2016 National League West Preview: Beware of the Even Year
It's an even year, so I don't know why we don't just hand the trophy over to the San Francisco Giants now and save everyone some time and heartbreak.
The Giants won the Fall Classic in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and now, here we are in 2016, and the G-men once again have a real shot to win their division and take him their fourth world title in six years. However, the Dodgers enter 2016 as the top team in our power rankings, and the Arizona Diamondbacks made improvements to their rotation over the winter, aiming to keep pace with the two big boys in their division.
All three teams will take turns beating up on the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres, both of whom are in rebuild (not "tank") mode.
Let's take a closer look at the issues surrounding each team in the division this year (teams below ranked in order of projected finish).
Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Record: 90-72
The Dodgers have not appeared in a World Series since 1988. That's 28 years, and that's a long time for a franchise that had gotten used to a lot of postseason success in the 1970s and 1980s. They have made the playoffs in each of the last three years but fell short each season. That is with a payroll that has crossed $200 million in each of those seasons and last year went over $270 million.
So needless to say, in 2016, it's Fall Classic or bust for L.A., and they once again spent a lot of money in the offseason, although probably not in the way they envisioned. They lost Zack Greinke in free agency to their division rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks. That was certainly not part of the plan. So in order to bolster a rotation that would be down an ace, with a lot of injury question marks, the Dodgers signed free agent Scott Kazmir over the winter to be their new number-two starter.
They also imported Japanese superstar Kenta Maeda to be their number-three starter, but injuries have hit the rotation hard early in spring. Brett Anderson could miss the season with more back problems, Hyun-jin Ryu is dealing with some shoulder problems, and Brandon McCarthy is still recovering from Tommy John. That leaves Mike Bolsinger as the number-five man in a rotation headed by perhaps the best in the game, Clayton Kershaw. It is not an ideal way to go into the 2016 season.
New manager Dave Roberts will also have his hands full trying to find playing time for all the veterans brought onto his roster. Will Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick handle their platoon with grace? Will Justin Turner be okay following left knee surgery this offseason? Can Joc Pederson recover following a dreadful second half? What will Yasiel Puig give them in 2016? And can uber-rookie Corey Seager be the answer at shortstop?
There are a lot of question marks for this team, but our numbers have them winning the National League West and enter the season atop our MLB power rankings.
San Francisco Giants
Projected Record: 85-77
At some point, the Giants are going to stop winning the World Series on even-numbered seasons. I mean, it can't go on forever. But is 2016 going to be that year? Perhaps not.
Like the Dodgers and the D-Backs (more on them in a moment), the Giants made what they feel are significant upgrades to their starting rotation. They signed Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija as free agents this offseason, slotting them in behind Giants' ace Madison Bumgarner. Cueto was terrific in the first half last season but had an up-and-down second half with the Royals.
And Samardzija struggled overall last season with the White Sox, giving up more hits and more runs than any starting pitcher in baseball. Below are his stats since becoming a full-time starter.
It's easy to see a scenario in which the Giants struggle this year, and that scenario revolves around these two pitchers. If Cueto and Samardzija pitch poorly, San Francisco is going to find themselves mired in third place much of the season. But if Cueto and Samardzija pitch the way they're capable, then San Francisco could eye another World Series.
The Giants still boast one of the very best players in the game in Buster Posey and have a talented infield of Matt Duffy, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Brandon Belt, all of them home-grown. Hunter Pence and Denard Span should provide some stability and offense, if they can stay healthy.
San Francisco also returns a bullpen that finished with the third-best ERA in the National League last year, at 3.33. They just need their number-two and number-three horses to do their jobs in order to challenge L.A. for the division title.
Projected Record: 82-80
Last year, I wrote a piece titled, "Why The Diamondbacks May Be Postseason Ready in 2016." In that piece, I noted the team's already outstanding offense and terrific defense that was held back by a weak starting rotation and a less-than-stellar bullpen. I wrote:
But in order for Arizona to take the next step, they're going to have to sign one or two front-line starters on the free agent market this winter. Luckily for them, there are plenty available, with David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, and potentially Zack Greinke, if he opts out of his contract with the Dodgers.
If the Diamondbacks can land one or two of these guys, coupled with a decent bullpen and a solid offensive club that plays excellent defense, all of a sudden you're looking at a potential playoff team.
It appears as if they were listening. They went out and signed Greinke to a big-time contract, giving the team a true ace atop the rotation. They then went out and traded for Atlanta starter Shelby Miller to be their number-two. And while they did grossly overpay for Miller, the fact remains the team did get a legitimate second starter to slot behind Greinke in the rotation. When you add in the returning Patrick Corbin from injury, you have a top three that is as good as any rotation in the NL West.
Yes, the Diamondbacks will miss the defense provided by Ender Inciarte in left field and will need their young Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas actually to slug something this year. And this is a classic stars and scrubs team, with MVP candidates Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock leading an offense that got solid contributions from David Peralta and catcher Welington Castillo. They are weak up the middle, even after the head-scratching Jean Segura trade, but even with their faults, they essentially return the same everyday lineup that scored 720 runs last year, second-most in the NL.
And, they finished with the fourth-most fWAR of any team in the National League last season.
Needless to say, I'm bullish on the Diamondbacks in 2016.
Projected Record: 78-84
Both players mashed more than 40 homers last season (Arenado 42, Car-Go 40) and seem likely to get close to those numbers again, provided they stick around in Colorado for the entire season. In the case of Gonzalez, that may not happen. Expect him to get dealt around the trade deadline, as the Rockies try to figure out how to win baseball games in the thin air of Denver.
The rotation is going to be a disaster. Already the worst in Major League Baseball last year (an MLB-high 5.27 ERA from Rockies starters in 2015), they will come into 2016 with Jorge De La Rosa and his 4.17 ERA (4.19 FIP) as the ace of a scary rotation.
|Jorge De La Rosa||26||8.09||3.93||4.17||4.19|
Hey, at least no Kyle Kendrick, Rockies fans!
The bullpen figures to be a bit better and perhaps not by accident. The Rockies seem to be employing a strategy of accepting that starting pitchers won't succeed in Denver, thereby increasing the importance of their bullpen. They traded one of their top commodities, Corey Dickerson to Tampa for the Rays' closer Jake McGee. They also added Chad Qualls to join incumbent closer Jason Motte, forming a decent trio at the back of the 'pen.
It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off.
San Diego Padres
Projected Record: 74-88
One season after going "all-in" and trading for everyone not nailed down to a hard surface, the San Diego Padres have scaled back and are rebuilding once again.
They said goodbye to their best player, Justin Upton, and traded away closer Craig Kimbrel to Boston for a very solid set of prospects but still have many of the same players they acquired last season. Matt Kemp, owner of one of the worst contracts in the sport, is still their left fielder. Melvin Upton is still their center fielder and Jon Jay was brought in to play left.
On the infield, the Padres signed Alexei Ramirez and his wRC+ of 72 and fWAR of -0.5 to play shortstop (Troy Tulowitzki he ain't) and will give Wil Myers another chance to stay healthy and play every day at first base.
The Padres do have a decent top of the rotation, although many of these arms could be gone before the month of July is out, as well. James Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner can all get people out on a regular basis. San Diego is positioned to have a big trading summer if some of these players perform well. And if they do, it's like the Padres could potentially not be as gawd-awful as everyone thinks they will be.
Of course, winning in 2016 is no longer the goal. The idea is about preparing for the future, and like Philadelphia last year, it could be the Padres that every team is talking to this July.
Our projections see the Dodgers winning the division, with the Giants finishing second and the Diamondbacks finishing third.
The Dodgers have a lot of quantity, but how much quality do they have? The Giants have what appears to be a dominant rotation on paper, but can Cueto and Samardzija be counted on after last year's up-and-down campaigns? And do the Diamondbacks have enough good players on their everyday roster to compete with the Dodgers and Giants?
We'll soon find out.