Chris Cullum

First off, let me congratulate the San Francisco Giants on winning the World Series, their first in 56 years. Their dominant pitching the last month of the season carried them into the playoffs and truly made 2010 the year of the pitcher.

But enough looking back, it’s time to look forward to 2011. Between the high profile free agents that will be available, some managerial changes and everything in between, I have some predictions for next season.

Hiring Mike Quade will turn out to be the right decision for the Chicago Cubs.

When Lou Piniella quit on the Cubs at the end of August (yes, he quit) it was thought by most people that Ryne Sandberg would become the next Cubs’ manager in 2011. However, nobody expected Quade to lead the Cubs to a 24-13 record under his watch. The numbers, however, aren’t the main support for my prediction. Aug. 22, when Quade was officially named the interim manager, the team was lifeless, hopeless and devoid of a first baseman and serviceable bullpen (among other things). When Quade took over, something changed for these guys. They hit better. They pitched better. They were fun to watch again, something they hadn’t been in a long time. Will all of that transfer to next year? That remains to be seen. All I know is that when I was watching Cubs games during Sweet Lou’s final months I could see the apathy on the players’ faces and in the way they played. I didn’t see that under Quade.

The team that signs Jayson Werth will regret it.

Werth is among the most coveted free agents this winter along with Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford. He’ll turn 32 in May 2011 and has only been a starter for three seasons. Yet, if we’re to believe what people are projecting, Werth expects to sign a contract worth approximately $100 million this winter. Hmm, let’s see: outfielder on the wrong side of his prime, coming off of a few good seasons, looking for a big contract, named Jayson … sounds a lot like Jason Bay, doesn’t it? And how did that turn out for the New York Mets?

The Boston Red Sox will bounce back and make the playoffs.

They’re too talented not to. Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett and Dustin Pedroia all missed significant time this past season, and having them back for a full season will be a huge boost. Combine that with the Tampa Bay Rays losing Carl Crawford and the Sox acquiring another bat (Adrian Gonzalez or maybe being the ones to sign Crawford) and their route to the postseason looks pretty bright.

The Minnesota Twins will have the best record in baseball.

It may sound crazy, but the Twins were only three games back from that feat this past season, and that was without Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan for the majority of the year. Francisco Liriano finally appears to be pitching the way he was when he took the league by storm a few years back. They have that Joe Mauer guy. To top it off, they won’t be crippled by any players leaving via free agency. Jim Thome played a big role for them in 2010, but Morneau will be back to fill that void. All signs point to a much-improved Twins team that is already among the best in the league.

The Giants and Texas Rangers will not return to their respective league championship series.

I know, I know, it’s far too early to be making playoff predictions. However, both of these teams have the scent of a one year wonder to them. The Rangers relied heavily on Cliff Lee this postseason, and if he doesn’t return that will be a huge blow for them. Josh Hamilton has missed more than 100 games combined the last two years, and his health will always be a concern. Ian Kinsler isn’t a picture of health either. They also need to decide what to do with Neftali Feliz. Brought up as a starter, he has been the team’s closer for the last couple of seasons. Do the Rangers put Feliz and his electric stuff in the rotation, or do they leave him in the closer’s role that he has excelled in? Either way they have a void that needs to be filled, and I’m not sure if anything short of Cliff Lee will be enough. As for the Giants, their problem actually stems from their strength throughout the playoffs. Can this self-proclaimed group of “misfits and castoffs” put together another magical run? The Giants barely squeaked into the playoffs this season, posting a team ERA of approximately 2.00 for September. The pitching will still be there, it’s the offense that will be the problem. A team can get hot and roll through a postseason like the Giants did this year, but to expect that from them for an entire season is just too much.