March 09, 2005

Frinklin's Second Annual Baseball Preview: NL West

NL West
1. San Diego Padres
The Good
The Padres have the makings of an excellent starting staff. Jake Peavy won the ERA title in 2004, and would have been a strong contender for the Cy Young had he not missed a month of the season. Boomer Wells left as a free agent, but veteran Woody Williams replaces him. Williams isn't as effective as Wells, but is slightly younger and less disruptive in the clubhouse. Brian Lawrence finally finished a year with a winning record, and Adam Eaton needs to realize his vast potential. The bullpen was airtight, despite not having a lefthanded specialist much of the year. Trevor Hoffman made a complete recovery from surgery, and Aki Otsuka and Scott Linebrink were terrific set-up men. The Padres have a veteran lineup with impressive sluggers like Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin. Shortstop Khalil Green probably would have won Rookie of the Year had he not been injured the last 6 weeks of the season. He and 2B Mark Loretta, who had a career year, are a solid tandem in the middle infield.

The Bad
San Diego was completely unprepared for the reality of PETCO Park. The new park features a vast outfield with quirky angles and sits right on the water. Not the sort of place where slow and defensively challenged sluggers are at a premium. The Padres played an atrocious OF of Giles in RF, Klesko in LF and the now-departed Terrence Long or Jay Payton in center. The results were not pretty. To make matters worse, none of them managed to hit well in PETCO. It was obvious from the start, and none of them, Klesko especially, ever adapted. Payton and Long are replaced by Dave Roberts, who split last season between LA and Boston. His speed will help cover ground in center, and lend a hand to Giles and Klesko. The Padres would love to trade Klesko and replace him with prospect Xavier Nady, but so far have found no takers. Next to Greene on the infield, 3B Sean Burroughs was supposed to be George Brett by now. He isn't; his power is non-existent, and he doesn't show much patience or speed either.

The Bottom Line
Despite some small setbacks, San Diego is a franchise on the rise. The ballpark is spectacular, and the club is making moves to tailor the team to it. If Giles and Nevin can continue to adjust to the park, Greene continues to improve and Burroughs can show some of the talent that made him such a heralded prospect, the Friars should have enough offense to ride Peavy and the bullpen to the NL West crown.

2. San Francisco Giants
The Good
The Giants feature an outfielder you might have heard of named Barry Bonds. This year, as Bonds is about 2 weeks away from passing Babe Ruth on the all-time HR list, he has his best running mate since Jeff Kent left. Moises Alou, off a .293-39-106 season with Chicago, joins the team in right. They will flank Marquis Grissom, who has revived his career with San Francisco. This is an old outfield, but a very productive one. There are more vets in the infield, as longtime Indian and Mariner Omar Vizquel and his 9 Gold Gloves take over at short. Omar, while overpaid and aging, is a significant upgrade to the Deivi Cruz/Neifi Perez/Cody Ransom troika from 2004. Mike Matheny, widely considered the best defensive catcher in the NL, comes over from St. Louis. The pitching staff is solid if not spectacular, led by Jason Schmidt, who is pretty spectacular on his own. Kirk Reuter, the #2 man on the staff seems to be slipping though, and will have to rebound for this team to win. The bullpen is solidified with the acquisition of Armando Benitez as closer. Benitez was dominat last year, and the Giants are betting he will continue.

The Bad
This team is really old. The standard Giant lineup of Bonds-Grissom-Alou in the outfield, with Edgardo Alfonzo, Vizquel, Ray Durham, JT Snow and Matheny in the infield will have an average age of 72.2. Okay, it's actually 35.9, but it's still the oldest starting 8 in the game. Alfonzo and Snow will both share time with the younger Pedro Feliz, and Yorvit Torrealba will be the backup catcher. Fourth OF Michael Tucker will get his share of work too, especially since Alou is notoriously injury prone. Benitez was dominant last year, but the previous year the Mets, Yankees and Mariners all couldn't wait to get rid of him, and his playoff meltdowns are legendary. Reuter has to rebound, Brett Tomko has to continue pitching effectively and at least one of the kids (Merkin Valdez, Noah Lowery, and Jesse Foppert) have to come through and solidify the rotation. Lowery, while the least heralded, has the best start; winning his first 6 starts in the majors.

The Bottom Line
This team has the next two years to win the World Series, before everything turns to dust and they wake up with the Devil Rays in a nicer park. Bonds will dominate, that much is a given. The wild cards are Alou and the young pitchers. If Alou stays healthy and gives Bonds some protection, and a pitcher comes through, this team could make it.

Or it could age instantly, like the Mariners did in 2005

3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Good
It starts at the back with the Dodgers, as their best unit is the bullpen, led by Eric Gagne. To show how deep this unit was in 2004, LA traded Guillermo Mota and didn't miss a beat. Second-year players Duaner Sanchez and Yhency Brobozan set up Gagne. The rotation is adequate, with no real ace or stopper, but a nice collection of #3 guys. Jeff Weaver pitched very well after being freed from New York and the Dodgers are counting on Derek Lowe to do the same now that he is away from Boston. Lowe was brilliant during the playoffs last year, which is a good sign. At the plate FA signee JD Drew, a dynamic hitter when healthy and Milton Bradley, a dynamic hitter when sane, leads LA. Drew and Bradley are joined in the OF by the improving Jayson Werth. Cesar Isturiz, coming off his first Gold Glove at short, is joined by Jeff Kent at second. Kent isn't nearly the defender that Alex Cora was, but the Dodgers need his bat.

The Bad
The Dodgers signed Adrian Beltre, signed him again after it was revealed he was underage, and then watched him struggle through 6 seasons of injury and inconsistency before exploding last year, leading the majors in HR and finishing behind Barry Bonds for NL MVP. Then he left for Seattle as a free agent. He will be replaced by Jose Valentin, who hit 30 HR despite an OBP under .300, with prospect Antonio Perez (former property of the Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays) perhaps being a righthanded platoon partner. Beltre's bat will be replaced by Jeff Kent. As mentioned, both Drew and Bradley are dynamic talents, but the odds of both staying available throughout the season are high. If Lowe struggles, Kaz Ishii continues to walk everyone and Odaliz Perez can't stay healthy, the rotation just won't be good enough. First base is black hole after the departure of Shaun Green; Hee Siop Choi is the incumbent, but everyone other than Dodger GM Paul DePodesta has given up on him.

The Bottom Line
The Dodgers won their first their first playoff game since 1988 last year, and I've no idea how. Beyond the bullpen and Beltre, nothing much was special about this team. This year they lose Beltre, and they had to downgrade their defense to replace his bat. DePo seems to be running in place with this team.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Good
They can't possibly be worse than they were last year. Bob Melvin, fresh off a 99-loss season in Seattle, takes over a team that decided to retool instead of rebuild. Randy Johnson was traded to the Yankees, with Javier Vasquez the main return from the trade. The Snakes also signed Russ Ortiz to join holdover Brandon Webb. The bullpen is young but effective, built around Jose Valverde and Greg Aquino. The Diamondbacks should improve defensively, replacing Alex Cintron with Royce Clayton, and installing free-agent Troy Glaus at third. Chad Tracy is at first, with Craig Counsell returning to play second.

The Bad
Arizona spent like a drunken sailor, giving Ortiz, Glaus and Shaun Green contracts that were both too long and too expensive. The signing of Counsell was also head scratching, as Matt Kata is basically the same player, only younger and cheaper. Glaus, Luis Gonzalez and Green will comprise the middle of the order, though both Gonzo and Glaus are coming off major injuries, and Green's career has been in free fall recently. Vasquez, the newly acquired ace, is coming off a terrible second-half and has already made it clear he doesn't want to pitch for a West Coast team. Patience is obviously the key against the D'Backs, as Webb led the league in walks last year, and Ortiz averages nearly 5 BB per 9 innings for his career.

The Bottom Line
This team was just stupid over the summer. The Glaus signing is fine if his shoulder is healthy enough for him to play third. Signing Counsell and Royce Clayton though, that's just a sign of making moves solely to make moves. Ortiz and Green are contracts that will bite hard in the very near future. And isn't Arizona perpetually short of cash?
5. Colorado Rockies
The Good
Don't look now, but the Rox are growing a pitching staff. Former ROTY Jason Jennings became only the second Colorado pitcher to win 10 games three years in a row; Joe Kennedy came over from Tampa Bay, changed his motion a tad and was terrific down the stretch; kids like Aaron Cook and rookie Jeff Francis show promise for the future. Todd Helton returns and is always good for a .320-35-110 season. Preston Wilson should be healthy enough to man CF and provide some insurance for Helton, and Colorado has great faith in its rookies

The Bad
They had better have faith, because as it stands, Colorado is planning on 4 first year players in its Opening Day line up. Outfielder Matt Holliday played well the second half of last year, as did catcher JD Closser. Shortstop Clint Barmes and 3B Garrett Atkins will also be expected to start, and perennial prospect Choo Freeman could replace Wilson if Colorado can find a taker for his $12 million contract. As promising as Jennings-Cook-Francis-Kennedy is, this is still Coors Field, where pitchers go to die. The defense won't be anything special either, as Atkins and Holliday are barely average. Barmes and 2B Aaron Miles are okay, but neither has plus range. The bullpen is empty.

The Bottom Line
The Rockies rebuilding may finally show some benefits. Francis will contend for Rookie of the Year, Holliday hit well and Atkins ripped apart the PCL last year. Still, anything close to .500 would be an accomplishment for this team

Posted by Frinklin at March 9, 2005 06:18 PM

Keep up the good work, Frinklin. Excellent analysis, and hard to disagree with. Looking forward to your AL Central preview.

Posted by: ILk at March 10, 2005 06:21 AM

I think Bonds has to be a question mark. He may still be an excellent player, but I think there has to be huge doubt about whether he'll dominate as he has. If he was on steroids, he could suffer a rapid decline. Happens in other sports. Athletes who take steroids, HGH & other performance enhancers break down all at once.

This is the weakest division in the NL.

Posted by: John at March 10, 2005 07:38 AM

I didn't know you talked baseball this in depthly!!!


Posted by: Brian Cronin at March 13, 2005 01:17 AM
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