MLB Fanbases with the Most to Be Excited About This Christmas
As baseball fans wake up this Christmas and run downstairs to see what Santa left them underneath the tree, there's going to be some mixed reaction.
Some will find everything they asked for and more, giddy with excitement about the possibilities for 2015 and beyond. Others will be left scratching their heads, wondering whether jolly ol' St. Nick even bothered to pay their house a visit at all.
Which teams' fans have the most to be excited about? Let's take a look.
Key Additions: SP Jason Hammel, SP Jon Lester, MGR Joe Maddon, C Miguel Montero, C David Ross
How badly did team president Theo Epstein want to deliver the perfect gift to Cubs fans this Christmas?
“I was ready to soak myself in deer urine, if necessary,” he told CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney.
Thankfully, Epstein didn't need to take such drastic measures in order to land the ace that his team's rotation desperately needed, signing Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal.
Chicago also brought in veteran backstop David Ross, one of four catchers to have been behind the plate for at least 20 of Lester's career starts and, it just so happens, the one with whom he's produced the best numbers:
|Catcher||Games Caught||Innings Caught||ERA||WHIP||SO/BB|
But Ross will celebrate his 38th birthday before Opening Day and simply isn't an everyday option behind the plate. He'll serve as the primary backup for two-time All-Star Miguel Montero, whom the Cubs acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal that cost the club nothing of significance.
Oh, and they managed to land one of the best managers in the game, Joe Maddon.
The beauty of what the Cubs have been able to do this winter is that they've improved without sacrificing any of their promising young talent.
Players like Javier Baez and Jorge Soler will get a full season under their belts, top prospect Kris Bryant is expected to arrive early in the season and other elite talent, like Albert Almora and Addison Russell, remain in the pipeline.
With nearly every team in the division, besides the St. Louis Cardinals, having done little to improve their clubs, the level of excitement and optimism surrounding the Cubs heading into 2015 is as high as it's been in years.
Chicago White Sox
Key Additions: OF Melky Cabrera, RP Zach Duke, 1B/DH Adam LaRoche, CL David Robertson, SP Jeff Samardzija
During a recent appearance on 670 AM The Score's Mully and Hanley Show, general manager Rick Hahn summed up the buzz surrounding the White Sox heading into 2015:
“It’s a fun time to be a White Sox fan.”
How right he is, for Hahn was able to address nearly every area of need on Chicago's roster. Not only are the White Sox standing as one of the offseason's biggest winners for the second consecutive year, but they look like a legitimate threat in what appears to be a wide-open American League Central division.
"Frankly, if we’d gone back six or seven weeks and sat down and said, ‘OK, a month-and-a-half from now, we’re going to be able to have accomplished these five or six things, we would've been thrilled and probably thought that it was a little far-fetched," Hahn told the morning show hosts.
The White Sox added four former All-Stars to the mix in Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija, along with Adam LaRoche, who had a strong case for inclusion in last year's Midsummer Classic.
That haul allows the club to check off everything on its Christmas List—and leaves one less present that White Sox fans need to ask Santa to leave underneath their trees.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Key Additions: SP Brett Anderson, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, C Yasmani Grandal, 2B Howie Kendrick, SP Brandon McCarthy, RP Joel Peralta, SS Jimmy Rollins, GM Farhan Zaidi
Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, themselves recent acquisitions by the Los Angeles Dodgers, have taken a page out of the "Fast and Furious" franchise and retooled a 94-win team on the fly.
Trades were made at breakneck speed—sometimes within the span of a few hours—and when the dust settled, what we found was a vastly improved baseball team. Friedman managed to begin unclogging the team's glut of high-priced outfielders, moving Matt Kemp to San Diego.
That move led to a massive upgrade up the middle, with top prospect Joc Pederson now in center field, newly minted All-Star-caliber double-play combination of Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins and Yasmani Grandal behind the plate.
While Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy haven't been the picture of durability over the course of their careers, leaving some trepidation about the back end of the rotation, the Dodgers still have talent down on the farm to shore things up—and could still make a move for another front-line arm.
As the rest of the division (with the exception of San Diego) either standing still or taking a step back this winter, the Dodgers head into 2015 the clear favorites to win the NL West for the third straight season.
San Diego Padres
Key Additions: OF Matt Kemp, SP Brandon Morrow, OF Wil Myers, C Derek Norris, OF Justin Upton
Matt Kemp admitted to the U-T San Diego's Dennis Lim that he didn't know much about Padres GM A.J. Preller before the young executive traded a package of talent to the Dodgers for him.
“I do now,” Kemp said. “This was a hidden rock star. Rock stars don’t sleep, either, and they say he doesn't sleep.”
Team president Mike Dee only added to the rumor of Preller's nocturnal habits when he spoke with Lim:
I've worked around other great GMs in my baseball career, and all of them had an eye for talent and worked hard. But when everybody else maybe kicks back for the night, A.J.’s like, ‘I’m going to hang back here,’ and then he’ll look at another hour-and-a-half of information. He’s just a relentless pursuer of talent. It’s not a job. It’s who he is.
No team has seen their offense improve as dramatically this winter as San Diego has, with Preller adding a pair of All-Stars, Derek Norris and Justin Upton, along with the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, Wil Myers, and Kemp to the mix.
Those are the kind of big, bold moves that are needed when a team ranks last in nearly every possible offensive category—including runs scored, where the Padres were the only team in baseball to not cross home plate at least 570 times—and one of three that didn't break the 600 runs plateau.
While impressive, those additions might not be enough to vault the Padres back into the postseason for the first time since 2006. Then again, this will mark the first season that manager Bud Black, long considered one of the best in the game, will have so much talent to work with.
Preller has proved that anything is possible, and given Padres fans the one thing nobody expected they'd get this holiday season. Hope for more on-field success in 2015 and beyond.
Toronto Blue Jays
Key Additions: 3B Josh Donaldson, RP Marco Estrada, C Russell Martin, OF Michael Saunders
Rather than try to improve the talent on the mound, Toronto decided to improve the talent behind the plate, signing Russell Martin, one of the game's premier game-callers and pitch-framers, to a lucrative five-year deal.
As we looked at a few days ago, Martin's impact on a team's pitching staff is unquestionable.
But GM Alex Anthopolous wasn't done, pulling off one of the offseason's biggest surprises when he worked out a deal to acquire All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics—a deal that nobody saw coming.
Adding Donaldson's Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner can only help Toronto's pitching staff, but when you consider just how dangerous his bat makes Toronto's lineup—which was already one of the best in baseball—you start to appreciate that you don't have to face these guys on a daily basis.
"You start looking at the capability of this lineup and the potential that it brings," Donaldson told The Associated Press, via ESPN. "I'm going to venture to say there's probably not going to be another lineup as potent as this in Major League Baseball."
With the AL East in shambles—Tampa Bay is rebuilding, Boston and New York are retooling and last year's division winner, Baltimore, has done absolutely nothing—the Blue Jays might finally be able to take control of the division for the first time in more than 20 years.
Find me on Twitter to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR