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Chicago Cubs position themselves as MLB's most improved team
0:51 | MLB
Chicago Cubs position themselves as MLB's most improved team
Tuesday December 29th, 2015

With 2015 drawing to a close and 2016 almost upon us, it’s time for Major League Baseball’s 30 teams to make their New Year’s resolutions. Here are some suggestions for the 15 National League clubs. (My New Year's resolutions for the 15 AL clubs can be found here.)

Arizona Diamondbacks resolve to make sure Paul Goldschmidt’s remaining prime seasons include postseason appearances. In his last two healthy seasons, Paul Goldschmidt has been the runner-up for the National League MVP award. Over the last three seasons combined, he has hit .309/.412/.556 (163 OPS+) while playing Gold Glove defense and averaging 34 home runs, 116 RBIs and 18 stolen bases per 162 games. Only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson have compiled more wins above replacement (Baseball-Reference version) over those three seasons than, and both have played at least 45 more games than Goldschmidt over that stretch. Goldschmidt is a top-five player in today’s game, he’s heading into his age-28 season, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since he was a 23-year-old rookie (when he hit .438/.526/.813 in a Division Series loss to the Brewers).

The Diamondbacks, who control Goldschmidt for the next four seasons for a mere $40 million, are determined to get Goldschmidt back to the postseason, as evidenced by their aggressive acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller this off-season. Given the young talent surrounding Goldschmidt and the new pitching acquisitions—the only players more than a month older than Goldschmidt in the Diamondback’s projected lineup and rotation are Greinke and catcher Wellington Castillo, the latter of whom turns 29 in late April—this looks like a resolution that will actually be kept.

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Atlanta Braves resolve to turn the corner toward their next contending team. The Braves’ win total decreased by double digits in each of the last two seasons, from 96 in 2013 to 79 in 2014, to a mere 67 this past season. That 2015 showing was semi-intentional, coming in the first year of what the organization hopes will be a rapid rebuild focused on building a new contending Braves team for its new suburban ballpark set to open in 2017. Contending in 2017 seems optimistic, but the Shelby Miller trade, which netted Atlanta five years of Ender Inciarte in centerfield, potential mid-rotation stalwart Aaron Blair, and, most significantly, a potential franchise player in shortstop and 2015 top overall pick Dansby Swanson, gave the first real glimmer of hope for this rebuild paying off. For 2016, however, the Braves’ best hope is simply to win more than 67 games, even if that means only winning 68.

Chicago Cubs resolve to win the pennant. This past season saw the North Siders win 97 games and make it to the National League Championship Series. They have since added John Lackey to a rotation that lacked a reliable fifth man, upgraded from Dexter Fowler to Jason Heyward in center and from Starlin Castro to Ben Zobrist at second base, and added valuable swing man Adam Warren to their bullpen. With those additions and Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler hoping to play full sophomore seasons, the Cubs have every reason to expect to be better in 2016, and there’s only one way to improve on their 2015 performance: snapping the franchise’s 70-year pennant drought.

Cincinnati Reds resolve to complete Stage 1 of their rebuild. The chance to deal Brandon Phillips may have vanished. Invoking his five-and-ten rights, Phillips balked at reuniting with former manager Dusty Baker on the Nationals without having his contract, which still owes him $27 million for the next two seasons, extended, prompting the Nationals to back out of the trade. Joey Votto, who has a full no-trade clause, has declared his intent to stay put, which the $199 million he is owed through is age-39 season seems likely to guarantee. Homer Bailey will have to reestablish his value coming off a year lost to Tommy John surgery to make any team even consider taking on the remainder of his contract (currently $86 million for four years). Still, the Reds managed to move Aroldis Chapman despite MLB’s pending investigation into his alleged domestic violence incident, and they still have viable trade chips in shortstop Zack Cozart, who is entering his walk year, and rightfielder Jay Bruce, who has a $13 million option for 2017. Both should be dealt no later than the non-waiver trading deadline, enabling Cincinnati to move onto Stage Two: sorting through the young players they’ve accumulated.

• JAFFE: Yankees get Chapman, but questions remain about closer's future

Colorado Rockies resolve to blow it all up and start over. I’m not sure rebuild is a strong enough term for what the Rockies need to do. Yes, they have some capable young players in their lineup, but outside of Nolan Arenado, who will turn 25 in April and is under team control for four more years, no one in their projected 2016 lineup will be younger than 27. None of those non-Arenado players is irreplaceable, and they have thus far failed to push the Rockies any closer to respectability. Colorado hasn’t won more than 74 games, finished higher than fourth in the NL West or fewer than 18 games out of first place since 2010. This is the worst franchise in baseball. Yes, even worse than the Marlins. Trading Troy Tulowitzki at last year’s deadline was a solid first step, but the Monfort brothers and second-year GM Jeff Bridich need to go all in and admit this collection of players is never going to break through in a division dominated by the Dodgers, Giants and now Diamondbacks.

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Los Angeles Dodgers resolve to be really good in 2017. Face it, Dodgers fans, your team blew it this off-season, while its primary rivals, the Giants and Diamondbacks, improved significantly and stand to improve even further with good health in the coming year. Yes, the Dodgers are talented enough to hang with those two if they also enjoy good health, but 2016 already looks like a transition year in L.A. Establishing Corey Seager and Julio Urias, fixing Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson, getting Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy healthy, finding a role for Frankie Montas. These seemingly smaller but ultimately crucial goals should be the Dodgers’ focus in 2016. If all goes well, they may just sneak into the wild-card game, but after three straight division titles failed to yield a pennant, they appear to need a year to regroup.

Miami Marlins resolve to surprise some people. Never mind trading Jose Fernandez. That’s crazy talk. The Marlins are a better team than you think. Give them 30 starts from Fernandez instead of 11, 150 games from Giancarlo Stanton instead of 74, and they could be as many as seven wins better from that alone based on Fernandez and Stanton’s 2015 bWAR totals. Add full, healthy seasons from Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Justin Bour, J.T. Realmuto and Carter Capps, and the Marlins could easily post their first winning record since 2009. Given that only one NL East team won more than 83 games this past season, the Braves and Phillies are at the nadir of their rebuilds, and the Mets and Nationals have suffered (or will likely soon suffer) some key free agent loses, the Don Mattingly and Barry Freaking Bonds-led Marlins could very well be one of 2015’s surprise teams.

Milwaukee Brewers resolve to rebuild faster than the Reds. Face it, Brewers fans, the Cardinals and Cubs are going to rule the NL Central for a while. Still, the Pirates proved last year that with a weak NL East, there’s room for a third playoff team in the Central, and with the Pirates possibly falling back into the pack after three straight wild-card berths, it’s not impossible to see one of the division’s two rebuilding teams taking their spot in the coming seasons. It won’t happen in 2016, but when it does happen, the Brewers want to make sure it’s them, not the Reds, that ascends to that spot. That means rebuilding faster than Cincinnati, which has a bit of a head start in terms of selling off players. Still, the Brewers may already be further ahead in terms of building their next winning team given the young arms in their rotation, the presence of Domingo Santana in the major league lineup and the fact that Orlando Arcia and Brett Phillips are due to play in Triple A in the coming season.

New York Mets resolve to give their young pitchers the run support they deserve. The Mets’ 2015 season consisted of two distinct parts. From Opening Day through July 30, the Mets were dead last in the majors in runs scored, scoring 3.6 runs per game and going 52–50 (.510). From July 31 through the end of the regular season, they led the NL in runs scored, scoring 5.3 runs per game and going 38–22 (.633) to win their division by seven games games. The obvious difference between the two parts was the arrival of slugging deadline acquisition Yoenis Cespedes, but that wasn’t all that changed. Michael Conforto made his major league debut July 24. Travis d’Arnaud returned from the disabled list July 31, and David Wright returned from the DL Aug. 24, the last coming just in time to compensate for Cespedes cooling off in September. The Mets appear likely to lose Cespedes to free agency this off-season, and aren’t good fits for Justin Upton or Alex Gordon given their need for an outfielder who can play center. Still, they have hopes of getting full (or at least fuller) seasons from Conforto, d’Arnaud and Wright in 2016 and they did well to replace their other key departing free agent, Daniel Murphy, with a comparable bat in aptly-named walk-year second baseman Neil Walker. A solid age-27 rebound from slick-fielding centerfielder Juan Lagares, the player bounced from the lineup by Cespedes’s arrival, might be enough to keep the Mets lineup clicking. Still, a better bet would be signing a left-handed centerfielder such as Dexter Fowler (a switch-hitter), Denard Span, or even Gerardo Parra to complement or even supplant Lagares.

Philadelphia Phillies resolve to rebuild smarter, not faster. As great as the Mets’ young pitching staff may be, their financial limitations and lack of hitting prospects leave them vulnerable. Meanwhile, the Nationals are slowly being torn apart by free agency and escalating player salaries. That leaves opportunity in an otherwise weak division, opportunity the Phillies may be tempted to seize before the Braves beat them to it. However, the Phillies need to think longer term. Yes, Aaron Nola is already in the majors, as is new addition Vince Velasquez, and J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams could be up by the end of the 2016 season, but they still have the top pick in this year’s draft and could be drafting in the top five again in 2017. Maikel Franco, Nola and Velasquez all have six years of team control remaining. There’s no rush.

Pittsburgh Pirates resolve to remain relevant. What?! The Pirates had the second-best record in baseball last year, improved by ten wins over the year before, and have made the playoffs three years in a row. Remain relevant?! Yes. Third-order record shows the Pirates’ underlying performance this past season was closer to that of a 91-win team. They traded Neil Walker and have yet to replace him. They don’t know how Jung-ho Kang will rebound from his season-ending leg injury, which included a torn meniscus, medial collateral ligament and fractured tibia. A.J. Burnett retired. J.A. Happ, who was huge for them down the stretch (7–2, 1.85 ERA in 11 starts), left as a free agent. The Cubs, Giants and Diamondbacks are all dramatically improved, making a division title unlikely and a fourth-straight wild-card berth no sure thing. The Pirates are in serious danger of falling into the largely empty middle ground between the NL’s dominant teams and its many rebuilding franchises.

St. Louis Cardinals resolve to remind everyone they had the best record in baseball last year. The 2015 Cardinals were the first major league team to win 100 games since the 2011 Phillies, but that was even flukier than the Pirates’ 98-win performance. Specifically, the Cardinals’ 2.94 staff ERA, the lowest mark by any team since the 1988 Mets, was more than a half run lower than their Fielding Independent Pitching mark, which was merely the fifth-best in the majors last year at 3.47. Third-order record casts the 2015 Cardinals as an 89-win team that lucked in to 11 extra wins, and they have since lost their top two players according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR (Jason Heyward and John Lackey) to a division rival. So are the Cardinals worried? What do you think? This is a team coming off five straight postseason appearances and the league’s best record that regenerates young talent like a T-1000 Terminator. Did they mention that they had the best record in baseball last year?

San Diego Padres resolve to bring back the brown. Before the Diamondbacks melted everyone’s mind by reclaiming their rightful place as the team with the worst uniforms in baseball the night before signing Zack Greinke, the Padres announced some long-awaited and very welcome uniform changes of their own. Their new home jersey adds yellow accents to what had been a monotone navy with nearly invisible “sand” accents, adding a much-needed dash of color and a connection to the team’s original brown-and-yellow color scheme. The brown-and-yellow, meanwhile, returns in a Friday home alternate which combines a new brown jersey with a modern rendering of the classic 1970s yellow-front brown cap. They even improved their Sunday home camouflage look, switching to a blue Navy camo that works better with their standard caps, eliminating the need for a fourth cap (in addition to the home navy with yellow “D,” road navy and white, and brown alternate). It’s the return of the yellow and the brown alternate that is most intriguing, however, as appeals for the Padres to bring back the brown have been making the rounds on the Internet for years. The Padres have worn brown throwbacks before, but this new alternate is their first new brown jersey since the team switched to navy in 1991. With yellow already in the home set, could a full move back to brown-and-yellow follow if that alternate jersey becomes a hot item in San Diego?

San Francisco Giants resolve to extend their even-year dynasty. With Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija signed to support Madison Bumgarner in the rotation and hopes for a healthy Hunter Pence and Joe Panik in the lineup, the Giants are right where they need to be to keep their pattern, which includes World Series wins in 2010, 2012 and 2014, intact.

Washington Nationals resolve not to be favorites this year. The Nationals were NL East and pennant favorites in each of the last three years, made the postseason just once in that span and were eliminated in the Division Series on that occasion. This year, after a disastrous 2015 campaign and the free-agent defections of Jordan Zimmermann and (we expect) Ian Desmond and Denard Span, the Nats may get to enter the season as an ordinary, run-of-the-mill contender, which is to say a team capable of doing something other than simply meeting expectations or disappointing.

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