So you thought the 2015 regular season was fabulous? Well, yes, it was, with the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs battling each other so fiercely down the stretch in the National League Central that they finished with more victories than any other clubs in the Major Leagues.
Wrigley Field got a splashy facelift.
Zack Greinke pitched like crazy, especially during the second half.
Then fans rubbed their eyes over the Daniel Murphy postseason (seven home runs), and he wasn't alone in producing October drama. You had everything from those delirious home crowds of the Blue Jays to the surging Cubs out of nowhere to the now-World Series champion Royals showing emphatically that their 2014 journey to the American League pennant wasn't a fluke.
Here's my point: The World Series ended soon after Halloween, and Spring Training remains a couple of months away, but baseball's momentum continues through the Hot Stove League.
Especially THIS Hot Stove League.
In case you haven't noticed, the Hot Stove League is sizzling these days, with talk as well as action. While the Braves had that monster trade with the D-backs -- mostly swapping the given (All-Star pitcher Shelby Miller) for potential (Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 Draft) -- Alex Gordon is rumored to be going more than a few places.
Then again, the Hot Stove League is just an extension of all of the captivating baseball moments we've experienced this year since that first Clydesdale horse took the field in St. Louis for its home opener.
Even before the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., logs were burning on the Hot Stove fire. I mean, where would super pitchers David Price and Greinke go? Either one of those former Cy Young Award winners could turn a rotation from mediocre to good or from good to great. And let's start with Price, the first of the two to make a fanbase cheer loudly in their souls this offseason after joining their Red Sox team.
Price caused the same reaction this summer. After he was traded by the Tigers to the Blue Jays in July, the left-hander contributed to the baseball mania around Toronto by helping the Jays surge into the playoffs.
In the aftermath, Price became a free agent, and everybody (OK, Cubs fans) knew the perfect fit: The Cubs, for so many reasons. He'd join Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester to produce one of the game's most ferocious pitching trios. Price would push the North Siders just beyond the NL Championship Series, where they lost to the Mets, into a couple of scenarios they haven't experienced since 1945 (winning an NL pennant) and 1908 (taking the World Series). He'd reunite with Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who skippered the younger Price with the Rays.
The whole thing sounded so perfect that it didn't happen.
Still, Price's almost signing with the Cubs was fascinating, because in the Hot Stove League, fantasy is almost as powerful as reality.
The Red Sox preferred reality in this case. In an effort to repair one of the game's worst pitching staffs, they signed Price earlier this month to a seven-year deal worth $217 million. Soon afterward, word surfaced that Greinke was prepared to end the speculation about whether he would re-sign with the Dodgers or take his brilliant right arm elsewhere.
About that Greinke-related speculation: If you're the Dodgers, and if you've had a wonderful life with two Cy Young Award winners in your rotation (you know, Clayton Kershaw joining Greinke), why would you want just one? The Dodgers wanted both, but there also were others courting Greinke.
Before the Red Sox signed Price, they knocked at Greinke's door offering more than flowers and a box of candy. The same went for the Cubs, and then the Dodgers' worst nightmare entered the picture -- the Giants, as in the team that those around Chavez Ravine wish to defeat the most.
Greinke eventually signed with the D-backs for $206 million over six years. In response, the Giants countered by giving a five-year deal worth $90 million to Jeff Samardzija.
Talking about fun. Then, during the Winter Meetings, pitchers continued to produce the biggest news. The Cubs did sign highly efficient infielder Ben Zobrist, but they joined their peers in keeping their eyes inside of the Opryland Hotel mostly on the mound. One moment, the Cubs were snatching John Lackey away from the archrival Cardinals (I'm guessing that spurred more than a few baseball-related conversations everywhere). The next, the Dodgers were trying to finalize a deal with the Reds for dynamic closer Aroldis Chapman, whose status is under review by MLB officials.
At the close of the Winter Meetings, 10 trades were announced and 11 free agents were signed. In addition, other free agents reached agreements during that stretch in the shadows.
Not bad when it comes to Hot Stove league buzz, but just wait. Among the best Christmas presents for certain baseball fans will be the movement of a significant player or two to their team during the next couple of weeks.
Likely during the next couple of days.
That's when the Cubs will make it official that they've topped the Cardinals (there's that team again) and the Nationals by signing free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward and his three Gold Gloves. You also have Gordon out there as a free agent, and he has been one of the primary catalysts for the Royals' spurt from also-rans into a consistent power. Justin Upton is a free agent, too, and he can slug with the best of them. Another free agent is Yoenis Cespedes, who joined a collapsing Mets offense after the All-Star break, got hot at the plate and led a rejuvenated lineup into the World Series.