Posts Tagged ‘San Diego Padres’

James Shields’ run along the free agent road has begun to reach a marathon-like duration at this point. The durable righty sits as the last of the premiere open air options from a winter that is quickly turning towards spring. He has watched the other top shelf pitchers that joined him in this year’s free agent party take home a combined haul of over $360 million over the past few months, while he has remained the question without a clear answer now into February.

Shields_

At this point he is all but assured that he will not get that same caliber of contract for himself, but as Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and Ervin Santana have proved in recent years, a late stay on the market does not mean that a worthwhile check and home cannot await still.

But at this point, the favor is in the hands of the teams that get serious in pursuit. Shields has proven that he is not a true staff ace, in form of one that carries the weight of a creating a win every fifth day in the form of a Kershaw, Hernandez or Wainwright. But he still is a very good second option for any number of rotations or being a de facto #1 in a deep rotation, such as he has in Kansas City and Tampa over the course of his career.

The 33-year-old has averaged 14 wins a year with a 3.17 ERA and just a hair over 200 strikeouts per season over the past four years. But his calling card has been his incredible durability. He has made at least 31 starts over the past eight years and has logged an average of 223 innings person, while totaling 22 complete games and nine shutouts along the way. In a world where high-volume pitcher health is a constant source of worry, Shields has proven to be a high-volume exception to that source of worry.

So for whatever the reason may be for Shields still being homeless for the time being, whether it is a refusal on his side to drop his price to an intriguing level for his suitors, or there not being any teams left that want to cut a substantial commitment at this point in the offseason, he remains a potentially pivotal acquisition for many teams.

With the clock counting down on the offseason, here are a few intriguing options that should look into Shields working out a pact to acquire one of the game’s top workhorses for the immediate future.

Boston Red Sox: Boston has been aggressive this offseason, making nine acquisitions over the winter to pull themselves out of the cellar of the American League East. Three of those additions have been Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson to their starting rotation, which is a substantial commitment to a win-now team’s shot at getting back to October, but still feels a bit short. Shields is the type of top half of the rotation presence that would pull up the potential of their current ensemble significantly and affirm their buzzing status as a fifth-to-first candidate team.

Chicago Cubs: They are the team that is carrying the most expectations out of the offseason into the spring, and while they have done exceptional work, signing Shields would be resoundingly loud finish to their shopping spree. A Lester-Shields one-two punch gives them one of the most formidable rotation in the National League and an invaluable weapon against the deep NL Central lineups.

Chicago White Sox: The Sox have been just as active as their National League neighbors to the North, but in many ways, their moves could have a more immediate impact in the weaker AL Central. Adding Shields to a rotation with Chris Sale, Jeff Samardijiza and Jose Quintana pushes them from players to perhaps favorites in their division.

New York Yankees: Anytime the Yankees say they are going to sit out the big name market in any given year, it is immediately disregarded as posturing simply because, well, they are the Yankees. They can have anything they want. But Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner have been men of their frugal (by Yankee standards) word this year thus far, passing on more than a few high dollar, solid fit free agents. But if Shields price and contract length demands drop, he becomes nothing short of a must-have for a Yankee team that is short on dependable options in its starting rotation, but carrying its usual high expectations.

San Diego Padres: The Padres have been rumored to be in on checking on Shields, which is not surprising considering they have been the hungriest team in the league all winter. But despite having a very talented pitching staff as is, they still lack a pure top talent that can match wits with the likes of Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner, both of whom their tightest division rivals wield. An addition of Shields would solve a big problem, although it could present a problem in bidding for the cost conscious Pads if Shields is still in position to demand $16MM+ per year.

Seattle Mariners: The M’s have been aggressive in the open market over the past two years, and it paid off last year with them pushing for a postseason spot until the season’s final day. While they have a strong pitching staff already in tow, adding Shields gives them a clear cut powerhouse staff. Plus they would not have to surrender a first round pick as compensation, as they have already sent that to Baltimore for

St. Louis Cardinals: They have been a part of everybody’s dot connecting with big name starting pitching this year, due to the fact that they have a competition in place for the fifth starter role. Naturally Shields has been a part of that association as well, and while there is an intriguing mix of need and fit in the mending Cardinal rotation, the team has not shown much interest in involving itself in the big money free agent market.

Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto has made some smart moves in attempting to close the elusive postseason they have been aimed on for the past two years. However their pitching staff overall leaves much to be imagined in making that a reality. The addition of Shields to anchor the staff perhaps overplays his potential impact as a top of the rotation presence, but he adds a much need talent to a team that is still a few pieces away.

 

For more on the MLB race to spring training in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @cheapseatfan.

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Dodgers-Clayton-Kershaw-Tigers-Max-Scherzer-claim-Cy-Youngs

Last summer, the National League West was the scene of the most drastic 180 in all baseball. Coming into the year, it was fully expected that the Dodgers would grab it early on for themselves and not let up, however that was far from the case. As a matter of fact, due to a mix of injuries and uncertain day-to-day lineup production, LA found itself in the cellar of the division in early May, and no other club really stepped and away either. The defending World Series champs in San Francisco were dealing with a host of injuries and down seasons, and the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres didn’t make the opportunistic push that they could have. Soon enough, they would grow to regret this.

2013 Finish

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)

3. San Diego Padres (76-86)

4. San Francisco Giants (76-86)

5. Colorado Rockies (74-88)

In mid-May, the Dodgers came around and ran away with the West. Sparked by the promotion of Yasiel Puig and returns of Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and (briefly) Matt Kemp, they ran away with the division, finishing with the biggest divisional margin of victory in the Majors. Pulling ahead to this summer, they will enter with the same expectations. However, the division enters in a much better place overall that won’t allow for any temporary slips that the last time around allowed.

The Diamondbacks showed the most growth of any team that did not make the postseason last year, sparked by the coming of age of MVP runner up Paul Goldschmidt, and they made some smart additions to continue the process. The Giants never stay down for long, and with a strong core and a few additions to mend their fall of last year, they project well again too. And the Padres and Rockies both are the type of teams that can rock a boat while keeping their hand on it as well.

What does this all mean? And can it continue to be the aggressive mix of a division that has not had a repeat champ since 2009?

All-Division Team

1. Yasiel Puig -RF—Dodgers

2. Carlos Gonzalez-LF—Rockies

3. Troy Tulowitzki-SS—Rockies

4. Buster Posey-C—Giants

5. Paul Goldschmidt-1B—Diamondbacks

6. Matt Kemp-CF—Dodgers

7. Chase Headley-3B—Padres

8. Marco Scutaro-2B—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain—Giants

Right Handed Reliever: Joaquin Benoit—Padres

Lefty Handed Reliever: Rex Brothers—Rockies

Closer: Kenley Jansen—Dodgers

Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

With five current or former All-Stars comprising their everyday lineup, without accounting for Puig, the Dodgers have a undeniably balanced offering that still could do even more than it has to date if they can get a better shake regarding health. Following their addition of Mark Trumbo, the D’Backs are the only NL team running out two 30-home run hitters from a year ago, with Goldschmidt as well. The Rockies always produce, but if Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki can join NL-batting champ Michael Cuddyer and new addition Justin Morneau with some regularity, they should lead the NL in runs scored again.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years and 20 homers in each campaign.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

The Hanley Ramirez/Adrian Gonzalez/Matt Kemp trio that the Dodgers could yield is a pure terror, as is the Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer mix in Colorado. However, the Giants could see a big upswing around Buster Posey if Pablo Sandoval’s re-conditioned approach pays out, Brandon Belt continues to develop and Michael Morse can rediscover his 2011-12 form, where he hit .297 with 49 homers over the run.

Table Setters

1. Dodgers

2. Padres

3. Giants

4. Rockies

5. Diamondbacks

The decision to put Puig at the top of the lineup by Don Mattingly is partially due to a lack of a true leadoff hitter, but it is also a case of getting his most diverse talent as many at-bats as possible. If he develops more patience, he could be among the best leadoff options in the NL (.391 on-base % in 2013). The Padres are a throwback of an attack, that has plenty of dash and run options. Before he lost the end of his season due to a Biogenesis-related suspension, Everth Cabrera was on pace to lead the NL in stolen bases again, and still managed to swipe 37. He is backed up by the chronically underrated Will Venable.

Depth

1. Diamondbacks

2. Giants

3. Dodgers

4. Rockies

5. Padres

Kirk Gibson has a very deep offering, with the enviable option of alternating between Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and will eventually have the versatile Cody Ross available as well. San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco is one of the better 4th outfielders in the game, and Andre Ethier is currently the best 4th outfielder in baseball—for as long as he lasts in LA.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer in route to a 13-win, 199 strikeout campaign.

Rotation

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

For all of the depth of their everyday lineup, it is rotational depth that is the real strength of the Dodgers. Behind their big two, they have a rotation and a half, with a mix of Hyun Jin-Ryu, Dan Haren and options of Paul Maholm, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley as well. However, the Giants are not far behind them, with Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogel song providing a solid supporting group.

1-2 Punch

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

The West is home to two of the elite starting duos in the game, in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke and Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Kershaw and Greinke combined for a  31-13 record with a 2.23 ERA and 380 strikeouts  last year, with Kershaw winning his second Cy Young in three years. In SF, Cain had a down year, before rebounding with a superb second half, while Bumgarner posted a 2.77 ERA in route to earning this year’s Opening Day nod. Arizona suffered a huge loss in their top guy Patrick Corbin being lost to Tommy John surgery this spring, while the Padres have a blooming star in Andrew Cashner atop their order.

Bullpen

1. Dodgers

2. Diamondbacks

3. Padres

4. Giants

5. Rockies

LA boasts a dominant Kenley Jansen at the end of their pen, with two former closers on one-year deals auditioning for a return to the role in Chris Perez and Brian Wilson setting up for him. That’s a mix that leads to some very short games behind their already potent starting staff. The D’Backs have a similar mix, with J.J. Putz, David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler all capable of shutting the door in front of Addison Reed. The Padres annually have a superb pen, and saw to it that it continues to be so by making a big commitment to former Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit to setup for Huston Street.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

Defense

1. Diamondbacks

2. Padres

3. Rockies

4. Giants

5. Dodgers

Led by all-universe defender Gerardo Parra and the Gold Glover Goldschmidt, the D’Backs can pick it, especially with a healthy Miguel Montero captaining it all behind the plate. The athletic Padres are built to make cover the spacious grounds in Petco Park, with Chase Headley a former Gold Glover and Venable, Chris Denorfia, Yonder Alonso and Cabrera all very good defenders as well. In Colorado, Carlos Gonzalez is the best defensive outfielder in the NL, as is Hunter Pence in right for the Giants.

Manager

1. Giants

2. Padres

3. Diamondbacks

4. Dodgers

5. Rockies

Bruce Bochy has played a major role in the regular success of the Giants, and with two World Series titles under his belt in the last four years, he’ll have them ready for a rebound. Bud Black doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does in getting the cash strapped, young Padres to a respectable finish each year either. Don Mattingly also proved his chops last year, by corralling the spiraling Dodgers back into the race—and saving his job in real-time as well.

Finances

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Rockies

5. Padres

The Dodgers can have whatever they want, it is just a reality of the game that everybody in the market has to adjust to. They are squarely in ‘win now’ mode and will acquire whatever they can to make that a reality. The other teams in the division are more modest with their resources, so what is in tow now is likely to be close to what they compete with, although the D’Backs do have some attractive young prospects they could bargain with.

Impact Additions

1. Mark Trumbo (Diamondbacks via trade)

2. Tim Hudson (Giants via free agency)

3. Addison Reed (Diamondbacks via trade)

4. Dan Haren (Dodgers via free agency)

5. Justin Morneau (Rockies via free agency)

The D’Backs mortgaged away some of their young potential to add slightly more proven young Major Leaguers in Trumbo and Addison this winter, to add much needed power in Trumbo, and late inning depth in Reed.  The Dodgers and Giants both made smart, ready-to –win contributions in Haren and Hudson to offset each other’s addition of the other.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL's most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL’s most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Leap Forward

1. Nolan Arenado—Rockies

2. Andrew Cashner—Padres

3. Brandon Belt—Giants

4. Jedd Gyorko—Padres

5. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

Arenado’s rookie year got swept away by the some of the more famous ones around the NL, but he made his own instant impact as well, winning the NL Gold Glove at third base. Look for him to make a more regular impact at the plate this year, as his .311 career minor league average indicates. Cashner could be the breakout starter in the NL this year, as the eccentric, flame throwing righty posted a 2.14 second half ERA, with a .194 average against.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Archie Bradley—Diamondbacks

2. Eddie Butler—Rockies

3. Jonathan Gray—Rockies

4. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

5. Austin Hedges—Padres

The West is home to a group of the premier pitching prospects in the game, with two oddly enough being headed towards Colorado in Butler and Gray. Gray was the 3rd pick in last spring’s Draft, posting a 1.93 ERA in two stops after signing. Butler started 28 games in the minors last year, and dominated to the tune of a 1.80 ERA and 143 strikeouts. If they can carry over their success to Coors, it could signal a change of tides for the long-suffering Rockies pitching. Bradley is the top pitching prospect in the minors (12-5, 1.97 ERA at Double A in 2013), and should see action in the desert fairly early in the year due to Corbin’s injury.

PREDICTIONS

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. San Diego Padres

5. Colorado Rockies

The prognosis for the West seems to be for it to be much more competitive than it was a year ago, even while it stands to be host to one of baseball’s most dominating clubs, it is also compromised of a few teams that are either growing into postseason form or returning to it. The Diamondbacks look to continue their growth into a postseason contender, and despite the loss of their top arm in Corbin, they still have what it takes to continue their push into the wild card picture. They will need to get help from their on-the-verge prospects throughout the year, and may need to add an arm later in the year, but they are close. The same can be said for the Giants, who are only two years removed from being the best team in baseball, and are at a crossroads with their established core. If it has one more run in it, and a consistent offering from its rotation, they will push for the post season.

The Padres are a wild card in the fact that they have the understated cohesiveness to make a difference in the division, even if they are a few years (and a legit offensive star away) from being a factor in the wild card race. The Rockies are still a one-sided affair; potent offensively, but offer very little in the way vital pitching to compete with their division mates.

But in the end, it is the Dodgers division to negotiate their way through from the very beginning. It is about not winning the West, but getting over the NLCS hump that is their task for the year. After a season where they pushed to the brink of the World Series despite never being healthy, it is definitely within reason to expect them to do better entering the year in markedly better shape than they were at any point last year. Making reality meet what paper shows is a completely different thing however, but their prime competition is not from within the West, but from the top of the other divisions.

It has been four years since a team repeated in the West, but it is time for it to happen again. The Dodgers will once again pull away with the division, although by not the same amount of games, in route to posting the National League’s best record. However, expect the Giants and Diamondbacks to compete for one of the Wild Card spots throughout the year, with the Padres being a surprisingly competitive club as well.

For more on the season to come in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game Six

The National League West was a free for all a year ago, as it was a division without a dominant team. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who pulled off a last-to-first coup to win the West in 2011, couldn’t recapture that same spark. The Los Angeles Dodgers made the most aggressive trade deadline push in history, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox in an attempt to make a late charge for the division. The San Diego Padres turned in another strong second half behind the MVP-level upturn by Chase Headley, while the Colorado Rockies looked for creative ways to manage a bad pitching staff and a wounded lineup. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants caught a spark inspired by the perfection of Matt Cain and the outstanding, batting championship/MVP-winning Stan Musial Most Valuable Player” href=”https://cheapseatsplease.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/the-cheap-seats-2012-nl-stan-musial-most-valuable-player/”>return of Buster Posey. A spark that ended with a Giants sweep of the World Series, and winning their second championship in three seasons.

2012 Finish

1.                   Giants (94-68)
2.                   Dodgers (86-76)
3.                   Diamondbacks (81-81)
4.                   Padres (76-86)
5.                   Rockies (64-98)

Fast forward a year later, and much has changed in the West mostly. Gone is Justin Upton from the D’Backs and back to the Rockies is Troy Tulowitzki. The Padres have continued their Motley Crew mix of young potential and select veterans, looking to maximize their potential. The Dodgers have continued their no ceilings approach to spending, fronting the big bill to add a second top tier arm in Zack Greinke to their rotation. And meanwhile, amid all of this change, set the defending champion Giants: returning intact and healthy. Is this the season that they make everyone believers? That the most slept on success in baseball gets it’s due by holding back the big bank monsters to their south, as well as the rest of the pack in one of the most balanced divisions in baseball? It’s never easy to stay on top, whether they see you coming or not.

All Division Team

Catcher: Buster Posey-Giants

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez-Dodgers

Second Base: Aaron Hill-Diamondbacks

Third Base: Chase Headley-Padres

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies

Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez-Rockies

Center Field: Matt Kemp-Dodgers

Right Field: Andre Ethier-Dodgers

Clayton_Kershaw

No other NL pitcher has approached Kershaw the previous two years: a 35-14 record, 477 strikeouts and a MLB-best 2.40 ERA.

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain-Giants

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke-Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy-Diamondbacks

Righty Relief: Luke Gregersen-Padres

Lefty Relief: Jeremy Affeldt-Giants

Closer: JJ Putz-Diamondbacks

Top 10

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
  3. Buster Posey, Giants
  4. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  5. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  6. Matt Cain, Giants
  7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
  8. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
  9. Chase Headley, Padres
  10. Pablo Sandoval, Giants

Lineup

  1. Dodgers
  2. Rockies
  3. Giants
  4. Diamondbacks
  5. Padres

LA has put together (potentially) a powerhouse of an everyday lineup. But injuries are already taking a toll on its early offering, with Carl Crawford still touch and go in his attempt to make his Dodger debut, and Hanley Ramirez out for two months with a broken wrist. Colorado will always kill the ball at home, but health (especially Tulowitzki’s) and road performance limit their full output. Even with these challenges, Colorado as a team finished third in the NL in hits.

The return of Tulowitzki to the join Gonzalez puts potentially two-All Stars back-to-back in the Rockie lineup

The return of Tulowitzki to the join Gonzalez puts potentially two-All Stars back-to-back in the Rockie lineup

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Dodgers (Gonzalez/Kemp/Ramirez)
  2. Giants (Posey/Sandoval/Pence)
  3. Rockies (Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer)
  4. Diamondbacks (Montero/Kubel/Prado)
  5. Padres (Headley/QuentinAlonso)

The potential of Kemp and Gonzalez is staggering; both have had career-high seasons of 39 and 40 homers, respectively, and could be an gauntlet to work through for opposing pitchers. Sandoval really came into his own in the fall last season, and Posey crushed lefties to the tone of an even average a year ago. The last time CarGo and Tulo hit back-to-back for a full season in 2011, they put up a combined 56 home runs, 197 RBI and 173 runs scored.

Table Setters

  1. Giants (Pagan/Scutaro)
  2. Rockies (Fowler/Rutledge)
  3. Dodgers (Crawford/Ellis)
  4. Diamondbacks (Prado/Parra)
  5. Padres (Cabrera/Gyorko)

The strength of the Giants is being able to work timely, extra base hitting. Scutaro put up a .362 average once reaching the Bay a year ago, and Pagan led the NL with 15 triples. Dexter Fowler had a career-high .300 last season for the Rocks, while Crawford has long been one of the most dangerous players on the basepaths in baseball. He has averaged 50 steals per 162 games for his career.

Bench

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Rockies
  3. Dodgers
  4. Giants
  5. Padres

When completely healthy, Arizona has constructed a very diverse team, which has plenty of capable contributors off the bench, such as Eric Chavez and Willie Bloomquist. The Dodgers have quietly assembled a very capable supporting cast in-between its headline signings, with Skip Schumaker, Aaron Miles and Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Kennedy (36 wins since 2011) anchors a deep Diamondbacks rotation that is needed to hang in the West.

Kennedy (36 wins since 2011) anchors a deep Diamondbacks rotation that is needed to hang in the West.

Rotation

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

The long-standing strength of the Giants attack is starting pitching. Led by Matt Cain, the Giants had big game effort after big game effort from Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgartner in-route to winning out last season. Quietly, Arizona has assembled a deep starting five behind former 20-game winner Ian Kennedy. Brandon McCarthy and NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Wade Miley are part of a very solid group.

1-2 Punch

  1. Dodgers (Kershaw/Greinke)
  2. Giants (Cain/Bumgarner)
  3. Diamondbacks (Kennedy/McCarthy)
  4. Padres (Volquez/Richards)
  5. Rockies (De La Rosa/Chacin)

If you’ve got one Cy Young winner, why not add another if you can? That’s exact what the Dodgers paid $158 million to do when they put 2009 AL winner with 2011’s NL winner, adding Greinke to Kershaw atop their rotation. Bumgartner has increased his win total each season, reaching 16 in year three.

Bullpen

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Padres
  4. Diamondbacks
  5. Rockies

Despite losing closer Brian Wilson, the Giant bullpen continued to be a late game roadblock. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla combined for 39 saves, while Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and George Kontos all round out a great effort. The Padres have a very underrated bullpen collection; Huston Street saved 23 games on 1.85 ERA, and was one of four pitchers to average better than nine strikeouts per nine innings.

Defense

Although it was Headley's bat that made the loudest impact, he landed his first Gold Glove in rise of 2012.

Although it was Headley’s bat that made the loudest impact, he landed his first Gold Glove in rise of 2012.

Giants

  1. Padres
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers

There is not one subpar defender on the field for the Giants, who just as much depend on pitching, also depend on strong defense to secure their victories. Posey, Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan are all plus defenders. Conversely, for the Dodgers, a lack of range behind their pitching staff could cause for some prolonged woes in maximizing their potential.

Speed

  1. Padres
  2. Rockies
  3. Giants
  4. Dodgers
  5. Diamondbacks

The Padres have a huge ballpark, and have added the type of speed to capitalize on it. Cabrera lead the NL is steals with 46 a year ago, while Cameron Maybin and Will Venable both topped 20 as well. If health is their ally, the Dodgers have a chance to have an impressive speed trio in Kemp, Crawford and Ramirez, all of which have swiped at least 40 bases before in their careers.

Manager

  1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
  2. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
  3. Bud Black, Padres
  4. Don Mattingly, Dodgers
  5. Walt Weiss, Rockies

Black is quietly putting together a very strong coaching resume, with two World Series titles in the past four years; a stretch he hasn’t won less than 86 games during. Gibson won the NL Manager of the Year as a rookie in 2011, something that Walt Weiss will be pressed to do with the pitching hungry Rockies as a debuting manager this year.

Finances

  1. Dodgers
  2. Giants
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

The Dodgers seem to have no ceilings in what they can put out to build the roster of their dreams. The combination of a new management team seeking to make its mark, as well as a $6 billion television deal gives them the capabilities to do as they please. The Giants have the ability to impact the market with the dollar, as Cain’s $127 million extension reflects, but being able to keep up with LA from a spending projects as difficult task for them and the rest of baseball.

Impact Additions

  1. Zack Greinke (Dodgers from Angels)
  2. Martin Prado (D’Backs from Braves)
  3. Cody Ross (Diamondbacks from Red Sox)
  4. Brandon McCarthy (Diamondbacks from Athletics)
  5. Hyunjin Ryu (Dodgers from Japan)

The headline deal was of course Greinke, and rightfully so, but the Diamondbacks were the team that made the most adjustments. Prado came over as the key piece in the Justin Upton to Atlanta deal, while Cody Ross was handed $26 million to solidify the outfield. Brandon McCarthy, who sported a 3.29 ERA in his two years in Oakland is potentially the steal of the winter if he can recapture his form after returning from the brain surgery due to the line drive that ended his 2012.

The addition of Greinke gave the Dodgers an arm that's struck out 200 and pitched 200 innings 3 of the last 4 years.

The addition of Greinke gave the Dodgers an arm that’s struck out 200 and pitched 200 innings 3 of the last 4 years, and devastating duo along with Kershaw.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  2. Sergio Romo, Giants
  3. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies
  4. Brandon Crawford, Giants
  5. Luis Cruz, Dodgers

To have two players as accomplished as Lincecum and Romo at the top of this list seems odd, but in their own particular ways they have much to accomplish this season. Lincecum is looking to prove that he can continue to be effective, despite a diminished arsenal. Romo, who became a late inning sensation in the postseason, is looking to prove he can hold the role in a more permanent fashion (18 saves in 19 overall 2012 chances).

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Jedd Gyorko (Infielder-Padres, MLB)
  2. Yaisel Puig (Outfilder-Dodgers, AAA)
  3. Tyler Skaggs (Pitcher-Diamondbacks, AAA)
  4. Nolan Arenado (Third base-Rockies, AAA)
  5. Zach Lee (Pitcher-Dodgers, AA)

Gyorko has hit everywhere he’s been, from the minors (.311 at Double/Triple A in 2012, 3 Spring MLB homers), and has hit his way into the everyday mix in San Diego as well. He will start the season at third base until Headley returns from injury, but will likely move to second base once he’s back. Yaisel Puig and Nolan Arenado have proven to have big bats that are forcing some tough decisions about keeping them in the minors for much longer by their respective clubs.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

The West will be a very competitive division. Despite their undeniable success in recent years, the Giants are not the type of team that is an outright dominant club. Mostly because it isn’t an offense that scores in bulk; rather they are a timely one that wins close games. The Diamondbacks have the potential to factor into the wild card picture, if not the division, but a few things will have to go in their favor, starting with some consistency in health. They have strong pitching, and a balanced lineup. Balance is not in favor of the Rockies, who still have a mismatched pitching staff, but could fare better than a year ago with the return of Tulowitzki. The Padres have a steadily improving everyday lineup, but are still young in many areas and don’t have the firepower to keep up with the rest of the clubs in the division.

In the end, the question comes down to either the Dodgers or the Giants. While LA has constructed a formidable club in a short amount of time, there are still shortcomings in the club. Every area of the team is facing injury issues, Matt Kemp has to prove his hamstring woes are behind him, and injuries to Greinke, Ramirez, Crawford and Chad Billingsley have already plagued the team this spring. The Giants great strength is chemistry, and this is a battle tested group that knows how to rely on each other. Until the Dodgers can get fully healthy all at once and learn to play together, that’s a distinct advantage that the Giants have, and combined with the major difference making presence of Posey and a supremely deep pitching staff, the champs keep the edge and should win the West for a third time in four years.

There’s one more preview to go and to get the details on this, that and everything in between as baseball is primed to reset itself in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Sergio Romo

The CHEAP SEATS breakout of the best units in baseball continues today, with a look at the best bullpens in baseball. This isn’t just the best closer, with a few other guys, but the teams that can make a window of opportunity really small to a get a W. There are some really strong groups of late arms coming into the league, with potentially some of the best units not even finishing among the Top 10 coming in. With Rafael Soriano still looking for a home as well, there’s still a huge piece that could change the fortune of a few of these groups, as well as a few not mention among them yet.

But this is what it is, and the series continues with a spotlight on the pitchers that don’t stand it as often…until the pressure is on highest.

 

1. Atlanta Braves: The only bullpen that can truly turn leads into six inning wins, and it got deeper this offseason. Craig Kimbrel has been the best closer in the game for his first two season in the game, converting 89 of 100 save opportunities, while opposing hitters have a .151 average against him. Eric O’Flaherty has 1.95 ERA over the last two seasons and Jonny Venters has struck out 258 batters in 229 pro innings. Add on Jordan Walden, who saved 32 games as a rookie All-Star in 2011, and you’ve got a devastating group.

2. San Francisco Giants: You’d think they would take a step backwards losing Brian Wilson at the beginning of the year, but not a skip was missed up and down their pen. That’s a testament to the game’s most balanced pen, with Sergio Romo handing in his second consecutive sub-2.00 ERA year, with 18 total saves. Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affelt and George Kontos all handed in ERA’s below 3.00 as well.

3. Baltimore Orioles: The O’s weren’t the best late-inning team in the game just due to a knack for walk off hits. Their pen was the secret strength of the team, led by Jim Johnson, who saved 51 games while walking just 15 batters in over 60 innings. Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala and Troy Patton were the ultimate support group and 18 won total games.

4. Oakland A’s: Whether it was Ryan Cook (14 saves, 21 holds, .166 average against) or Grant Balfour (24 saves, 15 holds, .160 average against) closing games, the entire path through the late innings against the A’s was hell. With their entire pen returning, the American League’s best total pitching staff will be trouble again.

5. St. Louis Cardinals: Once again, the Cardinals’ staff stepped up big late in the season. Jason Motte tied for the NL lead in saves with 42, and Edward Mujica put up a 1.03 ERA after being acquired from the Marlins. Randy Choate (.158 average vs. left-handers) and Trevor Rosenthal (15 strikeouts in 8.5 playoff innings) could both be huge additions over the course of the full season in 2013.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers: Around their big name additions, the Dodgers have done a good job off filling in the details as well, starting with a solid bullpen. Brandon League will resume his role as a full-time closer, after saving 37 games in 2011. 2012’s closer Kenley Jansen, who struck out 13.7 batters per 9 innings, will open as setup man, and with Matt Guerrier, JP Howell and Ronald Belisario in the mix as well, there will be no shortage of situational arms available as well.

7. Boston Red Sox: There may be no team with more “what if” talent on their bullpen mix than the Bo Sox. Joel Hanahran (36 saves, 2.72 ERA in Pittsburgh) was their biggest acquisition of the winter, but if Daniel Bard, Andrew Bailey and Koji Uehara can also find their old forms (and health), this could be the group at the top of the list by next year.

Aroldis Chapman makes the Reds group a top 3 pen collection, but even without him, Cincy still has a ton of strong late inning arms.

Aroldis Chapman makes the Reds group a top 3 pen collection, but even without him, Cincy still has a ton of strong late inning arms.

8. Cincinnati Reds: Another group that has a pretty big “if” attached to it. With Aroldis Chapman, this is a top 3 unit, but since the plan is to move him to rotation currently, it slides some. Even without him available daily, it is still a strong unit led by Jonathan Broxton, Jose Arrendando and one of baseball’s best left-handed setup arms, Sean Marshall.

9. San Diego Padres: A great unit that makes a so-so club a lot better on its own. Despite losing Heath Bell and Mike Adams the last two years, the Padres still have 10 relievers that averaged better than a strikeout an inning. When he gets a chance, Huston Street was lights out, converting 96% of saves chances with a 1.85 ERA.

10. Tampa Bay Rays: Annual guarantee in baseball is the Rays will have a dynamic bullpen. It will be needed more than ever, with a rotation thinned out after trading it’s workhorse, James Shields, and setup man Wade Davis. However, Fernando Rodney (0.60 ERA and 48 saves in 74 innings), along with Jake McGee and Joel Peralta are a strong base for the next wave of certain to follow up and comers that will join the group to build off of.

 

Just Missed: Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks.

The National League’s most ever-changing division lived up to its usual standard once again. It was the host to all sorts of arrays of breakout performances and competitive finishes that made it the most closely competed division in the league. The drama kicked off early when the previously cellar dwelling Arizona Diamondacks went on a tear through May, eclipsing the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants for the division lead. This was a lead they would hold on to for the long run, aided by a gruesome season-ending injury to Buster Posey, which kept the Giants from pulling back into the race. Propelled by Justin Upton coming into his own as one of the game’s all-around great talents and Ian Kennedy’s rise to leading the NL in wins, D’Backs became the most unlikely division champions in all of baseball.

Upton’s breakthrough, 31 homer campaign made him an MVP candidate, and catapulted the D’Backs from worst to first.

2010 Finish

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68)
  2. San Francisco Giants (86-76)
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79)
  4. Colorado Rockies (73-89)
  5. San Diego Padres (71-91)

All the while, the Los Angeles Dodgers off-field ownership wars nearly took the headlines from two timeless performances on it. Clayton Kershaw won the NL’s pitching Triple Crown and brought a third Cy Young winner in four years to the West and Matt Kemp had one of the great performances in recent history. So what happens this time around in the NL’s grab bag division? Can the D’Backs play with the same urge and intensity they did last summer and still hold down the division crown? Or will the once again full-strength Giants regain their grasp on the division. Can the top heavy Dodgers or Rockies get some stronger efforts from their supporting casts to help their superstars efforts pay off? Or can the Padres young ensemble follow the lead of last year’s D’Backs and pull off this year’s heist of the summer? Time will tell, but you’ll never see it coming out West, that’s for sure.

All-Division Team

Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants

First Base: Yonder Alonso, Padres

Second Base: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

Center Field: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Right Field: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

 

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain, Giants

Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

Kershaw led the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248) to become the first Dodger Cy Young winner since 2003 at 23 years old.

Bullpen Righty: Sergio Romo, Giants

Bullpen Lefty: Rex Brothers, Rockies

Closer: Brian Wilson, Giants

 

Top 10 Players

  1. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
  2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  4. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  6. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
  7. Matt Cain, Giants
  8. Buster Posey, Giants
  9. Brian Wilson, Giants
  10. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

 

Lineup

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Giants
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

Top to bottom, the D’Backs have a unique mixture of speed, power and both rebound and growth potential. Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt will provide a power axis behind Justin Upton & Chris Young’s balanced attack. The Giants receive a major boost in Posey’s return, which has served as a constant catalyst the to the SF attack. Cargo and Tulo is the NL’s best back-to-back tandem.

Kemp’s monstrous 2011 made him the first player since Hank Aaron to finish in the top two in both homers and steals in the same summer.

Rotation

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Dodgers
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

Lincecum and Cain get the big headlines, but Madison Bumgartner and Ryan Vogelsong both tied for the team lead in wins last year with 13 a piece. The Giants provided the least run support to any staff in baseball, but their top four starters each sported ERA’s fewer than 3.20. Trevor Cahill adds a former 18-game winner to the growing Arizona staff.

1-2 Punch

  1. Giants (Lincecum & Cain)
  2. Diamondbacks (Kennedy & Hudson)
  3. Dodgers (Kershaw & Billingsley)
  4. Padres (Stauffer & Richard)
  5. Rockies (Chacin & Guthrie)

Lincecum and Cain combined for only 25 wins a year ago, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on their part: the duo combined for a .219 average against last year. Ian Kennedy broke through last year, with a 21 win performance. Speaking of breaking through, anybody paired with Kershaw is bound to look pretty good, but Billingsley has won in double digits for the last five years, with over 150 strikeouts the last four.

The Giants rotation is anchored by two of the toughest to hit pitchers in the game, which often pitch in the toughest luck as well.

Bullpen

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Dodgers
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

The Frisco pen is the game’s best. Headlined by Wilson, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez among others are an extension of the dominance started at the beginning of the game. JJ Putz took a hold of his opportunity as an undisputed closer in Arizona a year ago and turned in a 45 save shutdown performance. Huston Street changes Western addresses for closing down games, taking over for Heath Bell in San Diego.

 

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Rockies (Tulowitzki/Gonzalez/Helton)
  2. Giants (Sandoval/Posey/Huff)
  3. Diamondbacks (Upton/Montero/Young)
  4. Dodgers (Kemp/Ethier/Loney)
  5. Padres (Maybin/Quentin/Alonso)

Tulowitzki and Gonzalez provide nearly all of the punch for the Rockies offering, but their combined effort is nearly enough still. Helton is far from out to the pasture, as he still topped .300 last year. Pablo Sandoval had a strong comeback effort last year, hitting .315, and is over .300 for his career. Upton and Young give the D’Backs two potential 30/30 threat. Kemp has set 50/50 as a goal; don’t laugh at that either.

Tulowitzki’s has become both the most prodigious offensive shortstop since Alex Rodriguez, and a back-to-back Gold Glove winner.

Tablesetters

  1. Giants (Pagan & Cabrera)
  2. Dodgers (Gordon & Ellis)
  3. Rockies (Fowler & Scutaro)
  4. Padres  (Venable & Headley)
  5. Diamondbacks (Bloomquist & Hill)

Pagan and Cabrera could prove to be one of the best hit and run duos in the game, for a team that really needs to emphasize small ball. Dee Gordon is poised to be the breakthrough leadoff hitter in the game, and stole 24 bases after debuting last June.

Bench

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Padres
  3. Giants
  4. Rockies
  5. Dodgers

2011 Gold Glove winner Geraldo Parra will lead the way for a tough D’Backs bench, and Willie Bloomquist will be another boost once Stephen Drew reclaims shortstop. Tyler Colvin and Jason Giambi give the Rockies two real threats to change games late.

Defense

  1. Giants
  2. Rockies
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Padres
  5. Dodgers

The San Francisco pitching staff is backed by a solid defensive offering that keeps them intact. Sandoval is a surprisingly able third bagger and Posey’s presence will better the entire team as well. Tulowitzki and Scutaro will form a potent middle infield combo, while Gonzalez and Fowler can cover acres in the outfield. Kemp and Ethier have lived on reputation over results some in recent years.

Speed

  1.  Padres
  2. Dodgers
  3. Giants
  4. Rockies
  5. Diamondbacks

Cameron Maybin had a breakout season last year, and finished with 40 steals, while Will Venerable, Orlando Hudson, Jason Barlett and Chase Headley are all plus runners too. Kemp and Gordon will both surpass 30 steals easily in LA, while Pagan and Cabrera will move around the bases in a way the low power Giants desperately need.

After playing for 3 teams before turning 23, Maybin finally lived up to his potential and had a 40 steal breakout year for the Padres.

Manager

  1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
  2. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
  3. Bud Black, Padres
  4. Jim Tracy, Rockies
  5. Don Mattingly, Dodgers

Bochy has gotten a ton from some limited resources on his team over the past few years, even in their World Series season. Same goes for Gibson, who took a talented, but directionless club from the cellar to a Division title last year, winning the NL Manager of the Year as a result. Year two for Mattingly should give him a better chance to operate, has the stresses of the sale of the team should subside.

Finances

  1. Giants
  2. Rockies
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

No team in the division has a ton of assets currently, and the Giants have to make a big decision on how to approach the forthcoming free agency of Cain. The Dodgers could potentially be big spenders soon, with whoever ends up buying the club most likely looking to make a big splash once taking control of the team. If they are in the race late, they could be in full on “buy it all” mode at the trade deadline.

Impact Additions

  1. Trevor Cahill (Diamondbacks from A’s)
  2. Melky Cabrera (Giants from Royals)
  3. Angel Pagan (Giants from Mets)
  4. Michael Cuddyer (Rockies from Twins)
  5. Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks from Twins)

Cahill was 6-0 out the gates of 2011 before slowing down. With the switch to the lighter hitting NL (and heavier hitting D’Backs), a return to his 2010 form should be expected. Cuddyer is the game’s most effective utility man, and will provide a huge bonus in Colorado as a right and left fielder, as well as a first, second and third baseman.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Buster Posey, Giants
  2. Dee Gordon, Dodgers
  3. Brandon Belt, Giants
  4. Cory Luebke, Padres
  5. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Kind of odd to see Posey at the top of the list of break out candidates right? Well remember, we still haven’t seen a full year of him from start to finish in his two professional years. If he can work the magic he’s waved over the Giants’ lineup for a full year, in addition to Belt coming of age, runs will no longer be at a premium for Frisco. Paul Goldschmidt shows the potential to be an outright masher in the desert.

The invaluable Posey returns to both be a field general behind the plate, and the axis the Giants lineup revolves around.

Rookies/Prospects* to Watch

  1. Yonder Alonso (First Base, Padres)
  2. Trevor Bauer (Pitcher, Diamondbacks)
  3. Drew Pomaranz (Pitcher, Rockies)
  4. Nolan Arenado (Third Base, Rockies)
  5. Wilin Rosario (Catcher, Rockies)

Alonso was the key piece of the Padres decision to move ace Mat Latos to Cincinnati this winter, and for good reason. He’ll fit in as the everyday first baseman this year, and should be the team’s premier power hitter as well. Bauer was the third pick in last year’s draft, but already is forcing his way onto the Major League staff, and could have the best stuff of them all.

2012 PREDICTIONS

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

It comes down to depth and details that separates the best from the rest out West. The Giants were the most talented team in the division last year until their offense sputtered out once Posey went on the DL in June. With Posey in or out of the lineup in his career, they have played either eight games better or eight games worst than the competition; a pretty remarkable difference. How his surgically repaired lower leg holds up over the summer will be important, but overall, this is a team that has few flaws. Cabrera and Pagan can reshape the energy for the team, and an ever improving Big Panda Sandoval could be up for an even bigger year with more support around him. Add this to a rotation that, with just two to three more runs a night, could have a pair of 20 game winners, and this is the hardest team to match up with night to night in the West.

Is this a slight against what the Diamondbacks did last year? No, not at all, and actually they should be about as good as they were a year ago this season. Aaron Hill turned the corner once he reached Phoenix last year and if Stephen Drew returns in good condition from the torn ACL that ended his summer early; this team could push the division race to its final days and snag a Wild Card for its efforts. The Rockies always have potential, and should score a good amount of runs, but they have a bad pitching staff in a division where that just won’t work. The Dodgers couldn’t do much to improve their club from where it was last summer, and lost some key pieces in Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake and Jonathan Broxton. It’s going to be tough to get better unless a sale goes through soon enough to impact their moves this year. The Padres have re-entered another rebuilding phase, and while they will be the best last place club in the league, it’s still last place all the same.

But buckle up for what will shape up to be the most exciting race for a division crown in all of baseball…with recent king taking the first step to reclaim its throne.

 

For more on where the National League will go this year, check back here in the upcoming days, and also follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

In 2010, the NL West was the greatest drama in all of baseball. From the very beginning, everything went upside down in the division. The Rockies and Dodgers were pegged to be the season long favorites to take the crown, but after several rounds of injuries and drama (namely Manny being Manny and Manny leaving town in LA), the division was flipped on its head. In the end, the Padres and Giants fought until the final month of the season for the crown, with the Giants flipped from a one game difference into reaching the pinnacle of the game, bringing the first World Series title to San Francisco, and the franchise’s first since Willie Mays roamed the outfields for the New York Giants in 1954. If you bet the odds on this one last spring, I’d imagine you’d still be lighting fresh victory cigars even now.

Lincecum led the Giants to their first title in over 50 years. Can the unlikely champs hold down the fort again?

2010 Final Standings

1. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
2. San Diego Padres (90-72)
3. Colorado Rockies (83-79)
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (80-82)
5. Arizona Diamondbacks (65-97)

While the Giants held it down and played some of the most clutch baseball in recent memory down the stretch last year, this is a new spring with a lot of questions to be addressed about each team. The Giants had a lot of timely hitting and still feature a dominant pitching staff, but if Colorado has a world of talent that is a legit threat to take the fight to the entire NL all summer. The Dodgers also made some very specific adjustments to their team this off season; a rebound from them should be expected. What about the Padres, who were perhaps the biggest overachievers of last summer? They lost their best player, but still have a lot of live arms and solid veteran led club that knows what it takes to compete. Even Arizona is under aggressive new management focused on putting someone beside s them in cellar of the division very soon. All things considered, it’s always easier to get to top than stay there, and the Giants have a serious target on their chest from everywhere. Can they defend the highest throne in all of baseball, or will they be taken out before even getting away from their home division?

ALL DIVISION TEAM

Catcher: Buster Posey-San Francisco Giants

First Base: Aubrey Huff-San Francisco Giants

Second Base: Kelly Johnson-Arizona Diamondbacks

Third Base: Chase Headley-San Diego Padres

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki-Colorado Rockies

Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez-Colorado Rockies

Center Field: Matt Kemp-Los Angeles Dodgers

Right Field: Justin Upton-Arizona Diamondbacks

Kemp is one of the great overall talents in the game, and is now the #1 guy in Dodger Stadium, post-Manny.

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum-San Francisco Giants

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw-Los Angeles Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez-Colorado Rockies

Starting Pitcher: Mat Latos-San Diego Padres

 

Bullpen Righty: Mike Adams-San Diego Padres

Bullpen Lefty: Hong-Chih Kuo-Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Brian Wilson-San Francisco Giants

There is no more intimidating closer than Wilson and his two pitch approach. (Fastball, hard & harder)

 

BEST PLAYERS

1. Tim Lincecum-Giants
2. Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies
3. Carlos Gonzalez-Rockies
4. Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers
5. Brian Wilson-Giants
6. Ubaldo Jimenez-Rockies
7. Mat Latos-Padres
8. Matt Cain-Giants
9. Matt Kemp-Dodgers
10. Buster Posey-Giants

Nothing Jimenez throws is anywhere close to straight...nor is it soft (96 mph AVERAGE fastball).

Pitching is the name of the game in the West, with nearly every team having at least 2 two high quality guys. None of them surpasses the two-time Cy Young Winner Lincecum, however for the first half of last year Jimenez did a great Sandy Koufax impression, and Kershaw one in the second half. Tulowitzki made a legit MVP push last year despite nearly two months on the DL, with a 15 home run, 40 RBI MONTH in September. His teammate Gonzalez made a push for the Triple Crown last year, and took home the NL batting title. Posey’s May promotion last year, the Giants took off towards their title, and he landed Rookie of the Year along the way.

LINEUP

1. Rockies
2. Giants
3. Dodgers
4. Padres
5. Diamondbacks

This is a close one, as they are a very high risk/reward club, but the Rockies have the edge in the division’s best 3-4 combo in Gonzalez & Tulowitzki, and round it out with Ian Stewart, who is improving slower than expected, but is headed upwards. This combo is capable of 75+ homers alone. The Giants have a deep and balanced attack with plenty of veteran bats that will be consistent all summer. If the Dodgers get big years from Kemp and Andre Either, watch out.

ROTATION

1. Giants
2. Dodgers
3. Padres
4. Rockies
5. Diamondbacks

Rotation depth is a strength for each West club. Giants have as talented of a rotation in baseball has anyone, including Philly. Lincecum and Cain are top talents in the game, and they have three talented lefties to mix in around their 1-2 in Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito. The Dodgers and Rockies have a viable Cy Young candidate at the top of their rotations, and couple them with solid, winning arms throughout the rest of their rotation. Mat Latos is one of the best young arms in baseball in San Diego.

Latos had his breakout season last year (189 K's, 2.92 ERA) and is the biggest building block left in SD.

1-2 PUNCH

1. Giants (Lincecum & Cain)
2. Dodgers (Kershaw & Billingsley)
3. Rockies (Jimenez & De La Rosa)
4. Padres (Latos & Richards)
5. Diamondbacks (Kennedy & Hudson)

The Giants are splitting Sanchez in-between Lincecum and Cain for matchup purposes, but they are still the best duo in the division. Despite just turning 23 earlier this month Kershaw has averaged 198 strikeouts over the past two seasons. They are buried at the bottom of this impressive group, but Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy have a world of potential for the rebuilding D’Backs as well.

BULLPEN

1. Giants
2. Padres
3. Rockies
4. Dodgers
5. Diamondbacks

The Giants bullpen led all of baseball in ERA a year ago, and are led by “Wild Thing” Rick Vaughn clone Brian Wilson, who may have a little bit of Charlie Sheen in him as well. He led the NL with 48 saves a year ago, and has the confidence of closing out a World Series now as well. Heath Bell would be the best closer in any other division, and leads a low profile, yet high impact group in San Diego. In LA, Jonathan Broxton’s inconsistencies have dropped him down a notch, but if he straightens up again, he can be better than both Wilson and Bell.

3-4-5 HITTERS

1. Rockies (Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Stewart)
2. Dodgers (Either/Kemp/Loney)
3. Giants (Huff/Posey/Sandoval)
4. Diamondbacks (Upton/Young/Montero)
5. Padres (Hudson/Ludwick/ Hawpe)

Tulowitzki (27 HR, 95 RBI) is the best offensive shortstop in the game, and got numbers added to his bank account ($189 million) to prove it.

As mentioned earlier, the heart of the Rockies order can get it all over the field and over the fence. However, the Giants and Diamondbacks mid-lineups have the most to gain, from more and less. If Pablo Sandoval becomes closer to his .329/24/89 form of ’09, instead of the .268/13/63 year he had last year, the Giants get a huge boost in their run scoring potential. In Phoenix, if Upton and Young put cut down on the strikeouts (297 in ’10) and put more balls in play, the D’Backs as a whole will get much better.

TABLESETTERS

1. Diamondbacks (Drew & Johnson)
2. Giants (Torres & Sanchez)
3. Dodgers (Furcal & Blake)
4. Rockies (Fowler & Smith)
5. Padres (Venable & Bartlett)

Furcal and Fowler are the only traditional leadoff men, but both have injury tags attached to them. Andres Torres broke out and was another timely spark for the Giants last year, but he was a journeyman before midway of last year, so I need to see more to believe it. The D’Backs coupling is one of the most powerful in baseball, but suffers from the same contact woes as the rest of their lineup.

BENCH

1. Rockies
2. Giants
3. Diamondbacks
4. Dodgers
5. Padres

A 2010 All-Star for Baltimore, Ty Wigginton will become a super sub for the Rockies, and will contribute all across the infield and add a strong bat. Ryan Spilborghs and Jason Giambi round a solid group of reserves in Denver. The Giants have Aaron Rowland ($12 million per) stashed on their bench, for better or worse, along with Mark DeRosa to in a very experienced bench group.

DEFENSE

1. Padres
2. Dodgers
3. Giants
4. Rockies
5. Diamondbacks

For everything they lost in their offensive capabilities when Adrian Gonzalez jumped town, the Pads still have a good defense, and it may have gotten better, former Gold Glover Orlando Hudson in the mix. Kemp and Either are Gold Glove caliber outfielders in LA, while the Giants have a solid group that supports their great pitching troops nicely.

SPEED

1. Padres
2. Rockies
3. Dodgers
4. Diamondbacks
5. Giants

With Cameron Maybin & Jason Bartlett coming to town this year, the NL’s second best lineup at base theft will get even quicker, which is good since they’ll be needing to win many more games inside the outfield walls now. The rest of the division is very much an American League, “get em on and hit em in” style division, but Fowler brings a speed burst to Colorado that will become much more evident when his batting average improves.

MANAGER

1. Bud Black (Padres)
2. Bruce Bochy (Giants)
3. Jim Tracy (Rockies)
4. Don Mattingly (Dodgers)
5. Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks)

Black and Bochy are two of the best minds in baseball, as Bochy’s two trips to the World Series and Black’s 2010 Manager of the Year Award, speak to. They are among the select few managers who make a legit difference in the potential of their team every year with the tactics and pitching usage. Mattingly and Gibson bring big names from their playing days into their managerial debuts in ’11, but now have to prove their chops without bats in their hands anymore.

ROOKIES/*PROSPECTS TO WATCH

1. *Brandon Belt (OF/1B, Giants)
2. Kenley Jansen (Pitcher, Dodgers)
3. *Jarrod Parker (Pitcher, Diamondbacks)
4. *Wilin Rosario (Catcher, Rockies)
5. *Corey Luebke (Pitcher, Padres)

Belt was one of the biggest rising prospect in all of baseball last year, hitting a combined .352 and 23 homers in his first season of pro ball while rising from single A, all the way to AAA by the season’s end. He can play both first base and leftfield, but with Huff at 1B, Pat Burrell and DeRosa may be keeping left warm for his debut this year. Jansen is being groomed for late inning work in LA, and could be tried in the ninth inning this season if Broxton doesn’t turn it around soon.

FINANCES

1. Diamondbacks
2. Giants
3. Rockies
4. Dodgers
5. Padres

Adding some more support for Upton would could definitely speed up the D'Back resurrection.

The Diamondbacks have given new GM Kevin Towers creative control on the club’s roster to raise them out of the dungeon again, and they have the finances to help him attack this mission. He is aggressively taking apart the team’s core, and won’t to use his financial benefit, but only in a smart way. Giants seem to be set now, but if the need arises they could spring, and afford, a bat later in the year.

IMPACT ADDITIONS

1. Juan Uribe (Dodgers from Giants)
2. JJ Putz (Diamondbacks from White Sox)
3. Cameron Maybin (Padres from Marlins)
4. Orlando Hudson (Padres from Twins)
5. Miguel Tejada (Giants from Padres)

This division wasn’t characterized by any of the huge deals every other division in baseball was this offseason, but each team made small, yet meaningful moves to better themselves. The Dodgers boosted their production by taking Uribe from their rivals in San Francisco, and his ability to play the entire infield gives them important depth and an everyday presence. Maybin is either on the verge of being a big time talent or a big time bust, either way the Pads didn’t have to give up much to get him and find out. Putz gives Arizona a much needed stopper at the end of games, something they haven’t had in years.

PREDICTION

1. GIANTS
2. ROCKIES
3. DODGERS
4. PADRES
5. DIAMONDBACKS

Look familiar? Well it should, because in a division of very similar teams that rely on the same strengths to win games, winning pitching matchups early and late, solid defense and a few key batters making the difference, the Giants have the edge in each of these areas. In addition to that, they win on intangibles such as experience together under the gun. This is what happens when you return a World Series champ nearly completely intact, and where you do lose experience, you acquire a former MVP (Tejada) to fill in the blank. Both the Rockies and the Dodgers will be better and closer to the teams they were supposed to be last year, while the Padres will feel the loss of Gonzalez and will take time to come together in their new approach. The Diamondbacks are being rebuilt to compete, but this isn’t a division where reconstruction will lead to much success. Factor in all of these elements from the other clubs beside the Giants, and you’ll see level of talent is not what wins out here. I’d say a few of them are more talented on paper than Frisco, but they don’t have the advantage of chemistry they have, and more so than for any other team, that makes a world of difference for the Giants, and it will land them another title in the West.

 

There have been generations of great players in Major League Baseball. Since the league’s official inception around 1869 there have been many different eras and changes to the game. It is difficult to place each great player against each other, but here is the CHEAP SEATS take on the greatest players, by position, the game has ever produced. (All stats are current of June 1, 2010)

**Right Field**

Right field is the final outfield position, which is similar, yet different, from left field. Where the other outfield posts are counted on to cover ground and use their speed to cut of the field, that isn’t always as the case for right fielders. While they are by no means expected to be bad defensively, they are counted on to have a strong throwing arm due to making the longer throw to third base and to home plate. Usually the least mobile outfielder plays right field, and as a result of this many of the best and strongest hitters in many lineups play the position. The spot boast many of the greatest players from several different areas of hitting. However, the top-tier of the position has the most separation of any other in this study and his occupied by the two preeminent power hitters of the 20th century.

An icon in not just baseball, but American history, the Babe revolutionized the game & is arguably still its biggest name 74 years after his last game.

1. Babe Ruth: New York Yankees (1914-1935): 89.5 points

–          .342 Avg. 714 HR, 2217 RBI, .472 OBP, 2874 Hits, 2174 Runs, 123 SB

–          0 Gold Gloves, 7 World Series, 1 MVP, 0 ROY, 1 Batting Title, 0 Triple Crown, 12 HR Titles, 2 All-Star Game (Presumptive 11 awarded)

The biggest icon in the history of game, and arguably in all of sports. He revolutionized the game as the first great power hitter in history, breaking the former career record of home runs (138) in his second season as a full-time hitter. His career home run total stood for 39 years. In 1927 he hit 60 home runs stood for 34 years and was more than any other TEAM in the American League. He led the AL in home runs 12 times, the most in MLB history. He finished with season totals over 45 homers nine times. His .690 slugging percentage is the best ever. He has the second most RBI and fourth most runs scored in history. Was a successful pitcher before becoming a right fielder, with a record of 90-46 until 1920. His nine shutouts in 1916 was a record for 62 years.

2. Hank Aaron: Atlanta Braves (1954-1976): 84 points

–          .305 Avg. 755 HR, 2297 RBI, .374 OBP, 3771 Hits, 2174 Runs, 240 SB

–          3 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series, 1 MVP, 0 ROY, 2 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crown, 4 HR Titles, 21 All-Star Games

Broke Ruth’s historic home run total in 1974 and his record career total stood for 32 years. Only player to ever hit 30 home runs 15 times and hit at least 24 for 19 straight years. He has the most RBI in Major League history and finished in the top 3 for hits and runs scored all-time.  Aaron was the first player in history to accumulate both 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. He made 21 consecutive All-Star Games. Was the last player to complete in both Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball.

No power hitter has ever approached "Hammerin Hank's" maintained excellence, which led him resetting baseball's most legendary mark.

3. Frank Robinson: Cincinnati Reds/Baltimore Orioles (1956-1976): 65 points

–          .294 Avg. 586 HR, 1812 RBI, .389 OBP, 2943 Hits, 1829 Runs, 204 SB

–          0 Gold Gloves, 2 World Series, 2 MVP, 1 ROY, 1 Batting Title, 1 Triple Crown, 1 HR Title, 12 All-Star Games

The only player to win an MVP Award in the National and American Leagues. Retired with the fourth most home runs of all-time. Became the first, and still only, Black player to achieve a Triple Crown season in 1966. A huge presence in both the Civil Rights Movement and progression of Blacks in baseball, he became the first Black manager of a Major League team in 1975 with the Cleveland Indians.

4. Mel Ott: New York Giants (1926-1947): 64.5 points

–          .304 Avg. 511 HR, 1860 RBI, .414 OBP, 2876 Hits, 1859 Runs, 89 SB

–          0 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series, 0 MVP, 0 ROY, 0 Batting Title, 0 Triple Crown, 6 HR Titles, 12 All-Star Games

The first National Leaguer to surpass 500 home runs. Led the New York Giants in home runs for 18 consecutive seasons, a Major League Record. First NL player to have eight consecutive 100 RBI seasons. Has share of Major League record with seven consecutive walks. One of six NL players to ever spend 20 years with one team. At only 5’9″, he is the shortest member of the 500 home run club.

5. Tony Gwynn: San Diego Padres (1982-2001): 58.5 points

–          .338 Avg. 135 HR, 1138 RBI, .388 Avg. 3141 Hits, 1383 Runs, 319 SB

–          5 Gold Gloves, 0 World Series, 0 MVP, 0 ROY, 8 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crown, 0 HR Title, 15 All-Star Games

One of the greatest contact hitters in history, he never hit below .309 in a season. Hit over .350 seven times in his career. Gwynn’s career average is the highest of any player whose career started after World War II. His .394 average 1994’s strike shortened season is highest National League total since 1930. His eight batting titles are tied for the most in NL history.

A great pure hitter in an era where power hitters dominated, Gwynn set the standard for hitting consistency over the 80's and 90's.

6. Al Kaline: Detroit Tigers (1953-1974): 57. 5 points

–          .297 Avg. 399 HR, 1583 RBI, .376 OBP, 3007 Hits, 1622 Runs, 137 SB

–          10 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series, 0 MVP, 0 ROY, 1 Batting Title, 0 Triple Crown, 0 HR Title, 15 All-Star Games

The youngest player to ever win a batting title in 1955, at age 20. Also the youngest to hit three home runs in one game, also at 20. Hit 25 home runs or more seven times and .300 nine times. Noted for his strong defensive play and arm, he is one of few outfielders to win at least 10 Gold Glove Awards.

7. Reggie Jackson: Oakland A’s/New York Yankees (1967-1987): 56.5 points

–          .262 Avg. 563 HR, 1702 RBI, .356 OBP, 2584 Hits, 1551 Runs, 228 SB

–          0 Gold Gloves, 5 World Series, 1 MVP, 0 ROY, 0 Batting Title, 0 Triple Crown, 4 HR Titles, 14 All-Star Games

Named “Mr. October” for his incredible performances in World Series play, Jackson hit 10 home runs (including four on four pitches in 1977, had a .357 average and 24 RBI in 27 World Series play. Won the regular season and World Series MVP Awards in 1973. Was the first player to hit 100 home runs with three different teams, the A’s, Yankees and Angels.

8. Dave Winfield: New York Yankees/San Diego Padres (1973-1995): 56 points

–          .283 Avg. 465 HR, 1833 RBI, .355 OBP, 3110 Hits, 1669 Runs, 223 SB

–          7 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series, 0 MVP, 0 ROY, 0 Batting Title, 0 Triple Crown, 0 HR Title, 12 All-Star Games

Part of a small group of players to reach both 3,000 hits and 450 home runs. Played throughout a back and forth rivalry with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Oldest player to get an extra base hit in a World Series, at 41 years. A tremendous all-around athlete, he was drafted into the NBA and NFL as well.

9. Roberto Clemente: Pittsburgh Pirates (1955-1972): 55 points

–          .317 Avg. 240 HR, 1305 RBI, .359 OBP, 3000 Hits, 1416 Runs, 83 SB

–          12 Gold Gloves, 2 World Series, 1 MVP, 0 ROY, 4 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crown, 0 HR Title, 12 All-Star Games

A pioneer for Hispanics in baseball and one of the greatest overall talents of all time. First Hispanic player to win an MVP Award, a World Series as a starter and an All-Star Game MVP. His 12 Gold Glove Awards are tied for the most ever in the outfield, and his arm is ranked among the strongest ever. Hit above .340 five times. Only player to hit a walk-off, inside the park grand slam in 1956. Tragically died in an airplane crash on a relief mission to Nicaragua in 1972.

An amazing talent, Clemente's impact and legacy may be greater than even he was on the field.

10. Harry Heilmann: Detroit Tigers (1914-1932): 48 points

–          .342 Avg. 183 HR, 1539 RBI, .410 OBP, 2660 Hits, 1291 Runs, 113 SB

–          0 Gold Gloves, 0 World Series, 0 MVP, 0 ROY, 4 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crown, 0 HR Title, 0 All-Star Games (Presumptive 10 awarded)

His career average is second all-time amongst right-handed batters. Post four seasons hitting above .390, with a high mark of .404 in 1923. Had 200 plus hits four times and had seven consecutive seasons of 100 plus RBI. Was the first player to hit a home run in every park in baseball while he played.

10a. Willie Keeler: Baltimore Orioles (1892-1910): 48 points

–          .341 Avg. 33 HR, 810 RBI, .388 OBP, 2932 Hits, 1719 Runs, 495 SB

–          0 Gold Gloves, 0 World Series, 0 MVP, 0 ROY, 2 Batting Titles, 0 Triple Crown, 0 HR Title, 0 All-Star Games (Presumptive 11 awarded)

A remarkable contact hitter, his 44 game hitting streak in 1897 was longest ever until broken in 1956. Maintained an average above .370 for six consecutive years. His 424 mark in 1897 is the fifth highest single season average ever. His record of eight consecutive 200 hit seasons stood for 108 years until 2009. 206 of his 216 hits in 1898 were singles, a record.

Left on deck: Ichiro Suzuki, Vladimir Guerrero, Sammy Sosa, Sam Crawford