As we enter 2012, I'm sure some of us are about to jump on some New Year's resolutions. Now that I've gotten the Ab-Slide from New Year's Day 2007 from out of the closet, let's talk baseball resolutions!
Thinking about it now, you have to wonder whether or not a team's front office makes its New Year's resolutions based on hopes for next season. I'm sure that Yankees GM Brian Cashman and his staff have resolved to compete hard for the AL pennant despite making little to no moves in free agency this year, while the Houston Astros are probably just hoping for an improvement over last year.
Thus, in the spirit of the start of the new year (and a happy one to all of you loyal readers), here is a New Year's resolution for each MLB team.
At the start of last season, I doubt anyone thought that the Diamondbacks would take home the NL West crown. Hell, I didn't even think they would make the playoffs.
Yet, with a solid core of young pitching and some clutch hitting by guys like Justin Upton and Miguel Montero, the team made the postseason and went toe to toe with the Milwaukee Brewers before being eliminated in the fifth and deciding game.
That being said, the perfect New Year's resolution for the Diamondbacks is to build off of last season's success and go into next season ready to compete from day one. Much of the same young core is returning, plus pitcher Trevor Cahill and newly signed outfielder Jason Kubel. Barring injuries or a complete 180, Arizona has what it takes to reach the next level next year and continue their run.
Much like the Diamondbacks, the Atlanta Braves have a boatload of talented young pitchers. The only problem is that their offense doesn't really have much to provide in terms of run support. Save for Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, the offense is somewhat lacking.
The fact that Uggla got off to a slow start last year and 2010 NL Rookie of the Year Jason Heyward went through a horrific sophomore slump did not help matters, as the Braves were so close to winning the NL Wild Card but lost it on the last day of the season. In 2012, there should be only one mantra: always score runs.
If the team's lineup can come together and score consistently and a lot, there's no telling how well the team could do if the young arms hold up.
Once again, the Baltimore Orioles had a losing season as the latest rebuilding phase seems to have become a bust. Star pitching prospect Brian Matusz had an atrocious season, going 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA and the rest of the staff didn't fare much better. The offense scored 152 fewer runs than the opposition, third worst in the majors.
As a result, team owner Peter Angelos took a big step this offseason and hired former Red Sox front office chief Dan Duquette to be GM. This man knows how to field a winning team, and doing so in Baltimore won't be easy.
At this point, all the front office can resolve to do is improve upon last year's 93 losses. This team has so much young talent and, with time, could compete in the tough AL East. To see them not come together and constantly fail would just be such a waste.
Over the last month of the 2011 season, the Boston Red Sox went from being the team favored to win the World Series to being the team with zero discipline. Despite having a decent pitching staff and a fine lineup, the Sawx blew a nine-game lead in the AL Wild Card race and were eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season.
Shortly afterward, it was reported that pitchers Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey would play video games, drink beer and eat fried chicken in the clubhouse during games on days they didn't pitch. To be blunt, they were pretty much being the worst teammates ever. As a result, it was announced that manager Terry Francona would not return and GM Theo Epstein left to take a job with the Chicago Cubs soon after.
Though much of the team remains intact and plus has acquired closer Andrew Bailey from the Oakland A's, the Red Sox face an uphill battle. Lackey is out recovering from Tommy John surgery for all of 2012 while Carl Crawford is looking to rebound from an awful first season in Boston.
Fortunately, new GM Ben Cherington has brought in no-nonsense man Bobby Valentine to be manager, so it looks as though the Red Sox are slowly taking steps towards following through on this resolution.
It's hard not to feel bad for Chicago Cubs fans. Their team hasn't won a World Series in over 100 years and as of late, they've looked just plain bad. From the volatile attitude of Carlos Zambrano to the inconsistency of the offense, this team really needs a pick-me-up.
Assuming that new front office team Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer don't land prized first baseman Prince Fielder, all that new manager Dale Sveum can do in terms of improving this team is have them go out and play hard each game. The team is young and inexperienced, but so is their 48-year-old first-year manager.
If he can unite everyone under the same cause and have them stay focused and give their best each game, then the Cubs could finish 2012 with a small smile.
The Chicago White Sox may have finished four games under .500 last season, but that doesn't take away from the fact that their season was a complete and utter disappointment. At the start of the year, their signing Adam Dunn to play DH plus their seemingly effective pitching staff made me pick them to win the AL Central. Instead, Dunn had an epically horrible year and the entire offense sputtered.
At season's end, longtime manager Ozzie Guillen left to become manager of the new-look Miami Marlins. To add insult to injury, pitching staff ace Mark Buehrle left via free agency to join him. Thus, GM Kenny Williams has gone into full housecleaning mode and has already traded popular closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays and power-hitting outfielder Carlos Quentin to the Padres.
If you think about it, Williams got his team's New Year's resolution started a bit early. The best approach entering 2012 is to put last season completely in the past, and it's going to be hard not to do that given how Williams has approached rebuilding so seriously.
All that needs to happen is for the pitching staff to unite under a new leader in John Danks and for Dunn to bounce back, and the ChiSox could be back in the playoffs soon.
The Cincinnati Reds have a young and talented core that has what it takes to make the playoffs. In 2010, the team did just that. Yet, 2011 proved to be tough as the NL Central was one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. After the final buzzer, Dusty Baker's squad was stuck behind both the division champion Milwaukee Brewers and eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Thus, as the team enters 2012, they should have just one goal in mind: make sure that they're still playing baseball in October. With the help of new pitcher Mat Latos, the Reds could easily make a run at the division and possibly more.
For much of the first half of last season, the Cleveland Indians were in first place and looked as though they would get to the playoffs and continue to do well there. Yet, the team crashed in the second half and finished second in the AL Central at 80-82, 15 games out of first place.
Still, that record is nothing to sneeze at considering the Tribe lost 93 games in 2010. The 2012 season needs to be all about how Indians baseball is back to stay and that the successful first half in 2011 was more than just dumb luck.
The mantra of 2012 needs to be consistency and under the leadership of Manny Acta, this resolution has a real shot at coming true.
Injuries robbed the Colorado Rockies of any consistency in 2011 as the team finished fourth in the division after a strong-ish start. GM Dan O'Dowd is committed to improving in 2012, having already traded away dead weight in infielder Ian Stewart and catcher Chris Iannetta.
The fact is that the Rockies are a very talented team, and playing in such a hitter's park as Coors Field, there's no reason that they shouldn't be able to compete, especially with a talented young pitching staff. The approach next season needs to be simple: win the NL West or nothing.
It's no secret that the Tigers are one of the betters teams in all of baseball. They have a decent lineup led by Miguel Cabrera, and their pitching staff features an epic 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander and Doug Fister.
Thus, after last season's ALCS loss, the team needs to enter the 2012 season with one New Year's resolution in mind: make it as far as the World Series. The Tigers are a very well-rounded squad and with the proper amount of consistency, they can easily run the table come playoff time.
Given how their bats were made to look shoddy and insignificant in last year's ALCS, matched up against a powerful Texas Rangers squad, a trip to the Fall Classic is the only acceptable result as of now.
As one of the youngest teams in all of baseball, it's not exactly surprising that the Houston Astros did so poorly last season, winning just 56 games and losing 106. Thus, with a new owner and GM in place, the team should look to do just one thing: don't lose another 100 games in 2012.
The Kansas City Royals' prospects finally made it to the majors last season and, for the most part, looked pretty good. Eric Hosmer was an AL Rookie of the Year finalist and young pitchers like Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery should help build a solid team for the future.
Thus, though they probably won't make the playoffs in 2012, the Royals can certainly show the rest of the opposition that they are back and ready to compete in coming seasons. Even if they aren't destined for postseason play, they can at least show everyone else that they'll be ready for it when the time comes.
In terms of the offseason, the Angels have been the easy winners by a long shot. Not only did they land prized first baseman Albert Pujols, but they also snagged lefty starter C.J. Wilson away from the division rival Texas Rangers. This team could be the one to beat in 2012, and these two acquisitions will give both the players and the fans a great amount of confidence.
Entering the season, the Angels just need to have one goal in mind: use both acquisitions to take home the AL West crown. A World Series is definitely within reach, but I've always been an advocate of taking baby steps. Let the team make the playoffs first, and then set higher goals.
Even though the Dodgers got an MVP-caliber season from outfielder Matt Kemp and an award-winning season from pitcher Clayton Kershaw in 2011, those two players' performances repeatedly took a back seat to the drama surrounding owner Frank McCourt. All season long, McCourt was locked in a bitter divorce battle with his ex-wife over who would get to keep the team. The situation got so bad that Bud Selig got involved.
In the end, following some bankruptcy proceedings, it was decided that McCourt would keep the Dodgers, but sell them. That being said, going into the 2012 season, the best thing for the team to do is to just tune out the drama surrounding their embattled owner. They had a strong second half in 2011, so they should carry that momentum over and keep it going throughout 2012.
While the Angels may have hit the jackpot this offseason, the new Miami Marlins have been the busiest team. Already, they have landed three of the top free agents on the market: closer Heath Bell, shortstop Jose Reyes and pitcher Mark Buehrle. Combined with the rest of the young talent both in the lineup and in the rotation, the Marlins could be the sleeper team of 2012.
Thus, going into the new year, there is just one resolution for this squad: win, win and win some more.
The 2012 season could be a tough one for the NL Central Division champion Milwaukee Brewers. Not only is first baseman Prince Fielder likely to depart via free agency, but outfielder and reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun could miss the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for a banned substance.
Thus, manager Ron Roenicke has a tough task ahead of him. As long as the rest of the team keep their heads up, they should be fine in terms of competing in their division and outside of it. The Brewers have a deep lineup on top of a fine pitching rotation and if they can resolve to win without their two biggest bats and follow through on it, then they'll prove to be more than just a two-trick pony.
Last year, the Minnesota Twins were just plain awful. After making the playoffs as the AL Central division champs in 2010, the injury bug bit them hard in 2011 as they lost 99 games and were without top hitters Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer for much of the season. On top of that, the pitching staff was a complete joke.
Entering 2012, it's going to be more of an uphill battle for the Twinkies now that power-hitting outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer has signed with the Colorado Rockies. Throw in the question marks surrounding both Mauer and Morneau's health, and 2012 becomes even more full of uncertainty.
That being said, all that the Twins can resolve to do in the upcoming season is get better. As long as the loss count is lower than 99, and very much so, then the season could, very leniently speaking, be called a success.
The New York Mets are a complete and utter mess right now. From team ownership's alleged involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal to general underachievement, it's only a matter of time before the team is a hollow shell of the 2006 squad that made it to Game 7 of the NLCS. Jose Reyes has left via free agency and Angel Pagan has been traded, and fan favorite David Wright will probably be gone by the trade deadline in July.
Thus, as the Mets get closer and closer to being the joke of all baseball teams, the best resolution that can be made in their case is to finish the season with just the slightest ounce of dignity. It could be a winning streak to close the season or an epic walk-off win that the fans will remember forever. The season itself just needs to be more than just complete disappointment.
Last year, the New York Yankees surprised everyone by winning the AL East despite a very suspect starting rotation. With the perfect combination of clutch hitting and obscure pitchers who stepped up in crunch time, they managed to get to the ALDS, where they lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games.
The playoff loss can be attributed to the anemic offense that always seems to sneak up on the team come playoff time. Next year, with basically the entire team remaining intact, plus rookie catcher/DH Jesus Montero, the Bombers need to stay completely focused at the plate from start to finish.
Ultimately, the goal should be to make the ALCS again. A World Series would be nice but like I said, baby steps. Let the ALCS be reached first, and then keep the focus strong so that the Fall Classic may come next.
It must be extremely frustrating being an A's fan. Not only is your team young and inexperienced, but your GM constantly trades away your best young players in exchange for more unproven prospects. Thus, it's hard to build a winning team.
That being said, seeing how A's GM Billy Beane has already traded away two key players in pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, not to mention closer Andrew Bailey, Oakland's chances at even competing next year have become extremely slim. With power-hitting outfielder Josh Willingham now with the Minnesota Twins, the lineup is borderline anemic in terms of run support.
Thus, just how well this team can do with what it has is a complete crapshoot. At this rate, the best they can hope for is to finish above .500 in a tough division.
Prior to the start of the 2011 season, the Phillies were the easy favorites to win the NL pennant. With a pitching staff that featured four aces in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the sky seemed to be the limit for this squad.
Yet, in Game 5 of the NLDS, the Phils were shut out 1-0 by Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals. In one fell swoop, all of the hype that preceded both the season and the postseason was dead.
Given that, the Phillies' New Year's resolution is simple: stay focused and advance deeper into the playoffs.
Believe it or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates didn't look completely terrible last season. They finished 72-90 and in fourth place in the NL Central, but there was actually a short period of time when they were in first place, and not even early in the year!
Long story short, Clint Hurdle has inspired a new hope in this team seen not only in the players, but in the fans as well. Much of the lineup remains intact and the pitching staff features some talented young hurlers, so the odds of regression are fairly slim barring major injuries or setbacks.
With pitching prospect Gerrit Cole just a year or so away from making his presence known, the Pirates can only use 2012 to continue to get better and bring a winning culture back to the Steel City.
Last year was an adjustment season for the San Diego Padres, as it was their first without All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who was traded to the Red Sox. The team wasn't absolutely awful, but their 71-91 record was bad enough for last place in the NL West.
New GM Josh Byrnes has already been busy this offseason, trading ace pitcher Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder/first baseman Yonder Alonso and prospects. Alonso will help make the team better, but Latos is a big loss just the same.
In terms of the new year, the Padres will likely not make the playoffs. Yet, that doesn't mean goals cannot be set. With this new-look team that will ultimately continue to improve, setting sights on finishing higher than last place is a foreseeable option.
Forget getting back to the playoffs or making the World Series for a second. In terms of the San Francisco Giants, there is only one New Year's resolution that should be on the mind of GM Brian Sabean: extending the contract of staff ace Tim Lincecum.
Simply put, Lincecum has been one of the top pitchers in all of baseball the past four years, winning consecutive Cy Young Awards as well as a World Series ring while posting 2.81 ERA. To not extend him would be a tremendous slap in the face to Giants fans. Sadly, according to NBC Sports, the two sides are "far apart" in negotiations on a long-term contract.
Thus, while getting back to the postseason would be nice, the Giants' sole resolution should be making sure that Lincecum wears the San Francisco uniform for as long as possible, even if it costs a few extra bucks.
It's no secret that the Seattle Mariners have been the joke of the AL West the past two years. Offense has been nonexistent and the team's overall performance has been little more than the Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki Show. Going into 2012, the M's need to come together and be committed to improvement.
Unfortunately, the odds of winning the division are slim and with three talented teams in the same division as them, the odds of finishing higher than last are equally bleak. Thus, with much of the same team returning last year, all that manager Eric Wedge can hope for is that his squad's win total exceeds the 67 wins they posted last year. Otherwise, it's going to be a long season in the Pacific Northwest.
Last year, in what can only be described as a miracle, the NL Wild Card-winning St. Louis Cardinals went toe to toe with a powerful Texas Rangers team in the World Series, ultimately winning the seventh and deciding game. The victory has turned out to be bittersweet this offseason, as first baseman Albert Pujols (easily the best hitter on the team and in all of baseball) became a free agent and signed a 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
Yet, the Cardinals answered right back in signing switch-hitting outfielder Carlos Beltran. If you think about it, save for Pujols, the team is just as good or even better than the one that won the World Series this past year.
On top of that, the division rival Milwaukee Brewers are about to lose their power-hitting first baseman, Prince Fielder. That being said, the stage is set for the Cardinals to take back the NL Central and defend their title in the postseason.
The resolution to not back down after the loss of Pujols and maintain a hungry attitude is a good one, and it will only serve to help the team in the long run.
Last September, around Labor Day weekend, I'd have laughed in your face if you had told me that the Tampa Bay Rays would win the AL Wild Card while the Red Sox would miss the playoffs. Yet, that very thing did happen as Joe Maddon's boys overcame a nine-game deficit and won the Wild Card on the last day of the season.
Going into 2012, the team has many of last year's key players returning, notably third baseman Evan Longoria as well as a talented young pitching staff. Combine that with the emotional momentum that carried them into the playoffs last year, and the Rays could very well make another run at the postseason.
All they have to do is stay focused and keep riding the happiness of last year.
I can imagine that getting to the World Series and losing is a pretty bad feeling. But to get to the Fall Classic two years in a row and lose both times? That just plain sucks.
Thus, I think it's obvious what the Texas Rangers' New Year's resolution is: make it to the World Series for the third year in a row and walk away winners for the first time.
For the past couple of years, the Toronto Blue Jays' philosophy has been to go out every day and swing for the fences. This approach has created some stars in Jose "Joey Bats" Bautista and first baseman Adam Lind, but the pitching leaves something to be desired.
Thus, manager John Farrell and his team should have one resolution for 2012: further develop the pitching staff so that it and the offense help the team compete more handily. Sure, the high-octane offense is good for winning games, but only a combination of that and solid pitching can bring the playoffs back to Canada.
Easily my sleeper team of 2012, the Washington Nationals have so much potential going into the new season. Highly regarded ace Stephen Strasburg is back after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he has a fairly solid rotation behind him. Supporting him is an offense that will surely improve upon an inconsistent 2011 campaign and, with a little bit of luck, Bryce Harper will be joining the team midseason.
Simply put, the Nats' New Year's resolution is one that should be easy to undertake: don't necessarily make the playoffs, but win enough so that the elite teams of the NL and the NL East division know that they're knocking on October's door.