MLB 2015 Preview: National League West
Brian Sabean and the Giants are still #1 — for now.
The Dodgers made a flurry of moves in the offseason, trading away IF Dee Gordon, SP Dan Haren, and OF Matt Kemp in deals that netted SS Jimmy Rollins, C Yasmani Grandal, and 2B Howie Kendrick. Yet their best move of the offseason was luring Andrew Friedman away from Tampa to run the front office. Since purchasing the team in 2012, the Guggenheim Partners have shown a willingness to spend. Early on, these moves–chiefly, the trade that brought 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SP Josh Beckett, and OF Carl Crawford and their $270MM worth of salary–were puzzling and borderline reckless. That money should have been spread around to multiple players in the offseason to minimize risk. With a background in investment banking and running a cash-strapped team, Friedman brings fiscal discipline to a club with deep pockets. Expect Moneyball on steroids with the Dodgers becoming the closest thing to a dynasty for the next decade.
You could write the same thing about the Giants every year: they are old; they got lucky last year and it won’t happen again; they are run by a guy who signed Barry Zito to one of the worst contracts ever. Nonetheless, San Francisco finds a way to overcome it all. When the Giants won the first of their three recent World Series titles, it was on the backs of the pitching staff. The offense posted a wRC+ of just 98, which is below average. SP Tim Lincecum and SP Matt Cain, however, combined for a WAR of 8.1. Last year, as 29 year olds, Lincecum and Cain combined for a whopping -0.7 WAR, and the offense posted an average wRC+ of 101. Not many teams could have endured two ace pitchers declining so rapidly over just four years to win two more World Series crowns. The Giants still have a solid offensive core, and GM Brian Sabean will make some move for pitching that seems crazy but vaults them into contention.
No words can describe San Diego’s offseason. If you watched the Padres last year, you’ll need to get acquainted with so many new faces (OF Matt Kemp, C Derek Norris, OF Justin Upton, OF Wil Myers, SP Brandon Morrow, 3B Will Middlebrooks, RP Shawn Kelley, P Brandon Maurer, and SP James Shields). Like the Marlins and Blue Jays before them, this massive capital infusion to “go for it” will fail. Case in point is the Matt Kemp trade. San Diego acquired Kemp and will pay him around $100MM through 2019. To obtain Kemp, San Diego traded C Yasmani Grandal, who will make $500,000 this year. Although you might think that Kemp is a far superior player, due to his generally awful defense he is a slightly worse player than Grandal. That is not a good bargain at $100MM and illustrates why San Diego is doomed to a third-place finish.
The Rockies did very little to improve, or deconstruct, a baseball team that won 66 games last year. That’s bad, because now is the time to decide to blow up or build upon the current team. Colorado has an amazing asset in SS Troy Tulowitzki, who is signed through 2020 with a team option for 2021. “Tulo” is one of the top players in baseball, but Colorado’s attempts to build around him have completely failed. It is difficult to move the face of your franchise, who is signed for infinity at reasonable dollars, but Colorado needs to move him for a slew of prospects and look to reallocate the dollars. It would help if OF Carlos Gonzalez can return healthy this year because he represents another valuable asset. Moving backward today when it will help you tomorrow is far preferable to treading water now and later. Until the Rockies reshuffle the deck, they were, are, and will continue to be a mediocre team.
Unlike the Phillies, the Diamondbacks stopped the bleeding by firing their terrible GM Kevin Towers. They also hatched an intriguing, if unproven, plan to improve the team in the medium term. Part of the plan involves new acquisitions Rubby De La Rosa, Robbie Ray, and Allen Webster. They were all highly regarded pitching prospects at one point, so the raw materials are there. This fairly low-risk method of finding future starting pitchers and applying simple changes in mechanics or pitch selection could lead to outstanding results (see Carlos Carrasco in Cleveland). Additionally, the Diamondbacks waded into the international free agent pool to sign Cuban defectors P Yoan Lopez and OF Yasmany Tomas. If Arizona can hit on some of its lottery tickets, this team may contend in 2016 and beyond. As for this year, the Diamondbacks will battle it out with the Rockies for last place in the NL West.
Photo by Randy Chiu (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)