For my money, Thanksgiving is the best holiday on the calendar. Great food with friends and family? And great leftovers? Can't beat it. Cleaning up isn't much fun. Everything else is though. It's a great day.
As a baseball fan, I'm thankful for all the great young talent in the game today. The sport is played at a higher level right now than ever before. The skill and athleticism we get to watch on an everyday basis is greater than it's ever been. No, the game is not perfect. It is awfully exciting though.
The 30 MLB clubs and their fans all have reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving, even if some teams have more reasons than others. Here is one thing each team should be thankful for this year.
Diamondbacks: September is over
For a team that won 93 games a year ago, things around the Diamondbacks sure aren't great right now. They spent 125 days in first place in 2018, the most among all National League teams, yet they finished nine games back in the division. Arizona was one game up on the morning of Sept. 1, too. Then they went 8-19 in September and tumbled out of the race. Ouch. Now Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock are free agents, there are rumblings Paul Goldschmidt is available and a rebuild seems imminent. Outside September, the D-Backs had a pretty good year. But that bad month could lead to a franchise overhaul.
Braves: Acuna, Albies and all those young pitchers
Very few teams have a core as young and as exciting as the Braves. Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and a parade of young pitching led the team to 90 wins and an NL East title in 2018 and the best is still to come. Wait for Acuna and Albies to gain more experience, for third baseman Austin Riley and outfielder Cristian Pache to arrive and for youngsters like Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson and Bryse Wilson to emerge as impact pitchers. The Braves are on the rise.
Orioles: A fresh start
Alternatively, the Orioles can be thankful 2018 is finally over. They became only the sixth team in MLB history to lose 115 games and gosh, it was ugly at times. I try to be positive though and O's fans can be thankful the team now has a fresh start. They have a bright new general manager in Mike Elias and a new top notch analytics guru in Sig Mejdal as well. Elias and Mejdal were part of GM Jeff Luhnow's inner circle in Houston and will bring a fresh and innovative perspective to the front office. Another 100-loss season may be in the cards in 2019, but at least now the O's have a state of the art front office.
Red Sox: Another World Series championship
After going 86 years without a title, the Red Sox have now won four World Series championships in the last 15 years. They've become the Yankees of the 21st century. And given their wealth of "young veterans" like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi, there is every reason to believe the Red Sox will be in the mix for another World Series title in 2019. I wouldn't call four titles in 15 years a dynasty, but clearly, the BoSox are the team of the century thus far.
Cubs: The joy of Javy Baez
I'm not sure any player in baseball is more fun to watch than Cubs infielder Javier Baez. If he's on your favorite team, you love him. When he plays against your favorite team, you hate him. I get it. As a neutral observer, I love the quick-twitch athleticism and the sheer joy with which Baez plays. He's a great player, and he's very fun and exciting. You can tell he loves the game. Players like Baez should be celebrated and plugged into as many commercials as possible. He makes the game fun.
White Sox: Eloy Jimenez is coming
The White Sox rebuild stumbled a bit in 2018. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada did take those big steps forward, but Lucas Giolito went backward, and Michael Kopech blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. Yuck. On the bright side, top outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez is knocking on the door and should make his MLB debut early next year. (After his service time has been sufficiently manipulated, of course.) Eloy hit .337/.384/.577 with 22 homers in 108 games split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Did I mention he's only 21? Because he's only 21. Jimenez will make all the waiting worth it.
Reds: A sneaky great position player core
The pitching needs work, I know, but the Reds have one of the best position player cores in the game. It's true! Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez are studs on the infield corners, Jose Peraza had a long-awaited breakout season in 2018 and Jesse Winker looks like a keeper in the outfield. It remains to be seen what happens with Scooter Gennett -- he will be a free agent next offseason and thus has been mentioned as a trade candidate -- but guys like Votto, Suarez, Peraza, Winker and Tucker Barnhart will all be around long-term. Once they get the pitching sorted out, the Reds will become contenders in a hurry.
Indians: The joy of Francisco Lindor
I'm not going to lie, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor is my favorite player in baseball today. He's so fun! He's a great hitter, a brilliant defender and he exudes joy on the field. Lindor is the textbook definition of a franchise player. A controversy-free megastar you can't take your eyes off on the field. Baseball needs more Francisco Lindors and I'm thankful we at least have one Francisco Lindor to enjoy.
Rockies: The best rotation in franchise history
Did you know German Marquez struck out 230 batters in 2018? It's true. Also, Kyle Freeland had the second-lowest ERA in franchise history and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Add in Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Antonio Senzatela, and the Rockies currently have the best starting rotation in franchise history. I'm not sure it's close, honestly. These guys are young -- Anderson is the elder statesman at 28 -- and they've all had big league success. It's taken a long time (a very long time) for the Rockies to build a rotation like this in Coors Field. Now they have one.
Tigers: A healthy Miguel Cabrera
Once one of the game's top ironmen, Miguel Cabrera has been hampered by injuries the last few seasons, including a ruptured biceps that ended his 2018 season in June. Cabrera averaged 157 games played from 2004-14 before injuries limited him to 445 of 648 possible games from 2015-18. He's no longer the Triple Crown winner and MVP caliber hitter he was in his prime, but Miggy is still awfully good, and he's expected to be healthy for spring training. Healthy Cabrera is a joy to watch. He is a marvel in the batter's box.
Astros: A great core with more on the way
A five-game loss in the ALDS was disappointing, no doubt. Cheer up though, Astros fans. You're a year removed from a World Series title and the team's core remains championship caliber. I mean, look at this: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole. That's as good as it gets. And, because that's not enough, elite prospects Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley are knocking on the big league door. Few teams are set up as well for contention in 2019 and beyond as the Astros. They are obnoxiously good.
Royals: Adalberto Mondesi's breakout
Back in 2015 young Adalberto Mondesi became the first player in modern baseball history to make his MLB debut in the World Series. Now, in 2018, the still-only-23-year-old Mondesi enjoyed a breakout season with the Royals, one that cemented him as the shortstop of the present and future. Mondesi swatted 14 homers, stole 32 bases and played strong enough defense to post 3.2 WAR in only 75 games. The Royals are still very early in their rebuild. At least now they have a centerpiece to build around.
Angels: Trout and Ohtani, Ohtani and Trout
The Angels have the best player in baseball and the coolest player in baseball. How lucky are they? Mike Trout has been the game's greatest player since the day he arrived for good in 2012, and Ohtani, wow, what a debut. He was a top-15 hitter on a rate basis while adding over 50 high quality innings on the mound. Ohtani did all that while adjusting to a new culture and a new league. His greatness transcends what can be measured with WAR. It's a bummer Ohtani won't be able to pitch next season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The fact he and Trout are on the same team makes the Angels must-see TV though.
Dodgers: The return of Corey Seager
The Dodgers won their sixth straight NL West title and their second straight NL pennant this past season despite losing Corey Seager, their best all-around player, to Tommy John surgery in May. He also had hip surgery in August, but Seager is expected to be ready come opening day 2019. When healthy, he's on the very short list of the best players in baseball. Los Angeles got by without Seager in 2018 -- Manny Machado had something to do with that -- but they're surely looking forward to having him back in the lineup in 2019.
Marlins: The new logo and caps
Well, things aren't so great for the Marlins right now. They lost 98 games in 2018 -- that's what happens when you trade the reigning NL MVP (Giancarlo Stanton) and the next NL MVP (Christian Yelich) in the same offseason -- and their best player (J.T. Realmuto) wants out. And they took a dinger machine down. Come on! On the bright side, the Marlins have a great new logo and these spectacular new caps:
Clean look at Marlins hat. pic.twitter.com/vRVjGN3NyH— Will Manso (@WillManso) November 16, 2018
That cap in emoji form: 🔥🔥🔥.
Brewers: January 25, 2018
In the span of about an hour on Jan. 25, 2018, the Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain and traded for Christian Yelich. It was a stunning series of moves that pushed Milwaukee into the National League's elite and helped them win the NL Central and advance to the NLCS this past season. Yelich was named NL MVP and Cain hit .308 with a .395 on-base percentage. They transformed the offense and added a contact/speed element the Brewers lacked in 2017. The Brewers are in good position to contend going forward thanks in large part to their moves last January.
Twins: Joe Mauer's farewell
Will he get into the Hall of Fame? I'm not sure. But I am sure Joe Mauer's farewell game at Target Field was a tearjerker. Years after concussions ended his time as a catcher, Mauer crouched behind the plate one last time to catch one more pitch as a big leaguer. Check it out:
Mauer announced his retirement a few weeks ago and he'll go into the history books as one of the best hitting catchers of his generation. He became the first American League catcher to win a batting title ... and then won two more for good measure. What a hitter. What a ballplayer. What a farewell.
Mets: The brilliance of Jacob deGrom
Squint your eyes and you can see the Mets contending in 2019. The rotation is strong and there's seemingly enough talent in the lineup to make noise in the NL East. That strong rotation is built around Jacob deGrom, who emerged from a group that included Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard and others to become the near-unanimous NL Cy Young winner in 2018. Mr. deGrom is equal parts brilliant and ruthless. His arsenal and command are among the top one percent in the league and he fearlessly attacks hitters. A pleasure to watch, through and through.
Yankees: Homers. So many homers
The Yankees hit so many home runs in 2018! An MLB record 267 home runs, in fact. The Yankees hit so many home runs this past season that MLB's highlight video of all their homers is two hours and 24 minutes long. For real. The Yankees hit those 267 homers even though Aaron Judge missed seven weeks with a broken wrist and Gary Sanchez missed roughly two months total with two groin injuries. There's a narrative floating around that home runs don't work in the postseason which is total hogwash. On a rate basis, there's actually been more homers hit in the postseason than during the regular season the last few years. A home run is literally the best thing a hitter can do in a given at-bat and the Yankees do it better than every other team. As the kids say: Elevate and celebrate.
Athletics: Matt Chapman's two-way excellence
The Athletics went from 75-87 in 2017 to 97-65 in 2018 and that kind of turnaround takes a total team effort. One or two roster additions doesn't lead to a 22-win improvement. The single biggest reason the A's became a powerhouse in 2018 was the two-way excellence of third baseman Matt Chapman. He had an All-Star caliber season with the stick, hitting .278/.356/.508 with 42 doubles and 24 home runs, and he played Gold Glove defense at the hot corner. Platinum Glove defense, actually. Chapman was voted the league's Platinum Glove winner as the best defensive player at any position. Despite their shoestring budgets, the A's have had quite a run of third basemen lately, with Josh Donaldson and Eric Chavez preceding Chapman at the hot corner.
Phillies: Gobs of money to spend
$68.9 million. That's what the Phillies have on their 2019 payroll at the moment. It's $50.7 million in 2020 and only $15.1 million in 2021. Yep, they have to pay Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins soon, but it's easy to see why Philadelphia is said to be in the mix for Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel and pretty much every other noteworthy free agent this offseason. The Phillies have a ton of money, so much that owner John Middleton said they may be "even a little stupid" with their spending. A massive free agent spending spree may be weeks -- or even only days -- away.
Pirates: PNC Park
For my money, the best ballpark in baseball is tucked along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. PNC Park is the gold standard for modern parks given its state of the art yet classic design, and that view. My gosh, that view:
Glorious. The Pirates have some fun and exciting players, but, for me, when I think "Pirates" the first thing that pops into my head is "PNC Park." It is spectacular.
Padres: That farm system
The Padres have the third longest postseason drought in baseball (sorry, Mariners and Marlins) and they lost 96 games in 2018, making it their worst season in a decade. But, on the bright side, San Diego has baseball's best and deepest farm system. Don't take my word for it. Here's what one of Baseball America's prospect gurus had to say:
I'm working through the Padres system for the Prospect Handbook right now. It's really not a stretch to say their No. 25 prospect would be Top 10 in close to half of the other systems in baseball.— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) November 15, 2018
Guys like Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias, MacKenzie Gore and Francisco Mejia all have star potential, and there's a ton of depth behind them. In fact, San Diego has six top 50 prospects and 10 top 100 prospects according to MLB.com. Prospects are suspects until proven otherwise, but, generally speaking, farm systems this stacked tend to lead to MLB success in short order.
Giants: A new front office
There's a narrative floating around social media that, under their previous leadership, the Giants were an old school organization that didn't emphasize analytics. That couldn't be more incorrect. The Giants have embraced analytics as much as any team. They just haven't had as much success turning those analytics into a successful MLB roster since their 2014 World Series title. Farhan Zaidi, San Francisco's new president of baseball operations, is a brilliant mind with lots of experience building a team through analytics stemming from his time with the Athletics and Dodgers. The Giants won three World Series titles in five years under Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans. Now they'll look to build the next contending Giants club under Zaidi.
Mariners: A new direction
The Mariners have the longest postseason drought in baseball and it seems like they've tried everything these last 17 years. Rebuilding, throwing money at their problems, whatever. Nothing worked. GM Jerry Dipoto has stopped short of calling his offseason plan a rebuild, but come on. Mike Zunino and James Paxton have both been traded already. You don't move those two unless you're rebuilding. With an aging roster and some agonizingly close calls in recent years, the Mariners are undergoing a youth movement. Enacting a new plan is always exciting.
Cardinals: The post-Mike Matheny era
I don't intend for this to come off as ripping Mike Matheny so I am apologizing in advance. I just think it had become clear a change was needed this season -- I'm sure many folks who follow the Cardinals on a day-to-day basis will agree -- and the Cardinals went ahead and made that change in the middle of the season. Now they'll move forward with Mike Shildt calling the shots, Jack Flaherty dominating on the mound, Harrison Bader running down everything in center field and a talented roster that very well could contend for a postseason spot in 2019, if not a division title. Next season will be the first full season of the post-Matheny era and the start of a new chapter in franchise history.
Rays: Yet another innovation
The Rays were the first team to use widespread infield shifts and they were the first team to use a true super utility player (Ben Zobrist). In 2018, they became the first team to use the "opener," which more or less rewrote the rules for using a pitching staff. Tampa had a reliever start the game and face the top of the lineup in the first inning before turning it over to a long reliever who threw 4-5 innings while only facing the top of the order once. It's brilliant. And I know that because other teams followed suit and used openers later in the season. There's a fine line between creative and crazy, and the Rays walk it as well as anyone.
Rangers: Getting to watch Adrian Beltre
Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre announced his retirement earlier this week. I am pro-fun and Beltre was very fun. Don't be sad he's gone though, be thankful you got to enjoy the ride. Beltre was an otherworldly player who doubled as a great entertainer. I am especially fond of the time he was ejected for moving the on-deck circle:
There won't ever be another one like him. Be thankful you got to watch that man these last eight years, Rangers fans.
Blue Jays: Vlad Jr. is coming
He should've been up this past season, really. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the best prospect in baseball -- Vlad Jr. authored a .381/.437/.636 with 50 extra-base hits and nearly as many walks (37) as strikeouts (38) in 95 games between Double-A and Triple-A as a 19-year-old (!) in 2018 -- but the Blue Jays didn't call him up in 2018 for service time reasons. They didn't want to start his clock during a lost season for the team. Three more weeks in the minors in 2019 will push his free agency back from the 2024-25 offseason to the 2025-26 offseason. Expect to see Vlad Jr. in Toronto in late April next year. He'll be worth the wait.
Nationals: A strong core, even without Harper
There's a very real chance the Nationals will lose franchise player Bryce Harper to free agent this offseason. Normally, when you lose a player like that, it's time to rebuild or at least take a step back and reassess. In Washington's case, they still boast a core good enough to contend in 2019 even without Harper. Seriously. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are fronting the rotation, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto are anchoring the lineup, Trea Turner is raising hell with his speed and top prospect Victor Robles is poised to assume a full-time role. In the widespread mediocrity that is the National League, the post-Harper Nationals still have enough talent to contend next year.