NL West Hot Stove Preview: Offseason plans for Dodgers, D-backs, Giants, Padres, Rockies
This week, SI.com is breaking down the offseason plans for all 30 teams. Teams are presented in order of finish from 2013.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 Results: 92-70, first in NL West, lost NLCS to Cardinals
Run differential: +67, ninth in MLB
Pending Free Agents: LHP Chris Capuano, 2B Mark Ellis, UT Jerry Hairston Jr., LHP J.P. Howell, RHP Carlos Marmol, RHP Ricky Nolasco, IF Nick Punto, UT Skip Schumaker, 3B Juan Uribe, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Brian Wilson, IF Michael Young
Of the 12 players coming off the books, not a single one received a qualifying offer. Hairston, Marmol, Punto, Schumaker, Volquez and Young are all fungible, though it's not out of the question that some could return to the Dodgers in bench or bullpen roles.
Wilson and Nolasco both have big paydays in store. The former demonstrated a readiness to return to closing while allowing just one run and striking out 21 in 19 2/3 innings of set-up work in the regular season and playoffs, so he'll likely move on. The latter put up a 3.70 ERA -- his best mark since 2008 -- in 199 1/3 innings for the Marlins and Dodgers but was hit hard late in the year. Los Angeles could explore retaining the Southern California native given its two openings in the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu (Josh Beckett and Chad Billinglsey are both trying to come back from season-ending surgeries). If the team doesn't re-sign Nolasco, it could bring back Capuano, who delivered a 4.26 ERA in 105 2/3 innings. Howell, who turned in a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings, is someone the front office will try to retain.
Among the team's infielders, Uribe is hitting the market having redeemed himself after two abysmal years; he hit .278/.331/.438 with 12 homers, played outstanding defense (+15 Defensive Runs Saved, +24 Ultimate Zone Rating) and tallied 4.1 WAR. Given his importance in the clubhouse as well — he mentored players as diverse as Ryu and Yasiel Puig — the Dodgers could seek to keep him, though it won't be with another three-year, $21 million deal given that he turns 35 in March. L.A. declined a $5.75 million club option on Ellis, who delivered good value (5.5 WAR for $7.75 million in 2012-2013) at second base but whose deficiencies were on display in the postseason. The team could bring him back as a utilityman/placeholder for Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero, who was signed to a four-year, $28 million deal but who may need some stateside seasoning because he didn't play competitively this year.
Top Prospect on the Verge: RHP Zach Lee
With Guerrero something of a mystery and centerfielder Joc Pederson blocked by the glut of outfielders signed to long-term contracts, Lee may be the prospect who helps the Dodgers first. The team's 2010 first-round pick — whom L.A. lured away from a commitment to play quarterback at LSU — spent the entire year at Double-A Chattanooga and put up a 3.22 ERA, 8.3 strikeouts per nine and a 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 142 2/3 innings after splitting 2012 between High A and Double A. Lee sports a 90-96 mph fastball, a plus slider, usable curve and average changeup. His ceiling is as a third or fourth starter, and he could get a look at the back of the 2014 rotation depending upon what the team does this winter and how its injured hurlers fare in spring.
Targets: Third base, starting pitcher, bench
If the Dodgers don't retain Uribe, they have no in-house alternative ready, and the pickings on the free agent market are slim; Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis have even more dents and dings than at this time a year ago. The best option is probably Jhonny Peralta, who hit .303/.358/.457 with 11 homers in 448 PA for the Tigers but missed 50 games due to a Biogenesis-related PED suspension; he played third base regularly back in 2009 and '10. If he's on board, he can serve as Hanley Ramirez's backup at shortstop as well. Trade targets such as the Padres' Chase Headley and the Giants' Pablo Sandoval will be tougher to pry away from division rivals than they might otherwise be, and are probably off the board. A more feasible option would be to pursue the Cardinals' David Freese, who's coming off an uncharacteristically down year (.262/.340/.381 with nine homers and −14 DRS).
If money's burning a hole in L.A's pockets, a more radical option would be to explore reacquiring Adrian Beltre -- owed $51 million over the next three years -- from the Rangers on the theory that Texas needs a place for Jurickson Profar to play. The caveats are that in addition to being expensive, Beltre's defensive numbers took a hit last year, and he turns 35 in April. The Dodgers could offset the money and risk by sending the outfield-poor Rangers Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford, though Matt Kemp's injury status may lessen their urgency to break up their logjam in the pastures.
If Nolasco and Capuano depart, Los Angeles will be in the market for an experienced starter even if it creates a potential glut should Beckett and Billingsley miraculously wind up in good health at the same time. Recall that last year, the Dodgers had eight starters until the end of spring training but soon found themselves dipping down to Double A to fill out their rotation. There's talk they could make a run at either Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka or Rays ace David Price, but the former could cost upwards of $100 million including posting, and the latter will cost prospects as well as a long-term extension — all of that in a winter where Kershaw is likely to get his own nine-figure deal. More realistic could be a reunion with free agent Hiroki Kuroda if he chooses to remain stateside.
With Schumaker, Punto, Hairston and Young all free agents, the Dodgers have a chance to remake a relatively weak bench. Of that group, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Punto remain given his facility at shortstop, or to see Ellis shift into a smaller role. A backup outfielder capable of manning centerfield is a must given Kemp's ongoing injuries; former Dodgers prospect Franklin Gutierrez, who's going on 31 and coming off a three-year stretch in which he played just 173 games due to injuries and illness, is an interesting option given his defense and power (.248/.273/.503 and 10 homers in 151 PA in 2013).
Bottom line: In their first full year under the Guggenheim Partners, the Dodgers spent more on payroll than any non-Yankees team ever had, and came within two wins of a trip to the World Series. Expect them to continue spending big in pursuit of their first championship since 1988.
2013 Results: 81-81, second in NL West
Run differential: −10, 16th in MLB
The trade of Jason Kubel and the release of Eric Hinske cut down on the number of decisions the Diamondbacks had to make with regards to free agents. There's nothing here that they can't live without, but it would be no surprise if all three of the above players — each of whom will be entering his age-36 season — returned.
Nieves is coming off a career year with the bat in which he slightly outhit banged-up starter Miguel Montero (.297/.320/.369 in 206 PA). Bloomquist hit .317/.360/.367 in 150 PA and was sufficiently indignant over the Dodgers' post-clinch pool party in a manner that certainly endeared him to team brass. Chavez hit a robust .281/.332/.478 with nine homers in 254 PA; he also hit the DL twice for a total of six weeks, a tendency that will continue to consign him to a backup role.
Top Prospect on the Verge: RHP Archie Bradley
The seventh pick of the 2011 draft out of an Oklahoma high school, Bradley has ascended to the point that he might be the game's top pitching prospect, as well as an ace in the making. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he has a prototypical build for a power pitcher, and that's what he is. Bradley offers an explosive, heavy fastball in the 93-97 mph range, a knee-bending curve and a changeup that has plus potential. He dominated High A and Double A levels, so much so that he was moved up to the latter after just five starts; for the year he posted a 1.84 ERA and 9.6 K/9 in 152 innings.
The Diamondbacks have no shortage of rotation candidates, but it's reasonable to think that the 21-year-old righty will get his shot sometime in 2014, at least after the Super Two cutoff .
Targets: Power, starting pitching
Despite the presence of NL home run co-leader Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona ranked 11th in the league in homers and ninth in slugging percentage. Martin Prado was the only other player to hit more than 11 (he had 14), while Aaron Hill was the only other player with a slugging percentage higher than .417 (he finished at .462). General manager Kevin Towers has said he'd like to add a power bat either at a corner outfield spot or at third base; he could do that internally via third base prospect Matt Davidson, who hit .280/.350/.481 with 17 homers at Triple A Reno and earned Futures Game MVP honors, then batted .237/.333/.434 for the Snakes in 87 PA.
If they go outside the organization, Marlon Byrd, who hit .291/.336/.511 with 24 homers for the Mets and Pirates in his age-35 season, would fit the bill. So would Corey Hart, who missed all of 2013 due to microfracture surgery on his right knee after batting .279/.343/.514 with an average of 29 homers for the Brewers from 2010-12. Adding such a bat and hoping Cody Ross returns from hip surgery would leave a stockpile of outfielders — Adam Eaton, A.J. Pollock and Fielding Bible Award winner Gerardo Parra — that the team could use to make a deal. Prado, if he's displaced by Davidson, would be part of a surplus as well, though he's owed $33 million over the next three years.
Speaking of trades, even with a glut of starting pitching, the Diamondbacks have shown interest in the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija, who threw 213 2/3 innings in 2013 but saw his ERA rise to 4.34 after a 3.81 mark the year before. He has two years remaining before free agency, and an extension in Chicago appears unlikely. Whether Arizona's interest means trading a younger pitcher (Tyler Skaggs?) or an older one on a short-term deal (Brandon McCarthy?) remains to be seen. The D-backs could also be in the hunt for Price.
Bottom line: Last winter, Arizona worked to remake its culture — adding "grit" — in the hopes that it would lead to greater on-field succes, but the team merely matched the previous year's record. The D-backs have the talent to contend, though it's unevenly distributed, and they may well wind up one of the winter's most active teams on the trade front.
San Francisco Giants
2013 Results: 76-86, tied for third in NL West
Run differential: −62, 21st in MLB
The Giants have already gotten a jump on their winter work by retaining potential free agents Hunter Pence (five years, $90 million) and Tim Lincecum (two years, $35 million). They could work to keep both Lopez and Gaudin as well. The former has flourished over the past four years, three and a half of them as a Giant, putting up a 2.37 ERA while averaging 72 appearances and stifling lefties at a .168/.236/.238 clip. He'll seek a raise from his $4.25 million salary, but he reportedly would prefer to stay in San Francisco. As for the latter, the 30-year-old Gaudin threw 97 innings with a 3.06 ERA while making 12 starts and 18 relief appearances, though he missed about two months due to elbow and wrist injuries. He hasn't had a guaranteed contract since 2010, so he should be affordable.
Torres, overexposed once Angel Pagan went down with injury, isn't likely to return to his 2009-10 level as he turns 36, so he will be easy to part with. Likewise for Zito, whose $18 million club option was never going to be picked up (hence the $7 million buyout); he ends his Giants career with a 4.62 ERA (86 ERA+) and a grand total of 3.0 WAR across seven seasons.
The most intriguing of the bunch is Vogelsong, whose $6.5 million option was declined. After more than a decade of bouncing around the majors, minors and international scene, the now-36-year-old righty threw 369 1/3 innings with a 3.05 ERA for San Francisco in 2011 and '12. In 2013, however, he was tagged for a 5.73 ERA in 103 2/3 innings and spent 80 days on the DL due to a HBP-induced broken pinkie that required surgery. The Giants have two rotation openings behind Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Lincecum, so Vogelsong could be back via a deal with a lower base salary plus incentives.
Top Prospect on the Verge: LHP Edwin Escobar
Top overall prospect Kyle Crick is unlikely to reach the big leagues in 2014, having been limited to 14 starts at High A this year, but Escobar may get there. The 21-year-old lefty split 2013 between High A and Double A, posting a 2.80 ERA, 10.2 strikeouts per nine and a 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 2/3 innings, a performance that boosted his stock considerably. Escobar sports a low-90s fastball with good movement and command, and he changes speeds effectively with his curve and changeup. He's most likely a back-end starter, but with that part of the rotation in flux, he should get a chance to show his wares in San Francisco at some point in 2014.
NEXT: Giants' targets, breakdowns of Padres and Rockies
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
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.
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.
2013 Results: 74-88, fifth in NL West
Run differential: −54, 20th in MLB
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.