Posted November 07, 2013

NL West Hot Stove Preview: Offseason plans for Dodgers, D-backs, Giants, Padres, Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Hot Stove, Los Angeles Dodgers, NL West, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants
Pablo Sandoval, Giants

The time may have come for the Giants to trade Pablo Sandoval. (Tommy LaPorte/Icon SMI)

Targets: Starting pitching, leftfield, infield

Even if the Giants retain Vogelsong, they have one rotation opening, and while Yusmeiro Petit did pitch well late in the year (3.56 ERA and 47/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 innings, not to mention a near-perfect game), chances are they’ll go outside the organization for at least one addition. Assistant GM Bobby Evans said at the time of the Lincecum signing that the team is unlikely to pursue any free agent who receives a qualifying offer and thus could cost it a first-round pick, which rules out Ubaldo Jimenez, Hiroki Kuroda and Ervin Santana.

Bronson Arroyo, who put up a 3.79 ERA in 202 innings for the Reds, may be more San Francisco’s speed. Pitching half his games at AT&T Park would surely take a bite out of his career 1.2 homers per nine, though even at that rate, he’s shown he can be a durable, effective innings-eater; he’s thrown at least 199 innings for nine straight seasons. When the bar is the 5.70ish ERAs of Zito and Vogelsong, just about anyone is an improvement.

Another route to secure a starter or an offensive upgrade on leftfielder Gregor Blanco would be to deal third baseman Pablo Sandoval. The 27-year-old switch-hitter is one year from free agency, perennially a problem due to poor conditioning and coming off a season in which he hit a relatively subpar .278/.341/.417. Even so, he still appeals to other teams thanks to his track record, and he’s affordable ($8.25 million for 2014).

If he’s traded,San Francisco can seek either a third baseman or second baseman via other means and shift Marco Scutaro from second base if necessary. The aforementioned Freese is one third base option, while the going-on-32-year-old Omar Infante, who hit .318/.345/.450 with 10 homers for the Tigers, has experience at either position, though much more at the keystone.

If they don’t make a trade to upgrade leftfield, the Giants could dip into the free agent market. As for many other teams, Byrd and Hart come to mind as options that won’t cost a draft pick, and as righties, they’re less likely to be swallowed up by AT&T Park, where lefty batters hit just 38 homers in 2013, 17 by the Giants.

Bottom line: After winning two titles in three years, San Francisco tumbled below .500 due to injuries in 2013. While the team spent big to retain Pence and Lincecum, it will need to augment its core on both the offensive and pitching sides if it is going to return to the postseason in 2014.

San Diego Padres

2013 Results: 76-86, tied for third in NL West

Run differential: −82, 23rd in MLB

Pending Free Agents: SS Ronny Cedeno, OF/1B Mark Kotsay, RHP Jason Marquis, LHP Clayton Richard

The Padres don’t stand to lose anything they can’t live without. Of the quartet above, Marquis (4.05 ERA and 84 ERA+ in 117 2/3 innings) was the only one who played a significant role this past season, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in July. Richard, formerly a rotation mainstay, went under the knife in July as well due to a shoulder impingement that limited him to 52 2/3 innings; he refused an outright assignment and chose free agency. Cedeno was a warm-bodied fill-in for the suspended Everth Cabrera, but he hit just .242/.287/.330 for Houston and San Diego. The going-on-38-year-old Kotsay may have reached the end of the line after hitting .194/.253/.226 in 171 PA.

Top Prospects on the Verge: RHP Casey Kelly and RHP Joe Wieland

Kelly and Wieland are both working their way back from Tommy John surgery after making a handful of starts for the Padres in 2012; both will be 24 by Opening Day and should spend significant time in the team’s rotation. The former, a 2008 first-round pick by the Red Sox who was the centerpiece of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, ranked 45th on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list prior to surgery in April, though elbow troubles limited him to just 67 innings in 2012. Before the injury, he projected as a mid-rotation starter with a 90-92 mph fastball, a plus curve and an average changeup.

Wieland, a fourth-round 2008 pick by the Rangers, went under the knife in July 2012 and didn’t pitch competitively in 2013 due to a stress reaction in his ulna. With a low-90s fastball, a big-breaking curve, a decent changeup and a solid slider, he projects as a third or four starter, and some prefer him to Kelly due to slightly sharper stuff.

Targets: Corner bat, lefthanded relief

San Diego doesn’t expect to be major players in the free agent market but is said to be seeking a corner bat — a middle-of-the-lineup run producer at first, third, leftfield or rightfield — via trade. The Padres have already got some of that in-house in the form of outfielders Carlos Quentin and Will Venable and third baseman Chase Headley, but they have their caveats. Quentin has played just 168 games over the past two years while undergoing three knee surgeries. Venable had a career year in 2013 but that meant just a .796 OPS and he’s already 31 years old.

Then there’s Headley, who had a breakout 2012 season but slumped to .250/.347/.400 in 2013 with 13 homers due to a broken thumb and a torn meniscus in his left knee; he underwent surgery at season’s end. The team would like to sign him to a long-term deal before he reaches free agency next winter, but the two sides have been portrayed as far apart in negotiations, and plenty of teams have shown interest, including the Yankees. If he’s dealt, the Padres could move Jedd Gyorko to third and leave second base in the hands of Logan Forsythe and/or Alexi Amarista, or they could purse another offense-minded third baseman such as Freese, whom they once drafted.

That said, first baseman Yonder Alonso, who hit just .281/.341/.368 with six homers in 375 PA while missing about 11 weeks due to a right wrist injury, is the most vulnerable to being replaced due to his failure to sustain a level of production suitable to the position. One name often mentioned is the Angels’ Mark Trumbo, for whom the Angels are seeking pitching. In Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, Eric Stults, Robbie Erlin and Tommy John returnees Wieland, Kelly and Corey Luebke, the Padres appear to have a surplus of starters, some of whom aren’t untouchable (Cashner almost certainly is, at least in this context).

Closer Huston Street, who’s owed $7 million for 2014 with a $7 million option for 2015, is another candidate to be moved in a deal, with Luke Gregerson his likely successor. Meanwhile, with Joe Thatcher traded to Arizona at the deadline and Colt Hynes and Tommy Layne designated for assignment last week, San Diego is in the market for a lefty reliever. Southpaws such as Javier Lopez, J.P Howell and Boone Logan could be out of the team’s price range, but a rebound candidate such as Matt Thornton, who put up a 3.74 ERA with declining peripherals (most notably 6.2 K/9), could use Petco Park to further his career.

Bottom line: The Padres appeared primed for improvement upon their 2012 total of 76 wins, but a flood of injuries to the lineup and rotation as well as the PED suspensions of Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal kept them under .500 for the third year in a row. There’s talent here, and with the owners reportedly willing to increase payroll from $68 million to above $80 million, the team could retain Headley. That would certainly help San Diego in its quest for a winning record, though competing with the Dodgers’ star-studded lineup is a stretch.

Colorado Rockies

2013 Results: 74-88, fifth in NL West

Run differential: −54, 20th in MLB

Pending Free Agents: RHP Rafael Betancourt, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Roy Oswalt, C Yorvit Torrealba

Betancourt saved 47 games for the Rockies over the past two years, but he was limited to 28 1/3 innings due to a trio of trips to the disabled list, the last of which led to Tommy John surgery; meanwhile Rex Brothers took over closer duties and saved 19 games while finishing the year with a 1.74 ERA. Colorado declined its end of Betancourt’s $4.25 million mutual option but may consider a lower-cost deal that covers 2015 as well.

At least based upon their 2013 performances, none of the other three free agents will be missed, and all will be in minor league contract territory at best. Francis was lit up for a 6.27 ERA in 70 1/3 innings, while Oswalt was torched for an 8.63 ERA in 32 1/3 innings. Torrealba hit just .240/.295/.285 in 196 PA and underwent offseason knee surgery, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return given his mentorship of starter Wilin Rosario. However, a bigger shakeup to the catching ranks may be in store, more on which below.

Top Prospect on the Verge: Eddie Butler, RHP

A 2012 supplementary first-round pick out of Radford University, Butler enjoyed a a breakout year that could push him into the top 25 on prospect lists. The 22-year-old righty (23 on March 13) dominated three levels last year, putting up a 1.80 ERA while striking out 8.6 per nine across the team’s A, High A and Double A affiliates; at the latter stop (Tulsa of the American Association), he allowed two runs while whiffing 25 in 27 2/3 innings late in the year. His arsenal — a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, a plus-plus slider and a changeup that flashes plus — draws rave reviews from scouts, though his unorthodox delivery makes some nervous.

If he can maintain his command, he could stick in the rotation as a second or third starter; if not, he at least has closer potential. He has a shot at breaking camp with the big club, or at the very least joining it at some point in 2014.

Targets: Rightfield, catcher, starting and relief pitching

With the retirement of Todd Helton, the Rockies plan to move NL batting champion Michael Cuddyer from rightfield to first base, opening up a hole in rightfield that owner Dick Monfort expects to fill with “a big bat.” That suggests Colorado will be in the chase for hitters such as Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz or Carlos Beltran, though Monfort will have to flash the cash with the big boys to make that happen. With only around $65 million committed for next year, the team appears to have room to spend more, but it will have to go above last year’s $73.9 million payroll to add a true middle-of-the-lineup threat.

Thus, lower cost options such as the aforementioned Byrd and Hart could be in play here, but the Rockies may have another route in mind. They’re specifically targeting free agent catcher Carlos Ruiz with the intention of using him to start and getting Rosario’s bat in the lineup more often via either first base or rightfield in addition to serving as backup catcher; he has a handful of games in the majors and minors at first but none in right. Rosario, who turns 25 in February, hit .292/.315/.486 with 21 homers in 121 games, but the team isn’t a fan of his defense. Ruiz would help there, and could return to form offensively after a subpar 2013 showing (.268/.320/.368 with five homers) in which he missed 25 games due to a suspension for amphetamine use and another four weeks with a hamstring strain.

While Colorado’s rotation wasn’t the disasterpiece it was in 2012 thanks to strong seasons from Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa, the unit still ranked dead last in the league with a 4.57 ERA. There’s reason to hope for bigger and better things from Tyler Chatwood, who put up a 3.15 ERA in his age-23 season. Drew Pomeranz could carve out a spot on the staff after being limited to just four starts and four relief appearances in 2013 due to shoulder woes. At the very least, the team probably needs an inning-eater, and should target something beyond a retread in the Oswalt/Francis/Jon Garland class. Bronson Arroyo’s durability makes sense in this context, but his flyball tendency doesn’t. Tim Hudson may no longer be a 200-innings-a-year workhorse, but his groundball tendency would play well at Coors Field.

The bullpen ranked last in the league with a 4.23 ERA, and while Brothers, Matt Belisle, Josh Outman, Wilton Lopez and Adam Ottavino are all returning, the Rockies will need another go-to guy who can replace Betancourt. Jesse Crain is said to be a target, though after posting a 0.74 ERA through June, he didn’t pitch again due to a shoulder strain. That will depress his price — he’s more likely to receive a one-year deal than a three-year one — but increase the competition for his services. A strong groundballer such as Cleveland sidearmer Joe Smith, who has averaged 71 appearances and a 2.42 ERA over the past three years, is another alternative.

Bottom line: The Rockies have been under .500 for three straight seasons, but they did improve by 10 wins from 2012 to 2013. To improve further will take help from outside, though nothing could help as much as keeping their best players on the field. Cuddyer, Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez averaged 121 games played in 2013, and none of them played more than 130.

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