With less than a week remaining in the 2013 calendar year, spring training is already on the horizon for baseball fans itching to see their favorite teams in action once again.
There is certainly some unfinished business on the free agent and trade markets, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2014 season. Baseball is a team game, and players' goals tend to reflect that, but the focus of the following article will be on individual goals.
That said, here is a look at potential New Year's resolutions for the top-25 players in the game today. This is not meant to be an argument as to who the top-25 players in the game are, as the following list is simply my opinion. Instead, the focus is on resolutions and goals for the following players for the upcoming season.
Resolution: Don't blow a save in 2014.
Asking for perfection is certainly a lofty request, but Craig Kimbrel has been a dominant enough force at the back end of the Braves' bullpen that it's a legitimate resolution for the 25-year-old flame thrower.
He was 50-of-54 on save chances last season, including 40-of-41 with a 0.67 ERA from May 9 to the end of the season. For his career, he's converted 139-of-154 saves, and as he enters the prime of his career, a perfect season is a very real possibility.
Resolution: Avoid the disabled list.
A year after winning NL Rookie of the Year honors as a 19-year-old, Bryce Harper looked to be on his way to a huge sophomore season. He was hitting .287/.386/.587 with 12 home runs through the first two months of last season—and then injury struck.
Left knee bursitis cost him the entire month of June, and he underwent surgery on that knee this offseason in an effort to get back to full strength in 2014. His importance to the Nationals' success was clear last year, as the team was 65-53 with him in the lineup and 21-23 without him, so staying healthy will be key.
Resolution: Hit at least 24 home runs to reach the 400-home-run mark.
Entering his 17th big league season, Adrian Beltre has quietly become one of the greatest third basemen in MLB history from a statistical standpoint. He currently ranks seventh in home runs (376), 10th in RBI (1,307) and sixth in hits (2,426) all-time at the position.
With another 24 home runs, a total he has surpassed in seven of the past eight seasons, Beltre would become just the fifth third baseman to reach 400 home runs. He would join Mike Schmidt (548), Eddie Mathews (512), Chipper Jones (468) and Darrell Evans (414) and certainly further his case for Hall of Fame enshrinement in the process.
Resolution: Avoid regression, put up 2013 numbers over a full season.
A budding star over his first few seasons with the Marlins, which included a batting title in 2009, Hanley Ramirez fell off significantly in 2011. A .313/.385/.520 career hitter entering the 2011 season, he hit just .252/.326/.416 combined in 2011 and 2012 and wound up being traded to the Dodgers at the deadline in 2012.
A torn thumb ligament and strained hamstring sidelined him early in 2013, and he played just four games prior to the month of June. However, when he was on the field last season, he was a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .345/.402/.638 with 20 home runs in 304 at-bats. If he can put up those sort of numbers over a full season, it would be huge for the Dodgers.
Resolution: Pitch well through the trade rumors.
Though he won just 10 games, saw his ERA climb from 2.56 to 3.33 and was limited by injuries to just 27 starts in 2013, David Price remains one of the game's few legitimate staff aces heading into the 2014 season.
Two years removed from free agency and set to receive a raise in arbitration over the $10.1 million he made last season, Price entered the offseason expecting to be traded, according to Marc Topkin of The Tampa Bay Times.
However, he remains with the Rays at this point, and chances are they won't deal him for anything short of top value, so it looks like he could be dealing with the rumors into the regular season. The 28-year-old can't let that effect his play in the season ahead, though.
Resolution: Drive in 100 runs in revamped Mets lineup.
David Wright is undoubtedly the face of the Mets' franchise, and he will be at the center of their climb back to contention after signing an eight-year, $138 million extension prior to the 2013 season.
From 2005-2010, he drove in 100-plus runs in every season but one and averaged 26 home runs and 104 RBI per year. He's failed to reach the century mark in RBI the past three seasons though, averaging just 71 per season.
With the addition of Curtis Granderson to protect him in the middle of the lineup, and a lineup that is expected to be improved overall, Wright should have a good chance to return to the 100-RBI-mark this year as long as he can stay healthy.
Resolution: Reach 200 innings.
After a highly-anticipated debut in 2010, Stephen Strasburg went under the knife for Tommy John surgery and wound up making just five starts at the very end of the 2011 season. He returned to go 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA over 28 starts in 2012, but he was kept on a short leash and limited to just 159.1 innings.
Big things were expected this past year, as he was finally turned loose, but he was the victim of some bad luck and wound up going just 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA over 183 innings of work in 30 starts.
Making the jump from uber-talented starter to workhorse ace atop the staff with 200-plus innings this season could certainly help the Nationals playoff chances.
Resolution: Reach 40 HR and 100 RBI and avoid disappointment.
Chris Davis never quite panned out during his time with the Texas Rangers, and he was traded to the Orioles along with Tommy Hunter for reliever Koji Uehara at the deadline in 2011.
He took a big step forward in his first full season with the team in 2012, posting an .827 OPS with 33 home runs and 85 RBI. That could not have prepared fans for what he would do in 2013, though, as he had a 1.004 OPS with 53 home runs and 138 RBI.
Expecting that sort of production again this coming season is a bit much, but if he can top 40 home runs and 100 RBI, he'd more than satisfy expectations.
Resolution: Split the difference between 2012 and 2013.
After a broken ankle limited him to just 45 games in 2011, Buster Posey returned with a vengeance in 2012 to win NL MVP honors. He won the batting title with a .336 average and added 24 home runs and 103 RBI for the World Champion Giants.
He was still a 5.2 WAR player last season, according to Baseball-Reference. However, his average fell to .294 last season with just 15 home runs and 72 RBI, as the Giants as a whole were a disappointment.
If he can produce somewhere between his 2012 and 2013 numbers next season, he should be right in the thick of the NL MVP race once again.
Resolution: Post an ERA under 3.00 and avoid sophomore slump.
Were it not for injuries to Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi at the end of spring training, Jose Fernandez likely would have opened the 2013 season in Double-A. Instead, he broke camp as part of the Marlins rotation, having yet to throw a pitch above the High-A level.
The results were better than anyone could have imagined, as the 21-year-old went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA over 28 starts to win NL Rookie of the Year honors and finish third in NL Cy Young voting.
He's likely in for at least some regression, but if he can keep his ERA under 3.00 this coming season, he would remain among the elite starters in the game.
Resolution: Remain the best pitcher in the Tigers' rotation.
Entering the 2013 season, Justin Verlander was the unquestioned ace of the Tigers' staff and arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball. When the season ended, though, it was Max Scherzer who was the team's top arm, as he went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and captured AL Cy Young honors.
A bounce-back season from Verlander—along with similar seasons from Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, the latter of which won the AL ERA title with a 2.57 mark—would give the Tigers three ace-caliber arms.
If Scherzer can maintain his standing as the team's top pitcher, it would likely mean another huge season.
Resolution: Avoid following in the footsteps of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
Robinson Cano was the top bat on the market this offseason, and that distinction earned him a 10-year, $240 million contract from the Mariners.
In the previous two offseasons, it was Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, respectively, who ranked as the top available bats, and both flopped after signing huge deals with the Los Angeles Angels.
Over the past five seasons, Cano has averaged a line of .314/.369/.530 with 28 home runs and 103 RBI. That said, there will no doubt be some added pressure on him this coming season with his new mega-deal and expectations to lead a rebuilding Mariners team to the playoffs.
Avoiding a let down similar to Pujols and Hamilton would constitute a good season for Cano.
Resolution: Turn in a seventh straight season with 200-plus innings and a sub-3.25 ERA.
Cliff Lee was a late-bloomer, with a career line of just 54-36 and a 4.64 ERA entering his age-29 season with the Cleveland Indians. Everything changed that season, though, as he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and won AL Cy Young honors.
In the six seasons since the start of his 2008 Cy Young season, he's gone a combined 85-50 with a 2.89 ERA and has emerged as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. His consistency is more impressive than anything, as he's topped 200 innings and posted a sub-3.25 in each of those seasons.
Another season within those parameters would rank him among the best in the business once again.
Resolution: Win NL MVP.
This past season, NL MVP honors were up for grabs all season long. And while Andrew McCutchen eventually claimed the honor, a case could have been made for a number of other candidates, including St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
After finishing fourth in the voting in 2012, he ended up finishing third this past year. Had it not been for a knee sprain that cost him roughly three weeks, he may very well have won the award, and for a good portion of the season, it looked like he'd make a run at the batting title.
He's as important as anyone in baseball to the success of his team, and he'll likely be in the running for MVP honors once again in 2014.
Resolution: Come to terms on a contract extension.
Freddie Freeman took over as the Braves everyday first baseman as a 21-year-old back in 2011, and he has steadily improved in each of his three full seasons in the majors. He took a big step forward this past year, though, improving his triple slash from .259/.340/.456 in 2012 to an MVP-caliber .319/.396/.501.
The Braves have been relatively quiet this offseason, as they have no glaring areas of need. However, it may be time for them to consider locking up one or more of their young core pieces to long-term deals.
Last offseason, Allen Craig (five-year, $31 million) and Paul Goldschmidt (five-year, $32 million) both signed extensions with their respective clubs. Freeman could get something similar from the Braves, and he could even push $40 million.
Resolution: Record an ERA below 3.00 as he continues to climb the ranks of the game's elite.
Taken with the No. 13 pick in the 2010 draft, Chris Sale needed just 10.1 innings of work in the minors before he joined the White Sox bullpen that same year. After another season spent in the bullpen as the team's primary setup man in 2011, he joined the rotation in 2012 and immediately became one of the game's top starters.
The big left-hander went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA to finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting in 2012. And while he was just 11-14 this past season with a 3.07 ERA, he improved his peripheral numbers across the board, actually improving his rWAR from 5.9 to 6.9.
The next step in his climb up the rankings of the game's top pitchers seems to be posting a sub-3.00 ERA, and that is a very real possibility for the 24-year-old this coming season.
Resolution: Top the 30-HR and 100-RBI marks without substituting on-base percentage.
In just his third full season in the majors, Joey Votto took home NL MVP honors in 2010, as he hit .324/.424/.600 with 37 home runs and 113 RBI. He followed that up with a .309 average, 29 home runs and 103 RBI the following season, and he looked set to be a dangerous power threat for years to come.
He has maintained his terrific on-base skills, leading the NL in that category for the past four years. However, his power numbers have dropped off considerably as he's grown more patient, with the 30-year-old tallying a career-high 135 walks but managing just 24 home runs and 73 RBI in 2013.
A return to the 30-HR/100-RBI territory while still maintaining a solid OBP could put him right back in the MVP running.
Resolution: Become the first pitcher to reach the 300-strikeout-mark since 2002.
Last season, Yu Darvish became the first pitcher in baseball to reach 100 strikeouts before Memorial Day since the 2002 season. That put him squarely on pace to become of the first to record 300 strikeouts in a season since Diamondbacks teammates Randy Johnson (334) and Curt Schilling (314) both accomplished the feat in 2002.
He wound up falling short, tallying 277 punch-outs in 209.2 innings of work. That was still good for an AL-best 11.9 K/9 and was the highest total since 2004. And if anyone is going to reach the mark, it looks like it will be Darvish.
With a bevy of pitches in his arsenal, good durability and room to improve in his third season in the States, 2014 could be the year we finally see another 300-K pitcher.
Resolution: Hit better against the San Francisco Giants.
It's hard to find an area for Paul Goldschmidt to improve upon his monster 2013 season. He hit well at home and on the road, was a consistent producer over the entire season and beat up left-handed and right-handed pitching at a similar clip.
If there is one area he can point to as a weak spot, it was his production against division rival San Francisco. In 19 games against them, the 26-year-old slugger hit just .212/.354/.379 over 66 at-bats. He was also subpar against the San Diego Padres, with a .226/.351/.452 line over 62 at-bats.
Stepping up his play against those two teams that he'll see plenty of could put him in line for an even bigger season in 2014.
Resolution: Win the NL Cy Young Award.
As long as Clayton Kershaw is in the National League, this one will be easier said than done. That said, over his last four seasons (with 2011 excluded, as he did not pitch), Adam Wainwright has one third-place finish and a pair of second-place finishes in the NL Cy Young voting.
He's the unquestioned ace of a fantastic Cardinals staff, and with Chris Carpenter retired, he'll take on an even bigger leadership role with the team's fantastic crop of young arms. He was 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA this past season, his third in which he topped 19 wins with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Sooner or later, one has to think he'll be taking home some hardware. Maybe 2014 will be that year.
Resolution: Put together two spectacular halves of baseball.
It's really nit-picking when you ask the reigning NL MVP to put up better numbers, but if Andrew McCutchen were to combine the first half of his 2012 season and second half of his 2013 season, he would have one monster year.
He carried the Pirates offense in the first half of the 2012, hitting .362/.414/.625 with 18 home runs, 60 RBI and 14 steals. Those numbers dipped to .289/.385/.475 with 13 home runs, 36 RBI and six steals in the second half, though.
Then, in 2013, he put together a more-than-respectable .302/.376/.471 first half with 10 home runs, 49 RBI and 20 steals. He then exploded in the second half, hitting .339/.441/.561 with 11 home runs, 35 RBI and seven steals to clinch NL MVP honors.
Those two halves combined would be a .352/.426/.542 line with 29 home runs, 95 RBI and 21 steals over 548 at-bats. A season like that would almost certainly earn McCutchen another MVP award, and it may be what he's capable of at his very best.
Resolution: Maintain bump in strikeout rate and lower ERA below 3.00 for first time since 2010.
Felix Hernandez has seen his K/9 mark climb every year since 2008, going 7.8, 8.2, 8.4, 8.6, 8.7 and then jumping way up to 9.5 this past season when he fanned 216 hitters in 204.1 innings of work. The 27-year-old undoubtedly has some of the best stuff in all of baseball, and he should be able to maintain that mark.
At the same time, however, he has not posted an ERA below 3.00 since doing it in back-to-back seasons in 2009 (2.49) and 2010 (2.27). For someone signed to the second-largest contract ever for a pitcher and who is still in the prime of his career, an elite strikeout rate and an ERA under 3.00 are reasonable expectations this coming season.
Resolution: Be patient at the plate with less pitches to hit now that Prince Fielder is gone.
With all due respect to Victor Martinez—who led all of baseball with a .361 average in the second half last season and turned in an all-around solid year in his return from injury—he is simply not as feared a hitter as Prince Fielder batting behind Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers order.
With Fielder gone, chances are that Miguel Cabrera will see less and less pitches to hit, and that could certainly be reason for the two-time AL MVP to start pressing.
Even if the Tigers were to bat Justin Verlander behind Cabrera, it's hard to imagine him truly struggling at the plate, but he does have to be careful not to try to and do too much, and he must be willing to take his fair share of walks.
Resolution: Post another ERA under 2.00 and coax a bit more run support out of teammates.
When a guy posts a 1.83 ERA, 0.915 WHIP and 232 strikeouts in 236 innings of work, it's really hard to envision him ending the season with a 16-9 record, but that is exactly what Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw did last season.
His 3.79 run support average was 57th among 81 qualifying starters, and five of his nine losses were quality starts, so it's hard to see him not improving his win total if he can post similar peripheral numbers.
At the end of the day, run support is really out of a pitcher's hands, but if Kershaw can put together another season with an ERA under 2.00, things should take care of themselves.
Resolution: Unseat Miguel Cabrera as AL MVP.
There may be no one in baseball history to put together a better two-year start to a career than Angels outfielder Mike Trout. The scary thing is, he actually got better in his second season after a brilliant rookie campaign, as he increased his walk total from 67 to an AL-high 110 and saw his OBP climb from .399 to .432 as a result.
He would certainly trade all of the awards and recognition for a successful season and a chance to play in the postseason, but these resolutions focus on individual goals, and bringing home AL MVP honors has to top Trout's list at this point. He's finished second to Miguel Cabrera in back-to-back seasons, despite a far superior resume from a sabermetrics standpoint.
The thought that the 22-year-old could again get better in 2014 is a terrifying one for the rest of the league, and with Prince Fielder no longer protecting Cabrera in the Tigers' lineup, Trout could be poised to claim the title of top player in the AL.