The Cubs are going to be a solid, entertaining baseball team in 2015, and you know what that means, don't you?

Sure, you do.

You're going to be surrounded by Cubs fans. At least it'll feel that way because these people know how to make their presence felt. Folks who haven't watched a baseball game in years are going to be wearing Cubs gear and telling you how they wish their Aunt Ethel had lived to see this day.

Baseball writers are going to wear out the phrase "long-suffering." What's the over and under on documentaries?

Yes, friends, the Cubs are on the verge of being really good. Even as they put the finishing touches on another last-place finish, Wrigleyville justifiably is flush with optimism.

With outfielder Jorge Soler and infielders Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, the Cubs are at the end of the first phase of a remarkable building project.

From the moment Theo Epstein was hired to head up the baseball operations almost three years ago, this was the day he has worked for.

He was brought in to do things the old-fashioned way. That is, there would be no shortcuts. The Cubs were willing to accept some short-term losses in exchange for putting a foundation in place.

Now those young players seem ready to join young stars like first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-hander Jake Arrieta to make the 2015 Cubs as interesting as any team in baseball. They're proof that losing games really isn't losing in a large sense, not if there's a sensible plan in place.

Welcome to the way shrewd teams do business.

They understand that championships can't be bought in free agency. For one thing, the costs are ridiculous. For another, fewer and fewer of baseball's best players are ever allowed to get to free agency. Rather, teams must develop their own players even if it takes a little longer, and then they use free agency to fill in around the edges. And that's why a long list of teams are finishing the 2014 season feeling confident about what 2015 will bring.

The Cubs are poised to take a significant step forward next season, but plenty of others believe happy days are just around the corner.

Here's four more:


General manager Sandy Alderson should ignore the people who are telling him he should trade a couple of his young pitchers to get a shortstop or an outfielder.

Yes, it makes sense for him to explore a deal with the Cubs, who are deep in position players but could use another pitcher.

Don't do it, Sandy.

Even though the Mets need offense, Alderson should not trade any of that pitching. None. Zero. Zip.

Rule 1: No team ever has enough pitching.

You think that's a cliche, don't you? It's not. Teams have proven in recent years that they can mix and match pieces on offense and still score enough runs. But there are not shortcuts when it comes to pitching. Great pitching can cover up a lot of weaknesses in other areas.

Teams have ridden into October on the kind of pitching staff the Mets might be running out next season.

With Matt Harvey back from Tommy John surgery and with Noah Syndergaard ready to make his debut, the Mets are going to be flush with big arms.

Jacob deGrom is the likely National League Rookie of the Year this season. Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia have had solid seasons.

The Mets are going to have kids that throw hard and make opposing hitters uncomfortable. They alone will make the Mets a team no one wants to face.

Is there work to be done with the offense? Sure, there is. If David Wright gets healthy and if Curtis Granderson simply does what he has done most of his career, the Mets will have a place to start.

Regardless, this is a team headed in the right direction and getting there quickly.

Trading for Yoenis Cespedes in July was a wise move for the Red Sox. (Getty Images)

Red Sox

General manager Ben Cherington's genius is that he acknowledged the Red Sox would not be going back to the World Series three months ago and so he set about planning for 2015.

Brock Holt, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, Matt Barnes and others have gotten valuable playing time, and in doing so, have given Cherington an idea what he needs to do to supplement the roster. His trade for Yoenis Cespedes and signing of Rusney Castillo has given the Red Sox two of their three starting outfielders for 2015.

Cherington still has massive work to do. Will Allen Craig get straightened out offensively? Can Jackie Bradley Jr. hit big league pitching? Can Clay Buchholz stay healthy for an entire season?

He has to hope Dustin Pedroia can still play at a high level and that Mike Napoli has another productive season in him.

Cherington's challenge will be to take all the interesting pieces he has accumulated and build a winning big league roster.

That'll be a challenge because he has some young guys -- Bradley, Will Middlebrooks, Buchholz -- who've either had trouble staying healthy or not been productive.

But for a team coming off a terribly disappointing season, the Red Sox are in a very good place. Don't be surprised if they bounce right back in contention next season.


They still have a chance to finish at .500, and even if they don't, 2014 has been a massive improvement over last year's 100-loss season. General manager Dan Jennings had a great off-season in acquiring veterans like Casey McGehee, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones and Jeff Baker to put in a clubhouse with all those gifted kids.

And it's those kids that should give Marlins fans hope about the future. In Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, the Marlins are one of the few teams with two bona fide superstars.

When Fernandez blew out his elbow on May 9, it was easy to think the Marlins could not be competitive. But they kept on going, and with Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich and Adeiny Hechavarria establishing themselves as potential future stars, the Marlins have taken a huge leap forward.

With Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and Andrew Heaney, there are enough quality arms to construct a nice rotation around.

There's still work to be done in terms of strengthening the bench, but this season appears to have been a huge, transformative one for the franchise.


General manager Jeff Luhnow has completed the first part of his rebuilding project and hopes to have an assortment of kids pushing for big league jobs next spring.

Even with the Astros well below .500, there's optimism that the worst is over. Outfielder George Springer and first baseman Jonathan Singleton got their big league careers started. Shortstop Carlos Correa and right-hander Mark Appel are expected to join them next season.

In Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the Astros have two very reliable young starters and more on the way.

How much progress the Astros make in 2015 likely will be determined by the size of the payroll.

At $45 million, the Astros had virtually no chance of contending in 2014, but if Crane spends enough to allow Luhnow some flexibility to upgrade the bullpen and bench, the Astros might just flirt with .500 next season.


Richard Justice is a Sports on Earth contributor who joined as an executive correspondent in 2011. He has covered Major League Baseball for more than three decades and offers his insight on and