NL West Hot Stove Forecast: How to catch the champion Giants
The defending world champions could use more production at the plate to support their championship-quality pitching staff, but the albatross contracts of Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand limit their ability to do much more than re-sign a couple of familiar faces.
So were the Padres for real in 2010 or were they a fluke? That is a crucial question given that the team is practically a blank slate heading into 2011. The Padres have no financial commitments beyond 2011, and with Garland and Torrealba having declined their mutual options, and the team having declined Chris Young's, only Adrian Gonzalez, whose $5.5 million option was picked up, has a set salary for 2011. The rest of the players under team control are either arbitration-eligible or due to earn the league minimum, and of the arbitration-eligible, only closer Heath Bell and right fielder Ryan Ludwick, each of whom is entering his final year before free agency, are likely to pick up significant raises.
It would be very easy for the Padres to revert to their intended 2010 plan of swapping Bell and Gonzalez for prospects as the final launch phase of a big rebuild, but it's hard to ignore the fact that they just won 90 games and weren't eliminated until the season's final weekend, when they missed a wild card berth by a single game while finishing just two games out in their division. The Padres won the same way the world champion Giants did, with shut-down pitching and a cobbled-together offense of spare parts and unwanted journeymen. The key difference being that, other than sophomore stud Mat Latos, the Padres' rotation was as slap-dash as their offense, and the real shut-down unit on the team was the bullpen.
Given the variability of bullpen performance from year-to-year, building a team around a strong 'pen is not unlike moving into a neighborhood because you like the weather. Nick Hundley can replace Torrealba, but with key pieces Jon Garland, David Eckstein, and Miguel Tejada (seriously, those three were keys to the Padres' success this year) now free agents, the Padres have to decide if they really want to reinvest in what was very likely a fluke.
If so, they need to put some real money behind the task. That money should be available given the Padres' lack of prior commitments and the fact that the team has indicated it would increase payroll for 2011, though that last is almost a given seeing as how they had the second-smallest Opening Day payroll in baseball in 2010. Doubling down on their strength, they should bring in one of the next group of starters behind Cliff Lee (listed above) to team with Latos atop the rotation and pursue the best available options to plug their middle-infield holes. Orlando Hudson is the best middle infielder on the market and would be a good fit on a pitching-and-defense team in a ballpark that favors on-base skills over the longball. By that same token, Juan Uribe's power would be wasted in Petco, but it could be a boon on the road and his defense plays everywhere. Taking a run at Carl Crawford is likely unrealistic, though again he'd be an excellent fit on this team, and the Padres would appear to have the payroll room for one big contract if they really want to play ball.
Picking up Olivo's option and declining Francis's are easy decisions, as is non-tendering arbitration-eligible Clint Barmes. Biting the bullet and bringing in a productive first baseman to push Todd Helton to the bench in what will mercifully be the final season of his nine-year contract is a tougher one. The good news there is that next year brings the big first-base class of Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols, so a stop-gap such as Glaus, who would also be a righty complement to Helton, could do the trick. Then again, if the Rockies don't want to commit to another monster contract in 2012, and who could blame them, a shorter term deal for someone like Carlos Peña, Derrek Lee, or even Paul Konerko, who isn't going to get a long contract heading into his age-35 season despite his MVP-level performance this year, might be a good fit, particularly with 2009 third-round pick Ben Paulsen showing some promise in the low minors.
Beyond that, Hudson could allow them to use Eric Young Jr. as a utility man/pinch-runner, a role to which he's better suited than that of full-time second baseman. De La Rosa has proven he can succeed in Denver and spiked his groundball rate in 2010, so he's worth bringing back. Former Rockie Uribe would be a good platoon partner for Ian Stewart at third base and/or a possible solution at second, and his power bat would likely thrive in a return to Coors. Also, with Michael McKenry ready for the Show and catching prospect Wilin Rosario on his way, now might be the time to cash in fading catching prospect Chris Iannetta's remaining trade value, perhaps in a deal with the Red Sox, should Boston fail to re-sign Victor Martinez.
Though the McCourt divorce continues to hang over the team, general manager Ned Colletti said that the Dodgers will increase payroll in 2011, likely surpassing the $100 million mark once again, then set out to put that money where his mouth was by handing Ted Lilly a three-year, $33 million extension to hold down the middle of the Dodger rotation and picking up Scott Podsednik's $2 million option to serve as what is likely to be no more than a fourth outfielder for the coming season.
Still, the Dodgers may chose to pinch pennies on former All-Star catcher Russell Martin, who, coming off two miserable seasons at the plate (combined .249/.350/.330) and a season-ending hip fracture, is a serious non-tender candidate. With incumbent backstop Rod Barajas a free agent, such a move would make finding a catcher Job One for the Dodgers going forward. Victor Martinez is the big fish there, though there are several viable veteran options, including Bengie Molina, A.J. Pierzynski, Yorvit Torreabla, John Buck or a repeat engagement for Barajas, and the Dodgers could likely find a smarter way to spend their extra cash than on a 32-year-old catcher who can't stop the running game, no matter how well he hits. For the rotation, the Dodgers already have an ace in Clayton Kershaw, so the second-tier list included above for the Padres, specifically Pavano, Kuroda, and De La Rosa, applies here as well.
The Dodgers' fall in 2009 was largely due to a lineup that scored just 4.12 runs per game. As things stand right now, their best opportunity to add an impact bat is the spot vacated by Manny Ramirez in their outfield. Bringing Jayson Werth back and moving Andre Ethier to left would be the ideal way to fill that hole. However, if they want to get really daring, another route to more run production would be non-tendering James Loney, whose production has been headed the wrong way ever since his strong 2007 performance at the age of 23, and taking a run at Adam Dunn, who would bring some left-handed balance to the lineup, along with a ton of power.
The Diamondbacks have a new general manager in long-time Padres GM Kevin Towers and have re-signed mid-season managerial replacement Kirk Gibson, giving the club a fresh management team on matching two-year contracts. That would seem to led some urgency to things given that Arizona's now-aging young core will start to hit free agency after the 2012 season. Indeed, when Towers was hired he said, "I'm not a big believer in five-year plans, six-year plans. I want to win next year and these guys want to win next year."
So how does a 65-win team from a division that produced the World Series winner go from worst to something close to first in a single offseason? Start with fixing the bullpen, which was by far the worst in the majors and in fact one of the worst in major league history, worth a negative 4.4 wins according to
As for the rotation, they need to replace the departing stop-gap Rodrigo Lopez with a someone to anchor the incumbent quartet of lefty Joe Saunders and youngsters Dan Hudson, Barry Enright and Ian Kennedy. Jorge De La Rosa, whose Coors-proof strikeouts-plus-grounders recipe would also play well at Chase Field, or groundballer Hiroki Kuroda, could, when combined with an improved bullpen, be enough to help the Diamondbacks could creep back over .500.
After that, Towers could go after a big bat to replace Gerardo Parra in left or Adam LaRoche, whose option he declined, at first base. In the latter case, Brandon Allen lurks as a power-hitting in-house solution, so start with left field. It would be a better fit for Arizona go after a big thumper who would benefit from their homer-friendly ballpark, that means Jayson Werth, but Towers may prefer an option that wouldn't exacerbate the team's strikeout problem quite as much as Werth, thus Carl Crawford. Failing either of those there are plenty of options at first base from Adam Dunn down through Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee, Aubrey Huff, LaRoche himself, and Carlos Peña, among others. The one key is that, if Towers wants to cut down on the runs his team allows, he shouldn't sacrifice defense for offense, which means no Dunn or Manny Ramirez or the like in left, and that it may not be worth investing the extra green in Dunn with slicker fielders such as Lee and Peña available.
As for how to pay for all of this, Towers' enthusiasm doesn't scan with reports that the team is looking to keep payroll below the $75 million level it was at last year, but with Brandon Webb and Eric Byrnes among others coming off the books, they have just shy of $20 million committed for 2011, so there's still room for imports even with the lower cap. Yes, they have several key players due for multi-million-dollar arbitration awards (including Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew, Joe Saunders, and Miguel Montero), but Towers is an expert at building bullpens on the cheap (the Padres' strong unit was mostly his doing), and a second-tier starter such as Kuroda or De La Rosa shouldn't be that expensive. Besides which, Towers needs to be mindful of Type-A free agents, such as Soriano, Downs, De La Rosa, and most of the bats discussed above. If those players' former teams offer them arbitration, they will cost the D'backs their top draft picks in the talent-rich 2011 draft, which would make the total expense too much for the organization to bear in the long run, regardless of its short-term enthusiasm.