Heading into Thanksgiving, we present a hackneyed but still sort of useful and hopefully fun conceit: What each MLB team's fans should be thankful for this holiday season.
Arizona Diamondbacks: That they're back, baby. Under new management, the D-backs came back with a vengeance in 2017 and probably deserved better than a sad, mostly unseen sweep at the hands of the Dodgers. All the talent is still here, and now they're hungry. The D-backs are no one's joke anymore.
Atlanta Braves: That the scandal is over and they can get back to having one of the more intriguing young teams in baseball. Even with the talent they lost in the wake of the international spending scandal, the Braves still are stocked with young players about to hit the bigs. The Braves needed some new blood, and they got it, even if they took the long way to get there. The hardest part is over.
Baltimore Orioles: That Buck Showalter is still around. The Zach Britton 2016 American League Wild Card Game incident aside, Showalter has been the steadying influence for a franchise that had a tendency to drive its fans a bit nuts for the decade or so before he arrived. The Orioles are heading into a transitional phase with Manny Machado a free agent after 2018, and it's possible Showalter might not stay to see it all through. So Orioles fans can appreciate a manager who has made them better than they would have been otherwise, which is all you can hope from a manager. If Showalter leaves after this year, he'll have dozens of teams knocking down his door.
Boston Red Sox: That your team can have a deeply frustrating season that felt like an underachievement in every way, with free agent busts and young players taking a step backward, a season that goes so poorly that you fire your manager … and you still won 93 games and your division. If that's a rough year, most fans will take it.
Chicago Cubs: That the worst thing you can say about the Cubs is that they might not win two titles. The Cubs appeared to have one of those generational talent bases that could be the next dynasty in sports. Now it looks like the Dodgers and Astros have passed them and that there is much more work to be done. They have the sort of smart brain trust that can meet the challenge, but even if they don't … they just won the World Series last year. The Cubs!
Chicago White Sox: That they have as much young talent in the sport and it's all coming soon. In retrospect, the White Sox -- long accused of holding off on a needed rebuild too long -- restarted at just the right time. Young players are young players, and not all of them will pay off. But no team is in better position with its young players than the White Sox. You'll see a little more in 2018, and some more in '19. By 2020, look out. That's better than almost any other team can say.
Cincinnati Reds: That they're starting to turn a corner as well. This was a scary team, particularly on offense, to deal with last season. It was ugly late because of the pitching, but we all knew that would be the case. But on offense? Eugenio Suarez was a breakout player last year, and Joey Votto is obviously the centerpiece, and he's not going anywhere. More to the point: There are big bats in the system, and even some reasonable arms. The Brewers are ahead of them, and the Reds may struggle again this year. But there's hope out there. I swear.
Cleveland Indians: That they'll get another chance. Yes, last year was supposed to be the year. They had the win streak. They won 102 games. They wanted to erase the 2016 World Series. But the Yankees got in the way. That doesn't mean the Indians aren't heavy favorites to win the AL Central again in 2018. Their division opponents are still probably a year or two away from being serious contenders: The field is wide open for them again. If they win the World Series in 2018, this will all just be backstory.
Colorado Rockies: That they made the playoffs! Sure, it was a road Wild Card loss, but it was the playoffs. Who saw the Rockies in the playoffs last year? You can do a lot worse than building around Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, and there's even some pitching now. It might be tougher to make the postseason in 2018 than it was in '17 … but the Rockies have done it now.
Detroit Tigers: That they're finally getting real. It's a bummer, it really is, that the Tigers never did win that World Series they were loading up so much for. Their fans deserved it, those players deserved it, baseball deserved it. But it didn't happen, and the Tigers are no longer pretending it will. It's a tough thing to accept, to admit to yourself, and now the Tigers have done it. Now they can move forward. Slowly. But forward nonetheless.
Houston Astros: That they just won the World Series. That seems worthy of thanks.
Kansas City Royals: That 2015 happened. It's going to be a long, hard rebuild for the Royals, and they're going to have to say goodbye to some beloved franchise icons this offseason. You still can never take 2015 away from them. If you told Royals fans they'd have to wait a decade to be upset again if they won a title in '15, they would have happily taken it. Well: We're only two years in.
Los Angeles Angels: That they still have Mike Trout. The Angels have three more years left with Trout, and they showed this year that they can cobble together a .500 team around him, with the potential of more. Justin Upton is a sign that they're going to floor it until Trout's contract expires, and you can't ask much more of your team than flooring it.
Los Angeles Dodgers: That they made the World Series! Sure, it was sad how it turned out, but the Dodgers hadn't made the World Series in nearly 30 years, and now they have. Did you hear how loud that place was in October? It can be, and will be, again. The Dodgers got over the first hump. Now it's time to get over the final one.
Miami Marlins: That they have Derek Jeter, and a new direction. We'll see what happens with the Giancarlo Stanton trade, but the one thing you can say about Jeter is that he will always want to win. There will be a step backward, but there is no question the people atop this organization will do whatever they can to make this team a winner. Jeter might have some growing pains, but he'll never just fold. Jeter will go all in.
Milwaukee Brewers: That they must be reckoned with, now and in the future. This was one of the surprise teams in the sport this year and, depending on what happens this offseason, they might be predicted to finish second in the National League Central again. GM David Stearns is being aggressive this offseason about bringing in pitching, and he could load up like the Cubs did before 2016. The Brewers have a scary lineup, sneaky-good pitching and a smart front office that has shown it can improve the team in myriad ways. Look out.
Minnesota Twins: That they have Byron Buxton. The Twins have a gaggle of young talent, but no one represents the future of this franchise more than Buxton. It wasn't long ago that you wondered if Buxton would be able to even stay in the lineup. Now he's getting down-ballot AL MVP Award votes and might be one of the most valuable players in the sport. Last year was a bit early for the Twins. But they're not going away.
New York Mets: That everything can't go as wrong as it did last year … right? The Mets still have the best top-two of a rotation in the game, an emerging superstar in Michael Conforto and some solid young pieces like Amed Rosario, 2017 struggles aside. Last year, every other thing went badly. But that all can't happen again. Right? Right? RIGHT?
New York Yankees: That last year was just the beginning, that, for the first time in more than 20 years, Yankees fans got to cheer for a team that was full of young exciting players that weren't shipped in from other teams, that expectations were low enough that fans could be pleasantly surprised by a Yankees team. That won't last -- they're not just expected to make the World Series next year, they're expected to go get Bryce Harper, Machado or both after 2018 -- but it was a rare moment when the Yankees were the upstarts, and even sort of likable.
Oakland A's: That this team looked pretty solid late last year. Casual fans might not have noticed, but this team went 17-7 down the stretch and has some real corner pieces to build around in Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. The A's have been waiting for some homegrown superstars to emerge, and with the prospects they got from trades last year (particularly the Sonny Gray deal), they are on their way. The A's have seemed listless in recent years. They are listless no more.
Philadelphia Phillies: That they've finally turned the corner. It looked like the Phillies were stuck in neutral, but then came Rhys Hoskins and a solid ending to the season. Now the Phillies have a slugging superstar, some sneaky-good young pitching, more prospects coming and an energetic new manager in Gabe Kapler. And they've got a ton of free agent money to spend. The moment is almost here.
Pittsburgh Pirates: That Andrew McCutchen gave them a resurgent year. Remember, before last year, there were legitimate questions as to whether or not McCutchen was of much use anymore. He instead went out and had an All-Star season and reminded fans of why they've loved him so much. Maybe they keep him. Maybe they trade him. But McCutchen was McCutchen again. Pirates fans were lucky to get to see it again from one of the greats in franchise history.
St. Louis Cardinals: That they can get Stanton, but if they don't get him, they can go get other guys. For all the frustration of the past couple of seasons for Cardinals fans, it was encouraging that all of baseball recognized that the team with the most assets to move for Stanton -- both in terms of money and players -- was the Cardinals. You can use those same assets to go get other guys, whether it's Josh Donaldson or J.D. Martinez or even a Machado next year. The Cardinals have been "keeping their powder dry," ready to make a big move. Maybe it's Stanton. Maybe it isn't. But it'll be somebody, and that's because the front office has put itself in position to strike.
San Diego Padres: That they're finally seeing some signs. The payroll has been stripped, but the farm system is starting to show fruit, and they may be willing to spend soon. They're clearly trying to follow the Astros' model -- which we've now seen work spectacularly for two World Series in a row -- and may be ready to strike soon.
San Francisco Giants: That 2017 is over and we never have to talk about it again if we don't want to.
Seattle Mariners: That Jerry Dipoto and his staff are still moving heaven and earth to get this team to the playoffs. I know it's an industry joke that Dipoto makes so many trades, but, you know, good for him: This is a flawed roster that he's doing everything he can to improve on the margins. The Mariners have the longest playoff drought in the sport, but they are not resigned to their fate. Maybe it'll all work and maybe it won't, but they're doing everything they can.
Tampa Bay Rays: As frustrating as it can be to watch the Rays trade away young talent -- and rarely being able to add to a young core -- it is worth noting that, once again, the raw amount of young talent the Rays have is the envy of most of baseball. A trade of Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi would be sad, but the reason the Rays can even consider either is because there's so much other homegrown pitching around. The Rays were a legitimate AL Wild Card contender last year and could be again next year and then again the year after. They might never win 100 games. But they'll always be hanging around.
Texas Rangers: That they're not cowed by the Astros. Eight years ago, the Texas team you assumed would have won a World Series by now was the Rangers, not the Astros: The Rangers, of course, came so close, twice, but never broke through. Jon Daniels and company have some payroll restraints -- they're still paying Shin-Soo Choo and even Prince Fielder this year -- but they're not backing down: You might even see them go back after Yu Darvish again. The Rangers are a smart, flexible organization that doesn't believe its moment has passed.
Toronto Blue Jays: That they ever had that two-ACLS-in-a-row run, one that feels like a disappointment (because it never ended in a World Series) when it was actually a pretty fantastic achievement. The Blue Jays hadn't made the playoffs since 1993 before 2015, and they broke the skid with two straight ALCS appearances. Just because the moment has passed doesn't mean you can't be thankful that it happened.
Washington Nationals: That they're going to win the NL East again in 2018. There really isn't much more of a sure bet in baseball than that fact, and while that's not enough for playoff-battered Nationals fans, it's also more than any other team can say. The Nationals are almost certain to make the playoffs next year. That's a pretty nice place to start, no?
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