This is the first of three articles I'm going to write looking back on the seasons of all 30 teams.
I'm going to start out with the clubs that finished no higher than 4th or 5th in their divisions, and never really seriously challenged this season.
Later this month, I'll review the ten teams who were competitive at times but missed out on the playoffs, and at the conclusion of the postseason, the eight playoff teams.
Feel free to share your thoughts on your team's season.
Finish: 74-88, 5th in NL Central
What Went Right: Wandy Rodriguez further cemented himself by continuing his stinginess at home, and outperforming staff ace Roy Oswalt. Michael Bourn enjoyed a breakout season, establishing himself as a more than capable lead off man. The team had the third highest fielding percentage in the National League.
What Didn't: Oswalt suffered from inconsistency and injuries. Though both had solid years, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee showed they're not getting any younger. The team had basically no impact players called up from the minors.
Off Season Needs: Obviously, Houston needs a manager to replace Cecil Cooper; no candidate has been linked to the job as frequently as former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. The team faces potentially devastating losses in Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde, and LaTroy Hawkins. The rotation lacks depth behind Oswalt and Rodriguez; Oswalt's friend Ben Sheets was linked to the team last off season and could still be an option.
Bottom Line: There is no quick fix for this team. Years of refusing to rebuild have really set his organization back; there is virtually no can't miss talent in the club's minor leagues. The Astros will continue to wallow in the NL Central basement unless they drastically change the way they do business.
Finish: 75-87 (4th in AL West)
What Went Right: Kurt Suzuki, Rajai Davis, and Ryan Sweeney had the best seasons of their careers. Adam Kennedy enjoyed a renaissance. Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill's first seasons in the bigs could've gone worse; they both won at least ten games and had ERAs under five. Michael Wuertz was one of the best setup men in baseball, and Andrew Bailey was nothing short of dominant in his first big league season. The team enjoyed a 16-4 stretch in September.
What Didn't: The Holliday and Giambi acquisitions didn't work out at all. Gio Gonzalez was frustratingly inconsistent. Joey Devine and Justin Duchscherer didn't pitch at all, Devine due to elbow surgery and Duchscherer was diagnosed with clinical depression in August. The team scratched their plans for a new stadium in Fresno.
Off Season Needs: The team likely will not be a player in free agency and given the organization's sensational depth, they don't really need to be. An infusion of a few veterans here and there (though not necessarily to the extent of what they did last year) couldn't hurt.
Bottom Line: The A's are a team on the rise; Billy Beane has done a fantastic job of loading the system with upcoming, high-upside young talent. The team has two potential difference makers who could be on the fast track to the majors in 1B Chris Carter and 3B Brett Wallace (acquired in the Matt Holliday trade). While they're probably not contenders just yet, the A's should be a very fun team to watch next year.
Toronto Blue Jays
Finish: 75-87 (4th in AL East)
What Went Right: The team actually was leading the AL East with 41 games down hard as it is to believe. As the franchise's former star hitter in Alex Rios departed, Aaron Hill and Adam Lind established themselves as the new foundation of the Jays offense. Ricky Romero had a fine rookie season, winning 13 games. The team got a nice return for Scott Rolen including Edwin Encarnacion and a pair of promising young pitchers.
What Didn't: Former GM JP Ricciardi couldn't have possibly run the Roy Halladay sweepstakes any worse; the main reason I'm referring to Ricciardi as the former GM. While they were able to get rid of Alex Rios' hefty contract, that can only be celebrated so much as Rios was supposed to be a bedrock of the organization for years to come. Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and Jesse Litsch all got hurt, and it's not even known when Litsch will return.
Off Season Needs: The team absolutely needs to trade Roy Halladay before his already diminished value (he's under contract for just one more year) shrinks even more. The team will have a hole to fill at SS when Marco Scutaro leaves.
Bottom Line: With the Yankees and Red Sox here to stay, and the Rays and Orioles both boasting impressive assemblies of young talent, it's hard to be optimistic if you're a Jays fan. One can only hope new GM Anthony Anthopoulos buys into a similar youth movement as Andy MacPhail did in Baltimore a few years ago, and that some day in the future a window will open up for the Jays to finally return to the postseason.
Finish: 70-92 (5th in NL West)
What Went Right: While shattering his own single season strikeout record, Mark Reynolds was one of the best run producers in the National League. Justin Upton and Miguel Montero both had breakout seasons. In some starts, Dan Haren looked like the best pitcher in baseball.
What Didn't: Brandon Webb got hurt on opening day and didn't pitch the rest of the season. Chris Young regressed horrifically. The team was nothing short of porous defensively, committing the second most errors in baseball. AJ Hinch did basically nothing to justify his hiring. The team played uninspired baseball from start to finish.
Off Season Needs: Pitching depth, especially if Webb's option is not exercised. The bullpen is definitely a weakness right now as well. The team is just about set at every offensive position, especially in the outfield.
Bottom Line: This team has several young and talented players. Right now, they just don't know a whole lot about winning. If enough things go their way, it's not completely inconceivable for them to make noise in the NL West; the top three teams in that division aren't going away though.
Finish: 65-97 (T-5th in AL Central)
What Went Right: Not a whole lot. Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin Soo Choo had the best seasons of their young careers. Both Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, acquired in the CC Sabathia trade, shined in call ups from the minors.
What Didn't: From June to September, the organization almost completely overhauled its major league roster. Before shutting down for the season, Grady Sizemore was having an alarming down year. Kerry Wood was unspectacular in the closer's role, and boasts a near immovable contract. The bullpen as a whole was dreadful.
Off Season Needs: To find a manager first and foremost, someone who can guide the organization through a transitional period. The rotation couldn't be any more paper thin so a cost-effective addition or two couldn't hurt.
Bottom Line: What a difference a year makes; this team looks poised to bottom feed the next few years, probably the worst team in the American League. The team did acquire some promising talent in the Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez deals, but not all of it will materialize soon. Until it does, Cleveland won't exactly be rocking.
New York Mets:
Finish: 70-92 (4th in NL East)
What Went Right: Just about nothing, but I'll do my best to think here. Jeff Francoeur had a minor rebirth upon his acquisition from Atlanta, hitting over 300 in 75 games with the team. For the league minimum, Gary Sheffield was a pretty good pickup. That's about all I got.
What Didn't: Not sure if you heard, but just about every position player, their backup, and their brother spent at least a decent amount of time on the disabled list. The starting pitching after Santana was terrible. Putz's season was lost to inconsistency and injury. And of course, you have this: http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=5025569. Bet you can't watch just once (unless of course, you are a Mets fan).
Off Season Needs: Organizational depth, the lack of which was exposed by all the injuries. As mentioned above, the team's starting pitching behind Santana was downright terrible. Maine, Pelfrey, and Perez have had success in the past; they'll have to find a way to do it again.
Bottom Line: There's no shortage of name players on this team; in Santana, Beltran, Wright, Reyes, and Rodriguez, the Mets do have some of the best players in baseball right now. The key lies in those guys simply staying healthy. Given the collapses of 2007 and 2008, and the downright misery of 2009, this organization has quite a few mental obstacles to overcome.
Finish: 59-103 (5th in NL East)
What Went Right: More than you might expect. They signed Stephen Strasburg. Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham all had great seasons. Nyjer Morgan was a great pickup. Jordan Zimmerman was very solid before going on the DL in June. The team went 33-42 under Jim Riggleman, showing visible improvement.
What Didn't: They played so bad before the All Star break, that it cost Manny Acta his job. They were the worst defensive team in baseball; by far. As good as Nyjer Morgan was, Joel Hanrahan (traded for him) was lights out for the Pirates. Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera were useless.
Off Season Needs: Somehow, they have to improve their defense. The offense should be just about set. The team could benefit from adding a veteran starter to mentor the talented young pitchers on the team.
Bottom Line: By no means was it a leap, but this organization took a step forward this year. They're finally starting to get their feet under them, starting to find stability. The removal of GM Mike Rizzo's interim tag was well-deserved, and Riggleman might deserve another look at the helm. They have stars to build their team around in Zimmerman and Strasburg. It seems this organization is at last headed in the right direction.
Finish: 64-98 (5th in AL East)
What Went Right: Nick Markakis had another phenomenal season, one of the game's unsung stars. Adam Jones' breakout year merited him his first All Star appearance. Brian Roberts was an extra base machine, and Felix Pie had a minor breakthrough. Matt Wieters had a solid rookie season. The George Sherrill trade fetched the team a very good prospect in Josh Bell.
What Didn't: They lost 13 straight games in late September. They were never able to get hot and sustain it for a lengthy period of time. The team got basically no pitching, though Tillman and Matusz did shine at times. Jeremy Guthrie was such a non-factor it's questionable if he'll ever build on the promise he showed back in 2007.
Off Season Needs: Pitching, pitching, pitching. John Lackey was linked to the team this summer but he may be out of their price range. This isn't a team that should be expected to go out and have a shopping spree given the depth of their farm system though.
Bottom Line: Andy MacPhail has put together quite a collection of young talent. With players like Markakis, Jones, and Roberts, the team can hit. Getting the potential of the young pitchers on the staff to materialize is the next objective. As is the case with Toronto, if the Orioles are going to make the post season in the future, it's somewhat dependent on the Yankees and Red Sox opening the door for them. O's fans can have legit hope though.
San Diego Padres
Finish: 75-87 (4th in NL West)
What Went Right: They started and finished the season strong. Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell played so well they were greatly coveted at the trade deadline. Youngsters Everth Cabrera, Kyle Blanks, and Chase Headley all had encouraging seasons. Kevin Kouzmanoff played near flawless defense at third base. Despite the loss of Trevor Hoffman, the bullpen was a team strength. The team got excellent returns in the Scott Hairston and Jake Peavy trades.
What Didn't: Chris Young got hurt again. They scored the second fewest runs in all of baseball. Gonzalez was the only player on the team to hit more than 20 home runs. You could argue Kevin Towers' firing was undeserved. Brian Giles was a total non factor. And of course, being on the wrong end of this is never fun; http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=5526417.
Off Season Needs: The team needs to trade Heath Bell; there surely will be plenty of suitors. However, trading Gonzalez would be quite the hard sell to your fan base; there is definitely such a thing as too much overhaul. The success of this franchise is dependent on them continuing the youth movement, not on making flashy free agent signings.
Bottom Line: 2009 was a year of recovery for the Padres. At times this year, these guys were actually pretty fun to watch. Kevin Towers brought a lot of young pitching to the organization in the Hairson and Peavy deals and I don't think he deserved to be fired; on such a limited budget, he did a fine job. Trevor Hoffman and Jake Peavy are gone, and thus this organization is starting anew. With a lot of good young players shining in 09, they at least must feel better than they did a year ago.
Finish: 62-99 (6th in NL Central)
What Went Right: They didn't lose 100 games! Andrew McCutchen justified the Nate McLouth trade and then some. Garrett Jones was a surprise power supply. Zach Duke's fine season earned him an All Star appearance. They were the best defensive team in baseball. The team pulled off a heist in acquiring Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez.
What Didn't: Their Summer fire sale put the Indians' to shame. The rage of the fan base was so intense Bud Selig had to reassure them (or at least attempt to) the organization was trying to be successful. Matt Capps had a nightmare of a season. They suffered their 17th consecutive losing season (though that streak should not have been expected to end).
Off Season Needs: If they can find a taker for Capps and get a solid return, they'll have to consider it though it doesn't seem likely anyone will give too much. Another organization that will not and should not make flashy additions.
Bottom Line: Hard to have faith if you're a Bucs fan right now. That lengthy streak of losing seasons isn't ending any time soon. Only time will tell if the prospects the organization has acquired will pan out. If it does, there could again be a competitive team in the Steel City. In the mean time, the misery will continue.
Finish: 78-84 (4th in NL Central)
What Went Right: The team finished in the top 10 in ERA even though Edinson Volquez started only 9 games. Bronson Arroyo was absolutely brilliant after the All Star break. After a scare with depression, Joey Votto rebounded nicely. Brandon Phillips had another fine season. Drew Stubbs played very well upon his call up from AAA. Jonny Gomes was a great addition.
What Didn't: As mentioned above, Edinson Volquez missed most of the season. Aaron Harang again lost a hefty amount of games (14). The trade for Scott Rolen made little sense. For the second straight year, the team never challenged for the NL Central crown when it was thought possible they could do so.
Off Season Needs: Simply to continue the youth movement; Walt Jocketty has already stated the team will not be a player in free agency. With the free agent starter pool so barren, the team could probably find many suitors for Arroyo and possibly Harang.
Bottom Line: This team has a lot of nice pieces; Votto, Volquez, and Phillips are young stars and they have veterans here and there like the aforementioned Arroyo, Harang, Rolen, and closer Francisco Cordero. For whatever reason, it hasn't come together. Dusty Baker may not be the right manager for where this team is at right now but who knows. Maybe next year is finally their year.
Kansas City Royals
Finish: 65-97 (T-5th in AL Central)
What Went Right: The team played inspired baseball to start the year, highlighted by the pitching of some Zack Greinke kid. Not sure if you heard, but he's pretty good. Billy Butler showed the baseball world what he's capable of; he carried the team for stretches. Albert Callaspo's first full year in the majors was an overwhelming success. David DeJesus played a gold glove left field.
What Didn't: After the first month of the season, watching them was a chore. Mike Aviles, Gil Meche, and Jose Guillen had injury-plagued seasons. Alex Gordon's limited play left much to be desired. The Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp acquisitions were gargantuan failures. Making matters worse, the relievers traded for them (Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez) had success with their new teams as KC posted the worst bullpen ERA in the American League.
Off Season Needs: As mentioned, the bullpen was a major problem area but the team already has players like Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth under contract for next year. Whether from outside or within the organization, the team is going to need to fill out the rotation behind Greinke and Brian Bannister.
Bottom Line: There was a lot of buzz surrounding this team heading into the 09 campaign, Jeff Passan even going so far as to call them the most talented team in the AL Central. Such hype was terribly undeserved; they weren't ready to compete then, nor are they heading into 2010. In Greinke and Butler, the team at least has an identity. Dayton Moore is going to have to put some better players around them before the team is a serious contender.
Some opinions of mine regarding the future of these teams.
Which team has the brightest future?
I really like what the A's are doing and like their chances to make some noise in the next five years. If the Reds can ever put it all together, than the NL Central is unpredictable enough for them to challenge.
The most uncertain future?
Over the last few years, the Astros have been a terribly-run organization and they aren't going to go anywhere until they rid themselves of their veteran talent and restock their farm system. The Indians and Pirates are practically out of trading chips, so their futures are dependent on their prospects panning out, which doesn't always happen.
Which of these teams will have a winning record in 2010?
The A's, Mets, and Reds. Maybe the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks.