'Tis the season to get holiday gifts for NL clubs
A spirit of generosity pervades this time of year, and most of us have the credit-card statements to prove it.
As the December debt accumulates, let's get swept up in that spirit, take a brief gander at each of MLB's 30 clubs and offer up a holiday gift to assist their efforts in the coming New Year.
The National League is first in line. We'll address the American League on Thursday:
Arizona Diamondbacks: Something from the top shelf. No, no, not a bottle of Bombay Sapphire. A top-shelf starting pitcher. The D-backs, burned by their inability to keep pace with the Dodgers last season, are venturing toward a new franchise record for player payroll, and they've already upgraded the middle of their order with Mark Trumbo's booming bat. But they still need a veteran option atop the rotation, and they appear willing to dole out the dollars or prospects (not named Archie Bradley) to land the right one. They don't, however, seem eager to commit long term to Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza.
Atlanta Braves: Any team with the ability to replace a 17-year-old stadium with a brand-new suburban palace is inherently hard to shop for. So what do you do with people who are hard to shop for? Well, gift cards, of course. Perhaps the MLB Labor Relations Department sells gift cards for arbitration hearings, because the Braves have run into a cluster of costly cases this offseason, most prominently with Craig Kimbrel. Because he's such a special case, Kimbrel's salary could very well climb to a level more than 10 times what he made in 2013 ($625,000).
Chicago Cubs: A firm, unmovable, unalterable start date for the Wrigleyville renovation project, devoid of any further design meetings or rooftop-owner legalese or City Council meetings. Because the sooner the Cubs can get things going on the business end, the sooner we can stop speculating about a Jeff Samardzija trade or prospect timetables and start anticipating a real comeback for the Cubbies.
Cincinnati Reds: They need a new leadoff hitter, now that their old one is officially $130 million richer elsewhere and given that it's an open question as to whether Billy Hamilton has the plate patience to succeed in the role (alas, you can't steal first base). They also need a suitable solution to the Brandon Phillips problem. In a perfect world, the Yankees would have eagerly embraced the $50 million remaining on Phillips' contract. As it stands, we'll make a wish that Phillips and the Reds find proper peace this holiday season, lest a disgruntled second baseman become a profoundly disruptive one.
Colorado Rockies: Some kind of assurance from the baseball gods that Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Morneau and Brett Anderson will be able to stay on the field all season. Because if they can -- and given their respective histories, it's a big "if" -- you actually don't have to squint too hard to see the Rox making noise in the NL West.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Juan Uribe's return on a two-year deal means Hanley Ramirez will remain at short, which means the Dodgers' need for a defensive-minded second-base option is as glaring than ever. With Mark Ellis gone, options such as Alexi Casilla, Elliot Johnson, Robert Andino, Cesar Izturis and Chris Getz remain unsigned. It's unclear whether Cuban import Alexander Guerrero is ready for prime time, and the Dodgers have been particularly tight-lipped about their plans for him.
Miami Marlins: A return to health and normalcy for Giancarlo Stanton, because, with Stanton in the lineup and Christian Yelich, Jake Marisnick and Marcell Ozuna on the rise, the Marlins have the makings of, potentially, one of the league's more dynamic outfields. Pair it with an up-and-coming pitching staff centered around Jose Fernandez, and the Fish are not nearly as far off as some might assume.
Milwaukee Brewers: They need a first baseman, obviously, and they'll continue to try to find common ground with the Mets on an Ike Davis trade and continue to hope Hunter Morris blossoms as an in-season option. But in order for the Brewers to take their best step forward in 2014, let's put forth a holiday wish that Ryan Braun finds the guts and the grace to face and address the hard questions and the hard receptions coming his way and still find a way to produce at an elite level.
New York Mets: A shortstop to ensure that Ruben Tejada is not guaranteed 600 at-bats, because that's the most obvious hole glaring on a Mets team that should be considerably improved in 2014. The D-backs have depth at the position, so perhaps there's a trade fit to be had there, if Stephen Drew is as bleak a free-agent possibility as assumed. In the meantime, let's also gift a year's supply of salmon for Curtis Granderson. He seems to love that stuff.
Philadelphia Phillies: A taker for Jonathan Papelbon and the $26 million (or, possibly, $39 million, given that he has an attainable vesting option) remaining on his contract. Certainly, somebody must be in need of such a swell-looker in the 'pen. Who could say no to a face like that?
Pittsburgh Pirates: A phone call from A.J. Burnett, saying he has gotten over the Game 5 snub and is willing to sign on for one season very much below market value, if only to save the Pirates from counting too much on Edinson Volquez making a Francisco Liriano-like return to prominence.
San Diego Padres: A contract extension with Chase Headley that adequately addresses his triumph of 2012 and his train wreck of '13 in a manner that satiates both sides and, most importantly, allows the rest of us to go at least a week without hearing his name in trade rumors. The Padres have, relatively quietly, had a really solid offseason, and establishing an identity centered around Headley would be a nice next step.
San Francisco Giants: They've already signed Tim Hudson and Michael Morse to potential bounce-back deals and re-signed Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez. Really not much left to do here. But the problem facing the Giants is that Pablo Sandoval is one year away from free agency, and I'm guessing he's taken note of some of those colossal contracts doled out this winter. Let's gift the Giants a productive sitdown with the Panda in which an extension is hammered out over a zesty low-calorie chicken dinner.
St. Louis Cardinals: Uh, let's see here. They've upgraded offensively at shortstop. They've improved their depth and balance. They've improved their outfield defense. They've improved their second-base and third-base defense. They've extended their manager. They've got a mountain of pitching depth, as well as one of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball in Oscar Taveras. They've been to the playoffs 10 times in the past 14 years and the World Series three times in the last seven. Sorry, Cardinals, I'm completely out of ideas for gifts for you. Enjoy the fruitcake.
Washington Nationals: Another club that's had an aggressive and efficient offseason that leaves it with only minor holes. So in lieu of a gift, let's simply offer a wish that Bryce Harper continues to play the game with all the fascinating fervor that makes him great without the physical toll that too often results. We'll throw in new kneepads to enable the cause.