Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview: NL West

San Francisco Giants

Notable additions: Jeremy Affeldt (re-signing), Chad Gaudin (re-signing), Angel Pagan (re-signing), Marco Scutaro(re-signing), Andres Torres (free agent)

Notable losses: Clay Hensley (FA), Guillermo Mota (FA), Melky Cabrera (FA), Ryan Theriot (FA)

The Giants are coming off their second World Series win in three seasons, which seems odd. They never felt like a dominant team either year, but benefited from some fantastic individual performances to assist their already impressive core of talent. The Giants have a very specific way of building their roster, staying in contention with their solid core and then acquiring veterans on the cheap around the trade deadline to supplement their playoff runs. They then sign those veterans to extensions and if those don’t work out, they simply trade for another replacement.

Buster Posey (the 2012 NL MVP), Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Pablo Sandoval are the team’s headliners, and all rank among the best at their respective positions. Cain and Bumgarner head the starting rotation, which also features a solid veteran in Ryan Vogelsong, a mediocre veteran in Barry Zito, and a total wild card in Tim Lincecum, a former Cy Young winner who’s coming off a disaster season. If Lincecum’s velocity and command issues persist, the Giants don’t really have anyone to replace him. The bullpen is fantastic, and manager Bruce Bochy is excellent at using it properly.

For a World Series winner, their offense continues to be underrated. Posey is the best hitting catcher in the majors, Sandoval is terrific when healthy, and among the other starters only slick-fielding shortstop Brandon Crawford is likely to be below average. The defense is also solid, with Hunter Pence the only player with a weak glove.  Prospect Gary Brown is worth keeping an eye on as a mid-season replacement in left field.

Projected Roster

Catcher: Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, Guillermo Quiroz
First Base: Brandon Belt
Second Base: Marco Scutaro
Shortstop: Brandon Crawford
Third Base: Pablo Sandoval
Outfield: Andres Torres, Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco
Utility: Joaquin Arias, Nick Noonan
Starting Pitchers: Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito
Relief Pitchers: Chad Gaudin, George Kontos, Javier Lopez, Jose Mijares, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo

Los Angeles Dodgers 

Notable additions: Zack Greinke (FA), JP Howell (FA), Hyun-Jin Ryu (FA), Skip Schumaker(FA), Brandon League (re-signing)

Notable losses: Juan Rivera (FA), Adam Kennedy (FA), Shane Victorino (FA), Tony Gwynn, Jr. (FA), Jamey Wright (FA), Randy Choate (FA)

The Dodgers have a lot of money. Like, a LOT of money. They swung a late season trade with Boston to absorb the massive contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford, signed former Brewer Zack Greinke to a massive deal in the offseason, and have no problem handing out large sacks of money to Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Brandon League, and just about everyone else on their pitching staff. Despite all of this, it’s hard to consider them a favorite in their own division, much less the NL. They’ve certainly improved on the 86-win team from last year, but injuries and lack of depth on the offense will likely keep them from running away with anything.

Kemp is an unquestioned superstar and heads a talented offense. Gonzalez and Ramirez are big names coming off of bad years. Andre Ethier is a decent player. Everyone else is a big question mark. Luis Cruz and AJ Ellis overachieved last year and aren’t long term options, Mark Ellis is just kind of okay, Carl Crawford hasn’t been healthy in over two seasons, and Dee Gordon sucks so hard. Even the stars have problems, with Ramirez missing the first couple months of the season, Gonzalez losing power, and Kemp having shoulder issues. Kemp and Ramirez are also asked to play positions the can no longer reasonably play defensively, which doesn’t help. Then bench is uninspiring, Jerry Hairston Jr. is a solid utility guy but the idea of Nick Punto and/or Juan Uribe starting in Ramirez’s place is kind of hilarious.

The pitching staff is deep. Clayton Kershaw and Greinke might be the best 1-2 in baseball, and Beckett’s not too shabby as a #3. Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu is a complete unknown and Chad Billingsley is due to suffer an elbow explosion, but Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, and Aaron Harang are waiting in the bullpen so it’s all cool. Kenley Jansen and League make up the back end of the bullpen, and both are solid.

Projected Roster

Catcher: AJ Ellis, Tim Federowicz
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez
Second Base: Mark Ellis
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez (DL)
Third Base: Luis Cruz, Juan Uribe
Outfield: Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier
Utility: Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Alex Castellanos
Starting Pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chad Billingsley
Relief Pitchers: Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, Matt Guerrier, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, Brandon League

Arizona Diamondbacks

Notable additions: Martin Prado (trade), Randall Delgado (trade), Cliff Pennington (trade), Heath Bell (trade), Tony Sipp (trade), Didi Gregorius (trade),Tony Campana (trade),  Brandon McCarthy (FA), Matt Reynolds (FA), Wil Nieves (FA), Eric Chavez (FA), Eric Hinske (FA), Cody Ross (FA)

Notable losses: Justin Upton (trade), Chris Johnson (trade), Trevor Bauer (trade), Chris Young (trade), Brian Shaw (trade), Matt Albers (FA), Matt Lindstrom (FA), Mike Zagurski (FA), Lyle Overbay (FA), Henry Blanco (FA), Takashi Saito (FA)

The D-Backs have been in the headlines constantly this offseason, and it’s not for good reasons. The Upton, Young, and Bauer trades have gotten negative reviews and for good reason. Despite this, they should still be a competitive team in 2013. They have a good offense  and a deep pitching staff, but they are also devoid of stars in an attempt to build the club in manager Kirk Gibson’s image.

Miguel Montero is probably their best player, a well-rounded catcher who hits from the left side. He’s very good. Paul Goldschimdt is coming off s sophomore season where he hit better against right-handed pitching than expected but also showed less power than expected. Second baseman Aaron Hill is coming off something of a second breakout season, hitting for both average and power. Martin Prado is also a very good player and will man third base but can fill in just about everywhere else if injuries occur. Shortstop is a black hole offensively with Pennington and Gregorius being unable to hit a baseball with a baseball bat, but both are good fielders. The outfield has been downgraded with the trades of Young and Upton and the injury to Adam Eaton, but Cody Ross, Gerardo Parra, and Jason Kubel are still solid options. The bench is good despite the presence of Wil Nieves.

The pitching staff is also solid, but devoid of star-level talent. Ian Kennedy’s is the “ace” but his true talent is probably closer to his 2012 production than his 2011 production. Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley have probably already reached their upside. Brandon McCarthy is a cool dude and solid pitcher but the likelihood of him staying healthy all season is pretty close to zero. Randall Delgado has no third pitch and shaky control, so it’s probable that we see Patrick Corbin and/or Tyler Skaggs occupy that spot at some point. Daniel Hudson is coming off of Tommy John surgery but should make an appearance at some point. The bullpen is impressive with David Hernandez and JJ Putz locking down the back end. The traded for Heath Bell for some reason but hopefully they’ll keep him out of many leverage situations.

Projected Roster

Catcher: Miguel Montero, Wil Nieves
First Base: Paul Goldschimdt, Eric Hinske
Second Base: Aaron Hill
Third Base: Martin Prado, Eric Chavez
Shortstop: Cliff Pennington
Outfield: Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, Cody Ross, Adam Eaton (DL), AJ Pollock
Utility: Willie Bloomquist
Starting Pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Patrick Corbin
Relief Pitchers: Matt Reynolds, Joe Paterson, Brad Zeigler, Tony Sipp, Heath Bell, David Hernandez, JJ Putz

San Diego Padres

Notable additions: Jason Marquis (re-signing)

Notable losses: Jason Bartlett (FA)

Andrew was bold enough to predict the Mariners for second place in the AL West, and I’d love to show similar boldness here. But I can’t do it. I like what the Padres have going for the most part but are already without star third baseman Chase Headley for the first month and even after that thumb injuries are no picnic for hitters. Pitching prospect Casey Kelly is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and stud catcher Yasmani Grandal is suspended for the first 50 games. The farm system is loaded but it’s hard to project what kind of impact it’ll make this season. Maybe next year?

When everyone is healthy/not suspended, this looks like a decent offense despite the enormous park they call home. Headley probably had his career year in 2012, but is a very good player nonetheless. Carlos Quentin and Grandal are the only other well-above-average players, but the rest of the pieces fit together nicely to make a well-rounded lineup. Prospect Jed Gyorko has potential to be a good player, but was being asked to play out of position before the Headley injury and I have my doubts he’ll stick at second base. First baseman Yonder Alonso underachieved in his first year in Petco, but I have hopes he’ll figure it out. If not, power-hitting Kyle Blanks could get a shot. Cameron Maybin is also coming off a down year but is an elite defender and still has some nice skills offensively. Wil Venable and Chris Denorfia aren’t household names but should make a great platoon in right field. Cody Ransom and Mark Kotsay are around, so there’s that.

The pitching is meh, not that it matters a whole lot in that park. Edinson Volquez has good stuff but walks way too many hitters. Jason Marquis pitched well after coming over mid-season, but isn’t a top-of-the-rotation guy. Eric Stults and Clayton Richard are just innings-eaters. Tyson Ross isn’t any good. Cory Luebke has upside but is coming off surgery and probably won’t debut until midseason. Youngsters Anthony Bass and Andrew Cashner will almost certainly factor in at some point. Like most every other team in this division, the bullpen is pretty good. Huston Street will close while he’s healthy, and Luke Gregerson is a great set-up man. I love Brad Boxberger as a future closer type.

Projected Roster

Catcher: Yasmani Grandal (suspended), Nick Hundley, John Baker
First Base: Yonder Alonso, Mark Kotsay
Second Base: Jed Gyorko, Logan Forsythe
Shortsop: Everth Cabrera
Third Base: Chase Headley (DL)
Outfield: Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Wil Venable, Chris Denorfia, Kyle Blanks,
Utility: Alexi Amarista
Starting Pitchers: Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Eric Stults, Jason Marquis, Tyson Ross
Relief Pitchers: Huston Street, Luke Gregerson, Brad Brach, Andrew Cashner, Joe Thatcher, Dale Thayer, Anthony Bass

Colorado Rockies

Notable additions: Jorge De La Rosa (re-signing), Jeff Francis (re-signing), Jon Garland (FA), Yorvit Torrealba (FA), Chris Volstad (FA), Reid Brignac (trade), Manuel Corpas (FA)

Notable losses: Alex White (trade), Matt Reynolds (FA), Josh Roenicke (FA), Jason Giambi (FA)

"Why did I sign that extension?"
Ugh. UGH. This team is a mess. At least they’ll be a mildly entertaining mess, when they play at home anyway. Just about every division has a team that is all but ensured to finish last, the in the NL West the Rockies are that team. Even if one of the teams above them loses their roster in a plane crash I’m not sure the Rockies could catch them.

The offense will occasionally look better than it really is due to the extreme hitting-friendly environment of Coors Field, but beyond superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, there’s not much to like. Catcher Wilin Rosario has tons of power but not much else and is a defensive disaster. Dexter Fowler and Michael Cuddyer are decent players but probably a little overrated. Second baseman Josh Rutledge is interesting and filled in well for Tulowitzki last season, but probably isn’t a star in the making. Todd Helton is still around but he’s 39 and his hitting skills have faded. Most everyone else is either a glorified platoon player or bad. Prospect Nolan Arenado is the future at third base but makeup issues have hurt his stock.

The pitching is…….bad. Francis is kind of their ace, which is kind of embarrassing. De La Rosa is a lottery ticket, and the team is hoping Drew Pomeranz and Jhoulys Chacin can throw strikes and Juan Nicasio won’t get hit by any more line drives. The bullpen has some skilled pitchers with Matt Belisle, Adam Ottavino, and Rex Brothers. Rafael Betancourt closes and is extremely underrated. He’s also never hit a left-handed batter with a pitch, which is amazing.

Projected Roster

Catcher: Wilin Rosario, Yorvit Torrealba
First Base: Todd Helton
Second Base: Josh Rutledge
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki
Third Base: Chris Nelson
Outfield: Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer
Utility: Jordan Pacheco, Eric Young, Jr., Jonathan Herrera, Reid Brignac
Starting Pitchers: Jeff Francis, Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Jhoulys Chacin, Jon Garland
Relief Pitchers: Adam Ottavino, Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle, Wilton Lopez, Manuel Corpas, Chris Volstad, Rafael Betancourt

Projected Standings

San Fransisco Giants (90-72, first place, NL West Champions)
Los Angeles Dodgers (88-74, second place)
Arizona Diamondbacks (84-78, third place)
San Diego Padres (82-80, fourth place)
Colorado Rockies (65-97, fifth place)

This is one of the deepest divisions in baseball, which makes for good baseball games but lower win totals at the top. Frankly I could see any of the top three teams winning the West, but as of now I like the Giants the most out of the group. Because the top four teams will beat each other up, I only see one team in the division making the playoffs.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

Jerry Eldred (@jheldred)

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