Nov 26, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
From the Kansas City Royals to the Philadelphia Phillies, every team’s fanbase has at least something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Here is a glass half-full look around the league…
Arizona Diamondbacks – Dansby Swanson
The Diamondbacks don’t have much to write home about regarding their farm system, but they do have Dansby Swanson, the 2015 first overall pick out of Vanderbilt. A shortstop, Swanson is expected to be a fast-riser in the minor leagues. He is projected to hit for a high average, play plus-defense and be a weapon on the basepaths.
Atlanta Braves – John Coppolella
Saying Freddie Freeman here would be too easy, as he is now the best player on their team by a wide margin. But in John Coppolella, who was promoted this offseason to become their new GM, they are in good hands. Coppolella has been integral in their baseball operations for nearly a decade and for years has been sought after by other teams. Now he gets his turn and will likely do a good job as the guy in charge.
Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado
Manny Machado is a well-known player in baseball as a former No. 3 overall pick and all, but one could argue he is in some ways underrated with all the focus on Bryce Harper and Mike Trout as the best young players in the game. Last year Machado hit 35 homers with 102 runs and 20 steals. He also had an .861 OPS, and we all know about his defense. Machado is as complete a ballplayer as it gets.
Boston Red Sox – Craig Kimbrel
New front office boss Dave Dombrowski is already making his presence felt and just two weeks ago pulled off a big-time trade to acquire Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel is arguably the best closer in baseball and is definitely one of the most fun to watch. Kimbrel in the ninth and Koji Uehara in the eighth could be the best 1-2 punch in the game.
Chicago Cubs – Joe Maddon
There are plenty of reasons for Cubs fans to be thankful. They have arguably the best young roster in baseball and they just made it to the NLCS. But in Joe Maddon, they may have something as rare as Kris Bryant. They found a manager who is perfect for their team, their city, everything. It was a match made in heaven for the Cubs and I have a feeling 2015 wasn’t the only year they will make noise in the postseason.
Chicago White Sox – Chris Sale
Much like the Nationals, the White Sox went all-in on 2015 and fell way short of expectations. They put together a win-now roster and it just didn’t work. That had to be disappointing, but at least they have Chris Sale, who on the short list of best pitchers in baseball. Last season his ERA went up to 3.41, but his 274 strikeouts in 208 2/3 innings demonstrates how dominant he is.
Cincinnati Reds – Aroldis Chapman
This one may not last long, as he could be traded this offseason, but for now Reds fans should enjoy the fact they have Aroldis Chapman, who is one of the rarest talents in today’s game. He’s 6-foot-5, left-handed and throws 103 miles per hour. Every time he takes the mound it’s electric. Reds fans should perhaps hope their team’s asking price is too high this winter so the big southpaw returns to Cincy next year.
Cleveland Indians – Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier
Having seen their win total go down for the second straight year, the Indians will do their best to reverse that course this season in a loaded AL Central. Luckily for them, they have two top -30 prospects on the way who could be ready to debut this season. Zimmer and Frazier are both outfielders and both first round picks. Frazier was taken fifth overall in 2013.
Colorado Rockies – Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado
Troy Tulowitzki was finally traded this season to the Toronto Blue Jays, but the Rockies were not hurting for hitters once he left. In Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado they still have two superstar bats in their lineup. The duo combined to hit 82 homers with 227 RBI. That’s insane. There is also D.J. LeMahieu, who has turned into an All-Star second baseman.
Detroit Tigers – Miguel Cabrera
It’s truly amazing to think of the talent that has exited Detroit in recent years between Prince Fielder, Max Scherzer, David Price and Doug Fister. But they still have Miguel Cabrera, who remains one of the best hitters on the planet at the age of 32. Cabrera will hope for better health in 2016 as he gets closer to career milestones like 500 homers and 3,000 hits, both of which he will likely reach before his time is up.
Houston Astros – Carlos Correa
He was picked first overall in 2012 and lived up to the hype this season by winning the AL Rookie of the Year award. There is no question Correa is headed for superstardom. The 21-year-old shortstop hit 22 homers with 68 RBI, 14 steals and an .857 OPS in his Age 20 season. That’s unbelievable. The Astros have a franchise player in Correa.
Kansas City Royals – 2015
This one is simple: they won the World Series in 2015. Winning championships are not easy no matter the sport and especially for small market teams in baseball. It took the Royals 31 years to win another title, which is a very long time. But they will always have 2015, no matter what happens from here on out.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – A resurgent Albert Pujols
In 2013, the first year of a 10-year, $254 million contract, Albert Pujols was not himself. He battled injuries to play only 99 games, hit 17 homers and slugged a career-low .430. In the two years since, Pujols hasn’t exactly gone back to his MVP days in St. Louis, but he has once again become one of the best sluggers in baseball. In 2015 at the age of 35, Pujols clubbed 40 homers and added 95 RBI. He may never live up to his massive contract, but you’ll take that production compared to what he was three years ago.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Vin Scully
This might as well be an annual choice until Scully retires. He is entering his 67th season as broadcaster of the Dodgers and is as legendary as it gets. The few opportunities I get to listen to Scully call a game are always a treat.
Miami Marlins – Don Mattingly
With how dysfunctional the Marlins are – it seems like a bizarre rumor leaks out of Miami every day – they should feel fortunate that Don Mattingly agreed to manage them. Mattingly didn’t take the Dodgers to a World Series and thus fell short of expectations. But it should not be understated that he won three straight division titles there for the first time in team history. It’s not easy to get to the playoffs three straight years, no matter how good your roster is. Just look at the Nats.
Milwaukee Brewers – Brett Phillips
A top 30 prospect, outfielder Brett Phillips is looking like a steal after being taken in the sixth round back in 2012. This past season he hit .309 with 16 homers, 14 triples, 77 RBI and 17 steals in 120 minor league games. He was a centerpiece of the Carlos Gomez trade and looks like a future middle-of-the-order hitter for Milwaukee.
Minnesota Twins – Hope for 2016
The Twins posted their first winning season since 2010 this year, yet it felt like a disappointment. Minnesota, after all, went just 34-39 in the second half of the season after going 49-40 in the first half. Next year, though, they could compete for a division title with an up-and-coming team featuring some of the best prospects in baseball.
New York Mets – Their rotation
Over the past few years many have handed out superlatives for the best rotation in baseball. At times the Nats have fit that category of predictions. But what the Mets have right now is something that we perhaps haven’t in a long time: a trio of young aces who are as advertised. You never know with pitchers and the injuries they can have, but right now the Mets’ triumvirate of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard looks like a dominant combination for years to come.
New York Yankees – Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances
In Miller and Betances, the Yankees have perhaps the scariest 1-2 punch as far as setup men and closers go in the game of baseball. Miller is 6-foot-7 and left-handed. Betances throws right but is 6-foot-8 and 280 pounds. Walk through the Yankees clubhouse and you’ll think you’re in an NBA or NFL locker room. One can imagine what it’s like to stand in the box against those guys.
Oakland Athletics – Sonny Gray
The Athletics may have missed the playoffs in a year they were supposed to keep for a championship, but they have plenty of talent to build around moving forward. Highlighting that mix is right-hander Sonny Gray, who finished third in AL Cy Young voting after going 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA. He’s one of the game’s best starters and he’s only 25.
Philadelphia Phillies – Craft beer at Citizens Bank Park
Now that Cole Hamels has moved on, this one is tough. Which of their players can truly be considered a building block for a team working its way up from the bottom? It’s slim pickings. With that in mind, I’ll go with their selection of craft beer at CBP. It’s supposed to be one of the best in baseball. So, there.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Gerrit Cole
Before David Price – and then Stephen Strasburg – the history of pitchers selected first overall in the MLB draft was sketchy. Almost all of them became busts. But just like those two, Cole has not followed that path. The top pick in the 2011 draft has transformed into a certified ace. He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young race this season after going 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA.
San Diego Padres – A.J. Preller
Surprised to see his name here? Hear me out. The Padres’ roster is not very good and Preller is a big reason for that. He traded away all of their top prospects, two of them to the Nationals. But at least Preller keeps it interesting. For a Padres team that has one winning season since 2007, it’s notable that he’s at least trying to shake things up.
San Francisco Giants – Bruce Bochy
In an era where almost every manager in baseball is second-guessed constantly by fans on Twitter and bloggers armed with advanced analytics, Bruce Bochy is basically a unanimous pick as the best manager in baseball. He has led the Giants to three World Series titles and he took the Padres to an NL pennant in his previous stop. Bochy is the Gregg Popovich of baseball. He’s the Bill Belichik, minus all the cheating allegations. The Giants are lucky to have him.
Seattle Mariners – Jerry DiPoto
The Mariners hired Jerry DiPoto this offseason after dismissing Jack Zduriencik as their general manager. Zduriencik had an impressive track record before arriving in Seattle, but wasted many top picks on prospects who just didn’t pan out. DiPoto didn’t have the greatest run in L.A. with the Angels, but a change was needed for the Mariners and he is a talented young executive.
St. Louis Cardinals – Consistency
The Cardinals are the most consistent winner in baseball having posted 15 winning seasons in the last 16 years. That’s amazing, especially considering the parity in the sport of baseball. The Cardinal Way may be easy to make fun of, but they certainly know what they are doing when it comes to fielding competitive teams, even today in the best division in baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays – Chris Archer
The Rays sure know how to find them, don’t they? In Chris Archer they not only have one of the best pitchers in baseball – he had 252 strikeouts and a 3.23 ERA in 212 innings this season – they have one of the sport’s best personalities. If he continues to pitch well, Archer’s star will only grow. Plus, he’s under team control until 2020.
Texas Rangers – Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels
Hamels helped the Rangers surprise everybody by surging in the second half of the season to an AL West title. But along the way, many of us just wondered what Texas would be capable of if Yu Darvish was healthy. In 2016, they should get the chance to find out as long as Darvish comes back strong from the Tommy John surgery he had in March. Darvish and Hamels will be about as good as any No. 1 and No. 2 starter combo in the league.
Toronto Blue Jays – Their ALCS run
Toronto waited over two decades between playoff berths, but this past October had one of the more memorable postseason runs in recent years. They may have fallen short of the World Series, but they should be back as contenders next year. And they will always have Joey Bautista’s amazing home run and even better bat flip to look back on.
Washington Nationals – Harper’s 2015 season
It may have come in a lost year for the team overall, but Bryce Harper’s 2015 season will go down as one of the greatest years ever for an MLB player, especially one who was just 22 years old. He led the league in homers (42), runs (118), OBP (.460), slugging percentage (.649) and OPS (1.109). Can he get even better in 2016? It should be fun to watch.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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