Breaking down each team in the NL West heading into the offseason. Teams are listed in order of 2009 finish. Check out the other division previews here:
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PENDING FREE AGENTS: 2B Orlando Hudson, SP Randy Wolf, SP Vicente Padilla, DH Jim Thome, IF Ronnie Belliard, IF Mark Loretta, RP Guillermo Mota, RHP Jeff Weaver, IF Doug Mientkiewicz, C Brad Ausmus, IF Juan Castro, SP Eric Milton, RHP Jason Schmidt.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: SP Jon Garland ($10/$2.5M mutual -- Dodgers declined), RP Will Ohman ($2.2/0.2M club -- declined).
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: OF Xavier Paul, RP Josh Lindblom, IF Ivan DeJesus Jr.
BUILDING FOR: That elusive pennant.
BIGGEST HOLES: Rotation, second base.
TARGETS: SP John Lackey, SP Rich Harden, SP Ben Sheets, SP Erik Bedard, Padilla, Wolf, SP Jarrod Washburn, Hudson, 2B Placido Polanco.
BREAKDOWN: With Manny Ramirez back in the fold, the Dodgers are in good shape for 2010, with only second base and the back of the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda needing to be filled. That's good because the divorce of team owner Frank and his wife and team CEO Jamie McCourt could hamstring the Dodgers' spending this winter. In any other year, L.A. would be going hard after Lackey and good bets to resign Hudson, Wolf and perhaps Padilla, all coming off strong performances in Dodger blue. They still might, but second base could be filled in-house by Blake DeWitt, Chin-Lung Hu or even DeJesus, and there are discounts to be had among the free-agent pitchers with injury concerns such as Sheets, Bedard and Harden. Fortunately for Dodgers fans, none of these improvements are essential, but that won't make it any less difficult to watch a good team in a large market not seize a clear opportunity to become even better.
PENDING FREE AGENTS: SP Jason Marquis, 1B/DH Jason Giambi, RP Joe Beimel, SP Jose Contreras, SP Josh Fogg, RP Matt Herges, RP Juan Rincon, RP Joel Peralta, SP Adam Eaton.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: RP Rafael Betancourt ($5.4 club), C Yorvit Torrealba ($4/0.5M mutual -- Rockies declined), RP Alan Embree ($3/0.25M club -- declined).
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: 2B/OF Eric Young Jr., SP Jhoulys Chacin, SP Esmil Rogers, SP Samuel Deduno.
BUILDING FOR: A return to the postseason.
BIGGEST HOLES: Pitching.
TARGETS: Marquis, SP Joel Piniero, SP Derek Lowe, RP Chad Bradford.
BREAKDOWN: Breakout seasons from outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith and the successful rookie campaign of Dexter Fowler have given the Rockies a surplus of outfielders from which they should be able to trade for pitching help. One deal that would make sense would send right fielder Brad Hawpe, who's entering the final year of his contract, to Atlanta for Lowe. Right-handed groundball pitchers are ideal for Coors Field, which favors right-handed home-run hitters; just look at the success that Aaron Cook has had as a Rockie despite his miniscule strikeout rates. That points to retaining Marquis and/or adding Piniero, both of whom were among the leaders in ground-ball rate in 2009. The return of former ace Jeff Francis from shoulder surgery could also give the rotation a boost behind Cook and the continued emergence of Ubaldo Jimenez. Picking up Betancourt's option seems like an easy decision, though the Rockies seem to prefer to re-sign him to a two-year extension at a lower annual rate. Veteran submariner/ROOGY Bradford is a Coors-friendly reliever, though it's worth noting that Manny Ramirez owns him (9 for 18, 2 HR).
PENDING FREE AGENTS: C Bengie Molina, SP Brad Penny, RP Bobby Howry, SP Randy Johnson, OF Randy Winn, IF Juan Uribe, IF Rich Aurilia, OF Dave Roberts, SP Noah Lowry.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: C Buster Posey, SP Madison Bumgarner, UT Matt Downs, 3B Jesus Guzman, 3B Ryan Rohlinger.
BUILDING FOR: Remaining in contention by consolidating gains.
BIGGEST HOLES: The offense around Pablo Sandoval.
TARGETS: LF Jason Bay, LF Matt Holliday, LF Johnny Damon, RF Jermaine Dye, UT Chone Figgins, OF Rick Ankiel, OF Andruw Jones, 3B Troy Glaus, OF/1B Xavier Nady.
BREAKDOWN: The Giants were surprise contenders this year thanks to the majors' second-best pitching staff (just a tick behind the Dodgers), and that staff will be even stronger in 2010 with the arrival of top prospect Bumgarner. However, the Giants' offensive attack was, well, offensive, ranking 26th in the majors. (If the 2009 Giants offense was a movie, it would have been Sandoval and the Seven Dwarfs.) The Giants just re-upped deadline acquisition Freddy Sanchez at second base and are locked into Edgar Renteria at shortstop and Aaron Rowand in center, but they have hot prospect Posey ready to succeed Molina behind the plate and no obligations at the four corners other than to play Sandoval at first or third. Bay and Holliday are obviously the belles of the ball, but Figgins would provide on-base ability and speed at the top of the order and play a strong third base, pushing Sandoval to first. Damon and Dye are defensively-challenged short-term solutions, but the Giants' options are so dismal in the outfield corners, and the pitching staff so adept at striking hitters out (a major league-best 8.1 K/9 in '09), that it would be worth sacrificing defense for their offense. Ankiel, Jones and Glaus are high-upside gambles similarly worth taking. Nady is a bit too much like Ryan Garko, but if there's a team he can help, it's this one.
PENDING FREE AGENTS: RF Brian Giles, IF Luis Rodriguez, 2B Edgar Gonzalez, C Henry Blanco, OF Cliff Floyd, C Eliezer Alfonzo.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: 1B Kyle Blanks, SP Mat Latos, SP Wade LeBlanc, SP Aaron Poreda.
BUILDING FOR: A new start under a new administration.
BIGGEST HOLES: Rotation and most of the lineup around Adrian Gonzalez.
TARGETS: Teams willing to trade prospects for Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell.
BREAKDOWN: It's hard to believe that the Padres won 89 games just two years ago and back-to-back division titles the two years before that. The divorce of owner John Moores, last year's version of the McCourt debacle, was partly to blame, but a decade and a half of poor drafts and a failure to invest in Latin America is the real root cause of the Pads' current state. San Diego's farm system is nearly barren at the upper levels, and when the major league team started cutting costs, it left Padres fans with very little to root for. With the team in the process of being sold, general manager Kevin Towers was fired in early October and the new owner/GM team will attempt to rebuild from the bottom up. That means that the Padres will be sellers, not buyers on the hot stove market, and everything that can bring in prospects must go, starting with Gonzalez and Bell (and possibly ending with them, as well, given the lack of talent on the Padres' major league roster).
PENDING FREE AGENTS: SP Doug Davis, RP Scott Schoeneweis, RP Tom Gordon, SP Daniel Cabrera.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: 1B/3B Chad Tracy ($7/1M club -- declined).
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: 1B Brandon Allen, 2B Tony Abreu, IF Rusty Ryal, SP Bryan Augenstein.
BUILDING FOR: The playoff berth that seemed within their grasp last winter.
BIGGEST HOLES: Bullpen, back of the rotation.
TARGETS: RP Kiko Calero, RP Chan Ho Park, RP Bobby Howry, RP Scott Eyre, RP Joe Beimel, SP Jason Marquis, SP Joel Pineiro, SP Randy Wolf, SP Brad Penny.
BREAKDOWN: The Diamondbacks aren't as bad as they looked in 2009. In fact, four of our dozen experts (myself included) picked them to win their division this year. That was before Brandon Webb and Connor Jackson had their seasons wiped out by shoulder surgery and valley fever, respectively, and Chris Young and Stephen Drew continued to disappoint. Still, this remains a talented young team that should get Webb and Jackson back in spring training and has more prospects on the way. Assuming he's back up to speed, Webb partners with Dan Haren to form what might be the best starting pitching duo on any team in the game, and Max Scherzer is already a solid number three after a strong sophomore season. The offense, built around budding superstar Justin Upton and the unique production of Mark Reynolds, was roughly league-average this year and is likely to only get better as minor league reinforcements arrive, the youngsters gain major league experience and exposure, and Jackson returns. The real problem is the bullpen, which was the fourth-worst in baseball last year according to Baseball Prospectus's win-expectancy-based WXRL. Look for the D-backs to focus on pitching this offseason, shoring up the bottom two spots in the rotation and reinforcing their bullpen, and don't be surprised if they surge back into contention in 2010.