New Year's Resolutions: One Vow Each MLB Team Must Make for 2012
It's that time of year again when, after the champagne hangover wears off, people resolve to be a better version of themselves. Whether its losing a few pounds, getting organized, or getting out of debt, the New Year offers an opportunity to make resolutions to change one's behavior in the New Year.
Just as individuals resolve to change, the New Year offers a chance for Major League Baseball teams to alter their behavior. Whether a successful team like the Philadelphia Phillies needing to make a few small changes, or an awful team like the Baltimore Orioles requiring a complete overhaul, every team can resolve to change something to make them better in 2012.
Here we look at each team in Major League Baseball and what their resolution should be for the New Year.
Find Better Starting Pitching
The Arizona Diamondbacks were one of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season, winning 94 games, a 29 win improvement from 2010. Much of this success was due to significant improvements by two of the team's starting pitchers, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. Kennedy improved from a 9-10 record to a Cy Young contending 21-4 performance, while Daniel Hudson improved from 7-1 to 16-12. Other than Kennedy and Hudson, the Diamondbacks starting pitchers struggled, as none of their other regular starters posted a winning record.
The Diamondbacks recruited Trevor Cahill to join the starting squad. Cahill was outstanding in 2010, though his performance sagged in 2011. If he can regain his 2010 form, the Diamondbacks will benefit from his pitching and youth.
Getting Cahill was a good start, but the team needs to find another arm or two to solidify the staff, preferably a veteran. The core of the Diamondbacks is extremely young, and the team would be wise to recruit some experience, a helpful advantage in a postseason run.
The Diamondbacks budget is limited, with almost all of their money tied up, but they should resolve to do what they can to bring in a couple talented and experienced starting pitchers.
Lock Up Jair Jurrjens
Since joining the Atlanta Braves organization just after the 2007 season, Jair Jurrjens has been one of the team's top young arms, but has been hampered by injuries. Despite these injuries, Jurrjens has earned a career 50-33 record, and is coming off a 2011 season in which he went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA. Because of his injuries, the Braves are looking to trade him to teams desperate for a young arm for their rotations.
If the Braves can get a good deal for Jurrjens, they can't be faulted for letting him go. But if Jurrjens ends up staying in Atlanta, he will be up for his final year of arbitration in 2013 before becoming a free agent. Because of his injuries, his price should stay relatively low, and the Braves should lock him up under contract while he is affordable.
Jurrjens earned $3.25 million last year, yet was the top pitcher in the Braves rotation. Jurrjens should be signable at a low enough price to justify the risk of injury, and the Braves have the opportunity to sign a 25 year old budding star to a long-term contract for a cheap price. Management should resolve to get the deal done.
Resolution: Cut Payroll
The Baltimore Orioles spend a decent amount of money on payroll each season, yet have very little to show for it. The team hasn't had a winning season since 1997, and they have $10 million tied up in each of the next two seasons in a player - Brian Roberts - who batted .221 with three home runs in 163 at bats last year.
The Orioles are nowhere near competitive, yet they have no significant batters under 25, and are spending significant money on several players who are unlikely to make much of a difference a few years down the road, the earliest the O's can realistically expect to be competitive. The team should look to move pricey players such as Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, and instead save that money for upcoming arbitration.
Boston Red Sox
Resolution: Fix the Broken Culture of Entitlement
The reported shenanigans of the Boston Red Sox clubhouse were not just indicative of a few bad apples, but a culture of entitlement and lack of team unity. Team management made significant changes to the organization that should help change this culture, but old habits die hard.
The Red Sox success in the past decade has been partially due to team chemistry, which has all but disappeared over the past few seasons. Personnel moves will help, but change starts with manager Bobby Valentine and the front office. The changes Valentine will have to make for the sake of chemistry may not be popular with the players, and management would be wise to support him even if anonymous quotes begin to appear in the press criticizing the outspoken manager.
The Sox have the talent necessary to compete for the pennant, but unless the players resolve to put winning over fun in the clubhouse, they will find themselves in the same place they were last October, watching the World Series from home.
Resolution: Greater Plate Discipline
The 2011 Chicago Cubs were about as free swinging as it gets, earning only 401 walks, ahead of only the Houston Astros and 202 behind the MLB-leading New York Yankees, and well behind the MLB average of 501.
The Cubs kept their strikeouts in check for the most part, whiffing 1202 times, 8th out of 16 National League teams. Yet the lack of walks deprived the Cubs of critical run scoring opportunities, and since the club finished 13th in Major League Baseball in batting average, these opportunities were much needed.
The Cubs need to improve a number of aspects of their offensive game, including batting average and power, but a focus on plate discipline would create many new opportunities for the club and greatly improve their offensive productivity.
Chicago White Sox
Resolution: Stop Stealing
Usually a resolution for kleptomaniacs, the White Sox would be well served to resolve to stop stealing. In 2011, the team successfully stole 81 bases, but were caught stealing 53 times, a 60% percentage, good for last in the American League. By comparison, the Orioles, who lead the league, also stole 81 bases, but were only thrown out 25 times.
No one on the team escapes culpability. Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Brent Lillibridge, three of the team's stolen base leaders, all turned in unacceptable stolen base percentages. Of the team's base stealing leaders, only Alejandro de Aza came close to posting a respectable percentage.
The White Sox are likely entering a rebuilding phase, but one of the first things that rookie manager Robin Ventura should do is to turn on the yellow light on base stealing.
Resolution: Don't Rush to Extend Dusty's Contract
Dusty Baker's contract expires at the end of 2012, and Baker is likely a bit anxious about his contract after the Cincinnati Reds performance in 2011. After improving the club's record in each of his first three seasons, the Reds experienced a setback in 2011, winning just 79 games, down 12 from 2010.
Extending Baker's contract early could ease a lot of tension in Cincinnati, and it could hurt team chemistry in Cincinnati if the Reds struggle early and the "Replace Dusty" chatter begins. However, as Mark Sheldon of MLB.com points out, the last time Baker was fighting for an extension back in 2010, the Reds over-performed and won the National League Central division.
Though Baker has had seasons of excellence as a manager, his performance throughout his managerial career has been uneven, and the Reds should resolve not to overreact and reward him before he earns it.
Resolution: Get Butts in Seats
Despite a promising season in which the Cleveland Indians finished in second place in the abysmal American League Central division, Cleveland fans did not show up to Progressive Field. The Indians finished 24th in attendance, averaging less than 23,000 fans per game. The team's attendance in their second and third games were the lowest and second lowest in the 18 season history of Progressive Field.
The Indians already have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, and low attendance numbers are one of the best ways to ensure that the low spending continues. The team's improved play hasn't yet helped attendance much, though it will likely have an impact if the success continues into 2012. Progressive Field is one of the best places in Major League Baseball to watch a game, so the atmosphere isn't a problem.
Whatever is causing the fans to stay home, the Indians organization needs to resolve to find new ways to get butts in the seats and fill Progressive Field.
Resolution: As Always, Find Better Pitching
It will surprise few who follow baseball that the Colorado Rockies once again struggled with pitching in 2011, finishing the season with the second worst ERA in the National League, besting only the Houston Astros. Due partially to the physics of Coors Field, but even more to the perception of pitching in Colorado, good pitchers resolve to pitch anywhere else before committing to pitch in the Mile High City.
Since Colorado has trouble attracting free agent pitchers to Denver, the team needs to go for players who have far less influence in deciding where they play: prospects. The Rockies should invest more money in scouting and developing young pitchers, particularly pitchers who induce a great number of ground balls. These ideas are no doubt far from surprising, yet the Rockies have failed to implement them successfully since their inception in 1993. The team should resolve to develop a near monastic focus on finding young pitchers.
Resolution: Get More Out of Role Players
The Detroit Tigers are coming off of a tremendously successful season in which the team got career-high performances out of Justin Verlander, Jose Valverde, and Miguel Cabrera. While all three are likely to perform well again in 2012, especially Verlander and Cabrera, none can be expected to match their 2011 levels of production. This means that unless that production is made up for elsewhere, the Tigers will struggle to replicate their success in 2011.
Critical to the Tigers will be Austin Jackson improving on his .249 batting average and 10 home runs, and Brandon Inge needs to bat better than .197 with three home runs. The pitchers aren't innocent either, as Verlander and Doug Fister were the only starters to turn in ERA's below 4.00.
The Tigers boast some of the best players in the game, but they're going to have to rely on a lot more from some of the less than marquee players if they want to go further than they did in 2011.
Resolution: Go the George Costanza Route
Some new years resolutions are small - lose five pounds, get organized, save more money - while others are much bigger - losing large amounts of weight, paying off massive debt, quitting smoking. Then there are those whose lives are so off track that they must resolve to completely change their lives. The Houston Astros need to make one of these resolutions.
The Astros are coming off a 56 win season, a 20 win drop from 2010 and their worst season in their 50 year franchise history. Not one pitcher who started a game in 2011 posted a winning record, no one on the team topped 18 home runs, and five players with at least 250 at bats batted below .260.
Making matters worse, help does not appear to be on the way. After the 2010 season, Baseball America ranked the Astros farm system 26th out of 30 teams.
There is some hope. Young second baseman Jose Altuve showed promise last year in his rookie season. The Astros also have the number one pick in the upcoming draft, which they are expected to use on Stanford University standout pitcher Mark Appel. Still, the Astros are a mess, and a few rays of hope, however promising they may be, are not enough to have much hope for the near future.
The Astros need to start from scratch, however painful it will be in the short term. Other teams have done more with far less resources than the Astros possess. Perhaps they need to go the George Costanza route: consider each of their instincts, and do the exact opposite.
Kansas City Royals
Resolution: Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
The Kansas City Royals have shed serious payroll over recent seasons, dropping from almost $75 million in 2010 to just over $38 million in 2011. While the Royals front office was delighted to save money, part of this drop was the result of a focus on getting rid of older players in favor of younger prospects. The move benefitted Kansas City, who saw their win total improve by four games, and the team showed moments of promise throughout the season.
The Royals are loaded with young, talented players, from 22 year old Rookie of the Year contender Eric Hosmer to 23 year old third baseman Mike Moustakas. Only two players with at least ten at bats for the Royals last season were over 30 years old, and only two pitchers to throw a single pitch for the club were over 30.
The Royals have a bright future ahead of them, and by reducing salary to such a low level, they put themselves in an excellent position to sign those prospects who bloom to long-term contracts. The Royals need to resolve not to deviate from the plan and spend money foolishly on older players, even if the team experiences greater success than expected.
Los Angeles Angels
Resolution: Don't Overlook Texas
After six playoff appearances in eight seasons, The Los Angeles Angels have missed the playoffs two seasons in a row. The Angels worked to correct this, making what was perhaps the biggest splash in free agent history, signing both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the biggest free agent batter and pitcher in the 2011 free agent class.
It is hard to believe the Angels won't improve significantly next season, and bookmakers list the Angels as one of the favorites to win the 2012 World Series. Yet the Angels would be wise to refrain from double-checking their ring sizes just yet. All roads to the World Series still run through their American League West division rivals, the back-to-back American League champion Texas Rangers.
Even without C.J. Wilson on their pitching squad, the Rangers are one of the best constructed teams in baseball, and they have proven their worth over the past two seasons. Assuming the Rangers do not land one of the remaining expensive free agents, the team will have plenty of money to make mid-season trades. The team is hungry for a World Series victory after coming so close the past two seasons.
The Angels have every reason to be excited for 2012, and they very likely could be the best team in the American League west. Still, they should resolve not to overlook the American League champs as they work toward October.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Find a Way, Any Way, to Make the Fans Happy
Under the ownership of Frank McCourt, the Los Angeles Dodgers have seemingly done everything in their power to drive away their fans. Cheapskate spending, entitled and obtuse ownership, questionable stadium safety, and, most significantly, poor on-field performance have caused attendance to plummet and fans to lose hope in their team. To make matters worse, Dodger fans have to endure watching the Angels, once the overlooked stepchild of Southern California baseball, lavish money on free agents and build up the value of the franchise.
McCourt is on his way out, and the Dodgers took a positive step in locking up Matt Kemp to a long-term contract. Still, the Dodgers have a long way to go in making their fans believe again in the once proud franchise. Until the ownership issue is settled, it is unlikely the Dodgers will make any large-impact personnel moves or change the structure of the team. Therefore, the team must be creative in finding ways to make the fans believe again and return to Dodger Stadium.
First, the team should resolve to make fans feel safe again at Dodger Stadium. The ugly and unforgiveable beating of a Giants fan in the parking lot, coupled with a general sense of a lack of control on the stadium grounds, has kept fans at home. Making fans feel safe again at the jewel of downtown Los Angeles is a critical first step toward making the fans happy.
Additionally, the fans need to feel appreciated by the team. Fan satisfaction has been all but ignored and taken for granted by the McCourts, and they are now feeling the effects. The Dodgers organization has been one of the leaders in Major League Baseball for decades in fan involvement, and a return to this is critical for the team. This does not just mean increasing promotion nights and bobblehead giveaways, but truly making the fans feel engaged in the team. If the Dodgers want a model for accomplishing this, they need look no further south than Anaheim.
Dodger fans won't be truly happy until Frank McCourt has vacated his office in Dodger Stadium, but the team should resolve to do whatever they can in the meantime to make fans feel better about supporting the team.
Resolution: Rebuild the Farm System
The Miami Marlins have shown a willingness this off-season to spend big money in free agency. This is a welcome sight for Marlins fans, who have twice watched ownership dismantle championship teams in cost-cutting efforts. Though a willingness to spend money on proven players is essential for the Marlins, particularly as they attempt to rebrand themselves as the Miami Marlins and fill their new stadium, they should also spend a significant amount of their money on what they once did so well: scouting and player development.
The Marlins have been one of the most successful franchises of the past two decades in terms of scouting and player development. Were it not for the team's abilities in these aspects of the game, they would not have been able to win two World Series with their financial limitations. Yet in recent seasons, the Marlins have seen their farm system decimated. In the most recent Baseball America ranking of farm systems, the Marlins finished 29th out of 30th, ahead of only the Milwaukee Brewers. Part of this is due to the fact that they've had to promote young players to the Majors before they were ready due to a lack of quality players at the Major League level, and part of it is due to failures in scouting and development.
For a fraction of the money they would spend on a single big-name free agent, the Marlins could infuse enough cash into their farm system to once again make it one of the jewels of the National League. Such a move would allow the Marlins to once again find cheap, young talent, and to do so at a far cheaper price than paying for it in free agency.
Resolution: Don't Give Up Hope
Assuming that Ryan Braun's attempts to have his suspension overturned are unsuccessful and that Prince Fielder leaves for "green"er pastures, the Milwaukee Brewers are likely to find themselves struggling early in 2012. The team had an outstanding 2011 season, but without two of their finest bats, they are unlikely to achieve the same level of success on the offense.
It will be tempting for the Brewers to get desperate if the losses begin to rack up. Their farm system is weak and largely void of impact players on offense, so the team could be tempted to trade away the few prospects they have, including pitching standout Tyler Thornburg, for offensive help.
The Brewers should avoid this impulse at all costs. Even though Fielder will likely leave, Braun will eventually return, and the team is more than just Fielder and Braun. The Brewers are still a good team without Fielder, and management should resolve to hold steady during Braun's suspension.
Resolution: Improve the Defense
The Minnesota Twins were disappointed in 2011 with their worst season since 1995. Much of this was due to injuries to two of the Twins stars, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. This isn't entirely due to the health of the team's superstars. A significant portion of the blame is due to the Twins poor fielding.
The Twins committed 119 errors in 2011, second worst in the American League and 46 more than the league leading Tampa Rays. The team's fielding percentage was .980, also second worst in the American League.
The team's defense will likely benefit from the return of their stars. Joe Mauer's replacement at catcher, Drew Butera, posted a .989 fielding percentage in 2011, while Joe Mauer is a .995 career fielder. Justin Morneau is a lifetime .996 fielder, so his return to the infield should also help boost the team's defense.
Minnesota likely won't have to do much to see their defense improve next season, but just to be safe, their players should resolve to do some extra fielding drills during the off season.
New York Mets
Resolution: Find Groundball Pitchers
The New York Mets pitching squad will face a new challenge in 2012, as the Mets introduce new lower and closer outfield fences in Citi Field. The Mets pitchers struggled in 2011, finishing 21st in the big leagues in ERA, and thus the closer fences pose some concern for the Mets.
The Mets will need to improve their overall pitching in 2012, beginning with their starting rotation, as the only starting pitcher to post a winning record was Dillon Gee. The Mets should begin by focusing on acquiring pitchers who induce a significant number of groundballs. With the shortened fences, home runs will be more common in Citi Field, and groundball pitchers will help neutralize this threat.
Of course, groundball pitchers will require a strong defense, and the Mets struggled at defense in 2011, posting a poor fielding percentage. The departure of Jose Reyes and his .968 fielding percentage will help things on the defensive side, but even with mediocre fielding, the team would still benefit by finding pitchers who cause a greater number of groundballs. Mets management should resolve to find some of these pitchers.
New York Yankees
Resolution: Don't Trade Away the Farm
The New York Yankees have always demonstrated a "win now" attitude, and with a payroll in the neighborhood of $200 million, who can blame them? As a result, the Yankees have often found themselves in the position to trade away their future in exchange for immediate help. With such a large payroll, they have been able to consistently raid their farm system, since they have always had the ability to pursue costly replacements in free agency.
The New York Yankees could quite possibly find themselves in a situation in 2012 in which they must decide whether to sacrifice some of their top prospects in exchange for immediate benefit. The Rays and Red Sox remain fierce opponents, and the Blue Jays seem to be improving in free agency. Even the Orioles could improve if their reported interest in Prince Fielder comes to fruition.
Should the Yankees find themselves in a tight race for the division title, they should think twice before digging into their farm system to find trade bait. The Yankees have quietly built one of the top farm systems in baseball; twelve of their Minor Leaguers were named All-Stars in 2011. These prospects are going to be essential to the Yankees long-term success in the near future, as many of the players who have been critical to their success in the past decade begin to show signs of age: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Bartolo Colon, A.J. Burnett, and Mariano Rivera will all be over 35 years old at the start of the 2012 season.
While the Yankees need to find ways to capitalize on the last few years of productivity they will get from some of their biggest names, they have a great opportunity to set themselves up for the future, and they should resolve not to sacrifice their long-term future for short-term success.
Resolution: Get Those Brains Thinking Again
The Oakland Athletics are forced to live with a number of restrictions that make it extremely difficult for them to win and that are unlikely to change anytime soon, namely a meager payroll and a terrible stadium. Yet the Athletics found success earlier in the decade by thinking outside of the box and creating the famed Moneyball system. In recent season, however, the Athletics have struggled to replicate this success, largely due to other teams using the Moneyball system with the benefit of much larger budgets, stripping the A's of their competitive advantage.
The Athletics do not have the ability to spend much in free agency, and they are already using their limited resources as wisely as they can in scouting and player development. The best chance the Athletics have is to use their brainpower to create the next Moneyball, a system for looking at talent in a new way that other teams are not yet able to employ.
Such an endeavor is challenging, as the A's have lost most of the brainpower behind Moneyball to other organizations with bigger paychecks and loftier titles. The team must find either find a new system or further refine the Moneyball concept if they wish to regain their competitive advantage, or else they will not be able to compete with those who learned the lessons of Moneyball but are not forced to play by its rules.
Resolution: Make Contact
Do you ever wonder what unfathomably successful people set as their new years resolutions? Can Warren Buffet get in any better financial shape, or Lance Armstrong in any better physical shape? The Philadelphia Phillies are in a similar situation, coming off of five consecutive playoff appearances and nine consecutive winning seasons.
Yet even the richest and healthiest can find ways to improve, as can the Phillies. Where the Phillies really struggled in 2011 was in making contact at the plate. Only one player, Hunter Pence, batted .300, and several regular players batted below .260. Most significantly, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, both players who have batted .300 in the past, batted .253 and .259 respectively.
The Phillies pitching staff was so good in 2011 that the team succeeded despite struggles making contact at the plate, but the team should resolve to work on their ability to put lumber on the ball in 2012.
Resolution: Get the Hitters Back on Track
After six consecutive seasons below 70 wins, the Pittsburgh Pirates surprised the baseball world in 2011 by winning 72 games, up 15 wins from 2010. The team's offense was terrible (eight players with at least 100 at bats batted below .250), but the team found success due to solid performances by their staff of pitchers in their late 20's.
Had the Pirates gotten even decent batting performances out of players such as Andrew McCutchen, Lyle Overbay, and Pedro Alvarez, each capable of far more than what they accomplished in 2011, the team would have had a decent shot at their first .500 season since George Bush was president...the first George Bush.
Pirates hitting coach Gregg Ritchie is on thin ice after the Pirates performance last season, and it's up to him to get his hitters back on track to give the Pirates a chance at respectability in 2011.
San Diego Padres
Resolution: Pick a Look and Stick With It
The San Diego Padres had one of the best pitching staff's of any team in 2011, but suffered due to their anemic batting. It is clear that the Padres need to focus on adding some bats to their lineup, and that is of course the primary focus of the front office. While this is a worthy resolution, what the Padres really need to do is stop changing their look every time the wind changes.
In the team's 42 year history, the Padres have sported six logos, four color combinations, and a variety of alternate uniforms, including the famed camouflage jerseys. 2012 will see a brand new logo for the Padres, and in the tradition of the Padres, the team introduced not only home and away jerseys, but another alternate.
Whether the constant changes are the result of an indecisive marketing department or an attempt to squeeze extra dollars out of fans wanting to sport their team's look, the Padres should resolve to pick a look, stick with it, and build a brand.
San Francisco Giants
Resolution: Get Tim Lincecum Under Long-Term Contract
The San Francisco Giants offensive production was horrendous in 2011, and they can be excused for looking to trade some of their outstanding pitching for a bat or two. However, trading Tim Lincecum would be a colossal mistake. Lincecum is arbitration eligible for both 2012 and 2013 before becoming a free agent, and the Giants should do everything in their power to make sure he stays in orange and black for a long time.
The Giants might be understandably gun shy about signing a pitcher to a long-term, expensive contract after the Barry Zito fiasco, but Tim Lincecum is worth the risk. He is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career, and if anyone is worth the risk, it is Lincecum. Lincecum is the type of pitcher a team builds their future around, and the Giants should do everything in their power to lock him up to a long-term contract. Once his future in San Francisco is secured, the Giants can look to move other pieces in return for offensive help. Lincecum is worth far more than nearly any bat they could get in return.
Resolution: Get Players Who Can Put the Bat on the Ball
Ichiro Suzuki batted a career low .272 in 2011, down 43 points from 2010 and 80 points from 2009. Yet his disappointing season is not responsible for the Seattle Mariners' dismal performance at the plate in 2011. The Seattle Mariners posted a team batting average of .233 in 2011, the lowest in baseball and 50 points below their divisional rivals (and league leaders), the Texas Rangers.
A .233 batting average is terrible for any team, but is especially terrible for an American League team with the designated hitter. Of players with at least 100 at bats in 2011, four batted under .200, and four more batted under .220.
Some teams make the decision to sacrifice offensive productivity in the name of defense, but the Mariners finished 20th in the MLB in fielding percentage, meaning that the team neither batted nor fielded particularly well. The Mariners are going to need to resolve to find some players who can actually hit the ball if they want to have any chance to compete with the rest of the loaded American League West division.
St. Louis Cardinals
Resolution: Don't Give Up Hope
It's not every day a team loses the best player in the game, especially after winning a World Series. While the St. Louis Cardinals face no small task in moving on without Albert Pujols, they shouldn't give up hope. Even without Pujols, the Cardinals have an impressive stable of talent.
The Cardinals can also take comfort in looking at a few other teams who have lost premiere players. After the Seattle Mariners lost Alex Rodriguez to free agency after the 2000 season, the Mariners won an additional 25 games the following season. Similarly, after Rodriguez left the Texas Rangers after 2003, the team picked up an additional 18 wins in 2004.
Moving on without Pujols will be extremely challenging for the Cardinals, but any successful team is more than just one player, even the best player of his generation.
Tampa Bay Rays
Resolution: Do Whatever Joe Maddon Says
The Tampa Bay Rays were the laughing stock of baseball - no easy feat for a sport that boasts the Pittsburgh Pirates - until manager Joe Maddon was hired prior to the 2006 season. Along with forward thinking ownership and front office management, Maddon has turned the Rays into winners, despite a pitiful payroll and barely existent fan support.
Maddon has milked everything possible out of his team, getting the most out of young superstars like Evan Longoria and veterans like Johnny Damon alike. Everything the Rays have accomplished in recent seasons can be traced back to Joe Maddon.
Since the team is unlikely to significantly increase its payroll or open a new stadium, both critical to the team's long term health, they should just do whatever Joe Maddon says. It has served them well so far.
Resolution: Worry About the Angels, But Not Too Much
The Texas Rangers have had their way with the American League West division over the past two seasons, winning the division by ten games in 2011 and nine games in 2010. Yet after the Angels spending spree this off-season, the Rangers will have much tougher competition in their division in 2012.
While the Rangers should be concerned about the Angels, they shouldn't overreact. The Angels lineup was weak last season; not a single player batted .300, and only two topped .280. In contrast, three of the Rangers topped .300, with two more topping .280.
With the addition of C.J. Wilson, the Angels now have one of the finest pitching staffs in the game. But the Rangers still have an excellent pitching staff, boasting three starting pitchers with ERA's under 4.00.
The Angels will be much more competitive than last year, and the Rangers shouldn't count on cruising to the playoffs as they have the past two seasons. But even with Wilson and Albert Pujols, the Rangers are a more complete team than the Angels. The team should resolve not to hit the panic button if the Angels take a lead early in the season, and to keep doing what has worked for them the past two seasons.
Toronto Blue Jays
Resolution: Spend More Money
When people make new years resolutions regarding money, it almost always involves spending less money. The Toronto Blue Jays need to do the opposite and resolve to spend more money.
Since 2008, when the Jays had a franchise-high payroll of almost $98 million, the team has cut its payroll each year, dropping to just over $70 million in 2011, their lowest payout since 2005. While many teams can be excused for making payroll cuts, there is simply no justification for the Jays to cut payroll to such a degree. The Jays play in the fourth biggest market in Major League Baseball and are owned by a corporation with annual revenues in the billions.
The Tampa Rays have proven that it doesn't take big money to compete in the stacked American League East division, but it sure does make it a lot easier. Rogers Communications should resolve to invest more money in their team.
Resolution: Do the Right Thing with Bryce Harper
The Nationals have improved in each of the past two seasons, and fell just two games short of their first winning season since 2003, when they played in Montreal. The team has improved their roster through a combination of free agency and player development, and the team has in its sights its first playoff appearance since 1981.
A key component to the Nationals future success is super prospect Bryce Harper. Only 19 years old, Harper is one of the brightest future stars in the game. After playing exceptionally well in A ball in his Minor League debut last season, Harper had a bit more trouble in AA ball, but still showed tremendous promise. The drumbeat has begun for the Nationals to promote Harper to the Major League squad, and if the Nats find themselves off to a strong start in 2012, the temptation to do so will be strong.
The Nationals should resolve to resist this temptation and continue to develop Harper in the Minor Leagues. This is for reasons both baseball and financial. Harper's diminished productivity in AA ball demonstrates that he needs more time to develop his game in the Minor Leagues, and time spent in AAA ball against improved competition would go along way to provide Harper with near-Major League quality talent, and perhaps humble his notorious ego.
In terms of financial decisions, the Nationals would hurt themselves in the long run by promoting Harper to the Major Leagues too soon. Once a player has accrued three years of Major League service, he becomes eligible for arbitration, which for a talented player can result in a large bump in salary, costly for a Major League team. In addition to players with three years of service, the best players with two years of service, known as Super Twos, become arbitration eligible. Thus, if the Nationals promote Harper to the Major Leagues early in 2012 and he performs exceptionally well, he becomes arbitration eligible a year earlier than he otherwise would, costing the Nationals a significant amount of money.
The Nationals look better poised for success than they have at any time since they wore Expo red, white, and blue, but the team isn't yet at the point where they should make the costly moves necessary to compete for a pennant. By giving Harper more time to develop in the Minor Leagues and saving money in the process, the Nationals put themselves in a better position to win down the road.