Somehow, our damned species made it to 2019, surviving yet another trip around the sun despite, well ... *gestures vaguely at entire world*.
And while the past 12 months didn't augur especially well for the human race, the arrival of Jan. 1 affords us the opportunity to wipe the slate clean, to a degree. We can sort of start fresh. We can credibly resolve, at least, to do better, to be better.
And, of course, each Major League Baseball club should also be motivated to improve this year, so we've identified one New Year's resolution each club should make for 2019 while the rest of us strive to be kinder, use our phones less, eat more mindfully, or whatever.
The Diamondbacks didn't necessarily kick off a full-blown rebuild when they shipped Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis earlier this offseason - the six-time All-Star has just one year left on his contract - but the trade was nevertheless a tacit acknowledgment that they won't contend in 2019. The likelihood, then, of Zack Greinke still being effective when Arizona is ready to compete again is decidedly low. Greinke turned 35 years old in October, and he began to exhibit subtle signs of decline during a terrific 2018 campaign. His velocity continued to dip, while his strikeout rate, home run rate, and expected weighted on-base average all trended in the wrong direction. He'd still be appealing to a contender, though, as Greinke managed a 3.21 ERA (135 ERA+) over 33 starts. So the Diamondbacks should be willing to eat a considerable amount of the $104.5 million left on his deal to get back a solid prospect who is, ideally, almost major-league ready.
After storming back to relevance in 2018 following a four-year rebuild, the Braves are now officially contenders. The team boasts a robust core of young talent that Atlanta recently started augmenting with we-can-actually-do-this-thing veterans like Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. In fact, the Braves might even be the best team in the National League (barring a deal between the Dodgers and Bryce Harper), which is why they have to set their sights higher than a second straight division title. The Braves may not be able to hang, at this point, with the juggernauts in the American League. But another first-round postseason exit won't fly for a team that's now in the chewy center of its competitive window.
The Orioles' recent draft history is almost as dubious as Buck Showalter's bullpen management in the 2016 American League wild-card game. The club's last eight first-round selections - stretching back to 2013 - have accrued a grand total of 0.5 WAR at the big-league level, all of it coming from DJ Stewart. For the sake of their rebuild, it's imperative for Baltimore to reverse that trend this year and land a stud with their top selection in the 2019 amateur draft. Or, y'know, someone good at least. They actually have a decent shot, too, while wielding the first overall pick for the first time since 1989. That's when the Orioles nabbed Louisiana State right-hander Ben McDonald, who spent seven seasons in Baltimore and managed a 3.91 ERA (115 ERA+) over his nine-year major-league career.
If it ain't broke, right? Excepting Joe Kelly, the Red Sox are poised to bring back virtually every key member from last year's championship roster. And since the luxury tax won't be a deterrent, as Dave Dombrowski admitted in December, Boston has no reason not to re-sign Craig Kimbrel, too. He's still an elite closer - Kimbrel ranks fourth among relievers in WAR over the last three seasons - and can re-stabilize a bullpen that, if the season started today, would be anchored by Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and Heath Hembree.
The Cubs have demonstrated no aversion in recent years to employing men of dubious character, from Aroldis Chapman, the first player suspended under the league's new domestic violence policy, to Daniel Murphy, an admitted homophobe, but enough is enough. If they actually care about "tak(ing) the issue of domestic violence seriously," as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein professed to earlier this offseason, and want to make their ballpark an inclusive environment for victims of domestic abuse, they'll cut bait with Addison Russell. The shortstop opted not to appeal the 40-game suspension he received in October after his ex-wife accused him of emotional and physical abuse.
The rebuild on the South Side has lost momentum of late, mainly due to Michael Kopech's elbow woes, Yoan Moncada's contact problems, and the massive step backward Lucas Giolito took last season. Right now, that last issue feels the most concerning. Considered the game's top pitching prospect as recently as 2016, the 24-year-old right-hander imploded in his first full season at the big-league level, finishing last among qualified starters in WAR (-0.2), ERA (6.13), FIP (5.56), and WHIP (1.48). Increasingly, it seems Giolito won't ever be the starter scouts thought he could be in the first few years following his 2012 Tommy John surgery, but the White Sox need to take this season - another non-competitive one - to determine whether the former first-round pick is even salvageable.
Mired in a seemingly interminable rebuild, the Reds have finished dead last in the National League Central four years in a row, winning no more than 68 games in a season over that span. Clearly, they're determined to be a bit more competitive in 2019, having traded in recent weeks for Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, and Tanner Roark, but let's not peg them as a dark horse wild-card contender just yet. Instead, the Reds should aspire to be better than one team in their division, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Considering how the last half-decade has unfolded in Cincinnati, a fourth-place finish would be no small feat. Baby steps.
All but guaranteed another American League Central title in 2019, the Indians have cut payroll pretty significantly this offseason, slashing their total outlay to about $112 million - their Opening Day payroll in 2018 was nearly $135 million - without really compromising their chances of winning the division. And while that's an indictment of both the state of the division and the broader tanking epidemic plaguing Major League Baseball, it doesn't reflect well on the Indians. After all, if the teams with legitimate World Series aspirations aren't going to spend money, who is?
The Rockies finished outside the top-five in the majors in runs per game last year for the first time since 2013, as even the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field couldn't make their lineup look competent. After adjusting for park effects, the Rockies were the fifth-worst offensive team in the majors (87 wRC+), dragged down by punchless regulars Ian Desmond, DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, and Gerardo Parra. Fortunately, all but Desmond are now gone, and there's actually some upside in their lineup thanks to David Dahl and newly signed Daniel Murphy. That bodes well for the Rockies, because they'll need to hit if they hope to make the postseason for a second straight year in 2019. As good as their pitching staff was last season, it's still, y'know, Colorado.
To put it mildly, the Tigers are going to struggle to score in bunches this season - Jeimer Candelario and Christin Stewart, to illustrate, will likely occupy the top two spots in their lineup - which is why it's imperative they capitalize on as many run-scoring opportunities as possible. Last year, the Tigers struggled to do that, driving in a runner from third with less than two outs, for instance, only 47 percent of the time, the fifth-worst mark in the majors. As it happens, they also finished fifth-last in the league in runs per game (3.89). If they want to avoid another 98-loss campaign this year, the Tigers can't afford to leave runs on the table as frequently as they did in 2018.
It's hard to find fault with a team that finished with a +263 run differential, but if there's one thing the Astros should work on in 2019, it's avoiding rally-killing double plays. While it didn't stop them from fielding an elite offense, the Astros grounded into more double plays (156) than any other team, bouncing into twin-killings on a league-worst 13 percent of their runner-on-first, less-than-two-out opportunities.
The Royals are so far away from being good or entertaining there's really no reason to keep Merrifield. He's at the height of his value following a 5.2 WAR season - he hit .304/.367/.438 (121 OPS+) and led the American League in hits and stolen bases - and has another four years of club control left. Their farm system is bereft of impact talent, and as a small-market club, they're going to need a mass of good prospects if they expect to have a stretch as prosperous as the one they enjoyed a few years back anytime soon.
With only two years left before Mike Trout hits free agency, the Angels' window to capitalize on their superstar's unprecedented excellence is rapidly closing. Injuries, underperformance, bad luck, and Albert Pujols' continued presence in the cleanup spot have all conspired to sink the Angels in recent seasons - they haven't played into October since 2014. The Halos simply don't have time for excuses anymore if they hope to eke a World Series title out of Trout's illustrious tenure in Anaheim. The Angels need to reload this winter - the additions of Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey, and Jonathan Lucroy are a decent start - and make the postseason, already.
Based on their run differential, the Dodgers should've won 102 games in 2018. In reality, they won 92. That discrepancy can largely be attributed to their inability to come through in big spots; according to FanGraphs' clutch metric, they were the least opportunistic team in the majors by far. This trend continued into the postseason, where the Dodgers hit .192 with a 34 percent strikeout rate with runners in scoring position, and eked out a .635 OPS in late-and-close situations. Snapping their World Series drought in 2019 will require more timely hitting.
Shedding payroll was clearly the Marlins' lone priority last offseason, which is why the best prospect they received in exchange for Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna was outfielder Lewis Brinson, a former first-round pick who hit .199/.240/.338 as a rookie in 2018. Now, with so much money off the books, the Marlins must change their approach as they weigh trade offers for J.T. Realmuto, who may be the best catcher in the game and still has two years of control remaining. Realmuto offers the Marlins a golden opportunity to rejuvenate their farm system, which ranks among the worst in the game, and they better not squander it.
As dominant as Josh Hader was in 2018, the hard-throwing left-hander still accrued less WAR than the likes of Kyle Gibson and Marco Gonzales. Even when used liberally, in other words, the most effective relievers still aren't as valuable as middling starters. Given the state of Milwaukee's rotation, then, the Brewers should at least give Hader a chance to start in 2019 as they attempt to repeat as division champs. If he stinks, they can always bump him back into a relief role. But if he can even approximate as a starter the numbers he put up last year - 2.43 ERA with a 0.81 WHIP and 46.7 percent strikeout rate over 55 appearances - he may well be the Brewers' best starter this season.
The Twins didn't pack much pop in their lineup last year, finishing eighth-last in the bigs in home runs (166). In fact, the Twins were one of just six clubs that didn't have a single player reach 25 homers, which is pretty crazy, because, like, Stephen Piscotty went yard 27 times in 2018. It's a problem, too, because you kind of need to hit homers to win ballgames: eight of the 11 teams to mash more than 200 homers last year made the postseason. It bodes well, then, that the Twins picked up Nelson Cruz, who's gone deep more often than any other player over the last five seasons. The return of Miguel Sano, who spent much of 2018 in the minors, should help, too.
Brodie Van Wagenen was right to prioritize the bullpen this offseason because the Mets won't be able to contend without a more reliable relief corps. Last year, as they stumbled toward a second straight fourth-place finish in the NL East, New York's relievers finished bottom-five in the majors in almost every meaningful statistic, including win probability added (-4.37), meltdowns (97), and inherited-runner strand rate (66 percent). Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia should help in that department.
It's hard to believe - they're a "fully operational Death Star," after all - but the Yankees are currently mired in their longest division title drought in a quarter-century. They haven't finished in first in the American League East since 2012, and haven't won a pennant since they last hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy a decade ago. And while they've made the playoffs three times in the last six seasons - and had a really good excuse for not winning the division last year against the 108-win Boston Red Sox - they're the damn Yankees. With so much talent already on their roster, an infinite bankroll, and two generational talents still available in free agency, they have no excuse for finishing second in the division in 2019.
With Sean Manaea expected to miss all of 2019 after undergoing shoulder surgery, the Athletics' rotation looks decidedly grim six weeks out from spring training. Mike Fiers is their de facto ace. And even if they intend to use the opener strategy liberally this season, as they did down the stretch (and in the wild-card game) last year, the A's are going to need more than what they can reasonably get from Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, and Aaron Brooks. As such, the A's shouldn't hesitate to give top prospect Jesus Luzardo a chance to start at the big-league level, as the 21-year-old left-hander could legitimately be their top starter this year if given the chance. In 2018, his first full season as a professional, Luzardo climbed all the way from High-A to Triple-A, crafting a 2.88 ERA while notching 129 strikeouts over 109 1/3 innings.
Despite making significant gains overall in 2018, the Phillies still ranked among the worst defensive teams in the majors, finishing last in defensive runs saved (-146) and third-last in defensive runs above average (-49.9), with the fifth-lowest defensive efficiency rating (.697), too. Getting Rhys Hoskins out of left field will help - he'll move to first base in 2019, replacing Carlos Santana - but the Phillies will also need improvements from third baseman Maikel Franco and outfielders Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams if they're to be an average defensive team this season.
At the moment, FanGraphs projects the New York Mets to earn the second National League wild-card spot in 2019 with 85 wins. Their model projects the Pirates to finish with 81 wins. That's hardly an insurmountable gulf. And, their famous frugality notwithstanding, the Pirates should have the means to bridge that gap via free agency, having already trimmed their payroll $20 million from last year. (Their financial commitments beyond 2019 are negligible, too, with only $18 million on the books for the 2020 campaign right now.) With a decent core of talent in place between Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, and Felipe Vasquez, the Pirates can augment that group with a couple mid-market additions over the coming weeks and make an earnest effort for a wild-card spot in 2019.
Seemingly rebuilding in perpetuity, the Padres weren't able to make any strides at the big-league level last year, managing their worst record in a decade (66-96) despite signing Eric Hosmer to a mammoth deal and entrusting some ostensibly gifted youngsters with regular playing time. But while you've heard this schpiel many times before, the Padres seem legitimately poised to take a step forward in 2019 thanks to the elite prospects set to join the club this year. From Fernando Tatis Jr., to Francisco Mejia, to Luis Urias, to Cal Quantrill, to Michel Baez, all were included in MLB Pipeline's top-50 prospects rankings in 2018. They're not going to vie for a division title, but the Padres may be something other than terrible in 2019, and that's something, given their history.
Last winter's additions of Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria didn't pan out - they ended up trading the former in July en route to a 73-89 finish - and it's unclear how the Giants intend to proceed under new general manager Farhan Zaidi because they haven't done anything of consequence this offseason. To date, their biggest move may be signing ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte to a one-year deal. They're not really going for it, nor are they rebuilding. Zaidi needs to commit to a direction, even if that means getting rid of some longtime fan favorites in Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt, or Brandon Crawford.
After failing, once again, to squeeze a postseason berth out of their veteran core in 2018, the Mariners started to rebuild this offseason - Robinson Cano, James Paxton, and Edwin Diaz have already been traded away, and Nelson Cruz is off to Minnesota - eliminating any plausible justification for not keeping Ichiro Suzuki on the roster beyond their season-opening series in Tokyo. Sure, he can't really hit anymore - Ichiro slashed .205/.255/.205 in 15 games last season before being transitioned into a cushy, vaguely defined "special assistant" gig - but the Mariners really have nothing to lose by allowing the 45-year-old legend to be their fourth outfielder in 2019. Wins don't matter, after all, which uniquely positions manager Scott Servias to let Ichiro spell Jay Bruce once or twice a week, or pinch run, or even pitch. Tanking sucks, but the Mariners' miserable 2019 season would suck far less with him around.
No team enjoyed a platoon advantage at the plate less frequently in 2018 than the Cardinals, whose hitters faced opposite-handed pitchers just 41.4 percent of the time, almost 13 percent below league average. They still scored plenty of runs, finishing fifth in the National League in park-adjusted offense, but the Cardinals' roster was still too right-handed heavy to be consistently optimized. As such, general manager John Mozeliak needs to add another left-handed hitter (or two) this offseason so Mike Shildt can play matchups more aggressively in 2019.
How many stadium proposals need to get kiboshed before everyone accepts that Tampa Bay isn't a viable market for an MLB franchise? (Tommy Pham certainly has.) The Rays have now finished either last or second-last in the American League in attendance for eight straight seasons, and their average nightly crowd last season (14,259) was their lowest since 2005. The team was actually half-decent this past year, too, winning 90 games for the first time in a half-decade. Twenty years isn't an insufficient sample. Baseball isn't going to work in Tampa Bay, and it's time for the league to acknowledge that and start expediting a relocation of the franchise.
Beset with a carousel of ineffective starters, the Rangers' run-prevention woes in 2018 were ultimately compounded by an abject inability to stop opposing teams from stealing bases at will. All told, the Rangers' backstops (primarily Robinson Chirinos and Isiah Kiner-Falefa) threw out just 18 would-be thieves in 94 attempts, or 19.1 percent of attempted base-stealers, easily the worst mark in baseball. That needs to improve this year, and with Kiner-Falefa poised to take over everyday catching duties, it should. Obviously, doing a better job controlling the running game won't fix all that ailed Texas in 2018, but it's something, at least.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did everything humanly possible to earn a September call-up in 2018, hitting .381/.437/.636 in 95 games split mostly between Double-A and Triple-A, but the Blue Jays denied the 19-year-old prodigy - and their fans - a late-season promotion, a decision coated in layers of pretext. In reality, though, they didn't call up Guerrero Jr. to delay his major-league service time clock, ensuring a seventh year of control over their prized prospect. Sadly, this practice has become commonplace in Major League Baseball - the Chicago Cubs did it with Kris Bryant; the Philadelphia Phillies did it with Maikel Franco - and it won't be eradicated until the current CBA expires, at the earliest. Still, the Blue Jays can find at least a sliver of redemption by including Guerrero Jr. on their Opening Day roster, thereby foregoing a guaranteed seventh year of control - the club is always free to sign him to an extension, after all.
While the Nationals weren't able - or inclined - to lock up Bryce Harper, they may actually have a better in-house option to build around in third baseman Anthony Rendon, who owns a .923 OPS (138 OPS+) over the last two seasons and has been, by fWAR, the sixth-most valuable position player in the majors. (Harper ranks 26th, by the way.) He's a bit older than Harper, and his track record as an elite offensive player isn't as extensive, but Rendon - currently set to hit free agency next winter - is nevertheless a superstar-level talent who can serve as the linchpin of the lineup for the foreseeable future. Clearly, the Nationals aren't planning to hit the reset button anytime soon, having just inked Patrick Corbin to a six-year deal to bolster a rotation that already includes Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, so extending Rendon seems like a logical move for a team that intends to be competitive indefinitely and will rely increasingly on cheap(ish) labor in the near future.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.