The 5: Best surprise gifts from Arizona sports teams in 2019

Dec 25, 2019, 6:06 AM | Updated: 3:45 pm
(AP image/Getty Images)...
(AP image/Getty Images)
(AP image/Getty Images)

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s a time to celebrate, be with loved ones, and of course everybody’s favorite: gifts! And what better type of gifts than surprises?

Arizona sports fans must have been good in 2019, as almost every team gave their fan base a reason to be excited about the near future, ones they weren’t expecting.

Here is a look at the top five surprise gifts from Arizona sports teams to their respective faithful:

Madison Bumgarner

First, let’s start with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ acquisition of starting left-handed pitcher Madison Bumgarner via free agency.

Bumgarner, 30, was a four-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion with the San Francisco Giants, where he made his reputation as one of the best postseason starters in the game after his 2014 October that saw him awarded both the NLCS and World Series MVPs. He also owns a World Series-record 0.25 ERA (one earned run in 36 innings pitched).

Bumgarner can also swing the lumber, as the right-handed hitter’s career 19 home runs, 62 RBIs and 40 walks in 679 plate appearances has landed him two Silver Slugger Awards.

With the signing of the former division rival, the D-backs look poised to challenge for the NL West with one of the better starting rotations in the league.

And that makes for one heck of a gift.

Ketel Marte

What’s not to like about D-backs All-Star?

Not only is the Dominican versatile in the field, but he can also rake from both sides of the plate.

In 2019, Marte hit .329 (tied for 2nd in MLB) with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .981 OPS (seventh in the league). Those metrics were good enough to see the 26-year-old finish fourth in NL MVP voting.

But what makes Marte such a gift is that his contract is an absolute bargain.

The All-Star is on a five-year, $24 million contract ($4.8 million per year average) that runs through 2022, per Spotrac.

That allows for tremendous flexibility in the free agent and trade markets, if the signing of Bumgarner didn’t make that evident already.

And it’s not just about the money that Ketel allows the D-backs to spend elsewhere.

The production Arizona is getting for that dollar amount at 26 years old is absurd in comparison to other players around the league with similar numbers.

Only five position players had a better WAR than Marte’s 6.9 this season: Cody Bellinger (9), Alex Bregman (8.4), Mike Trout (8.3), Marcus Semien (8.1) and Christian Yelich (6.9).

Taylor Hall

The Arizona Coyotes gave their fans a mid-season present by trading for former New Jersey Devils winger Taylor Hall just one day after Bumgarner agreed to call the Valley home.

Hall, 28, was the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner after his 93 points put him as the league’s MVP. He was also named to ESPN’s top 100 players of the decade list.

Hall gave the Coyotes faithful a taste of his ability in his debut after assisting Oliver Ekman Larsson on the game-winning goal in Arizona’s 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 17.

The only downside is that the 28-year-old is in the final year of his contract, so Hall will only be a one-year rental unless the Coyotes can resign the winger.

Kenyan Drake

Another mid-season find is running back Kenyan Drake, whom the Arizona Cardinals acquired from the Miami Dolphins via trade in October.

For a backfield that has been plagued by both injury and lack of production, Drake has been the perfect antidote.

Much like Hall, Drake is basically a rental, as his contract expires at the end of the 2019 season.

And with a middle of the pack rushing offense that ranks 14th in the NFL at 119 yards per game, retaining Arizona’s leading back will be a top priority for general manager Steve Keim.

The GM has even said that he would “love” to have Drake return.

Aron Baynes

It only took one game for Phoenix Suns fans to have their hope and optimism damaged in the 2019-20 season.

Following the Suns’ 124-95 win over the Sacramento Kings on opening night, center Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy after testing positive for a diuretic.

But it was Australian center Aron Baynes that stepped up in Ayton’s absence and delivered a level of production that nobody could have predicted.

In an 11-game span prior to missing time due to injury, Baynes averaged 15.4 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 55.9% from the field and 43.1% from 3-point range.

Phoenix went 6-5 in those 11 games.

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