It’s that time of year again. The snows on Wrigley Field have receded, leaving watery trails as the only traces of the ravages of winter. Geese are starting to think about their migrations back north, away from their seasonal homes. As we speak (or, more specifically, as I type this), Major League Baseball’s pitchers and catchers have already been in their camps for almost a full week, working on PFP (Pitcher’s Fielding Practice) and bullpen sessions, shaking loose the rust from well-rested arms. Millionaire superstars and struggling prospects alike are converging upon Florida and Arizona, eager to earn their place on a team’s roster and the chance to contribute to the annual push towards a world championship and all the glories that come attached.
Spring training is upon us.
In the spirit of the coming season, this is not so much an all out season preview. We’re nowhere near the time where one can accurately forecast what a team is going to be like; several intangibles have to be measured, starting rotations must be set, fielders must adjust to new positions, and teams must deal with the absence of former stars. This is the time of year when every team has an honest chance of storming their way to the pennant and the World Series. (Well, almost every team.) Injuries haven’t happened, striking down players in their prime, and the chance to turn potential into reality is on the radar of every prospect in the league. It is the spirit of almost limitless possibilities that drives every team south in preparation for the long season. Consequently, with this preview, I will instead compile a wish list for each team, citing the various factors that would, ideally, go right for their players and, in some instances, for their fans. These range from breakout performances by young stars to healthy seasons from oft-injured veterans, from ideals that must go right in order to lead to the playoffs to the slightly more superfluous.
As always, this is an entirely subjective endeavor. With this in mind, I’ll get my yuks out of the way early.
Oakland A’s: For the A’s, doomed to a terrible field in the city of Oakland, I wish for them a home suitable to their talents and worthy of their storied past.
Houston Astros: Having watched the once proud franchise self-destruct into utter irrelevance, I wish the Astros’ would find a brain.
Miami Marlins: A heart, to stop tormenting their twenty five fans. Better yet, someone should drag the carcass of the Marlins out back of the shed and put them out of their misery. (Trades & relocation, not birdshot)
Pittsburg Pirates: I wish for them the courage to build upon the successes of early last season, finally making the playoffs after waiting in vain since the days of Barry Lamar Bonds.
(Alright, now that that’s out of my system…)
Seattle Mariners: I wish for an utterly dominant season by Felix Hernandez, the highest paid pitcher in the game, and one of the most talented players period. If he has a good season, the hope is that his success will carry over to the rest of the Mariners, though he cannot teach them to hit the ball beyond the infield. At the least, King Felix having a solid year would be a bright star in what appears to be an otherwise dismal season.
Texas Rangers: I wish for them continued success in the wake of Josh Hamilton’s departure for the sunny confines of Los Angeles. They still possess the best 3rd baseman in MLB, as well as a talented core and just enough pitching to make the postseason. Here’s hoping that they continue to find success.
Los Angeles Angels: I wish for a powerful season from Albert Pujols, as he makes a push towards the all-time home run record. (He’ll crack 500 home runs this season, and showed only a few signs of slowing down last year. With any luck, he’ll overtake Bonds’ total within seven years and remove the stigma that steroids have placed on one of baseball’s most hallowed records.
Chicago White Sox: I wish for newfound ace Chris Sale not to break down after drastically increasing his innings pitched last year, and for Paul Konerko to continue to lead his team in the twilight of his career.
Cleveland Indians: After the signings of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, I wish for the Indians to sign Kyle Lohse and turn what looked to be another long, drawn out season on the shores of Lake Erie into a surprising push for the Wild Card; last year showed that such a turnaround can lead to fantastic glories (see Orioles, Baltimore) and the Indians are, at this moment, as likely as anyone to turn their hopes around, especially with the AL Central having the combined strength of a deflated medicine ball.
Detroit Tigers: I wish for another strong season from Justin Verlander, the Greatest Pitcher of Our Time, and for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to continue to make beautiful music with their offensive prowess.
Minnesota Twins: I wish for Joe Mauer to regain his power stroke that made him the best young catcher in baseball, and for Justin Morneau to recover from the debilitating concussions that have sapped his career of much of its early promise.
Kansas City Royals: I sincerely wish that this is the year all of their young talent comes together and leads them back into their winning ways that have seemingly eluded them since George Brett hung up his spikes. Alas, I dream.
Baltimore Orioles: I wish that their success from last year doesn’t go to their heads and they crash back to Earth like the meteor that recently exploded over Russia. (Yes, Deep Impact predicted far more of the future than we ever gave it credit for, right down to having a black President. Who knew?)
Boston Red Sox: I wish that they’d return to being a symbol of New England perseverance rather than Yankees East, a bloated collection of overpriced free agents who throw off any notions of competitive balance. If ever it were going to happen, this would be the year, after last season’s purge that exported half of their roster (well, maybe not half, but come on, it sure felt like it) to the Dodgers. They still have a wonderfully talented core, though Dustin Pedroia can’t hold up for much longer. Not the way he plays ball. (See Utley, Chase)
New York Yankees: I wish for two things for the team I hate the most: 1) that Derek Jeter has several more seasons of greatness in him that allow him to overtake Pete Rose for the all time hit record. (It’s sad that the Hall of Fame does not have as its members the all time hits leader and the all time home runs leader. The easiest way to solve this problem? Have players overtake them who have no doubts or personal stigmas hanging over their shoulders. If Pujols and Jeter could knock down Rose and Bonds, it would be seen as a purging of the blemish both men have left on the sport, would make for a fitting third act to the stories started in the 1980’s, and might even offer a Renaissance of sort for Baseball. Call it a second Golden Age.) 2) That A-Rod defies all expectations and does, in fact, go gently into that good night, disappearing forever from baseball. Alas, I dream.
Tampa Bay Rays: That they finally win a World Series, validating some of the smartest, yet toughest, front office moves being made, as well as some of the best young talent in baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays: That R.A. Dickey continues to thrive with his mid-80’s knuckleball that has made him one of the best pitchers in the game. Oh, and that their receiving most of the Marlins’ roster leads to the playoffs. If they and Cleveland both make the Wild Card slots, I’ll jump for joy.
Arizona Diamondbacks: I wish that Kirk Gibson, frustrated late in September with his team’s underperformance, pulls on a batting helmet, gruffly shoves everyone on the team out of his way, and inserts himself into a game as a pinch hitter. He will stare down Jonathan Papelbon, smirking as the closer stares at this 50 year old man defying all logic as he attempts to recapture his glory years. I wish that Gibson takes a violent, one-armed hack at a fastball, driving it into the centerfield bleachers, and rounds the bases, offering the fist pump he made famous with his 1988 World Series home run. And that the homerun is essentially useless, because the Diamondbacks are still losing 19-4.
Colorado Rockies: I wish that Dante Bichette brings back, as a hitting coach, some of the glory that went with the Blake Street Bombers, back when everyone looked at the Rockies and laughed at the way they played video-game baseball, with utterly ridiculous power numbers.
Los Angeles Dodgers: I wish that the Dodgers didn’t have to take out a third mortgage on Chavez Ravine to pay for their astronomically high payroll. Dodger Stadium is one of the most beautiful arenas in all of sports. It’d be a shame if the money ran out from under them. (Oh wait, that already happened.) In that case, I hope Magic Johnson throws a decent mid-90’s fastball and a knee-buckling curve. They’re going to need some pitching.
San Diego Padres: I wish that…well…that the Padres…don’t…stink this year….yeah…
San Francisco Giants: I wish that their defense of their World Series title goes south, freeing the way for the ultimate revenge by the team they knocked out of the NLDS last October; because if they had, in fact, lost in three games AS THEY SHOULD HAVE DONE, the winner of that series could have steamrolled their way through the playoffs, ultimately winning the Championship in true glory. Alas, I dream.
On a serious note, I hope for return to forms by Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito, especially the former, as when he is on, he is one of the most electric performers in baseball. Also, a full season of the Kung Fu Panda Sandoval, which would go a long way towards validating the potential he flashed in Game 1 of the World Series.
Chicago Cubs: I wish that Cubs fans would stop puking on my front door step. Also, that Alfonso Soriano would tip better. (If we were playing this out on Twitter, this would be hash-tagged #chicagoinsider.)
Milwaukee Brewers: I wish that Ryan Braun would finally come clean, once and for all, about his steroid use (or lack thereof). The recent investigations into the clinics of Miami have once again cast a dark light onto his otherwise-amazing baseball abilities. Whether or not they were illicitly obtained, he will be the key to Milwaukee having any success this year. In this day and age, it’s easy to be cynical and assume that Braun has been using (this is not the first time he’s been cast into suspicion, as we all know), but the idealist in me wants to cling to some sort of innocence regarding the slugger. I cannot wish for him to not be tainted by PED usage (at this stage of the game, it is too far-fetched to believe), but what I do wish is that this is the last time we have to talk about Braun and steroids.
St. Louis Cardinals: I wish that the Cardinals roll over this year in the wake of the Big Red Machine that is the Cin…in an attempt to be unbiased, I hope for a season in which both of their aces, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainright, can make it through unscathed, as they form one of the best one-two punches when they are on. Oh wait, too late. Well, a full season of glory from Matt Holliday, then. And Carlos Beltran. That seems fair.
Atlanta Braves: I wish for their loaded outfield to perform, and for the team to not suffer from the lack of Chipper Jones’ leadership. It’s easy to replace numbers, but not easy to replace the intangibles that someone like Chipper brings to the clubhouse.
New York Mets: I wish for a full season from David Wright, one in which he fully validates the massive contract he received over the offseason. And for a full season of Johan Santana, whose wonderful career has been utterly crippled by injuries over the last four years.
Philadelphia Phillies: I wish for Roy Halladay to return to form. Doc’s one of my favorite pitchers, so this is a sentimental wish, but a good bounce back season from Doc would be a wonderful thing to see.
Washington Nationals: That Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper dominate for years to come, because watching them is fun.
And, last, but far from least,
Cincinnati Reds: I wish for many things, but I’ve boiled my hundreds of wishes and dreams down to five essential prayers for the upcoming season.
1) That Joey Votto is fully recovered from his knee injury that curtailed his place as the best overall hitter in baseball. A statline of .340/.470/.560, with 35 HR, 50 doubles, and 140 RBI would go a long way towards proving that.
2) That Aroldis Chapman makes a seamless transition to the starting rotation. I would gladly take 160+ IP, a record of 16-4, and 225+ strikeouts with a 2.20 ERA.
3) That Sin-Soo Choo adapts naturally to center field, that he serves as the leadoff hitter the Reds desperately need, and that he turns this year into a massive contract from some team that doesn’t have Billy Hamilton waiting in the wings.
4) That Johnny Cueto also recovers from his injury in the postseason and turns in a Cy Young campaign with a 21-7 record, a 2.45 ERA, and 200+ strikeouts.
5) That Jay Bruce has the breakout year we’ve been waiting for all these years, with 40+ home runs, 100+ RBI, and an average above .265.
Oh, and that they roll over the Dodgers in the NLDS, winning in four games, fight a tough, drawn out NLCS against Washington, triumphing in seven games, and then coast to a deserved World Series win over Anaheim in six games.
Alas, I dream.