Updated Dec 26, 2013 - 8:25 am
Holiday Wish List for the Valley Teams
But let's be honest, it's also a time to receive gifts.
And in that spirit, we at ArizonaSports.com have come up with a wish list of things that the four Valley teams -- Arizona Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Coyotes and Phoenix Suns -- most likely want stuffed in their stockings to close out 2013.
The Arizona Cardinals are on the verge of finishing off their best regular season since moving to the Valley in 1988. All that stands between the Red Birds and an 11-win season is a date with the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium.
However despite the success Arizona has had under first-year head coach Bruce Arians in 2013, it still finds itself outside the NFC Playoff picture going into Week 17.
An improbable 17-10 win at Seattle last Sunday -- the first by any visiting team since Dec. 2011 -- kept the Cardinals' postseason hopes alive, but this holiday season they'll need to win and receive some help from a very unlikely source: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The hapless Bucs head to New Orleans Sunday sporting an NFC South-worst 4-11 record and to make matters worse face a team that is a perfect 7-0 at home this season.
Back in 2010, Tampa Bay knocked off the playoff-bound Saints in Week 17 in the Superdome. Can they make it twice in four years?
The Cardinals sure hope so.
Kevin Towers opted for a grittiness when assembling the D-backs' 25-man roster before the 2013 season. While Arizona certainly battled for all 27 outs and in the process played the longest season in MLB history, the end result was a second consecutive 81-81 season and a playoff-less October.
While the D-backs GM has already addressed two needs -- lineup protection for All-Star Paul Goldschmidt and a closer-- with the acquisitions of Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed, he's also gone about trading away most of the organization's highly-touted pitching prospects (David Holmberg, Jarrod Parker, Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs). To compete in the National League West, Arizona needs a bona fide ace to head up a staff that finished No. 19 in ERA, No. 19 ERA in WHIP and No. 22 in opponent batting average.
Patrick Corbin showed signs of being that guy during his All-Star-caliber first half but tapered off towards the latter stages of last season. Twenty-year-old Archie Bradley is the gem of the D-backs' farm system and could eventually find his way at the top of the rotation, but in the short-term that's probably unrealistic.
While its slim pickings when it comes to free agency with Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez serving as the best options, Towers has been known to wheel and deal well into January if he sees something he needs to have.
Or, will the ole' gunslinger fork up the cash required to land the services of 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka when and if he's officially posted?
It should be a very interesting few weeks in the desert.
After a four-game road trip through eastern Canada and upstate New York yielded a total of four points and a collection of unpleasant memories along the way, the suddenly-struggling Coyotes have plenty of wishes they'd like to be granted this holiday season.
Mike Smith has been stellar at times this season, but he has yet to put together one of those pattened shutouts he seemed to record rather frequently during the 2011-12 season.
It's hard to put too much of the blame on Smith, though, because the Coyotes could certainly use a hand defensively. With blue liners like Derek Morris and Zybnek Michalek missing notable time throughout the first half of the 2013-14 season, Phoenix's ability to thwart offensive chances has been greatly inhibited.
The Coyotes are currently ranked No. 25 in goals against (3.0) and No. 25 in penalty kill percentage (78.8) -- two areas that are usually staples for any Dave Tippett-led club.
The NHL trade deadline isn't until March 5, so Don Maloney doesn't necessarily need to make a move just yet. But if D-men can't stay healthy, he'd be wise to take a peak as to how the market is shaping up.
But most importantly, the Coyotes need their captain, Shane Doan, to return to full strength. Doan has missed the team's last eight games due to Rocky Mountain Fever, and his presence both on the ice (23 points) and off it is sorely missed. While Phoenix currently holds the second Wild Card in the Western Conference, without No. 19 back in the lineup, that position might be temporary at best.
General manager Ryan McDonough made no bones about it the minute he stepped to the microphone at his introductory press conference: the Suns need a star.
Actions speak louder than words, and in that sense McDonough has already passed the test. The first-year GM spent the summer trading most of the team's veteran pieces for future assets with the hopes of either finding a star in a future draft or packaging multiple picks to land one via trade.
Phoenix might have already found a budding star in Eric Bledsoe and its center of the future in Miles Plumlee, but it'll need more than those two, Goran Dragic and a collection of young talent to contend in the Western Conference.
A 17-10 start has been a refreshing sight to say the least, but fans in the Valley fans can only hope that its just the beginning for a franchise desperately trying to ignite its long-term future -- one that not too long ago looked rather bleak.
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