Welcome to the sixth and final MLB season preview for Place to be Nation. Today we’ll be checking out the National League West.
As always, teams are in predicted order of finish.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers re-made themselves yet again this offseason, and they’ve begun 2015 with new starters at catcher, second base, shortstop, and center field. Not to mention replacing 60% of last year’s starting rotation.
It’s pretty significant to see a team that won 94 games in 2014 make so many changes at all those key positions, and yet still be expected as the class of the division.
But, that’s where we find the Dodgers at the start of 2015, thanks in part to the deep pockets of their ownership group, and the baseball acumen of their front office, which also underwent quite a facelift, with new GM Farhan Zaidi and new President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman imported from the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively.
The biggest change is in the outfield, where injury-prone center fielder Matt Kemp was shipped off to division rival San Diego, and young phenom Joc Pederson takes over. Pederson, unlike his predecessor, is a plus in the outfield, and he should also bring a nice spark to the top of LA’s lineup. The 23-year-old lit up Triple-A pitching last year, and is off to a strong start in 2015; he should be in play for the Rookie of the Year award all season long.
Pederson will be flanked by another young wunderkind, right fielder Yasiel Puig, and former top prospect Carl Crawford in left. Puig, just 24, has been an enigma in many ways, but he’s an undeniable talent, putting up a .296/.382/.480 line last year in his first full season. The ManBearPuig is still figuring out some aspects of the big leagues, but he’s a true talent that is amazing to watch as he learns.
Crawford, 33, is on the downside of his career, and really hasn’t been an impact player since leaving Tampa Bay as a free agent after the 2010 season. Last year he played in just 105 games a managed a .300/.339/.429 line while contending with reduced playing time and a few nagging injuries along the way.
In the trade for Kemp, the Dodgers directly added their new catcher, Yasmani Grandal, and indirectly their shortstop, longtime Philadelphia standout Jimmy Rollins. Grandal, just 26, is a well-regarded receiver and has shown good ability at the plate too. Although he’s carries a .244 batting average, Grandal has a .351 on-base percentage to go with 61 extra-base hits in 223 career games. The best is yet to come with LA’s new backstop.
The same cannot be said of the 36-year-old Rollins, a former NL MVP that was acquired from Philly for minor league pitchers Tom Windle and Zach Elfin, who was part of the Kemp deal. During his final year in Philly, Rollins hit .243/.323/.394 in 138 games but was still a slightly above-average fielder. He’ll probably do about the same this year as a Dodger.
Rollins’ double-play partner is also a newbie in Dodger Blue (a bluebie???), as second sacker Howie Kendrick came over to the Dodgers just over a week before Rollins arrived. Kendrick, 31, never turned into the dynamic perennial batting champ many thought he’d become as he terrorized minor league pitching, but Kendrick has become a solid regular nonetheless. He comes into the year with a career line of .293/.333/.426. If he comes close to those numbers in his new home, the team won’t miss last year’s breakout of Dee Gordon at all.
The Dodgers kept their infield corners the same, with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and third baseman Juan Uribe returning this year. Gonzalez, 33, is off to a torrid start this year as he looks to build on last year’s .276-27-116 season. While the four-time Gold Glover probably won’t pop 35 home runs, he’s a great player to anchor the lineup for LA.
Uribe, who has been playing forever (FOR-EV-ER!), first coming up in 2001 with the Rockies. He’s been with LA since 2011 and last year was easily his best, as the 36-year-old posted a .311/.337/.438 line with 23 doubles, nine home runs, and 50 RBIs. A duplicate season, along his strong defense, is all the Dodgers need, as uber-prospect Corey Seager* should be coming up to take over either third base or short stop sometime next year.
*A prospect I interviewed a few times in A-ball. Yeah, slight name drop. I know.
On the mound, Los Angeles retains its 1-2 gut punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, both of whom are among the game’s top shelf moundsmen. Kershaw won his third Cy Young award last year, going 21-3 with a league-best 1.77 ERA and 239 strikeouts. He also led the league in wins, winning percentage, ERA+, WHIP, K/9 and K/BB ratio. Just sick. So, so sick.
Greinke, 31, went 17-8 last year with a 2.71 ERA last year and while he’s facing decreased velocity issues, the righty is still putting up amazing stats regardless. It seems likely that he’ll opt out of his deal with LA at the end of the year, so Greinke has plenty of incentive to continue piling up the stats this year.
Last year’s No. 3, Dan Haren, was traded to Miami as part of the Kendrick trade (more or less), while Hyun-jin Ryu is currently on the DL, and Josh Beckett retired. As a result, the Dodgers are leaning on offseason acquisitions Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy at this point, with journeyman David Huff their No. 5. Anderson, despite his lengthy injury history, did not come cheap — a 1-year, $10-million deal — but he should be well worth it if the team watches his workload and Anderson can limit his training room visits. The same can be said for McCarthy, who got a 4-year, $48 million contract. Both represent risks for LA, as Kershaw and Greinke cannot win the division alone. If injuries* hit the bottom half of LA’s rotation, it could spell disaster for the True Blue.
*The team also signed Tommy John alum Brandon Beachy, so apparently injured pitchers are the new market inefficiency.
The bullpen doesn’t figure to be a strength this year, just as it wasn’t one last year. However, the Dodgers have a few interesting arms and they’ll hope that a healthy starting staff will limit the exposure their relievers get.
Prediction: 92-70, first place, NL West
San Francisco Giants
Otherwise, the San Francisco braintrust stood pat, allowing the champs to defend their title on their own merits. Something that has worked out well for the club … in the even-numbered years. If you believe that sort of thing.
Anyway, the team remains top contender in the West thanks to its mix of top stars and value that surrounds them; that’s the secret in SF: making sure all of the parts work well, regardless of their role. It really does seem that this is a team of zero egos and a lot of credit for that has to go to the man that steers the ship, manager Bruce Bochy.
Bochy wouldn’t have his third ring, however, without the October work of No. 1 starter Madison Bumgarner, who tossed a total of 46 ⅔ innings in the postseason last year, earning four wins with 45 strikeouts and a 1.16 ERA. He wound up with a grand total of 264 innings last year, plus spring training, so there were some offseason whispers about that workload, but at age 25, it’s unlikely that wear and tear will show up on Bumgarner this suddenly. Maybe avoid drafting him for your fantasy teams in 2020, but for 2015, he’s a safe bet.
The rest of the rotation for the G-Men consists of 39-year-old Tim Hudson, 34-year-old Jake Peavy*, 31-year-old Tim Lincecum, and then either 27-year-old Chris Heston or 37-year-old Ryan Vogelsong. While none of them come with the X-factor that Bumgarner does, all can deliver solid outings and keep the Giants in most games to turn it over to the bullpen.
The ‘pen, which was third in the NL with a 3.01 ERA last year, returns the same cast of characters, but without a defined closer at the end. Sergio Romo began 2014 as the team’s stopper, but struggled and lost the gig to Santiago Casilla by year’s end. Casilla is penciled in for that role in 2015. The rest of the ‘pen is well-built, with long man Yusmeiro Petit a great fit in that role, with lefty specialists Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez joining righties George Kontos, Jean “Haichi” Machi, and Romo in other setup roles. Despite the overall uncertainty of relievers, Bochy works his bullpen as well as any other manager other there, so this is still a big asset for the Giants.
Catcher Buster Posey remains a superstar entering his age 28 season, as he looks to build on his .311/.364/.490 season last year. While Posey has entrenched himself as a first-class star, it looks like that may never happen for first baseman Brandon Belt*, whom many predicted superstardom for by this point in the 27-year-old’s career. Injuries and ineffectiveness have stalled Belt’s career though, as he managed just 61 games last year and he’s already missed a few games this season.
Second baseman Joe Panik provided a shot in the arm for San Fran last year, batting .305 in 73 games last year and earning the job full-time. He’ll hope to build on his rookie campaign with another strong showing this year. Double-play partner Brandon Crawford was strong defensively last year and provided 20 doubles, 10 triples, and 10 home runs last year. New third baseman McGehee had a career resurgence last season with Miami after spending 2013 playing in Japan. He hit .287/.355/.357 in 160 games for the Fish. Replicating that would be alright with the Giants as they need to replace Sandoval’s production at the hot corner.
In the outfield, the Giants are typically led by right fielder Hunter Pence, but a broken forearm in spring training has the 32 year-old on the sidelines to start the 2015 campaign. Pence is considered a leader in the clubhouse for the team and always put up good numbers on the field, hitting .277/.332/.445 in 162 games for the champs last year.
Pence’s return will put Aoki back into his fourth outfielder role, although the Japanese import is off to a good start this year, so he will continue to see ample time backing up Pence, as well as left fielder Gregor Blanco and center fielder Angel Pagan.
Blanco, 31, has become a solid part-timer for the Giants over the past couple years. Last season he played in 146 games and wound up with a 103 OPS+. That showing, along with the free agent defection of Mike Morse to Miami, gave Blanco the job for 2015. If he proves incapable of repeating last year’s numbers, the Aoki signing becomes even more important to the team’s success.
Pagan, 33, played just 96 games last year, but he managed a line of .300/.342/.389 and played solid defense in center. He’ll look for a healthy repeat this year.
Overall, the defending World Champions should be in the hunt again. They probably don’t have the pitching to compete with the Dodgers, but it’ll all come down to which team stays healthiest. The team with the fewest pitchers lost the DL will take the division this year. In that case, bet on talent, and the Dodgers have just a bit more again this year.
Prediction: 88-74, second place, NL West
San Diego Padres
There was no team more active during the offseason than the Padres. Led by new General Manager A.J. Preller, the team added:
- catcher Derek Norris
- third baseman Will Middlebrooks
- left fielder Justin Upton
- center fielder Wil Myers
- right fielder Matt Kemp
- closer Craig Kimbrel
- starter James Shields
- reliever Brandon Morrow
- albatross Melvin Upton
It’s an impressive list, to be sure, and Preller definitely wins points for being aggressive.
The Padres still play in Petco Park, one of the worst parks for right-handed hitters in all of baseball. Look back at that list of adds and count the right-handed hitters.
That’s right, all of them.
One of the reasons that Petco is so tough on right-handers (and, really, lefties too) is because of the large outfield that allows fielders to play deep, preventing doubles and triples, while also transforming home runs into fly outs.
But a big outfield does require good outfielders blessed with strong instincts, good routes, and the quickness to cut down balls in the gaps.
Go check that list again. Any outfielders meet those qualifications?
Petco makes pitchers better. It enhances the stats of starters by allowing them to get away with more mistakes, knowing their defense, particularly up-the-middle, will handle things.
That’s …. not very good.
Despite this, Preller still added Shields at the top of the rotation and Kimbrel at the back end. The Shields signing is defensible, but it wasn’t really necessary for a team whose home ballpark can turn any decent right-handed pitcher into a 15-win, 3-ERA, 180+ innings worker.
The Kimbrel deal was probably a worse offender here, since the Padres have been a “reliever factory” for years, churning out useful bullpen arms since the opening of Petco in 2004. Sure, it’s nice to have that dominant arm at the back end to lock down wins, but closers are overrated in the big picture and Kimbrel’s add to a team that already had Joaquin Benoit proving he could capably handle the job was the definition of masturbatory.
In short, San Diego spent its offseason grabbing a lot of headlines, but in the end, the Padres have constructed a team that is almost the complete opposite of what they need to thrive in their home ballpark.
Prediction: 83-79, third place, NL West
It’s the same story with the Rockies, they’ll need to hit their way to contention. And to do that, the team needs stud shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to stay healthy and play 150 or games each.
Of course, both players will have constant trade rumors swirling around them if they do remain healthy.
This puzzle makes the Rockies a fascinating team. They really can never truly contend. Sure, years like 2009, 2007, and 1995 will happen every so often, but it’s a virtual impossibility to build a sustained winner in Coors Field.
But, because the team draws consistently well, no one’s going to suggest they relocate. And no good (or sane) pitcher is going sign as a free agent in Colorado, and hitters will shy away because they want to win more than pad their stats. So, the team is stuck with the same damn blueprint year and after.
They add enough warm bodies to the pitching staff to try and play .500 on the road and then hope that the offense will be good enough at home for them to slug into a playoff spot. It rarely works, as the team routinely allows more runs than it scores*, which is a consistent recipe for disaster.
*Since Coors Field opened in 1995, the Rockies have allowed more runs than they have scored 14 times. Their three playoff seasons were, not surprisingly, three of the six times they outscored the opposition.
This year, the team is hoping that Tulo and CarGo stay healthy enough that, with complimentary 2014 breakthroughs Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson, along with last year’s batting champ Justin Morneau, and new “catcher” Willin Rosario will all mash enough, while actual catcher Nick Hundley can guide the rotation to respectability.
It could happen.
Just don’t hold your breath or bet any money on it, though.
Prediction: 76-86, fourth place, NL West
First, a confession: I have no idea what the hell Arizona is doing.
During the offseason, new General Manager Dave Stewart took over.
He then proceeded to do … things.
In a way, you can compare Stewart’s actions to those of division foes Andrew Friedman in Los Angeles and A.J. Preller in San Diego.
In that same way, you can compare a Ford Pinto to a space shuttle.
What I’m trying to say here is that I don’t know that the Diamondbacks are any better off with Stewart, chief baseball officer Tony La Russa, and manager Chip Hale than they were with Kevin Towers as the GM and Kirk Gibson as the manager.
The team added former Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson to the rotation, while also grabbing erstwhile prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa in a trade with Boston. The rest of the rotation is not much better, with back-ender Josh Collmenter filing the role of “ace” while prospects Archie Bradley and Chase Anderson* round things out.
*Anderson hails from Wichita Falls, Texas. Which made me think of this. Which is awesome.
The bullpen has some useful parts, exactly the types that Stewart and company should deal away in July to help restock the farm system quicker.
At the plate, Arizona has first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, an elite talent, but he’s stuck with little in the way of runners to drive in or lineup help. There’s some potential in left fielder David Peralta and double-play combo Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed, but that’s not what a contender does.
The D-Backs’ other major offseason move was the signing of Cuban import Yasmany Tomas. First, they said he’d play the outfield. Then third base. Then they sent him down. Now they’ve called him up to … sit on the bench and pinch-hit.
In the AL, Tomas would make a fine DH.
On a team that didn’t have Goldschmidt, he’d be a passable first baseman.
But, nope, $68.5 million is just going to sit there.
It’s just baffling.
Much like the rest of Arizona’s offseason.
LIke I said, I have no clue what the Diamondbacks’ brass is doing.
I don’t think they do either.
Prediction: 60 – 102, fifth place, NL West
Playoff Predictions Picture
Note: Because of the real world (work) getting in the way of these postings, I’ve made a couple of slight changes to my picks since the ultra-fun preview podcast with Scott & Dr. G.
AL East: Baltimore Orioles
AL Central: Detroit Tigers
AL West: Seattle Mariners
AL Wildcards: Chicago White Sox & Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
ALCS: Seattle Mariners over Detroit Tigers
NL East: Washington Nationals
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wildcards: Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets
NLCS: Washington Nationals over St. Louis Cardinals
World Series: Washington Nationals vs. Seattle Mariners
World Champs: Washington Nationals in six games
AL MVP: Robinson Cano, Seattle
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Chicago
AL Rookie of the Year: Steven Souza, Tampa Bay
AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago
NL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Chicago
That’s it for now! Let’s play ball (some more).