Workers were putting up the tree at a local restaurant the other day, and it was the first sure sign that it was that time of the year. Then, a few days later, the Marlins lit enough Yule logs to create a fire sale and, sure enough, the Christmas season was officially upon us. With that in mind, let's take a look at the shopping lists of the 15 National League clubs. We'll even look at what the Marlins might be looking for, though if Santa Claus is a true fan of competitive balance, he will put a large lump of coal in owner Jeffrey Loria’s stocking.
Braves: They probably won't be able to re-sign Michael Bourn, which will make a center fielder and a leadoff hitter their biggest needs. They also have an opening in left field, as Atlanta plans to shift Martin Prado back to the infield and third base to replace the retired Chipper Jones. The Braves have the starting pitching depth to trade youngsters Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran for a center fielder like the Twins' Denard Span, and they could sign a free agent like Cody Ross to play left.
Brewers: The bullpen is the top priority, as they would like to find two set-up relievers to put in front of closer John Axford.
Cardinals: They are only looking for stocking stuffers, such as a left-handed reliever and a bench player with some pop. Sean Burnett will fit the lefty bill perfectly as a free agent.
Cubs: Even an organization fully committed to youth needs some veteran stopgaps. In this case, a third baseman and center fielder are necessary to buy more developmental time in the minor leagues for Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson. Chicago would also like to add one more starting pitcher and are eyeing free agent Shaun Marcum.
Diamondbacks: A long-term shortstop would be nice; Cliff Pennington surely isn't anything more than a stopgap. Upgrading at third base would also help, though Chris Johnson could probably tide Arizona over for 2013. A veteran starting pitcher is also on the list, as the Diamondbacks are currently in line to have two rookies in the rotation when the 2013 season begins. They'd like to do one-stop shopping by trading right fielder Justin Upton to fill all three needs.
Dodgers: They celebrated the holidays in July and August in Chavez Ravine by trading for Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett. Yet it wouldn’t be shocking to see free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke under the tree to give the rotation a true No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw, even after winning the posting for Korean hurler Hyan Jin-Ryu.
Giants: They need a left fielder so Gregor Blanco can go back to his true position of fourth outfielder. There will also be a hole to fill in center field if the Giants can't re-sign Angel Pagan as a free agent. Look for the Giants to bring Pagan back and Marco Scutaro, too, to play second base.
Marlins: Trading left-hander Mark Buehrle and right-hander Josh Johnson opened two huge holes in the starting rotation that will almost certainly be filled by cheaper and lower-quality pitchers, and right-hander Ricky Nolasco is also on the trading block. It would also help if someone would drop a third baseman into the Salvation Army kettle for Loria and his operation.
Mets: There is a long wish list but not enough money to adequately fill it because Bernard Madoff was the Grinch who stole many Christmases in Queens. The Mets could use upgrades at catcher, all three outfield positions, and plenty of relief arms to help Frank Francisco and Bobby Parnell. With so many holes to fill, all that R.A. Dickey trade speculation is not so preposterous.
Nationals: All they want for Christmas is for first baseman Adam LaRoche to stay, though they are getting competition on the free-agent market from the Red Sox and Rangers. The Nationals' alternate plan is to sign Bourn, move Bryce Harper from center field to left field, and shift Michael Morse from left to first.
Padres: A good veteran starting pitcher would fit nicely on a talented, young roster. Beyond that, the Padres already have a gift that keeps on giving—great weather 12 months a year.
Phillies: After having their run of five straight NL East titles snapped, the Phillies need a third baseman, center fielder, and set-up man to have realistic hope of returning to the postseason next year. Santa would be really nice if he could take the remainder of Ryan Howard's contract back to the North Pole to free up money to sign Josh Hamilton as a free agent.
Pirates: Adding a No. 3 starter who could pitch 180-200 innings is the top priority, and they need a catcher, too. Adding an outfielder with pop if the price is right is another possibility. The Pirates, as usual, are watching their dollars and looking for a pitcher to fall through the cracks of free agency. The club would also like to sign a free agent like Gerald Laird or Yorvit Torreabla to split time with Michael McKenry behind the plate.
Reds: Their only real wish is to add an outfielder who is a legitimate major-league leadoff hitter, as Drew Stubbs has proven he'll never have the on-base percentage necessary to handle that role. Free agents Angel Pagan and Shane Victorio are possibilities, and the Reds could also trade a young shortstop, either Zack Cozart or prospect Didi Gregorious.
Rockies: They need at least one starting pitcher capable of giving them 200 innings and who won't be scared of calling Coors Field home. Granted, there aren't many of those out there, but the Rockies could entice some team into trading one by offering center fielder Dexter Fowler or right fielder Michael Cuddyer as the bait. Or could the Rockies make it a Christmas to remember by dealing shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for a ton of players?
A few minutes with Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw
On winning the Roberto Clemente, awarded annually by Major League Baseball to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, community involvement and individual's contribution to his team”: "It means a lot. I've been fortunate to get to start playing baseball professionally at the big-league level at an early age, and I'm so thankful for that. With that comes a great platform to do stuff off the field. I was just fortunate that I got a great start in LA, and could start doing staff off the field almost immediately. It's blossomed into what my wife Ellen and I have started now, Kershaw's Challenge, and it's just truly a testament to everybody involved, the Dodgers for letting me get up there that fast, and for people letting me create a platform off the field, which is just really special."
On not repeating as the NL Cy Young Award winner: "Last year was awesome. I never expected in my wildest dreams to get recognized as the best pitcher in the league. I just thought if I ever got to pitch in the big leagues then it would be my dream come true. "We didn't make the playoffs, so that makes it tough to say I'm the best pitcher in the league when I couldn't help get my team into the playoffs. Winning the Cy Young was great and I hope I have the opportunity to win another one some year, but my ultimate dream is to win a World Series. That's what I want."
On why the Dodgers finished eight games behind the Giants in the NL West despite making the big in-season trades: "I wish I had the answer to that I had to that one. I can't tell you why it took so long for everyone to start clicking and get on the same page. That's our excuse, and there is nothing we can do about that now. The positive is we played really good baseball the last 12-13 games, and hopefully that will carry over into next season."
On the condition of his right hip, where he had an injury that caused him to miss some starts in the second half of last season: "I've been working out, and it feels great. It's holding up awesome. I'm fortunate for that, and I'm looking forward to getting ready for another season."
Front-office types' views:
Marlins: "Like everyone else, I'm not a very big fan of Jeffrey Loria, but I have a hard time, strictly from a baseball standpoint, having a problem with tearing apart a 93-loss team. I don't think they were going to be any better next season, so why not try something different?
Blue Jays: "They realize the Yankees are more vulnerable than they've been in a long time, and I applaud them for going to for going for the American League East title. They definitely have the talent to make a run. The window is open, and they're going to try to climb through it. Good for them."
Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter: "He is a big upgrade on what they have on the outfield corners. You put him at the top of the lineup hitting behind Austin Jackson and in front of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez and you've really got something. I give the Tigers credit. They are going to keep pounding on that door to winning it all until they knock it down."
On David Price and R.A. Dickey winning the Cy Young Awards: "They both had really good years, but neither one was the best pitcher in his league. Price didn't have a better year than Justin Verlander, and Dickey wasn't as good as Gio Gonzalez. Frankly, I was surprised by both choices. I don't think the Baseball Writers' (Association of America) did a very good job."
On why Bob Melvin was the right choice over Buck Showalter for American League Manager of the Year: "Buck did a great job, but at least he had some players. Bob didn't have anything to work with, I mean nothing. He was a magician with that roster, an absolute magician."
Nate Silver, who invented Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA player forecasting system before becoming a rock star in political circles, steps away from politics for a moment to explain in his New York Times' blog who he thinks is the right choice for AL MVP in this week's Must Read.