In February of 2019, if you were a betting man, you’d pick the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the NL West. If you weren’t a betting man, you’d probably do the same, because, well, there wasn’t a whole lot of debate about it. The Dodgers were easily the best team in the division, and to be honest, it wasn’t particularly close. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t have its share of surprises though. The Diamondbacks, who seemed to do everything they could to “rebuild” ended up not only being a pretty decent team, but could be putting themselves in a pretty optimistic position for 2020. The Padres showed off some of that coveted young talent, and the results point to what could be a potentially bright future in San Diego. The Giants had a blip of contention in what many thought was a lost season, and the Rockies, well… anything can happen right? Let’s take a look at what could be a pretty pivotal offseason for the NL West.
So I should probably explain the chart a little bit here:
- Salary Committed – Per Spotrac’s 2020 estimates.
- Offense – Using Fangraph’s OFF statistic
- Starters – Using Fangraph’s total pitching WAR, and separated by starters
- Relievers – same as starters, but for relievers
- Defense – Using Fangraph’s DEF statistic.
The Los Angeles Dodgers: Is the View from the Top Getting Cloudy?
- GREATEST STRENGTH: STARTING PITCHING
- GREATEST WEAKNESS: BULLPEN
- FREE AGENT TARGET: Cole Hamels
It’s not incredibly easy to find a glaring weakness on this Dodger team. Their lineup is heavy from top to bottom with both high upside young players, solid veterans, and arguably one of the two or three best hitters in baseball. They play solid (enough) defense to get by, and their starting rotation mimics their lineup in terms of vets and young players as well. The bullpen was tagged as being a little suspect towards the end of the season, with Kenley Jansen showing some signs of wear and Joe Kelly struggling as well, but ultimately, I think they will be fine. I think the high spending Los Angeles club could easily add a reliever or two to sure up an otherwise fine bullpen, but the highest caliber addition could be in their already solid rotation. Hyun-Jin Ryu is coming off a career season in Dodger blue, posting a 2.32 ERA over 182.2 innings, good for a league best 179 ERA+ in 2019. One could think that bidding for his services could escalate, and rather than placate a bidding war, they could go with a reasonably priced lefty with postseason experience (in fact, World Series MVP experience) in Cole Hamels. Hamels had a fine year with Chicago last season, despite only pitching 141.2 innings, but should fit in nicely towards the back of that already stacked rotation.
The Arizona Diamondbacks: Rebuilding, but Not Really.
- BIGGEST STRENGTH: DEFENSE
- BIGGEST WEAKNESS: OFFENSE
- FREE AGENT TARGET: Dallas Keuchel
When the Diamondbacks traded their franchise cornerstone Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals in December of last year, it was thought of by many as a sign that the D-Backs were on their way to a full rebuild. Staring up at the mighty Dodgers already, the Snakes seemed destined for another middling season. Then, as if out of the “rebuilding” playbook, they trade star pitcher Zack Greinke and his massive contract to the Houston Astros for four prospects, and of course, a way out of paying Greinke’s massive salary. One would think that trading the two players of such caliber would put them in dire straits, right? Not so much. Arizona managed to put together an outstanding defensive team, coupled with the breakout of Ketel Marte, and solid performances from Christian Walker and Eduardo Escobar. Suddenly, this team seems like a piece or two away from being a real threat for a wild card spot in 2020. Keuchel could be a perfect fit in the desert, coupling a veteran ground ball specialist with an elite defensive unit. With the right additions, this team could go from decent to really good in a hurry.
San Francisco Giants: The Best Days are Gone. Now What?
- BIGGEST STRENGTH: BULLPEN
- BIGGEST WEAKNESS: OFFENSE
- FREE AGENT TARGET: Hunter Pence
It seems like so long ago now, the days where the Giants entered “dynasty” territory and put their names in for “Team of the Decade” consideration. After a pair of mediocre seasons, though, the Giants are gliding their franchise to a crossroads, with an aging core of “legacy” players paired with a young group that could amount to little more than placeholders, it’s clear that this house has cracks in the foundation. The departure of ace reliever Will Smith to the Braves, and with star pitcher Madison Bumgarner sure to gather a lot of attention on the free agent market, the once mighty Giants seemed destined for a tear down. The farm system is in dire need of addressing, however most of what the Giants have to offer from the MLB level in exchange is either too expensive, too old, or not good enough to bolster this barren system. With the vastly improved Diamondbacks, the Dodgers still ruling the roost, and an ever improving middle-class in the National League, the Giants seem dead on arrival for 2020, so a cheap, fan driven free agency signing makes just about as much sense as any. Why the beloved Hunter Pence to reunite with former teammates Brandon Belt and Buster Posey? He only played 83 games last year due to injury, but put up a notable .910 OPS during that stretch. It’s not necessarily a great baseball move, but it may help ease the pain as the Giants continue to slip into rebuild mode.
Colorado Rockies: Dropping Like A… Well, you get it.
- BIGGEST STRENGTH: DEFENSE?
- BIGGEST WEAKNESS: BULLPEN
- FREE AGENT TARGET: Tanner Roark
Oof. It’s one thing to regress, it happens. It’s quite another to lose 20 games in a single season. I think many would classify that as more of a “collapse”. In 2018, the Rockies posted a strong 91-72 record, but ultimately fell victim to the Brewers in the Divisional Series. It was a strong showing for the mile-high team, and many thought that this was the team that could pose the most legitimate challenge to the mighty Dodgers for the NL West crown. Instead, they turned their record around (not in the good way), and slipped into obscurity. The aftermath is rough, but it could be recoverable overall. It’s clear that Charlie Blackmon is not anywhere near the plus fielder that he has been in years past, although he remains productive at the plate, posting a 123 OPS+ for the 2019 season. Nolan Arenado continues to be an elite player in nearly every facet of the game, and carries a full no trade clause, so one can assume he’s there for the long haul. The Rockies (albeit for different reasons) suffer the same syndrome the Brewers have, a lack of innings from their rotation. Jon Gray can dazzle with his strikeout totals but can’t log enough innings to be a true anchor. Kyle Freeland clearly awoke from whatever daze he was in during the 2018 season, where he logged one of the better pitching seasons in Rockies history, only to turn into a pumpkin again. Tanner Roark could make a lot of sense for a team that ranked 25th in innings pitched from starters last season, and come at a cost the team can bear. It’s not sexy, but its sensible.
San Diego Padres: No Youth Wasted Here
- BIGGEST STRENGTH: BULLPEN
- BIGGEST WEAKNESS: OFFENSE
- FREE AGENT TARGET: Madison Bumgarner
The Padres have long boasted the crown jewel of minor league farm systems in baseball for multiple seasons now, and they’re starting to see the first round of returns. Players like Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Chris Paddack have brought new life to a team that seems determined to stay the course and become a legit contender in a difficult division. Both players took hits to their playing time (Paddack for load management, Tatis for injury), but both seem primed for a full season ahead. By many accounts, this is a team on the rise, and it’s not unrealistic to see them taking the next step in their rebuild by adding a high profile starter to help anchor the rotation and help an already strong bullpen save innings. Zack Wheeler could make sense, but to me, Madison Bumgarner would be the stronger play, not just for his performance on the mound, but to bring that sort of intense competitiveness and postseason experience to a young club could bring value that you can’t see on a spreadsheet. It could make sense for the Padres to open their competitive window, it’s been stuffy in San Diego for long enough.