With James Shields finally signed, most of the major free agent moves have been done. Since Shields landed in San Diego, this is the perfect time to break down the National League West. In reverse order, this is how I see the division shaking out in 2015:
5. Arizona Diamondbacks – The one big move Arizona made in the off season likely made the team worse. The worst pitching staff in the NL West got worse when it shipped Wade Miley to the Red Sox for Allen Webster Rubby De La Rosa. Miley averaged 200 innings a year for the Diamondbacks over the last three years, and while he won’t make anyone forget Randy Johnson, I submit he was far better than the two players they got in return. With Bronson Arroyo on the shelf after Tommy John surgery, it’s Josh Collmenter and four guys that combined for ten wins last season in the rotation. Of course, there’s always the chance that new acquisition Jeremy Hellickson returns to the form he displayed in 2011 and 2012. New manager Chip Hale better hope so.
Offensively, there’s not a lot of pop in the lineup outside of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Mark Trumbo has displayed some power in right field, but he’s going to need to improve on his .235 batting average. The other big questions in Arizona revolve around Cuban third baseman Yasmany Tomas and who the heck is going to catch. The Diamondbacks appear ready to hand the hot corner over to Tomas, despite the fact he’s learning the position after primarily playing the outfield in Cuba. Tuffy Gosewisch is the only catcher on the 40-man roster with MLB experience – a whole 174 at bats. The Diamondbacks did sign career backup Gerald Laird to a minor league contract.
Bottom line: The forecast in the desert is for pain.
4. Colorado – There is no question about one thing with the Rockies – the boys can hit. If Carlos Gonzalez bounces back to form after undergoing both finger and knee surgery last season, the outfield of CarGo, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson will be formidable. If Troy Tulowitzki is healthy, the Rockie infield is equally as potent. Justin Morneau showed he still had plenty in the tank last season with his .319 average, 17 homers, and 82 RBI. In fact, is newly acquired Nick Hundley is indeed the teams primary catcher, the .238 career hitter may be the only weak link. Of course, the Rockies also still have catcher Wilin Rosario on the roster, though it appears manager Walt Weiss plans to move him around (outfield and first base).
As is always the case in Coors Field, the question is who is going to pitch effectively. No question Jorge De La Rosa had solid, in unspectacular, numbers last season (14-11, 4.10). Jhoulys Chacin is trying to comeback from a shoulder injury. Free agent Kyle Kendrick logged 200 innings for Philadelphia last year and should help, but overall it looks like team owners may have to issue whiplash collars to fans who hurt themselves trying to follow the parade of balls roped into the outfield.
Bottom line is that if they can win enough 10-8 games, the Rockies could climb up one spot in the standings, but no higher.
3. San Diego – People have been falling all over themselves praising the work AJ Preller and ownership have done this off season. There is no doubt they have been bold and increased their payroll. But will it translate into a rise in the standings? I don’t think so. Why? Well, the infield offense is anemic at best, their catcher has never had 400 at bats in a season, and their bullpen is anchored by Joaquin Benoit, who will be 38 this year and has never had more than 24 saves in a season (Detroit 2013).
You can make a case that the young Padre rotation of James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, and Odrisamer Despaigne has a chance to be one of the best in the division. Shields and Kennedy are the grizzled vets of the group at just 31. That, along with pitcher-friendly stadiums in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, gives the Padres a chance to be in every game.
The Padre outfield of Matt Kemp, Will Myers, and Justin Upton is legit and capable of putting up some numbers. However, I don’t think manager Bud Black is going to get the same warm fuzzies when looks at the infield. Second baseman Jedd Gyrko hit .200 last year. Will Middlebrooks .191 in 215 at bats for Boston. Shortstop Alexi Amarista hit .239, and first baseman Yonder Alonzo .240. Free agent signee Derek Norris has pop behind the plate, but how will he handle a heavier workload?
Yes, they’ve been busy, but the mountain in the NL West is just too high to climb.
2. San Francisco – The fate of the Giants in 2015 is going to rest on the starting pitching. Madison Bumgarner is as solid as they come, and Jake Peavy (6-4, 2.17 with SF last year) should be reliable as well. The Giants need Matt Cain to be healthy and return to form. Forty year old Tim Hudson just had ankle surgery and likely won’t be ready for the start of the season, and who knows what that means for his durability this year. Then there is the number five slot – 37 year old Ryan Vogelson (8-13, 4.00, 1.28 WHIP) or 31 year old Tim Lincecum (12-9, 4.74, 1.39 WHIP)? Neither strikes fear into the hearts of men.
Catcher Buster Posey and right fielder Hunter Pence anchor a so-so offense. If first baseman Brandon Belt is healthy and resurrects the 2013 version of himself, that will certainly help. The Panda is in Boston and the Giants traded with Miami for Casey McGehee to replace him. I think he was a solid choice. He was named the Comeback Player of the Year last season. After playing for a year in Japan, he came back and hit .287 while driving in 76 runs for the Marlins. He showed decent power while playing for Milwaukee from 2009-2011, hitting as many as 23 homers in a season (2010).
The best part of this teams resides in the bullpen, a fact that will likely win them a lot of games. The Giants actually have two closers in Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo. Casilla assumed the role midway through the year, but the two combined for 42 saves in 51 tries. Then there’s Jean Machi (2.58, 0.95 WHIP, 71 appearances) and Jeremy Affeldt (2.28, 1.10 WHIP, 62 appearances), and Yusmeiro Petit (1.02 WHIP, 12 starts, 27 relief appearances). While Petit was great out of the pen, he might more valuable as a starter if Vogelson and Lincecum remain inconsistent.
1. Los Angeles – The Dodgers were nearly as active as the Padres and shipped a couple of big names away in Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp. In doing so, I actually think the Dodgers might have made themselves a better team. I say that with two provisos: Yasil Puig has got to behave himself and not become a huge distraction, and Joc Pederson better be as good as everyone seems to think he is.
There’s no denying that the top three in the Dodger rotation – Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are as good as the come. The free agent signing of Brandon McCarthy from the Yankees will give them a solid fourth starter. If Brett Anderson can stay healthy and return to the form he showed in Oakland prior to Tommy John surgery in 2011, the Dodgers will be thrilled. The top three arms in the bullpen in Kenley Jansen, Brandon League, JP Howell are as good as they come and should be able to hold leads on a consistent basis.
The Dodgers traded Dee Gordon and then traded Andrew Heaney to the Angels to get his replacement in Howie Kendrick. Kendrick doesn’t have Gordon’s speed, but otherwise he is an upgrade offensively. Jimmy Rollins takes over at short for Hanley Ramirez – a downgrade on offense but a serious defensive upgrade. Adrian Gonzalez (.276, 27 homers, 116 RBI) is as solid as they come, and there’s no doubt Puig is talented, despite his antics. Carl Crawford showed signs of life last season, and if he stays healthy this year will be a valuable person to have beside Pederson in the outfield.
They were the best team in the NL last season, but gagged in the playoffs. No reason to think they won’t be the class of the league again – hopefully, for Don Mattingly, with a different outcome this time.