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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Changes aplenty in the NL West

After their last two World Series Championships, the Giants suffered major meltdowns in the following seasons (2011 and 2013). They're completely aware of this, and although they didn't make any earth shattering moves in replacing Michael Morse and Pablo Sandoval, they feel like they're in good shape heading into spring training, which kicks off this week.

Giants' pitchers and catchers just arrived in Scottsdale with their first workout scheduled for tomorrow morning. The positional players won't be too far behind, as they report on the 23rd with the first full-squad workout scheduled for the 24th. Then, finally, we'll have baseball again as the Cactus League kicks off on March 3rd. Now, as we get ready to enter the 2015 season, there are plenty of questions surrounding the reigning top dogs. Many felt they failed in replacing Pablo Sandoval, so much so that their offense will take a noticeable tumble. Plus, while I didn't mind the Nori Aoki addition when you factor in who and what was available at that point in the offseason and the cheap price he came at. Seemingly every other team improved in the NL West though, so repeating not only as World Champs, but making a postseason run is going to be much more challenging.

First off, the San Diego Padres look re-stocked and ready to rock. They brought in a trio of all-star outfielders; Wil Myers from Tampa to play center, then Matt Kemp from LA and Justin Upton from Atlanta to flank him in the outfield. They then dove into the free-agent pool and landed highly sought-after free-agent RHP James Shields on a 4 year/$78M deal. Not a bad deal for the Pads after seeing what guys like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester just signed for. They have the depth in the rotation after Shields as well, with Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy (coming off his best year since '11). RHP's Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow are each making their way back from injury and could really deepen an already solid staff if they're right. In fact, if those dudes get and stay healthy and the newcomers all mesh, it's going to pose major problems for the rest of the West. The Padres look like one of the most improved teams in baseball in 2015 and so long as Joaquin Benoit and that bullpen hold up while they avoid injury in their outfield, they could be major contenders come September.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, took a different approach than they have in recent years, letting some of their big name, big priced guys go in trade and free-agency and spending a little more judicially in the '14/'15 offseason. They still have enough talent with that staff, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford finally becoming a full-timer (which could elevate him back into all-star status with health). They also brought in a couple of veteran, good clubhouse guys who still get it done to play up the middle in Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins. I have to say, adding those two make me a little more worried than when LA added HanRam, Josh Beckett and co. during the '12 season just cause those guys will help build a winning attitude in a clubhouse. Then there's that dreaded starting rotation, led by Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke which is the best 1-2 right/left handed punch in baseball.  (sorry guys, but unless Matt Cain is in 2011 form or Justin Verlander gets back to his ace-like ways ). That bullpen has about as much talent as any in the league, but health and performance issues always seems to weigh them down a bit.

That's kinda where the competition for the division tittle and wild care spot(s) end in the NL West because barring some minor miracles, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies likely aren't sniffing postseason play in 2015. Despite talks of dealing one and/or both of their star players, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, both return in 2015 to at least start the year in Denver. Colorado also has up-and-comers like Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and some high-upside starting pitchers. Still, they have a ways to go before being competitive again in the division. The Diamondbacks, while still possessing one of the best right-handed power bats in the game ( first basemen, Paul Goldschmidt) added the biggest prized international free agent of the winter in Yasmany Tomas. They'll use this spring to figure out if he or Marc Trumbo will fit better at the hot corner with the other taking right field playing alongside AJ Polack and  David Peralta to form a solid young outfield. The D-Backs' problem will be their lack of experience as well as their lack of overall talent in their starting rotation. They could have really been the ones to use James Shields, or at least made a play at one of the other second-tiere starters )

Then, we finish up with the Giants, who had a really quiet all-around offseason. They tried to strike big and early with offers to re-sign Pablo Sandoval and nearly lured Jon Lester into town with a huge contract, but ultimately he chose to reside on the North Side of Chicago instead. After missing out on their top two priorities, they flirted with guys like James Shields and inquired about Chase Headly and maybe dealing for Justin Upton or Ben Zobrist. However, in the end, it wasn't any big new name coming to town to replace Pablo and Michael Morse. Instead, the Giants went with 2014 NL Comeback POY Casey McGehee, in hopes of finding someone who would come close to Pablo's regular season production at a fraction of the cost. To replace Morse, they went out and made another bargain move in signing Nori Aoki to a one-year deal worth just under $5M. I certainly would have loved that Aoki signing more had they found some legit power at third or re-signed Pablo, but all in all, I think Aoki is my favorite new add of the offseason. Instead of that big signing or trade, the Giants will more so be counting on in 2015 is the development of Belt, Crawford and Panik as well some of their other young pitchers.

What the Giants will be banking on most is there returning guys all staying healthy and some improving on sub-par 2014 seasons. Belt and Pagan are another injury away from getting tagged"fragile", and they need Buster Posey to be MVP-like without Pablo around to have his back. We know that as long as they're within striking distance they'll be active at the trade deadline and they saved a lot of their trade chips this winter because of that. No, they don't necessarily look like a World Series favorite on paper right now, but we all know how things change when the games start, and I think they're gonna add some pieces in season.

However, that's about the lay of the land in the ever-changing NL West. Although the Dodgers slashed payroll and lost a couple of stars in Kemp and Ramirez, I actually think they'll be better than many expect. The Padres are going to be the Wild Card for me. If they mesh well, which they very well may be able to do, then they could become the new powerhouse in this division, but a lot has to go right. Right now, I'd place the Dodgers maybe slightly above SF and the Giants slightly above the Pads, but again, these teams went through so much change I really gotta see them play together before getting too serious with predictions.
The Giants Baseball Blog


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