talent, owners will have to weigh which categories they want to address and when.

Does your roster need home runs from a Mark Trumbo type, or does it need more steals from a speedster like Billy Hamilton? It’s also important not to go overboard on the same statistic while trying to craft a well-rounded roster. Drafting to fill category needs is often just as important as selecting players based by position.

In points leagues, it’s key for owners to look at the assessed values for each statistical category. If your league weighs home runs and RBI heavy and doesn’t penalize much for strikeouts, for example, you would logically target power hitters at the expense of other categories. It’s really a case-by-case basis when it comes to points leagues, but it always helps to try to find categories to take advantage of. 

Regardless of the format of the league, roto or points, it’s clear that positional players carry more weight than their pitching counterparts. Heading into 2014, baseball’s best hurler Clayton Kershaw, is the only pitcher to consistently be regarded among the top 10 overall players in the draft.

Baseball is more specialized than any other major fantasy sport in that there are so many positions to fill. It’s also key to note the depth across the league at any given spot. While solid-hitting shortstops are rare in today’s game, it likely won’t be hard to find a productive first baseman later in the draft.

With those things in mind, here’s a look at the top 25 overall fantasy targets for 2014, followed with position-by-position breakdowns of the top players and sleepers around the diamond.

When it comes to fantasy baseball, Mike Trout is the most complete player an owner can ask for. He hits for power and average, drives in runs and also is a major threat to steal bases. He’s a five-tool talent in reality, and the same goes for fantasy.

Kershaw is poised for another dominant season so he checks in at No. 5 on my list, behind the top four MVP finalists and ahead of Robinson Cano, whose production should dip a bit with a questionable Seattle Mariners lineup.

If he stays healthy, Hanley Ramirez can be a top-three player along with Trout and Miguel Cabrera, but his recent history of injuries makes him a high-risk, high-reward draft pick in the first round. Meanwhile in Texas, Prince Fielder should have a monster campaign in a high-octane Rangers lineup, vaulting him into my top 10.



This year’s crop of hitting catchers is pretty deep and features a solid mix of proven veterans like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina along with rising stars like Wilin Rosario. Quietly, Rosario has become one of the top slugging catchers in the game for the Colorado Rockies the past couple of years, and at an Opening Day age of 25, the best might be to come.

Carlos Santana remains in his prime for the Cleveland Indians, and I expect big things from Brian McCann in his first year with the short right-field fence at Yankee Stadium.

Sleeper: Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays potentially pulled off one of the bargains of winter by signing Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8 million contract. That’s a club-friendly deal for a starting catcher who showed a lot of promise as a Chicago Cubs backup in 2013, batting .300/.365/.492 with 13 homers and 34 RBI in 89 contests.


First Base

As far as sluggers go, first base is a deep position with some big bats like Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Chris Davis leading the way. 

Prince Fielder had a bit of a down year by his standards in 2013, but playing in a hitter-friendly home ballpark with the Texas Rangers and in a potent lineup with table-setters like Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus should lead to a huge campaign in 2014.

Rounding out the top five is Edwin Encarnacion, who has been one of the best raw power hitters in baseball the past couple of years while playing north of the border for the Toronto Blue Jays.


Sleeper: Brandon Moss, Oakland Athletics

A’s manager Bob Melvin likes to trot out a bunch of different lineups, making Brandon Moss something of a platoon man with right-handed Nate Freiman at first base. But Moss has seen plenty of time in the outfield in recent years as the A’s have dealt with injuries to Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick.

Moss managed to make 505 plate appearances in 145 games, probably becoming baseball’s most anonymous 30-home run hitter in the process. The 30-year-old finished the year with a .256/.337/.522 slash line in 2013, along with 30 homers, 87 RBI and a 139 OPS+.


Second Base

Cano’s numbers figure to drop slightly now that he’s leaving the Bronx and going to Seattle, where he doesn’t have much of a supporting cast. Still, he’s in his prime and one of the best hitters in baseball, and it’s a bonus that he plays second base.

Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler are two steady veterans who can be counted on for solid campaigns in 2014, but Jason Kipnis might have the most upside of them all.

Matt Carpenter is also a very valuable pick since he will likely earn third base eligibility early in the season as Kolten Wong takes over at second base for the St. Louis Cardinals, following the offseason trade of David Freese.


Sleeper: Kelly Johnson, New York Yankees

Kelly Johnson has eligibility as a second baseman but might end up as New York’s everyday third baseman now that Alex Rodriguez has been suspended. Along with his outfield eligibility, Johnson’s position flexibility makes him an attractive buy-low candidate.

In 118 games as a utility man for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, Johnson batted .235/.305/.410 with 16 homers and 52 RBI. Don’t expect a high average from Johnson, but he can provide some pop at a discount price.



Shortstop appears to be the thinnest group when it comes to position player depth, so draft accordingly.

Ramirez has big injury concerns but showed last year that he still has unique abilities with the bat playing in the middle of the stacked Dodgers lineup. Ian Desmond is elevating himself into the game’s elite along with Troy Tulowitzki, who is still one of the best all-around players in the game.

Jose Reyes made it to No. 4 based on potential, even though the past couple seasons in Toronto haven’t been as productive as expected. Jed Lowrie finally put together a full season for the A’s in 2013 and barely edged out J.J. Hardy for the fifth spot on this list because he’s a more well-rounded hitter.


Sleeper: Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians

Asdrubal Cabrera has maintained a low profile in Cleveland the past few years, but has shown plenty of pop in his bat since his career year in 2011. This past year, Cabrera batted .242/.299/.402 with 14 HR, 64 RBI and nine stolen bases. But he’s a career .273 hitter in six-plus MLB seasons, and he should be available later in the draft.


Third Base

This year’s crop of third basemen is a top-heavy group that features a few elite sluggers and then a significant drop-off.

It will be interesting to see how Miguel Cabrera fares without Fielder in the Detroit Tigers lineup, but expect another monster year from Miggy regardless. Adrian Beltre should benefit from Fielder’s presence in the Texas order along with the addition of Choo.

You know all about Evan Longoria and David Wright, with the New York Mets third baseman poised to get some help from Curtis Granderson this year. Consistent Ryan Zimmerman gets the nod over 2013 surprise Josh Donaldson, who needs to prove he can post big numbers again for the A’s.


Sleeper: Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox

This is something of a feast-or-famine pick at sleeper for third base.

If you pick up Will Middlebrooks late in your draft and he looks like his 2012 self (.288/.325/.509, 15 HR, 54 RBI in 75 games), you might look like a genius. But if he struggles like he did throughout 2013 (.227/.271/.425, 17 homers, 49 RBI), including a bad playoff run when he essentially disappeared from the lineup, Middlebrooks won’t be worth a spot on your roster.



There are a host a great players to be had in the outfield, highlighted by Trout.

What makes a lot of these top outfielders special is their ability to contribute solid stats across the board, something that should be noted when drafting in roto leagues. Along with Trout, 2014 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam Jones and Jacoby Ellsbury highlight this crop of versatile talents.

A dark cloud hovers over Ryan Braun after last year’s PED-related suspension, but he has been one of baseball’s best hitters since the start of his career. Choo hit all 21 of his homers last year against right-handers, which is concerning, but Texas’ lineup looks so deadly that he should still be a solid contributor in a lot of categories.

Of all the talented Dodgers outfielders, I think Matt Kemp is capable of the biggest year if he can stay healthy. Rounding out the top 10 are two young talented sluggers who still have room to improve in Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper.


Sleeper: Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals

With a big spring training, top prospect Oscar Taveras could claim a starting job in the St. Louis Cardinals outfield.

The 21-year-old suffered an ankle injury that limited him to 47 Triple-A contests in 2013, but showed immense potential during his last full season in 2012. In 124 contests at Double-A that year, Taveras batted .321/.380/.572 with 23 homers, 94 RBI and 10 stolen bases.

If Taveras can show the St. Louis brass that he’s ready for duty, he would be an intriguing addition to an already potent Cardinals lineup. Maybe he can do the same for your fantasy team.


Starting Pitchers

When wins are such a big part of fantasy baseball, luck can play a big part in the value of a pitcher.

Still, there are plenty of safe bets you can focus on once pitchers start getting taken off the board. Early on in the draft you’ll likely have to weigh the quality of a starter to the need of a position player, key decisions that will lead to the makeup of your team.

Kershaw figures to be the top pitcher taken in every fantasy league this year (hometown biases not withstanding), while the rest is open for debate. Yu Darvish led all MLB pitchers with 277 strikeouts in 2013, and he figures to have plenty of run support with the Rangers this year that could drive up his win total.

When talking about upside, Miami Marlins righty Jose Fernandez might have the most of any player in baseball. He burst on to the scene in his rookie year and will be just 21 years old on Opening Day, with some of the nastiest stuff in baseball.

You know all about Detroit’s duo of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, while Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright and Cliff Lee are all reliable veterans you can count on. In Stephen Strasburg and Chris Sale you have two of the top young pitchers in the game who are capable of even better numbers in 2014.


Sleeper: Martin Perez, Texas Rangers

Like every other pitcher on the Texas staff, lefty Martin Perez figures to benefit greatly from the revamped lineup that will feature the high-profile additions of Fielder and Choo.

Perez might not be a household name, but he was a solid force in 20 starts for the Rangers in 2013 behind Darvish and Derek Holland. The 22-year-old wrapped up his rookie year with a 10-6 record and a 3.62 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.34 WHIP and 84 strikeouts in 124.1 innings pitched. Though his strikeout rate and WHIP leave something to be desired, Perez can still be a valuable addition to your staff.


Relief Pitchers

Craig Kimbrel is simply the best closer in baseball right now and a unanimous pick among fantasy baseball experts (Yahoo!/CBS) to be the top reliever for 2014.

Aroldis Chapman lights up the radar gun, and he’s also registered 38 saves in each of the past two seasons while posting big strikeout totals. 

Since he plays for Kansas City, Greg Holland isn’t a household name, but he ranks up there with the best closers MLB has to offer. Kenley Jansen has been a dominant force for the back end of the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen, while Koji Uehara’s minuscule WHIP from 2013 is still hard to believe.


Sleeper: Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

Staying with Texas for pitching sleepers, Neftali Feliz is a prime candidate to take over the closer role after Joe Nathan left for Detroit via free agency.

Even though he’s just 25 years old, Feliz has been through quite a bit already in his career. The hard-throwing righty converted 72 saves and posted a 2.73 ERA during the 2010-11 seasons before being moved to the rotation in 2012. He eventually suffered an injury that required Tommy John surgery, but returned at the end of last year to make six appearances.

If Feliz can recapture his form, he should have plenty of saves while closing out games for the Rangers.

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MLB’s Offseason Mega-Contract Power Rankings, January Edition

The heavy lifting of the MLB offseason is done with spring training less than a month away. By mid-February, pitchers and catchers around the league will be in Arizona and Florida, respectively, getting tuned up with position players not far behind.

Looking at the remaining free agents, pitchers Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez figure to have the best chance of securing a contract worth at least $50 million. Otherwise, we’ve most likely seen the last of any blockbuster signings this offseason.

Here’s a ranking of the players who have signed deals of at least $50 million so far this offseason—an offseason that’s been marked by some big-spending baseball teams.

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Ranking the Most Deadly 3-4-5 Combos in MLB Entering the Spring

With less than a month to go before spring training starts in Arizona and Florida, we have a good idea of how MLB‘s top lineups will shake out for 2014.

Looking at the free-agent market, there are only three available players left who figure to have a shot at being in the heart of a 2014 batting order: first baseman Kendrys Morales, outfielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Stephen Drew.

So when looking at baseball’s most deadly 3-4-5 combos heading into the spring, the rosters around the league are all but set.

Now, the following list of baseball’s most feared heart of the orders come with some caveats. 

With new coaching staffs around MLB and players changing teams via free agency and trades, we don’t know exactly how each club will pencil in its starting lineup. You won’t find the Boston Red Sox on here, for example, since last year’s No. 3 hitter, Dustin Pedroia, likely will move up to the No. 2 hole without Jacoby Ellsbury in 2014, and perhaps pushing up David Ortiz and Mike Napoli earlier in the lineup. This may hurt the overall strength of the team’s 3-4-5 hitter combo.

With those things in mind, here’s a look at the top projected 3-4-5 trios around the league heading into 2014.

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