Today we wrap up our off-season preview series with a glimpse at the NL West, which has had an interesting off-season to date. Here, we discuss how the Dodgers can finally get over the hump and win the World Series, the Padres’ potential run for a big-name starter or bat, the efforts by the Rockies to build upon last year’s playoff run, and what the future holds for the Giants and Diamondbacks.
by Ruthvik Avvari
2018 Record: 82-80 (3rd in NL West)
2018 Payroll: $77,500,000 (16th in MLB)
The Diamondbacks were in first place until September 1st before it all unraveled. They proceeded to go 8-19 the rest of the month and crashed out of the playoffs. An 82 win season wouldn’t look like a complete failure if they hadn’t won 93 games the year before and were not in first place with a month left in the season. Looking at specifics, the installation of the humidor took away some of the home field advantage that the Diamondbacks have enjoyed in the past. They went from 52-29 at home in 2017 to 40-41 in 2018, taking their offense from the 7th best in the majors (810 runs scored) to the 19th (693 runs scored). The bright side for this team is that their starters were top five in the NL in terms of ERA, and their bullpen was top four. They will be retaining most of that core: four of the top five relief pitchers in terms of appearances in 2018 were in their bullpen (Ziegler, Chafin, Bradley, and Boxberger). Sadly, the team just ran out of gas down the stretch as the team ERA dropped to 26th in September (one of the unfortunate side effects of having, again, four of the top five relievers by appearances).
Arizona’s offense did have some bright spots: specifically, 1B Paul Goldschmidt (batted .331 post-April), OF David Peralta (30 HR), and IF Eduardo Escobar (48 doubles, 2nd in the majors). Additionally, defensive wizard SS Nick Ahmed found a surprising burst of power with 16 HR this year. While Peralta and Escobar will return, Paul Goldschmidt was dealt to the Cardinals for Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, and Andy Young. If Steven Souza can rediscover some of the power from 2017 where he hit 30 home runs, the outfield is almost complete. Meanwhile, even with Patrick Corbin leaving for the Washington Nationals and Clay Buchholz hitting free agency, the rotation is set with Taijuan Walker coming back from Tommy John next year. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray form a formidable top-end of the rotation, with Walker, Zack Godley, and new acquisition Luke Weaver rounding out the rotation. Their bullpen needs a couple of arms to relieve some of the pressure on the back end of the rotation, and with the departure of Boxberger, they will need another late-inning relief pitcher if they want to compete.
The biggest question for the Diamondbacks is whether they want to rebuild or trust the core of this team, minus Goldschmidt, to compete next year. This can dictate whether or not Greinke gets traded this offseason, and while he can bring back a handful of talented prospects, they are also only a handful of players away from making a run for the division or at least a wild-card spot.
This team is in need of another outfielder, a starting pitcher, more bullpen arms, and more production from the catcher position. Two of the three catchers with the most playing time this season hit at or below the Mendoza line and the third, John Ryan Murphy, batted .202. Carson Kelly will likely start behind the plate for Arizona in 2019, but it remains to be seen whether the future rookie will be successful. With two starters leaving the rotation, they need at least one starting pitcher, considering that Walker won’t be back until mid-summer. Even then, he will likely be on an innings limit, so having another starter would relieve some of the pressure on the rest of the rotation. The team will likely not re-sign AJ Pollock, despite the fact he will probably demand a much smaller contract than past marquee free agent outfielders, so unless the team is confident with free agent signing Jarrod Dyson and Steven Souza as regulars in the outfield, they should pursue another bat there. The team got quality results from their bullpen for most of the year, but in order to avoid the meltdown again, a couple of arms would really help down the home stretch next year.
The Diamondbacks do not have to rebuild. Even with trading away Goldschmidt, they fixed two huge holes on their roster, catcher and starting pitcher. Carson Kelly was highly touted as a prospect but fell behind the consistent Yadier Molina in St. Louis, so his path to the starting job is clear. Luke Weaver is another young player who can make a significant impact on this Diamondbacks roster next year. Even with the $77 million payroll, they have the money to spend on some free agents without breaking the bank for one player. Ideally, they can find someone to take Yasmany Tomas’ contract, even if they have to part with a prospect or two to shed payroll. Their infield is mostly set, with Ketel Marte, Escobar, Ahmed and Jake Lamb returning next year. They could possibly make a run at DJ LeMahieu. They can also target veterans like Adam Jones or Nick Markakis for the outfield. There are numerous bullpen arms available, like Greg Holland, Shawn Kelley or Tyler Clippard that the team can target to keep the bullpen afloat. Of course, the team is still shopping Greinke, so it remains to be seen if they’ll even try to contend in 2019.
By Zane Harding
2018 Record: 91-72 (2nd in NL West)
2018 Offseason Outlook:
So close, yet so far. The Colorado Rockies made the playoffs for a second consecutive year for the first time in franchise history in 2018, and they very nearly took the National League West, falling in game 163 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rockies went on to defeat the Chicago Cubs in a wild National League Wildcard game before falling victim to the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Divisional Series. Despite a 90-plus-win season, the Rockies fell well short of a World Series run again.
With two short playoff runs in the books, what’s next for the Rockies? As of now, the team will return all but two members of its starting lineup: second baseman DJ LaMahieu and outfielder Gerardo Parra. LeMahieu struggled immensely at the plate in 2018, posting an 86 wRC+ as he struggled to a .322 wOBA while playing half of his games in hitter-friendly Coors Field, but his league-best defense at second base still netted him a 2.0 fWAR. Parra, meanwhile, posted a 0.0 fWAR in 142 games in 2018, showcasing what it means to be replacement-level as he posted below-average fielding numbers and an 80 wRC+ that is even worse than LaMahieu’s.
The Rockies will, as of now, lose one key component of their 2018 squad: Adam Ottavino. In just 77.2 innings, Ottavino posted an extremely impressive 2.0 fWAR, a 2.43 ERA, a 2.74 FIP, and a team-best 36.3% strikeout percentage. While his .240 opponent BABIP suggests he will regress in 2019, his 3.13 xFIP suggests otherwise. For a team that historically struggles with poor bullpens, the loss of Ottavino would greatly hinder the odds of Rocktober in 2019.
Thanks to the breakout seasons of shortstop Trevor Story (5.0 fWAR) and starting pitchers German Marquez (5.2 total fWAR) and Kyle Freeland (4.2 pitching fWAR), as well as the contributions of veterans Nolan Arenado (5.7 fWAR and the NL Platinum Glove) and outfielder Charlie Blackmon (2.8 fWAR despite a significant step back defensively), the Rockies are poised to compete in 2019 with their young core. The Rockies’ 2019 success will come down to the continued success of this young core and the offseason moves of general manager Jeff Bridich.
As it stands, the Colorado Rockies will likely start former top-100 prospect Raimel Tapia (25 games of major league experience) in right field and prospect Garrett Hampson (#3 in the Rockies organization per Fangraphs, but not in Fangraphs’ top 100 prospects) at second base. Hampson impressed to the tune of a .396 on-base percentage and a 0.7 fWAR in just 24 games this season, and with a 70-speed tool, he could join Trevor Story (27 stolen bases in 2018) to form a formidable steal-heavy middle infield. Of course, top prospect Brendan Rodgers (#11 in Fangraphs’ top 100) is looming in double-A, and with a major league ETA of 2019, Rodgers could become a breakout star at Coors Field later this season. (It is worth noting that, in addition to his 184 wRC+ in A+ ball in 2017 and his 129 wRC+ in AA in 2018, Rodgers stole double-digit stolen bases for the first time in his minor-league career in 2018.)
With all of this said, the Rockies are contending now. Nolan Arenado’s contract is up at the end of 2019, and the Rockies have had no discussions with him regarding an extension to date. With a payroll that currently sits below $100 million, the Rockies should, at the very least, be in the market for an outfielder. Signing A.J. Pollock away from the Diamondbacks, for example, could be a high-risk, high-reward contract that pays off big time (more on that shortly).
On the mound, the Rockies really have little reason to augment their starting rotation. Kyle Freeland and German Marquez had sensational 2018 seasons, Tyler Anderson and 23-year-old Antonio Senzatela posted overall impressive years, and while former top prospect Jon Gray did struggle poorly enough that he spent some time in triple-A during 2018, he is still a major part of the Rockies’ future. The Rockies could use another starting pitcher, but it is not their biggest need.
The bullpen, however, needs help. Wade Davis was reliable in 2018, posting a 3.63 xFIP and 43 saves despite only stranding 66.9% of baserunners; Scott Oberg will return after a 1.3 fWAR season; and veteran reliever Seung Hwan Oh is returning to the Rockies after a bounce-back 1.2 fWAR campaign. That said, Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, Mike Dunn, and Chris Rusin are currently projected by Fangraphs to split 38 percent of the Rockies’ bullpen innings in 2019. All four of these pitchers posted a negative fWAR in 2018, and none of them posted an ERA below 5.90. Yikes. The Rockies need to sign a reliever and cross their fingers that one of these pitchers can bounce back (after all, they invested $24 million combined into McGee, Shaw, and Dunn).
Don’t expect them to sign Bryce Harper (how cool would that be, though?). That said, iftrue, the Rockies could benefit greatly from snatching the star outfielder from the division rival Diamondbacks. The team did not sign Michael Brantley or Andrew McCutchen, who were both also free agents, but with Charlie Blackmon’s defensive regression in center field, the Rockies would benefit the most from bringing in Pollock, who has posted defense ranging from above-average to Gold Glove-caliber since his 2012 debut.
Regarding the bullpen, the Rockies should not and will not invest an even larger sum of money into the bullpen in the form of Craig Kimbrel, but they ought to consider adding at least one arm. Jeurys Familia, David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Cody Allen, Bud Norris, Brad Brach, Jesse Chavez, and Justin Wilson are all free agents this offseason should the team fail to retain Adam Ottavino. The Rockies ought to even consider going for two of these guys, despite recently missing on McGee, Shaw, and Dunn.
Los Angeles Dodgers
By AJ Janetzke
2018 Record: 92-71 (1st in the NL West, World Series Runner-up)
2018 Payroll: $199,582,045 (3rd in MLB)
Let’s first take a look at their pitching. You take one glance at their stats from 2018, and it’s pretty shocking. None of their starters posted an ERA above 4, and we will be seeing the top 5 starters yet again this upcoming season. Clayton Kershaw is the obvious stand-out of the rotation; however, one concern for him is the back injuries he has been dealing with over the past couple of years. Hopefully, he can have some time to rest to show the world that he is the most dominant pitcher in all of baseball. Beyond Kershaw, Walter Buehler also had a fantastic season, finishing 3rd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. I don’t see him getting any worse coming into this season. Teams having to face Kershaw and Buehler in the same series better be ready to see two of the best pitchers they have faced all season. While the Dodgers recently traded Alex Wood to the Reds, they still have one of the deepest rotations in baseball, with talents such as Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and former top prospect Julio Urias they can call on. This depth will be necessary if the Dodgers want to make another deep postseason run in 2019. Meanwhile, 2018 All-Star closer Kenley Jansen bounced back from a rough start to the season to post 4th most saves in the MLB (38) and 0.991 WHIP. With former Red Sox postseason star Joe Kelly joining him in the bullpen, the Dodgers look to be stronger in the late innings in 2019.
On the offensive side, the Dodgers have many solid contributors up and down the board. Justin Turner certainly had a stand out season posting a 0.924 OPS. Although he did miss the beginning of the season with a fractured wrist, it appears that he is fully recovered and looks to post a full season in 2019. Max Muncy came out of nowhere, posting a team-leading 35 HR along with a 162 wRC+ and 5.2 WAR. The addition of Manny Machado definitely helped get the Dodgers to where they needed to be to be a contender. In his 66 games with the Dodgers, he produced a 2.4 WAR, getting on base just above a third of the time he came to the plate. Looking forward into what to expect for next year, the only major change we see is the departure of Manny Machado. Other than that, the dynamic rotation will all be returning as of today. Now should they make any changes?
I don’t see their pitching needing much help as they are all returning and that rotation got them to the World Series, and they already added some depth to the bullpen with Joe Kelly, so why fix something if it’s not broken. Looking at the infield, there is not much I would do. They are currently weak at second base, but the field is surrounded by tons of talent that can still grow. They could also look at catchers since Austin Barnes, who only hit .206 in 100 games last season, is atop the depth chart with Yasmani Grandal a free agent. The Dodgers could also use a couple more outfielders after trading Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig. Cody Bellinger has no business playing center field (or any outfield spot really). He did get some playing time there towards the end of last season, but it just isn’t the spot for him. They have so many other options for that position.
The first issue with Manny Machado leaving is easily solved with the return of Corey Seager. He will be coming off surgery, but his recovery process has been positive. He should be ready to go and pick up where he left off at shortstop. Grandal continues to sit in free agency and re-signing him, or one of the other veteran catchers in free agency would be a prudent move. Moving Bellinger back to first base and letting Muncy and Taylor take more reps at second base should improve their infield defense, and open up center field for top prospect Alex Verdugo. The cash the team saved by trading Wood, Puig, and Kemp have people thinking they are clearing space for Bryce Harper. Given the team’s inability to get over the hump in the World Series the past two seasons, adding a stud talent like Harper could be the difference in helping the team grab the elusive World Series championship. Given the depth and wealth the Dodgers have, it will be hard for them to go wrong this offseason.
San Diego Padres
By Sahil Shah
2018 Record: 66-96 (5thin NL West)
2018 Payroll: $103,843,635 (24thin MLB)
The Padres are one of the more fascinating teams in baseball. The team banked on Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers to be cornerstone pieces for their organization moving forward; however, both players took a step back in 2018. Giving Hosmer an 8 year/$144 million contract seemed like a questionable decision for the Padres when they agreed to the deal the previous offseason, and it looks even worse now after Hosmer posted a 95 wRC+ in 677 ABs. Myers, meanwhile, missed much of the season with an oblique strain and the team struggled to find a defensive position for him throughout the season after Hosmer displaced him at first base. Rebound seasons by these two players will be crucial for the Padres moving forward.
Beyond Hosmer and Myers, the rest of the Padres young offensive core battled through inconsistencies as they sought to establish themselves at the major league level. Hunter Renfroe took a big step forward in 2018, posting a solid 114 wRC+ with 26 home runs while cutting down his strikeout and walk rates. He could take a big step next year and put himself on the national radar as one of the best outfielders in the National League. Franmil Reyes posted one of the strangest stat lines in baseball, with 16 HRs and only 31 RBIs in 2018, but showed promise at the plate with a .280/.340/.498 line in 261 ABs. It will be interesting to see what he can do throughout a full season. The rest of their young core, including Manuel Margot and Travis Jankowski, posted inconsistent seasons and will need to step up their game next season to remain in the Padres plans.
On the pitching side, veterans Clayton Richard and Tyson Ross provided a stabilizing force for most of the season, eating up innings despite average numbers. Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer showed some flashes in their first season in the major leagues and will look to cement a role in the Padres future rotation plans in 2019. In the bullpen, the team took a hit after Brad Hand and Adam Cimber were dealt to the Indians; however, holdover veterans Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen posted fantastic seasons and will look to anchor the Padres bullpen again in 2019.
Although the Padres already have some solid young talent already in the majors, their minor league system remains one of the best in all of baseball. Fernando Tatis Jr. is the crown jewel of their top prospects, going from a lottery ticket prospect in the James Shields trade to a consensus top 10 prospect. Although a thumb injury ended his season prematurely, it is very possible that he gets his cup of coffee with the Padres in 2019. Fellow infield prospect Luis Urias made his major league debut at the age of 21 this past season, and he seemingly has nothing left to prove in the minors after a strong season at AAA in 2018. Francisco Mejia, acquired in the deal for Hand and Cimber, struggled in limited at-bats with the Padres, but he has a strong offensive track record in the minor leagues and gives the Padres a promising catching tandem with Austin Hedges. On the pitching side, MacKenzie Gore, Chris Paddack, Logan Allen, Adrian Morejon, and Michel Baez all experienced success in the minors this season, and the team certainly hopes that these guys can crack the major league roster in short order.
The Padres have the young talent necessary to build a solid nucleus for a winning team. However, what they lack most are solid veterans with a history of winning that can transition the team from rebuilding status to playoff contenders. Because the Padres’ timeline for contention appears to be in 2020 or 2021, they should be targeting players with multiple years left on their contract. Signing Ian Kinsler to a bargain 2-year deal was a fantastic move and a step in the right direction, but acquiring a veteran starting pitcher or two to anchor the rotation and take pressure off of their young arms would be a massive boon for the Padres. Adding a couple of bounce-back relief pitchers to potentially flip at the trade deadline would also be a prudent move.
The Padres have been linked to Corey Kluber and JT Realmuto a lot in recent days. Realmuto appears to be a questionable fit because the team has two promising young catchers, but I believe Kluber would be a perfect fit for the team. He is a bit of a known commodity, having started his career in the Padres minor league system. He is controlled for the next 3 years at a very reasonable rate compared to other starting pitchers of his caliber and has proven to be very durable, throwing at least 200 innings in each of the past 5 seasons. The price will inevitably be steep, but the Padres are flush with depth throughout their minor leagues and possess some high upside talent in the major leagues at a position where the Indians desperately need (the outfield).
San Francisco Giants
By Max Brill
2018 Record: 73-89 (4th in NL West)
2018 Payroll: $205,665,348 (2nd in MLB)
The San Francisco Giants tried to go all-in last offseason, trading for Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. The moves did not do much, as the team its second straight losing season even with the second highest payroll in all of baseball. The big move so far this offseason for the Giants was the hiring of Farhan Zaidi to be their new President of Baseball Operations. He was the GM for the Dodgers and previously was Billy Beane’s, right-hand man.
He’s in a tight spot. Should they rebuild or try to win now? The team has a lot of high paid veterans on the roster that will not be easy to move if they intend to rebuild. They also have a weak farm system. Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto are under huge contracts until 2023, not to mention Cueto just had Tommy John surgery. Coming off of a down year with only a 1.9 WAR, Evan Longoria is under contract until 2024. That trade has turned out to be an absolute disaster for the Giants. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt have not been the stars baseball fans expected them to be, and are both under contract. Could they move Madison Bumgarner, one year before his free agency?
This is not going to be a quick fix for San Francisco. This core is aging, and their window seems to be closed. Unless they break the bank for someone like Bryce Harper, I would not expect them to be a contender next season.
This team has plenty of needs, their highest WAR for a position player was 2.9 (Buster Posey). Let’s start with the outfield. Hunter Pence and Gorkys Hernandez saw the most action in the outfield for the Giants this past season. Neither was starting quality, and neither is young. Hernandez is under contract for next season, while Pence is not.
There was once a time when Joe Panik was supposed to be a budding star. The Giants second baseman had a subpar 2018, only playing in 102 games and producing a WAR OF -0.1. It may be time to move on from Panik and try to upgrade second base.
The last need is a need for every single in baseball, the bullpen. Will Smith pitched to a 2.55 ERA this year and it has one more year left on his deal. Tony Watson, a lefty who is under contract for two more seasons, posted a 2.59 ERA. Mark Melancon, their highest paid reliever did not stay healthy and blew more saves than he recorded.
This team needs to be rebuilt. I do not think anyone should be untouchable on this roster. However, it’s going to be pretty hard to move a lot of these big contracts. Madison Bumgarner should be available and if they can get a great prospect, they should not hesitate to deal him.
If the team wants to spend, I suggest going after Bryce Harper. There actually seems to be a lot of chatter about San Francisco and Bryce Harper, but it remains to be seen whether they will pony up the money. The outfield is their biggest weakness and he immediately would lift up the franchise and fanbase. AJ Pollock would be a cheaper option and still be a massive upgrade. There have been rumors swirling about Nathan Eovaldi and San Francisco. He would add some nice depth to a rotation that needs it.