(USA TODAY Sports)
Welcome to our sixth and final off-season preview! Find out what your favorite NL West teams are up to this winter.
by Zane Harding
2017 Record: 93-69 (2nd in NL West, 1st Wildcard)
2017 Payroll: $119,898,775 (20th)
Current 2018 Outlook:
The Diamondbacks had an extremely nice bounce-back season in 2017 after an absolutely miserable 2016. Under NL Manager of the Year Torey Lovullo, the Diamondbacks saw Zack Greinke live up to his contract, while Paul Goldschmidt posted yet another great season and Robbie Ray broke out as a young superstar. The team was led by its incredible rotation, featuring five 3-rWAR starters in Greinke, Ray, Zack Godley, Taijuan Walker, and Patrick Corbin. This team should’ve been even better with a rotation like that, but the lineup featured five below average offensive players by OPS+ for a majority of the season. That number was cut down to four, however, thanks to the acquisition of J.D. Martinez, who posted a gaudy 1.107 OPS in his time in Arizona.
Now… everything I just recapped, it doesn’t seem very sustainable, does it? I don’t think anyone expects Zack Godley to put up a 3.9 rWAR again, it’s yet to be seen if Robbie Ray can do it again (he improved from a reserve-level player to an all-star in a single season, after all), and J.D. Martinez will likely sign elsewhere. The Diamondbacks will compete next year, but in order to battle the Dodgers for the NL West title, they’re going to need better production up the middle at 2B/SS, see better offensive production, and improve that terrible bullpen (where would this team have been without Archie Bradley?).
This team needs bullpen arms and offensive weapons. The team acquired RP Brad Boxberger from Tampa, which suggests that they’re going to make some moves, but they’re going to need more than just Boxberger to fix the bullpen. Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez was huge for this team down the stretch last year and is a currently a free agent. This team needs a big bat and some bullpen arms to be a World Series contender.
Now, I’m not the type of person for big contracts, so I’d definitely avoid signing J.D. Martinez. Those massive $200M contracts fail much more often than they succeed. If I were GM of the Diamondbacks, I’d give elite relievers Greg Holland and Addison Reed a large contract and form a three-headed beast in the bullpen. I’d also add Zack Cozart, who will likely come cheaper than many and who was the best SS in the National League by rWAR/162 in 2017. This is purely speculative, but Holland will likely draw a contract between $50M – $60M, Cozart a contract between $35M – $45M, and Reed a contract between $30M – $40M. At the maximum, that’s $145M of new contracts, while JD Martinez will likely receive over $200M. C’mon, Diamondbacks. Load up and give yourselves a chance.
by Max Brill
2017 Record: 87-75 (3rd in NL West, lost in NL wildcard game)
2017 Payroll: $146,651,941 (17th in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
The Rockies are on the upswing, and we got our first glimpse of hopefully many #Rocktober appearances to come. Led by perennial Gold Glove 3B Nolan Arenado, the Rockies look well positioned to make #Rocktober2018 a reality. They will need to reinforce the team, though, after losing four everyday position players and four pitchers who made regular appearances down the stretch.
Fortunately for the Rockies, their infield is mostly set with Ian Desmond likely to slide to first base, Gold Glover DJ LeMahieu at the keystone, youngster Trevor Story at short, and the aforementioned Arenado at third. In the outfield, Raimel Tapia will most likely get everyday reps at one of the corner outfield spots, Charlie Blackmon will play center, and Gerardo Parra will play the corner that Tapia doesn’t. The Rockies will also have David Dahl coming off the disabled list (remember him?), and both corner infielder Ryan McMahon and utilityman Pat Valaika will come off the bench. Their hitting is in a good position, they just need to add a solid bench bat or two. Their pitching, on the other hand, will need some work.
The Rockies seem to now have a few legitimate starters, the first ones since Ubaldo Jimenez, in German Marquez, Jon Gray, and Kyle Freeland. Jeff Hoffman had flashes of brilliance, so it seems that those four starters are set. Finding a fifth starter shouldn’t be too difficult given the volume of good-but-not-great starting pitching on the market.
Finding some bullpen options also shouldn’t be too hard given the depth of the available free agent relievers, but the Rockies will need to act fast and snatch up some talent quickly, especially considering that they lost their two of their top three pitchers in relief innings pitched (Greg Holland and Jake McGee) in addition to Pat Neshek, who threw 22 innings for the Rockies in the last two months, and made an appearance in #Rocktober. #Rocktober. Have I said that enough?
Bench depth and bullpen pitching. The bench depth can be addressed internally, should they choose, with options like Jordan Patterson, or Cristhian Adames, but the team would probably be better served to look for a veteran bench player in free agency.
Fortunately, as I mentioned in the Cubs preview, bullpen pitching is dime a dozen this offseason, so the Rockies should have no trouble adding a few bullpen arms.
I think the Rockies should try to re-sign Holland; he’ll be a bit more expensive than last offseason, but he’s 31 with a qualifying offer attached to him, so he shouldn’t be prohibitively difficult for the Rockies to retain on a contract that looks something like a four-year deal in the 40-50 million range. They should also look into re-signing Chatwood to return to his swingman role, but given the interest he has garnered from other teams with more funds, I doubt they’ll get him back. The Rockies could also try to re-sign Pat Neshek, who shouldn’t come at a price of more than $7MM a season over two years, with perhaps a team option tacked on.
In the way of bullpen depth, they could look toward Juan Nicasio (I really like him, did you read my Cubs preview?), Tony Watson, Steve Cishek, Anthony Swarzak, or any of the other low-profile-but-still-pretty-solid free agent relievers.
I’d be surprised if the Rockies didn’t make an effort to re-sign Alexi Amarista, and I think they should also look into Dustin Ackley, who could back up LeMahieu at 2B and also slot in at any outfield position when necessary.
Los Angeles Dodgers
By Jared Wolff
2017 Record: 104-58 (First in NL West)
2017 Payroll: $265,149,292 (1st)
Current 2018 Outlook:
For years the Dodgers have been increasing their payroll in an effort to win a World Series. In 2017, it almost paid off. The Dodgers were the dominant team in the National League all year, losing the World Series to the Houston Astros in seven games. On offense, two young stars emerged in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. They will carry this offense for years to come. Besides those two, Justin Turner helped shoulder the load. The third basemen hit .322 with 21 home runs. The team will not lose much offense in free agency, as their free agents this winter are over the hill veterans in Chase Utley, Curtis Granderson, and Andre Ethier. On the pitching side, Clayton Kershaw will be back as the ace after an 18-win season with a 2.31 ERA. Who else will be with him in the rotation? Right now, they have Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. They’ll still have one of the more dominant closers in baseball, Kenley Jansen. Will star pitcher Yu Darvish be back in Los Angeles? Looking at all of the talent on this roster and the potential offseason moves they could make, the Dodgers will once again be World Series contenders and division favorites.
There are not many holes on the Dodgers roster, but that does not mean they will have a quiet offseason. They will have to figure out what they want to do at first base, because of the fading play of Adrian Gonzalez. The starting rotation will become a need if Yu Darvish opts to leave for another team. In the bullpen, they shouldn’t be looking to make big moves, but adding depth to the bullpen never hurts. If they sign a starter, they could move Kenta Maeda to the bullpen in a spot where he thrived during the postseason.
The number one target for the Dodgers should be Shohei Otani. The Japanese free agent is planning to move to the MLB as both a pitcher and a hitter and would provide the Dodgers with another young superstar. Not only could he form a lethal duo with Clayton Kershaw, but Otani could add a major bat to the lineup. He won’t be very expensive, but competition for his services will be tight. The Dodgers could also look to trade for Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The price tag will be high for the man who led the Major leagues in home runs this past season, but adding him would make the offense terrifying for opposing pitchers.
San Diego Padres
by Patrick Awtrey
2017 Record: 71–91 (4th in NL West)
2017 Payroll: $91,963,878
Current 2018 Outlook:
For the most part, the Friars maintained appearances in 2017, meaning they weren’t very good. The team sported below-average pitching and arguably the worst offense in the major leagues. Specifically, the team was last in runs PG (3.7) and OBP (.299). The Padre offense was so disappointing that management released hitting coach Alan Zinter a month before the end of the season. Things could have been worse. As Jason Martinez of MLB Trade Rumors writes, “This 71-win team probably had no business winning more than 60, which speaks volumes about the job that manager Andy Green is doing.” The San Diego Padres finished with a better record than 6 other teams and improved over their 2016 campaign. This upward trend is likely to continue through 2018 and beyond, as the Padres have one of the youngest major league rosters and one of baseball’s best farm systems. Almost all of their better performers are still developing.
General Manager A.J. Preller is using a strategy much like the Houston Astros employed on their way to winning this year’s World Series. If the Padres keep it up, they might be just as successful a few years from now. Their payroll is currently less than it has been in years past, so they have money to spend. They should save it and continue to develop internally while signing inexpensive free agents as a stopgap when necessary.
Shortstop is the only position where the Padres have an immediate need. Eric Aybar performed dismally in 2017 and probably won’t return. Yangervis Solarte filled the role about one-third of the time during the last two months of the season, yet he is more established as a second or third baseman.
At every position other than shortstop, the Padres have at least one starting-caliber player (by the standards of a team that is not ready to actively compete). Although there is significant room for many of these players to improve, all are still developing and so team improvement will be facilitated internally.
Regarding the shortstop situation, it’s important to keep in mind that the Padres have Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis and that either of these highly regarded prospects should be ready to take over at the position within a few years. Therefore, the team should target an older veteran to fill in for only two or three years. The best fit is either free agent J.J. Hardy or free agent José Reyes. Which one the Padres should pursue depends on the organization’s priorities. Reyes is a better hitter, has more popularity, and is slightly more expensive, whereas Hardy is stronger defensively.
The Padre roster is crowded at many positions, but Mr. Preller doesn’t view this as a problem and neither do I. Almost every player on the team is still developing and trading such players away would be against the long-term interests of the franchise. One of the few players worth trading is Solarte. By the time the Padres are fully prepared to win, he will be in his mid-thirties and the team will likely have other second and third basemen in their prime. Nevertheless, Solarte’s combination of leadership, switch-hitting, ability to play all infield positions, and relatively inexpensive contract makes him attractive to many clubs, and so the Padres are better off trading him now for prospects. They could try trading him for a full-time shortstop, yet there are no shortstops on the trade market who meet the aforementioned criteria.
An effective move for the team’s pitching staff could be to bring back Jhoulys Chacin, who started 32 games this year on his way to leading Padre starters with 2.3 WAR (FanGraphs). Under no circumstances should the Padres trade Brad Hand; since the team will be good in a few years and Hand is just now entering his prime, trading him for a prospect would set the club back. Finally, the Padres could pick up some of the Brave’s lost prospects.
San Francisco Giants
by Matthew Kikkert
2017 Record – 64-98 (Worst in MLB)
2017 Payroll – $191,065,209 (6th Highest in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
After a disappointing season, similar to that of the Detroit Tigers, where high payrolls led to nothing more than a high draft selection (Giants will pick 2nd in 2018), the Giants, however, do have a ray of hope going into next season. The Giants are teetering on the edge of disaster and in my opinion, are in a similar spot as the Tigers were in last offseason. They will likely make one more push at a postseason run with cornerstones Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Hunter Pence. If things do not go according to plan, pieces will be dealt next July and August, and it could get very ugly in the Bay Area.
General Manager, Bobby Evans, recently said he wants the Giants to be known as a pitching and defensive team first. Given the Giants ranked as one of baseball’s worst defensive teams, this will be a priority. In addition to this, the Giants ranked last in home runs and OPS and 2nd worst in runs. While Evans says they will not sacrifice defense for power in the future, it is certainly not something which will be ignored. Signing an outfielder will be a top priority for the Giants this offseason to satisfy both these goals. Left field was a carousel all season, and this position could be signed specifically, or Denard Span/Hunter Pence could be shifted around if a different outfield spot was signed. Additionally, a third baseman will be a target as 22-year-old prospect Christian Arroyo should not be counted on to fully mature next season and Pablo Sandoval can no longer be relied on as a viable option until proven otherwise. On the pitching side, the bullpen is not a major concern, but the Giants will be looking for a fifth starter in the rotation. Likely a short deal for a veteran is the move here, and multiple players fit this description for the team.
Money will not be an object for the Giants this offseason given they will be trying hard to make another push at the postseason, and any player is on the table for a contract. In the outfield, former Royal Lorenzo Cain makes the most sense given his exceptional defensive abilities (5th in Outs Above Average at 15). Cain can roam the spacious centerfield at AT&T Park while aging Denard Span moves over to left field. He also brings a steady bat to the lineup and speed to the bases, adding another dimension to the Giants lineup. Third base is more open to discussion given Arroyo’s track to the majors, but viable options include bringing back Eduardo Nunez, who was traded by the Giants last deadline to the Red Sox, as a guy who can play third for a while and move around the infield as needed. Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier are also riskier options for the Giants if they decide they want to solidify the position moving forward. In the rotation, veterans who would come to the Bay Area include Chris Tillman, Jeremy Hellickson, Doug Fister, Ubaldo Jimenez, or CC Sabathia. Any one of these players can provide experience and depth to a rotation that was right in the middle of the pack last season (15th in ERA).
If the Giants can bring in Cain, a third baseman, and a rotational piece, they will be contenders for a Wild Card position in the NL for 2018.