NL West Hot Stove Preview: Dodgers, Giants duel as the rest rebuild
This week, SI.com is breaking down the off-season plans for all 30 teams. Teams are presented in order of finish from 2014.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Results: 94-68 (.580), lost Division Series to Cardinals
Third-Order Record: 94-68 (.580)
The Dodgers aren't expected to try to keep Ramirez, who will turn 31 in December, is a poor fielder and has averaged just 116 games per season over the last four years due to a slew of injuries. Instead, they're hoping he'll reject their qualifying offer and net them a draft pick. The pitchers listed above are all expendable, including the homegrown Billingsley, whose $14 million option for 2015 was declined by the team after a flexor tendon tear cut short his attempted return from April 2013 Tommy John surgery.
Targets: Shortstop, starting pitcher, relief pitching, trade partners
The Dodgers have too much of some things and not enough of others. They have a five-man outfield with Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and top prospect Joc Pederson. At second base, Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero, whom they owe $14 million over the next three seasons and who hit .329/.364/.613 with 15 home runs in 65 Triple-A games this past season, is blocked by 2014 All-Star Dee Gordon.
Yet, with Ramirez due to depart as a free agent and Josh Beckett having retired, the team lacks a full-time shortstop or a fifth starter and could also stand to reinforce its bullpen, which put forth a disappointing overall performance this past season (fourth-worst ERA and third-worst strikeout-to-walk ratio among NL relief corps). The Dodgers also need to start thinking about what they're going to do at third base when the aging Juan Uribe hits free agency next winter, and could stand an upgrade at catcher, as well.
Landing a starting pitcher for the back of the rotation will be easy and limited only by how much money the Dodgers want to spend on that spot, which could wind up being the fourth spot, with Dan Haren, who picked up his $10 million player option, dropping back to fifth. The rest, however, will require some creativity and prioritizing, as the shortstop market behind Ramirez is weak, with Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, and Stephen Drew leading the rest of the pack.
A blockbuster deal for Troy Tulowitzki is fun to contemplate, but Tulo, though a far better player than Ramirez, is another injury-prone 30-year-old, and the Rockies may hesitate to trade their franchise player within the division. Poaching one of the Cubs' many young shortstops is another compelling option, but Chicago needs pitching, which the Dodgers, despite their strength up top, don't have to spare. Meanwhile, the less impactful the team's ultimate solution at shortstop turns out to be, the more important its upgrades elsewhere will be. Guerrero, for those wondering, is not considered a viable major league shortstop defensively.
Bottom line: This should be, if nothing else, a very interesting offseason for the Dodgers. The team has a surprisingly long list of needs coming off 94 wins and consecutive division titles, boasts considerable financial might, and has an impressive new front office headed by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manger Farhan Zaidi, poached from the Rays and Athletics, respectively. Friedman, formerly the Rays' GM, and Zaidi, long Oakland's director of baseball operations before being promoted to assistant GM this season, have ample experience winning on a budget. How they operate without those financial constraints will be fascinating to watch.
San Francisco Giants
Results: 88-74 (.543), won World Series
Third-Order Record: 88-74 (.543)
Given the Giants' habit of re-signing their free agents, regardless of the wisdom of doing so, I wouldn't be shocked to see the team re-sign most of the above players, then win the World Series as much in spite of those contracts as because of them.
After winning their first San Francisco championship in 2010, the Giants re-signed Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and Guillermo Mota, of whom only Burrell, who lasted just 219 more plate appearances, was meaningfully above replacement-level before vanishing from the majors. After winning again in 2012, they re-signed Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Jeremy Affeldt, a trio which paid off much better, even if injuries have undermined Pagan and Scutaro's contributions. Last year, it was Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum, and Javier Lopez who got return engagements, with Pence and Lopez paying off nicely and Lincecum getting to watch his team win another title from the bullpen bench.
Sandoval, Romo, and Peavy seem like the most likely to return from the above quintet, with the first two already expressing interest in doing so. Sandoval is one of the top free agents on the market this winter and is expected to be pursued by the Red Sox, which could make things difficult for the Giants. But the fact that Sandoval is a bad-body player approaching his thirties (he turned 28 in August) and coming off a down year at the plate — along with the qualifying offer he has since rejected — could temper the market for his services and facilitate his return to San Francisco.
Targets: Third base, leftfield, starting pitching
Sandoval will be the team's priority this winter, but the similarly-skilled Chase Headley would be a good fit if Sandoval signs elsewhere. Headley, also a slick-fielding switch-hitter with modest power, is two years older than Sandoval, but would likely come cheaper and on a shorter deal. Given Pagan's fragility in recent seasons, the team could stand to add an outfielder who is not an out-of-place first baseman like Morse or journeyman Travis Ishikawa (the latter of who remains under team control). Ironically, the best fit there might be Melky Cabrera, but a reunion there is unlikely given that the team did not welcome Cabrera back after his performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2012.
As for the rotation, the amount of resources devoted to reinforcements will depend on how much the team thinks it can get out of Matt Cain (who underwent season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow), Lincecum, and Yusmeiro Petit in the coming season. Keep in mind that of the two "sure things" in their projected rotation, one, Tim Hudson, will turn 40 in July, and the other, ace Madison Bumgarner, is coming off an age-24 season in which he threw 270 innings between the regular and postseasons combined.
Bottom line: The Giants' philosophy in the wake of their recent championships has been to keep the team together. Expect more of the same this winter.
San Diego Padres
Results: 77-85 (.475)
Third-Order Record: 73-89 (.449)
After paying Johnson $8 million to have and rehab from late-April Tommy John surgery, the Padres declined to pick up the $4 million option in his contract activated by his time missed. He'll be lucky to land a major league deal this winter given his injury history and awful showing for the Blue Jays when last "healthy." Stauffer is a fungible righty reliever whose desirability, like a Stouffer's dinner, depends greatly on how hungry you are, and the Padres' belly is full.
The futility of the Padres' offense in 2014 was not a Petco Park illusion. They were dead last in the majors in runs scored by a mile (535 to the Braves' 573), and dead-last in park-adjusted OPS+ as well (82, a mark that would be unacceptable from a single player or position, never mind the entire team). Looking over the Padres' current roster, their starters are not obviously better than their bench players, which is more of a criticism of the former than a compliment to the latter. Who would you rather have at this point, Yonder Alonso or Tommy Medica at first base? Jedd Gyorko or Cory Spangenberg at second? Everth Cabrera or Alexi Amarista at shortstop?
Centerfielder Cameron Maybin has hit .235/.297/.336 when intermittently healthy over the last three years. Chronic back pain gutted Will Venable's production last year (.224/.288/.325). The team's most productive hitter last year, Seth Smith, is a platoon lefty. The team's second-most productive hitter last year, Rene Rivera, is a 31-year-old career backup catcher who, even after 2014, has a .228/.279/.358 career line in the major leagues. One could glean some positives from Yasmani Grandal's age-25 season, as he had some solid peripherals, but he also hit .225 while throwing out just 13 percent of opposing base stealers and allowing an MLB-worst 12 passed balls despite starting just 67 games behind the plate. And, yes, the team's top prospect this season was a defense-first catcher, but that player, Austin Hedges, hit just .225/.268/.321 in Double-A this year.
The man who has been charged with fixing this mess? Former Rangers assistant general manager A.J. Preller, who was hired in early August and is thus the second-longest-tenured general manager in this division.
Bottom line: The Padres need productive hitters of any kind at any position. They also need to rebuild their lineup from the ground up. That's not the kind of thing that can be accomplished in a single off-season, but it wouldn't hurt to try to lure in a few short-term fixes in the meantime to keep the fans interested. With the division firmly in the hands of the Dodgers and Giants and with San Diego coming off four straight losing seasons, the Padres have nothing to lose, and Preller's five-year contract is evidence that the team is taking the long view.
Results: 66-96 (.407)
Third-Order Record: 72-90 (.447)
The Rockies have extended Cuddyer a qualifying offer, reportedly in the hope that he will accept it and then prove valuable on the trade market or give the team the flexibility to trade another player. That's a questionable strategy given that the deal would pay Cuddyer, who will turn 36 in March, $15.3 million coming off a season in which he played in just 49 games (giving him an average of 93 games played over the last three years). If he declines the offer, he is more likely to become this year's Kendrys Morales than to yield a draft pick for Colorado. The three pitchers will not be missed.
Targets: Trade partners, pitching
As that Cuddyer strategy suggests, the Rockies' intent this winter under new general manager Jeff Bridich is to explore the trade market for some of their best players, including oft-injured stars Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. As FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported on Wednesday, that doesn't necessarily mean that either of those players will be traded, but the team is open to the possibility. That's not a surprising development. When a team changes general managers after four straight losing seasons, as the Padres also did, that typically signals a rebuild, and any rebuild has to start with at least exploring the market for two players who are owed a combined $171 million over the next six seasons but combined to appear in just 161 games in 2014.
Of the two, Tulowitzki, an elite defensive shortstop who is also among the game's best hitters, is likely to draw the most interest, but the $118 million remaining on his contract and the fact that he has averaged just 88 games played over the last three years will greatly suppress the return the Rockies can get in a trade, unless they are willing to eat a large portion of his remaining contract. Gonzalez is owed "just" $53 million over the next three years, but hasn't appeared in more than 110 games since 2012 and is a leftfielder who has hit .258/.314/.437 on the road in his career.
Setting aside those potential blockbusters, the Rockies' biggest need this offseason is starting pitching. In 25-year-olds Tyler Matzek (a lefty) and Jordan Lyles (a righty), they have a matched set of young, cost-controlled starters, and having extended lefty Jorge De La Rosa in September, they have a veteran with a record of success at altitude to anchor the rotation. However, they don't know what, if anything, to expect out of Jhoulys Chacin after a season largely lost to shoulder issues, their top pitching prospects are not ready, and their other in-house alternatives are largely placeholders. They could also use help in the bullpen, where picking up 41-year-old closer LaTroy Hawkins' $2.25 million option, which the team did last week, counts as encouraging.
Bottom Line: With Tulo and CarGo on the block, the Rockies will provide a lot of grist for the rumor mill, but it remains to be seen if that will generate more than just a lot of noise.
Results: 64-98 (.395)
Third-Order Record: 68-94 (.419)
Free Agents: OF Nolan Reimold
The Diamondbacks are one of two teams, along with the Rays, that did not have a valued member of its 40-man roster reach free agency this fall. Reimold, who appeared in seven games for Arizona in 2014, elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster in early October.
Targets: Pitching, third base, outfield, trade partners
With Paul Goldschmidt signed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball, Patrick Corbin due back from a season lost to Tommy John surgery, and talented young players popping up all over the place, the Diamondbacks are in much better shape than their division rivals in Colorado and San Diego. Indeed, by third-order wins, they were only five games worse than the Padres last season despite numerous injuries and disappointing performances. As a result, the new management team in Arizona — headed by Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa, first-time general manager Dave Stewart, head of baseball operations De Jon Watson (swiped from the Dodgers), and rookie field manager Chip Hale — is looking to enact a quicker turnaround than the long-term rebuilds facing the Rockies and Padres.
The first step there may involve cleaning up some of the mess left behind by Kevin Towers. Stewart can't bring Justin Upton back, and Trevor Cahill and Cody Ross have little remaining value, but putting Aaron Hill (with two years and $24 million remaining on his contract), Miguel Montero (three years, $40 million), and especially Mark Trumbo on the trading block could help. In the case of Hill and Montero, the idea is to clear misspent salary. In Trumbo's case, he simply has no place on a National League team with a superstar first baseman and is arbitration eligible again after making $4.8 million in 2014. With Trumbo gone, the Diamondbacks could start with an outfield of A.J. Pollock, defensive whiz Ender Inciarte, and independent league find David Peralta and upgrade from there.
The Diamondbacks are expected to be players for Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, whom they reportedly worked out at third base on Monday per this tweet from his agent, and Stewart told The Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro over the weekend that "any move that we make has to better our rotation." Ultimately, Goldschmidt might be the only player on the team that the new administration wouldn't be willing to move or replace.
Bottom line: The Diamondbacks have enough warm bodies and young talent to go into next season without making a move, not that they'd be very good if they did. Still, that gives them the flexibility to make the moves that suit them best both short- and long-term rather than being forced to fill a particular vacant position. Given that and the presence of Goldschmidt in the heart of the lineup, a quick turnaround seems possible, which makes this an interesting test of Stewart, who is 20 years older than the three other first-time GMs in this division.