NL West Hot Stove preview: Dodgers and D-backs chasing champion Giants
SI.com’s breakdown of the offseason plans for all 30 major league teams continues today with Cliff Corcoran’s look at the NL West. For other divisions so far, see below:
San Francisco Giants
2012 Results: 94-68, first in NL West, won World Series
Third-Order Record: 85-77
Pending Free Agents: 2B Marco Scutaro, CF Angel Pagan, LF Melky Cabrera, 2B Freddy Sanchez, IF Ryan Theriot, OF/1B Xavier Nady, LHP Jeremy Affeldt, RHP Guillermo Mota, RHP Brad Penny, 1B Aubrey Huff
Scutaro, Pagan, and Affeldt are all worth bringing back, though the Giants could get the same production and get five years younger at second base by targeting longtime Angel Maicer Izturis over Scutaro and Affeldt may price himself out of San Francisco’s plans by looking for a contract comparable to the one the Dodgers gave Brandon League (see below). Cabrera is persona non grata, but will leave the Giants with a big hole in leftfield that will be hard to fill. The others, including Huff, whose option will reportedly be declined, can easily be let go.
Top Prospect on the Verge: OF Roger Kieschnick
Kieschnick is a lefthanded power-hitting corner outfielder who could prove to be an important part of the Giants’ leftfield picture in 2013 if general manager Brian Sabean is unable to find a full-time veteran solution. Kieschnick hit .306/.376/.604 for Triple-A Fresno this season, but in just 250 at-bats due to a fracture in his left shoulder suffered in a collision with an outfield wall. The good news is that he returned to action in August and will play winter ball. Kieschnick, who will be 26 in January, is older than Buster Posey and has a lousy strikeout-to-walk ratio, so “prospect” may be overstating things, but no other Giants minor leaguer is closer to the majors and better suits their needs than Kieschnick, who is already on the 40-man roster.
The big challenge facing San Francisco this offseason is rebuilding its outfield. That means overpaying Hunter Pence in arbitration so as not to have to dip into the free agent market for all three positions while also facing arbitration paydays for likely NL MVP Posey, closer types Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson and Santiago Casilla, and incumbent leftfielder Gregor Blanco, among others. The top alternatives to Pagan in center are Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton, the former of whom seems like a better fit for AT&T Park given his superior play in the field and Upton’s dependency on home runs for a large part of his production at the plate.
Leftfield will be the hardest to fill. Blanco is not a sufficient solution, and the free agent alternatives are all likely too old (Ichiro Suzuki, Torii Hunter) or too expensive (Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino). Look for Sabean to turn to the trade market for a solution. Remember, a year ago he solved a similar issue with trades for Cabrera and Pagan.
Bottom line: The Giants’ pitching staff and young core will make them dangerous if they can return to the postseason in 2013, but they’ll have to address holes at second base and in the outfield to get there.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2012 Results: 86-76, 2nd place
Third-Order Record: 85-77
Pending Free Agents: OF Shane Victorino, OF Bobby Abreu, IF Adam Kennedy, RHP Joe Blanton, RHP Jamey Wright, LHP Randy Choate, OF/1B Juan Rivera, C Matt Treanor, RHP Todd Coffey
The Dodgers re-signed Brandon League for $22.5 million over the next three years with a vesting option for 2016 and have expressed interest in bringing back Wright and Choate, but none of those relievers are essential because Kenley Jansen remains their best option at closer, provided his offseason surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat was a success. Coffey will miss most of 2013 following July Tommy John surgery. Treanor can be replaced by Tim Federowicz. Rivera isn’t worth $4 million, which was true before the Dodgers paid him that for the 2012 season, as well. Abreu is done. The Dodgers are all filled up on light hitting infielders (so no more Kennedy), and the ex-Phillies Victorino and Blanton were both disappointments in L.A.
Top Prospect on the Verge: LHP Paco Rodriguez
The team’s second-round draft pick this June, this University of Florida product became the first 2012 draftee to make the majors in September, making 11 relief appearances for the Dodgers down the stretch, stranding 11 of 12 inherited baserunners and being charged with a run of his own just once in those 11 outings. Rodriguez struck out 14.6 men per nine innings on his way up to the majors thanks to a wipeout slider, but his entire professional career encompasses just 26 1/3 innings right now, so in 2013 he could be anything from the top lefty in the major league bullpen to a struggling rookie in Double-A.
Targets: Bullpen and rotation depth
The Dodgers have their fingers crossed for prompt and full recoveries from Chad Billingsley, who had a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament but is trying to avoid Tommy John surgery, and Ted Lilly, who had labrum surgery in September. With Stephen Fife in the fifth spot, however, they can fill their rotation without them. Having added Hanley Ramirez, Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett during the season, the Dodgers will likely spend the winter adding depth to the bench, bullpen, and, depending on the progress of Billingsley and Lilly, rotation. If Carl Crawford, who had Tommy John surgery in August but projects as their starting left fielder in 2013, isn’t ready for Opening Day, Los Angeles could also pursue an option for a temporary replacement.
Bottom line: The Dodgers shouldn’t be major players this offseason, but their new ownership has proven that you can never count them out.
2012 Results: 81-81, 3rd place
Third-Order Record: 85-77
Pending Free Agents: RHP Takashi Saito, C Henry Blanco, RHP Matt Lindstrom
Saito will be 43 in February and has thrown just 38 2/3 innings over the last two seasons due to leg injuries. He’s done. Blanco is an utterly replaceable 41-year-old backup catcher coming off thumb surgery on his glove hand. Putz’s option has been exercised. He’ll continue to close with David Hernandez and the newly-acquired Heath Bell setting up. Lindstrom pitched well after returning from an early finger ligament strain and was even better after coming over from the Orioles in the Joe Saunders trade, but the Padres opted not to retain him having replaced him with Bell.
Top Prospects on the Verge: RHP Trevor Bauer, LHP Tyler Skaggs
Bauer and Skaggs both made their major league debuts in 2012, and with Daniel Hudson out for most of the 2013 season following Tommy John surgery, the Diamondbacks are hoping their young blue-chippers can fill in the back of the rotation behind Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley. Patrick Corbin and Josh Collmenter provide solid alternates, but Bauer and Skaggs both have star potential. Bauer was the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, a top-10 prospect heading into this season, and posted a 2.85 ERA with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 14 Triple-A starts as a 21-year-old. Skaggs, who came over in the Dan Haren trade and is seven months younger than Bauer, was a supplemental-round pick out of high school in 2009, a top-15 prospect coming into last year and posted a 2.87 ERA with strong peripherals in a season split between Double- and Triple-A at the age of 20. Both struggled in their brief major league looks this year (four and six starts, respectively), but they have nothing left to prove in the minors.
Targets: Lefthanded reliever
Per the above, the Diamondbacks are largely set when it comes to pitching, and there’s not much room for movement on offense beyond possible upgrades at third base and shortstop that are unlikely to materialize. Their one stated goal for this offseason, to clear up their logjam in the outfield, has already been accomplished via the Chris Young/Heath Bell trade. If Arizona needs anything this offseason it’s probably a lefty for their bullpen. Swiping Affelt from the Giants would be a nice move that would also hurt a division rival. Failing that, Choate or the Rays’ J.P. Howell, who is also a free agent, would fit the bill.
Bottom line: Third-order wins put the Diamondbacks, the 2011 division champions, in a virtual tie with the Giants and Dodgers this year. The D-backs are a good young team with more talent filtering up. They’re not a great team, but don’t need to do much.
San Diego Padres
2012 Results: 76-86, 4th place
Third-Order Record: 75-87
Pending Free Agents: OF/1B Mark Kotsay, RHP Jason Marquis
Nothing to see here, move along.
Top Prospects on the Verge: IF Jedd Gyorko
Gyorko is short, thick and slow, but he can rake. Gyorko, who turned 24 in September, hit .328/.380/.588 in 408 plate appearances for Triple-A Tuscon this year, had 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in just 126 games between Double- and Triple-, and is a career .319/.385/.529 hitter in three minor league seasons. He has primarily been a third baseman in the minors, but the Padres believe he can play second base (he made 47 appearances at the keystone this year) and currently plan to give him a chance to win that job in camp with incumbent Logan Forsythe sliding over to shortstop, possibly as the short side of a platoon with Everth Cabrera.
Targets: Starting pitching
The Padres’ rotation was hit hard by the injury bug in 2012. Tim Stauffer and promising young arms Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland all went under the knife for elbow surgery, the latter two having Tommy John surgery in May and July, respectively. That, combined with the elbow tendonitis that slowed the progress of left-handed prospect Robbie Erlin, who is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League and might yet make his major league debut in 2013, could lead the Padres to look for reinforcements for a rotation that was supposed to be developing alongside their lineup but has now fallen behind. San Diego’s Petco Park is certainly a lure for free agent starters, particularly those who have proven homer-prone over the course of their careers — such as Joe Blanton — but convincing them that the team around them is ready to win could be a more difficult task.
Bottom Line: The Padres are in the late stages of a rebuild, but don’t seem likely to start seeing significant improvement on the field until 2014, so don’t look for them to make a big win-now move this winter.
2012 Results: 64-98, 5th place
Third-Order Record: 64-98
Pending Free Agents: 1B/PH Jason Giambi, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Jonathan Sanchez
Colorado has expressed interest in bringing back Giambi, but not as a player, as its next manager. That is an extremely unexpected but oddly delightful development, though Giambi has stiff competition and still seems like a longshot for the job. The Rockies are expected to keep Francis, a significantly less delightful development given that he has proven consistently hittable ever since his breakout season in 2007. Sanchez was awful this year and has battled a biceps issue in his pitching arm for the last two seasons. He’ll be lucky to get a major league contract this winter.
Top Prospect on the Verge: None
This was supposed to be where I wrote about third baseman Nolan Arenado, the organization’s top prospect whom many hoped would go from High-A in 2011 to the majors at some point last year, but Arenado had a disappointing year at Double-A, hitting a light .285/.337/.428, and never sniffed Triple-A. There’s still a chance he’ll rebound from that disappointment and force his way up this year, but that’s no longer a given, and with the Rockies haven graduated so many other prospects last year (catcher Wilin Rosario, infielder Josh Rutledge, catcher-turned-third baseman Jordan Pacheco and pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and Christian Fiedrich) there’s not much left in the upper levels of their system.
Targets: Colorado’s top priorities right now are finding a manager and keeping Troy Tulowitzki healthy. After that, it will have to see what kind of team it has with the youngsters mentioned above. The Rockies’ young pitchers as a group, including offseason additions Tyler Chatwood, Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman, were a disappointment. The hitters showed more promise, but each with his own significant shortcomings (Rosario doesn’t get on base, Pacheco doesn’t hit for power and Rutledge, who came up in mid July, didn’t hit at all in September). Whatever moves they make this winter should be small and low-impact.
Bottom Line: The Rockies have talent and youth, but that didn’t translate to performance in 2012, and injuries and their ballpark didn’t help. They don’t need to reload for 2013 as much as they just need a re-do.
– By Cliff Corcoran