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At this time last year, the baseball world was wondering whether Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles would post star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka for the 2014 season.

They did, and the New York Yankees invested in the right-hander’s future with a monster seven-year, $155 million contract after a winning bid of $20 million to secure negotiating rights. Tanaka, meanwhile, went on to surpass all reasonable expectations with a dominant rookie campaign, albeit one that was shortened due to a right elbow injury.

Teams that came up short in the Tanaka sweepstakes may have a chance this offseason to land the next big-name pitcher to come out of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, Kenta Maeda, though that depends on whether his team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, decide to make him available via the posting system.

Should that happen, the 26-year-old would be one of the most sought-after pitchers on the market, especially after he allowed two hits over five scoreless innings against accomplished MLB hitters in last month’s Japan All-Star Series.

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With the overwhelming failure rate of prospects, teams can only be so patient or forgiving with their young players. However, they tend to be more lenient when that player is a former top draft pick or international signee given the amount of money originally invested as well as the pride at stake.

Heading into the 2015, there are several former top prospects on the verge of falling out of the long-term picture with their respective organizations. And for many of them, the upcoming season may be their final chance to turn the developmental corner and avoid becoming merely a “what could have been” player.

Here’s a look at three once highly-regarded prospects facing a make-or-break season in 2015.

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Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins made sports history earlier this month when the two sides agreed to an unprecedented 13-year, $325 million contract extension through 2027.

While Miami’s decision to offer Stanton, the runner-up in the voting for the 2014 National League Most Valuable Player Award, a contract of that magnitude may seem obscene, it also represented the organization’s only opportunity to lock him up long term. After all, it’s not as though 80-grade power grows on trees these days.

In general, teams have been more willing to give multiyear extensions to young players in the last two seasons, and especially to guys who made an immediate impact after reaching the major leagues and are likely to become increasingly costly once eligible for arbitration.

That was the driving force behind the Angels’ decision to offer Mike Trout a six-year, $144.5 million contract extension last spring, as they essentially bought out his arbitration years while also securing subsequent years at a reasonable price.

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The Arizona Fall League may be over, but the other notable offseason leagues, such as the Dominican, Puerto Rican and Venezuelan Winter Leagues, are in the middle of their respective regular seasons, with the postseason still roughly a few months away.

It also means that players in each of the aforementioned leagues have played roughly the same number of games, providing consistent sample sizes on which to evaluate and compare prospects.

So here is a look at a hypothetical All-Star team, comprised of the top performer at each position from this year's fall and winter leagues.

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Whether you love it or hate it, the implementation of the qualifying offer under Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement has undeniably changed both free agency and the First-Year Player Draft.

For some teams, signing a free agent with a qualifying offer simply isn’t worth sacrificing a future draft pick; for others, it’s incentive to at least consider extending an offer to notable free agents.

This year’s free-agency period has already impacted the 2015 draft, as the New York Mets (No. 15 overall) and Toronto Blue Jays (No. 17) lost their respective first-round picks as a result of signing Michael Cuddyer and Russell Martin. On the flip side, the signings awarded the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates compensatory picks after the first round, giving both teams a better chance to build for the future or add to what’s already in place.

Next year’s draft order has already changed and will continue to over the offseason, albeit subtly, but here’s an early look at several teams poised to turn free-agent losses into draft gains.

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A case can be made that this year’s most intriguing free agent isn’t Max Scherzer or Jon Lester.

Rather, it’s Yoan Moncada, who has dominated the headlines of late, as Major League Baseball officially declared him a free agent on Nov. 15, according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. However, the 19-year-old Cuban infielder won’t be free to sign until the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) clears him.

Moncada, whose open workout in Guatemala earlier this month was seen by an "estimated 60-70 scouts," per Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, has quickly emerged as one of the more hyped prospects in recent memory and is expected to destroy the record for spending on an amateur player.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Moncada is expected to receive $30 to $40 million, putting him in the same range as fellow Cubans Yoenis Cespedes ($36 million) and Yasiel Puig ($42 million).

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The sweepstakes for Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas is down to four teams, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, with the Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants all in the mix.

However, the last week has seen the Braves and Padres rise to the top and become front-runners to sign Tomas, and both clubs are now sending their top officials to meet with the 24-year-old in the Dominican Republic this weekend.

Unfortunately, it might be a few more weeks until either team can claim an offseason victory, as Tomas is “mulling a number of contract offers” and also considering attending next week’s winter meetings in San Diego, per Austin Laymance of MLB.com.

Until then, here’s a look at how signing Tomas might impact his top suitors.

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Add Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang to the list of international free agents hoping to make the jump to the major leagues in 2015.

The 27-year-old Kang is expected to be posted this offseason by the Nexen Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization, though Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports hears it’s unlikely to happen until after the winter meetings (Dec. 7 through 11).

Regardless, Kang, who batted .356/.459/.739 with a career-high 40 home runs in 117 games for Nexen this past season, will soon become one of the more sought after free agents in a class that’s thin on impact hitters, let alone ones with legitimate power from a middle-infield position.

Kang was drafted by the Hyundai Unicorns in the second round of the 2006 KBO draft and made his professional debut later that year. However, the 19-year-old’s playing time was limited, as he served primarily as a defensive replacement and appeared in only 10 games, and he didn’t help his cause by going 3-for-20 at the plate.

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Free agency isn’t just about which teams land the top players on the market. It’s also an opportunity for teams to find value where others don’t.

Teams are always on the hunt for potential reclamation projects, as every free-agent class features a crop of players who, for any number of reasons, are overlooked and/or undervalued on the open market. These players typically are believed to have some remaining upside and therefore represent low-risk, high-reward options at the cost of a one- or two-year deal.

Last offseason, the Miami Marlins signed third baseman Casey McGehee to a one-year, $1.1 million contract, procuring him from the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. The then-31-year-old went on to win the 2014 National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, batting .287/.355/.357 with 76 RBI while playing in 160 games.

Here’s a look at some of the top reclamation projects available in this year’s free-agent class.


The Chicago Cubs' future was on display late last summer with franchise cornerstones Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro playing on the same field as highly regarded prospects such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.

Suffice it to say, the future is bright on the North Side of Chicago.

After stocking the Cubs farm system with top-flight hitters for almost three years, club president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer seem poised to make a splash this season on the open market with possible pursuits of free-agent pitchers such as Jon Lester and Max Scherzer to headline the starting rotation for years to come.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lack of available impact starters in this year's free-agent class means other teams will also be targeting the aforementioned aces. If that's the case, then we might finally see the Cubs tap into their wealth of talent on the farm and trade for a comparable pitcher.