March 31, 2006

Frinklin & Fred Baseball Preview 2006: NL West

1. San Diego Padres

The Padres won the West last season with an 82-80 record, just barely missing becoming the first division winner to finish with a .500 record. It will take more than 82 wins to take the West this year. Maybe not a bunch more, but it should be a least 85 or so. This is still a weak division and the Padres a weak team, but there is less wrong with them than any other NL West team.

The Padres made some changes after last season, finally bowing the reality that a team with a massive outfield like Petco Park should trot out Dave Roberts, Brian Giles or Xavier Nady in center. GM Kevin Towers swapped Nady (stole really) for Mike Cameron, merely one of the best 2-3 defensive centerfielders in baseball. That moves Giles to right and Roberts to left. Or Roberts could head to the bench –where he belongs- and prospect Ben Johnson moves in right and Giles to left. Regardless, the Padres have vastly improved their outfield defense.

Towers also gave up on some longtime Padre prospects during the off-season. Disappointing Sean Burroughs was exiled to Tampa Bay for Dewon Brazelton in a swap of failed prospects. Adam Eaton, who never seemed to reach his potential, was sent to Texas for the younger and cheaper Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez. If Towers could ever find a suitor for Ryan Klesko, Gonzalez would start at first. As it is, the Pads will debut one rookie starter, Josh Barfield at second. Aging Vinny Castilla will start at third and even-more-aging Mike Piazza will play as much as possible behind the plate.

Overview: The Padres are the class of this division, if such a word is accurate.

FRED SEZ: Homer! Actually, the Padres are probably as good a pick as any here, and better than some (*cough*Colorado*cough*). I'd completely forgotten that you guys signed Mike Piazza. I suppose he's still got some life in his bat. But you're not actually going to let him catch, are you? I mean, he couldn't catch even when he was good, and now he's old and broken down. Only a complete moron would let him catch at this stage of his career. Ha ha ha! Wait, what's that? He will be catching for you? Oh.

I am sincerely glad that Vinny Castilla has found a place to play. He's a gutsy, hustling veteran, and I'm glad that he's still got a home in MLB, particularly since it's not Washington. Of course, we swapped Castilla for Brian Lawrence, whose arm fell off in spring training, so I suppose the Padres got the better end of that deal, since Castilla is still active, in a manner of speaking.

FRINKLIN REJOINS: I can't be a homer. I don't actually live in San Diego anymore. Yeah, having Piazza catch is ummm.... questionable, but it's him or Doug Mirabelli. I hated the Castilla-for-Lawrence swap then, and I don't like it anymore now. Vinny's going to struggle getting to the warning track at PETCO.

2. San Francisco Giants

Okay, so apparently this Bonds guy is going to be in the news all year. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there will be a bit of a circus around the Giants this year, as long as Barry is healthy. Barry’s health is the difference between contending and Devil Ray-land for this team. Even not considering the 41-year Bonds, the Giants lineup reads like a 1996 All-Star team. Ray Durham is 34, Omar Vizquel is 38, Moises Alou is 39… this team is really, really, horribly old.

That’s not to say the Giants aren’t any good. If Bonds plays 140 games they could run away with the West. San Francisco is the only team in this division you can say that about. The lineup, if everyone stays healthy, is okay, even considering the relative youngsters starting at the infield corners. Pedro Feliz (30) and Lance Niekro (27) are an upgrade from the JT Snow-Edgardo Alfonzo-Feliz combo of the last couple years. Randy Winn came over in a deadline deal from Seattle and earned himself an extension. Winn is slated to start in center between Bonds and Alou, neither of whom have much range anymore. Randy, as any Mariner fan will remind you, is a fine left fielder but doesn’t have the instincts to play center.

The rotation is okay, led by Jason Schmidt and free agent signee Matt Morris, but nothing special. Heralded prospect Matt Cain should be exciting. If closer Armando Benitez can stay healthy the bullpen will be solid. The Giants replaced Scott Eyre with Steve Kline, who was terrible with Baltimore last season, getting killed by lefties at a .317 clip.

Outlook: The Giants window is just about shut, but if they stay healthy they could win the division.

FRED SEZ: Don't this guys have a date on a shuffleboard court somewhere? I don't believe that Bonds is going to play very much this year, and as such I have a hard time believing that the Giants are headed anywhere other than the retirement home. Take heart, though, Giants fans: your team won't be nearly as bad this year as it will be in a couple years when Bonds, Durham, Alou, Vizquel, and Steve Finley are gone and Schmidt's career is disintegrating. Believe me, you'll really be suffering then. This year will be in a walk in the park compared to 2009 or so. For now, enjoy the fish tacos. Oh, wait, that's San Diego.

FRINKLIN REJOINS: If you're a fan of comically bad outfield defense (and really, who isn't?) this is the team to watch. Bonds doesn't even try anymore. Alou hurts himself if he has to take more than four steps in any direction. Winn has all the tools, but he isn't the most instinctual player out there. Randy will have to work so hard he keels over sometime in August.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Is the head of Paul DePodesta still on a stake outside the LA Times sports desk? One good year, one disastrous year and two years of awful PR killed the DePo experiment. The Dodger Way apparently means working backwards now, as manager Grady Little was hired, then GM Ned Colletti. Colletti reworked the lineup, picking up Rafael Furcal at short, Nomar Garciaparra will man first, and Kenny Lofton pushes JD Drew from center to right. Bill Mueller will try settle in at third. The revamped lineup will feature more speed then before, but like last year, features some serious injury risks.

Colletti also reworked the bullpen, trying to recapture the key to the Dodgers’ success in 2004. Eric Gagne returns from elbow surgery, and Colletti swapped prospect Edwin Jackson to Tampa for closer Dannys Baez and Lance Carter. Both, along with erratic holdover Yhency Brazoban will set up Gagne. The rotation is solid, more a collection of #3 starters than anything else. Brad Penny should be an ace, but his time in Los Angeles has been as frustrating and injury-prone as his time in Florida was. Derek Lowe pitched well despite some self-inflicted off-the-field issues, and Colletti flat stole Jae Seo from the Mets.

Outlook: Any of the top three teams in this division could win it. Of course, they could all just as easily win 75 games.

FRED SEZ: I have no idea what to make of the Dodgers. I never know what to make of the Dodgers. The pitching I like pretty well, the hitting I don't, who knows what will happen? I'm not sure what part of Grady Little's tenure in Boston convinced the Dodgers that hiring him as manager was a good idea, and I'm not sure who decided that Nomar Garciaparra would make a good first baseman. As far as I'm concerned, the best thing about LA is that Randy Newman song. Actually, since I've never been to LA, I have no idea if that's true. Moving right along.

FRINKLIN REJOINS: Every American needs to see LA at least once. Something Vin Scully never tells you: Dodger Stadium is in a really sketchy neighborhood. Chavez Ravine isn't Compton, but it ain't exactly Anaheim either.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

The best news for the Diamondbacks is that they went an off-season without any awful signings like Russ Ortiz. Of course, they still have Russ Ortiz and his contract from last year, now punctuated with a horrific 6.89 ERA and 65/46 walk-to-strikeout ratio. The D’Backs actually traded away one of their lousy contracts this off-season, swapping Troy Glaus to Toronto for Orland Hudson. Hudson immediately improves the defense at second. The move also opens up third for Chad Tracy. Arizona moved Craig Counsell to short, but he should be a placeholder for Stephen Drew.

The best thing about the Diamondbacks is their youth. Conor Jackson takes over at first, and outfielder Carlos Quentin isn’t far behind. Drew should debut in 2006, and teenager Justin Upton became the best prospect Arizona has the moment he signed his deal. That’s the future though; this year will see some running in place. In the outfield Eric Byrnes will man center, despite being a classic fourth outfielder. Shawn Green and Luis Gonzales, both on the back nine of great careers, will flank him.

Considering the improved defense behind him, Brandon Webb could break through this year. Behind him in the rotation are Ortiz, the ageless Orlando Hernandez, and Miguel Batista, who returned to Arizona in the Glaus deal. The bullpen is young, led by closer Jose Valverde.

Outlook: The Snakes seemed to have learned after last year, concentrating on building the foundation of the club through prospects.

FRED SEZ: While I think Arizona is headed in the right direction, I think the reason they're building with youth is that they have no other choice, given that Jerry Colangelo built the entire 2001 championship team with a giant credit card, and the team owes about $3.8 billion annually in deferred payments from now until 2047. When you're that far in the hole, building hotels on Park Place is not an option for you. You're stuck shopping at the Baltic/Mediterranean end of the board.

Now that the Diamondbacks appear to be stabilizing the business end of things a bit, can you please do something about those hideous uniforms? Real men do not wear purple.

FRINKLIN REJOINS: As a fan of the Washington Huskies, I have to disagree with that remark. That doesn't change the fact that Arizona has 230 uniform combos that range from ugly to so-ugly-it's-possibly-illegal.

5. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies were seriously young last year, starting rookies all over the place. The Rox also lost 95 games, the most since their first year in the league. The two might be connected. Todd Helton, signed to a big-money deal though the 2011 season, will continue to be the only Rockie (Rocky?) you’ve ever heard off. That doesn’t necessarily mean Colorado is doomed. Last year, rookies like Matt Holliday and Garret Atkins posted reasonable numbers, and it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to say that they will improve. Even better for Colorado fans are the kids behind the kids. Prospects like Ian Stewart and Troy Tulowitzki aren’t far away.

Pitching, as always, is a borderline disaster in Colorado. The Rockies do feature a young and reasonably talented big three in Jason Jennings, Jeff Francis, and Aaron Cook, but behind that are scary names like Sunny Kim and Byung-Hyun Kim. Francis will eventually be the best of the lot. A touch and feel righthander who reminds some of Greg Maddux, Francis was beat up at times, but finished well. The Rockies feature one fine reliever and a bunch of question marks. Former Mariner Brian Fuentes moved into the closer role and made the All-Star team. Former… well, former everything Jose Mesa will set-up. Behind those two and free-agent signee Ray King are a lot of questions. The bullpen was pretty awful in 2005 and should be again.

Outlook: The Rockies will someday figure out how to win. It won’t be in 2006, but eventually. I mean, they have to, don’t they?

FRED SEZ: Here's another chronically screwed-up organization. The thin air in Denver has been a real mind-screw for this team, as Rockies management has been unable to figure out how to build a team a mile above sea level. Should they focus on homers? On gap hitters? On fastball pitchers? Sinkerball pitchers? Look for veterans? Build with youth? Play in a pressurized tennis bubble instead of a baseball stadium?

I think the organizational paralysis in Colorado is especially amusing since there are at least three solid team-building ideas that might actually work that, for whatever reason, the Rockies refuse to try:

1. Spend reasonable amounts of money on quality players and try to build a good all-around team, rather than cobbling together a freak-show squad to adjust to the perceived problems of the Denver air

2. Hire people who worked in Denver during the minor-league days and ask them how to build a good team there

3. Spend all your money on hitters with some pop, watch them hit 50 homers a year at Coors, and let someone at sea level overpay them when their contracts are up. Put together your pitching staff at random off the waiver wire, and accept the fact that all your games are going to be of the 15-13 variety. The Rockies actually did try this one for a while, and had some success with it (wild card in '95), but stopped for some reason. Maybe they found the football-esque scores embarrassing. But then they started throwing eight-figure contracts at guys like Darryl Kile, Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, and it's been all downhill ever since.

FRINKLIN REJOINS: I think they might have something at this point. Jennings, Francis and Cook aren't guys who'll win Cy Youngs, but they're serviceable even at Coors. A couple of their young hitters could be special. Both Stewart and Tulowitzki should debut sometime in 2006


I would pick the Padres to win the division too, except that so far we've picked the same division winners in the NL East and Central, and that gets boring. So I'm going with the Dodgers, even though I think most of their offseason moves were dumb and I find it hard to believe that anyone can win with an offense that bad. I gotta be me.

Assuming I'm right about Bonds not playing much this year, I wouldn't be surprised if Arizona finishes third here, but I'm not picking that way, because I'm a pansy.

1. Los Angeles
2. San Diego
3. San Francisco
4. Arizona
5. Las Vegas (future Marlins)
6. Sacramento (future A's)
7. Portland (future Devil Rays)
8. Vancouver (future Royals)
9. Colorado

FRINKLIN REJOINS: Interesting you think teams might land in Portland and Vancouver. Just watch how Angelosian the Mariner ownership group gets if somebody tries that.

Previously: NL East, NL Central

Posted by Frinklin at March 31, 2006 11:59 PM | TrackBack
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