Analysis

The State of the West

The NL West has become the strongest division in baseball. 3 of the playoff teams from the National League came out of that same division: the Dodgers, the Rockies, and the Diamondbacks, and were represented in the World Series by the Dodgers. With young talent blooming everywhere in the division, there is a need to stay competitive. This off-season showed this drive to win, as every team in the league managed to improve themselves in some way, either via trade or free agency.

Paul Goldschmidt will look to lead the Diamondbacks offense once again | Photo by Keith Allison via Flickr

Arizona Diamondbacks

Key Additions: Steven Souza Jr., OF, Jarrod Dyson, OF, Brad Boxberger, RP, Yoshihisa Hirano, RP, Alex Avila, C, Daniel Descalso, 2B (exercised option), Neftali Feliz, RP (minors).

Key Subtractions: J.D. Martinez, OF, Fernando Rodney, RP, David Hernandez, RP, Gregor Blanco, OF, Adam Rosales, Inf, Chris Iannetta, C, Brandon Drury, Inf.

The Diamondbacks surprised a lot of people in 2017, claiming the first wild card spot and moving on to the NLDS. They look poised to make another strong run in 2018, keeping their core intact and making cost effective moves to replace their biggest losses. Their biggest loss was J.D. Martinez, who hit 29 homeruns in only 62 games after coming over from the Detroit Tigers before the Trade Deadline. He agreed to terms with the Red Sox on February 19, and the Diamondbacks wasted no time in finding his replacement, trading for outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Tampa Bay Rays the very next day. Souza will look to bring the power-speed combo he gave the Rays last year, smacking 30 homeruns while also stealing 16 bases. He does not hit for a very high average, but set a career high last year with a .351 on-base percentage and brings above average defense in right field.

The Diamondbacks also lost their closer in Fernando Rodney, but have many options to replace him. Archie Bradley excelled in the setup role last year, pitching to a 1.73 ERA, and should have a shot at closing out games. The team also traded for Brad Boxberger, who has experience with closing in Tampa Bay, and signed Japanese relief pitcher Yoshihisa Hirano. Boxberger lost his closer job in Tampa to Alex Colome, but had 41 saves in a season as recently as 2015. Hirano had big success as a closer in Japan, saving more than 30 games 3 times and saving 29 last year.

With an offense led by Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb, the Diamondbacks will also look to get contributions from Souza, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta at the top of the lineup. The rotation will be anchored by Zack Greinke at the top, and will look for breakout stars Robbie Ray and Zack Godley to build on what were very impressive 2017 campaigns.

Needs: The middle infield for the Diamondbacks is not incredibly encouraging. As it stands now, the starting middle infield consists of Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte, with the backup for both being Chris Owings. None of the three have been great offensive players for their careers, with Marte being slightly below average and Ahmed and Owings falling wellbelow average in terms of OPS+. Current free agents like Neil Walker or even Brandon Phillips could certainly help boost offensive production from second base.

Colorado Rockies

Nolan Arenado and David Dahl celebrating a win | Photo by Keith Allison via Flickr

Key Additions: Wade Davis, RP, Bryan Shaw, RP, Jake McGee, RP (re-sign), Carlos Gonzalez, OF (re-sign), Chris Iannetta, C.

Key Losses: Greg Holland, RP, Mark Reynolds, 1B, Jonathan Lucroy, C, Pat Neshek, RP, Tyler Chatwood, SP, Ryan Hanigan, C.

The Colorado Rockies started 2017 with a boom, but faltered near the All-Star Break. They played at an above-average level for the rest of the season, and hung on to claim the second Wild Card spot, losing in the Wild Card game to the Arizona Diamondbacks. They will look to capture another playoff berth this year on the back of a young starting rotation with some new experience under their belts.

The emergence of rookie starters Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and Antonio Senzatela helped keep afloat what is usually a weak starting rotation. Jon Gray continued to show improvement after coming back from a fractured foot, however the rotation as a whole struggled to eat up innings. The signings of McGee, Shaw, and Davis to shore up the bullpen will help take some of the load off the starters, and put less pressure on them to go deep into the game every single start. Adam Ottavino will also look to regain his pre Tommy John form, and Scott Oberg, Chris Rusin, and 2017 signing Mike Dunn should fill out the rest of the bullpen. The 4th and 5th spots in the rotation will be fought for by Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman, and Chad Bettis, and the Rockies should find themselves with a very solid pitching staff all the way through.

On an offensive standpoint, the Rockies were looking forward to big things out of prized prospect David Dahl, especially after he tied a record for longest hitting streak to begin his career, hitting safely in 17 straight to begin his career when he made his debut in 2016. Unfortunately, he never saw major league action after suffering a rib injury during spring training. He looks to be healthy entering 2018, and he and Raimel Tapia will look to plug the corner outfield spots flanking All-Star Charlie Blackmon in center field. The loss of Carlos Gonzalez will hurt, but after a down season in 2017, youth may be the better, and certainly more cost effective option. Keeping with the theme of the youth movement, Ryan McMahon has a chance to start the season as the starting first baseman. McMahon, the Rockies number 3 prospect, tore through the minor leagues last season and earned himself a call up when rosters expanded in September. Poor numbers in a small sample size in the majors shouldn’t be looked into too deeply, as McMahon could give the Rockies another potent bat in an infield already consisting of Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and DJ Lemahieu.

Realistically, the Rockies have an outside shot at best at winning the NL West this season. They have a good chance at gaining another wild card berth this year in what looks to be an extremely competitive NL West. Looking ahead, continued improvement from their young pitchers will leave them in very good position for future postseason runs.

Needs: Amazingly, the Rockies need offensive producers. While they have many promising young players looking to make the roster, they don’t have a backup plan in case the young bats don’t produce right away at the major league level. The backup plan for Ryan McMahon is currently Jordan Patterson, who is also unproven at the major league level, and the corner outfield is very shallow beyond Tapia and Dahl. The pitching seems to be secure, but a small move to bring back a player like Mark Reynolds as insurance would be something for the team to look into.

Update: The Colorado Rockies have agreed to terms with outfielder Carlos Gonzalez on a one year deal, worth a reported $8 million. Re-signing Gonzalez brings depth to the outfield, and leadership to the young bats of Dahl and Tapia. Nolan Arenado had voiced his desire to keep Gonzalez in Colorado, and talks between the two parties really heated up in the days following those comments.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw | Photo by Arturo Pardavila III via Flickr

Key Additions: Matt Kemp, OF, Chase Utley, 2B (re-sign), Tom Koehler, SP, Cesar Ramos, RP (minors)

Key Subtractions: Yu Darvish, SP, Curtis Granderson, OF, Andre Ethier, OF, Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Scott Kazmir, SP, Brandon McCarthy, SP, Charlie Culberson, Inf, Brandon Morrow, RP, Tony Watson, RP, Franklin Gutierrez, Luis Avilan, RP.

The Dodgers spent almost the entire 2017 comfortably in first place in the NL West. They were challenging the single season wins record for a large portion of the year, before going into a bit of a tailspin in September. They experienced no signs of faltering in the playoffs, storming through the divisional and championship rounds to the World Series. They fell one game short against the Astros, losing the 7th game of the World Series 5–1.

With much of the same staff as they entered the year with last year, the Dodgers should have a strong year from both their rotation and their bullpen. Led by ace Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, they will look for Hyun-Jin Ryu to be healthy again and possibly look at Kenta Maeda returning to the rotation to try to balance out a very lefty-heavy rotation. Rookie phenom Walker Buehler is also in the mix to make the rotation out of camp, and will be a player to watch during the course of the year if he makes the big league roster. Keeping Kershaw healthy would also be a tremendous boost. Kershaw has missed starts in each of the past two seasons, making only 27 starts in 2017 and 21 starts in 2016. Even so, he’s found himself in the top 5 of Cy Young voting each of those years, so a full slate of starts puts him right in the mix to win the award every single year. The bullpen continues to be anchored by Kenley Jansen, who continues to put his name among the top 2 or 3 closers in the game year after year. In the innings leading up to the ninth, the Dodgers took a big shot with the loss of both Tony Watson and Brandon Morrow. Morrow was lights out last year as the setup man to Jansen, and Watson was a key contributor as a lefty out of the pen. If Maeda doesn’t return to the rotation, he could be the favorite to setup for Jansen in 2018. None of the Dodger’s starting pitchers are huge innings eaters outside of Kershaw, so the bullpen is something that still needs to be addressed for this team.

The offense for the Dodgers has a lot of familiar names returning: Seager, Turner, Bellinger, Puig, Taylor, Forsythe, Grandal, Utley, Barnes, Kemp and Pederson. There is virtually zero competition for any spot outside of catcher. Austin Barnes exploded in the postseason last year, and took the starting spot from Yasmani Grandal in the World Series, but it has yet to be seen who will start the year behind the plate. All other positions are secured. The addition of Matt Kemp from the Braves fills the lone hole on the field out in left field, and the rest of the outfield will be covered by Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig. Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Logan Forsythe, and Cody Bellinger will man the infield. If the offense can produce at the level it did last year, the Dodgers stand a very good chance of repeating as NL West champions.

The Dodgers had a relatively quiet offseason, making headlines only with their big salary dump to the Braves. It appears that they were making a concerted effort to avoid the luxury tax threshold, as they did not even appear in rumors for any big name free agents. Giancarlo Stanton had made it openly known that LA was his top landing spot, and they didn’t even pretend to be interested in taking on the burden of his contract. The Dodgers seem content with what they have now, and will look for this group to push them over the top this season.

Needs: The Dodgers still have a lot of questions to address in the bullpen. Kenley Jansen is as solid as ever, but everything leading up to him is a question mark. Pedro Baez was the next best thing, but he struggled so badly that he was eventually left off of the NLCS roster. It appears that the Dodgers are done making moves, so they will look for their already existing options to produce, or look to trade for a bullpen arm during the season.

San Diego Padres:

Wil Myers will make the transition back to the outfield this season after the signing of Eric Hosmer | Photo by Keith Allison via Flickr

Key Additions: Eric Hosmer, 1B, Chase Headley, 3B, Freddy Galvis, SS, Tyson Ross, SP (minors)

Key Subtractions: Yangervis Solarte, Inf, Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Erick Aybar, SS, Ryan Schimpf, Inf, Jabari Blash, OF.

The Padres come off yet another disappointing season, finishing under .500 for the 7th straight year and 9th in the last 10. This is a team that is looking towards youth, with a plethora of young talent scattered across the diamond. They’re counting on these young players to put it all together and put them in a place to compete.

With the addition of Eric Hosmer, the Padres’ offense will be led by him and Wil Myers. Young outfielders Hunter Renfroe, Jose Pirela, and Manuel Margot, as well as catcher Austin Hedges, will look to transfer their minor league success to the majors. If the young position players can provide complementary help to Myers and Hosmer, the Padres would find themselves with a relatively potent offense. They have many holes they need to address still. Freddy Galvis and Chase Headley are not the long term solutions on the left side of the infield, in fact they are far from it. Fernando Tatis Jr. appears to be only a couple years away from his shot at the big league roster, and his bat is becoming increasingly hard to ignore for fans who want to see what he is capable of.

The Padres have some serious issues with pitching. Last year, their best pitcher was Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched to a 3.89 ERA in 2017. Currently in line to start for them on Opening Day is Clayton Richard, who has been a consistent innings eater but had a 4.79 ERA last year. That’s not exactly what you’re looking to get out of your de facto number 1, but they don’t have many inspiring options behind him either. Dinelson Lamet had a very impressive K/9 ratio, but it did not translate into overall success, and Luis Perdomo has a 5.16 ERA in two seasons so far. Their best bullpen option is Brad Hand, a lefty closer who has pitched very well for San Diego since coming over from Miami. He could be in high demand at the trade deadline if he has another strong season, which will leave the Padres bullpen pretty depleted. Before getting to Hand, much of the work will go to Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen. Stammen saw average success in Washington and his first year in San Diego, but Yates has yet to prove his consistency.

Needs: The Padres need starting pitching. The Padres need relief pitching. The Padres need middle infielders. The Padres need a third baseman. This team will not likely be in contention for the next few years at least. The signing of Eric Hosmer is not enough to magically push them into contention without a miraculous blossoming of every one of their young players this season. Padres fans will be stuck waiting for a winner once again.

San Francisco Giants

Catcher Buster Posey remains a cornerstone in the Giants lineup | Photo by SD Dirk

Key Additions: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Evan Longoria, 3B, Austin Jackson, OF, Tony Watson, RP, Derek Holland, SP (minors)

Key Subtractions: Matt Moore, SP, Christian Arroyo, SS, Denard Span, OF, Matt Cain, SP, Kyle Crick, SP (minors), Bryan Reynolds, OF (minors)

The San Francisco Giants had high expectations going into 2017 and were expected to at least compete for a wild card spot. Their season was full of injuries and disappointment, highlighted by a motorbike crash that left ace Madison Bumgarner sidelined for a large portion of the season.

The anchor of the team, Buster Posey, is coming off yet another strong season in his Hall of Fame career, and will get boosts with the addition of veterans Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. The Giants, having finished last in the league in homeruns and being the only team without a player to hit more than 20, are in desperate need of a power boost however they can get it. AT&T Park is notorious for being a great pitcher’s park, but the Giants haven’t helped themselves much away from home either. Last year, Brandon Belt led the team with 18 homeruns, and Hunter Pence was second on the team with 13. Obviously, it takes runs to win games, and a kickstart to the offense this year may be what the Giants needed.

Combine an injury plagued year with a disappointing statistical one and that’s what you got out of the pitching staff last year for the Giants. The injury to Madison Bumgarner in mid-April really set the tone for the rest of the season, causing him to miss almost 3 months and leaving the Giants without their best pitcher. An average season from Jeff Samardzija, a lackluster season from Johnny Cueto, and a disastrous season from Matt Moore filled out the rest of the rotation. In the bullpen, Mark Melancon was something of a disappointment, following two seasons of 51 and 47 saves with only 11 to go along with a 4.50 ERA. While not making many moves on the starting pitching front other than trading Matt Moore, the Giants added some bullpen help with Melancon’s old ‘pen mate Tony Watson, who has been effective out of both the setup and closer roles. The Giants are looking for healthy and productive seasons out of their veterans in the rotation this year to propel them into the playoffs.

In baseball, there is one simple thing you need to do to win: score more runs than the other team. In 2017, the Giants were really bad at scoring runs, and really bad at preventing them. That combination makes it incredibly difficult to win a lot of games, evident by their last place finish in the NL West. A bounce back season from their starters mixed with their new bats should, at the very least, give them a better season than last year. If all things go as planned, they could find themselves right in the thick of the wild card race.

Brian Schlosser

Rockies, Angels, and general baseball fan. I love talking about baseball more than I love writing about it, and I'm always open for discussion on Twitter @brian_slosh.

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