Los Angeles Dodgers
Grant Brisbee produced a diagram last month, plotting 29 major league teams on a graph depending on their age and chance of contending this year. The team that Brisbee omitted was the Dodgers. Instead, the financial juggernaut of the west coast had a similar graph to themselves, illustrating how little they’re bothered about financial constraints and how confident they are of playing post-season baseball in 2014. They’re rich, they can afford anyone, and they don’t care who knows it. LA should be developing a team you love to hate, but they’re actually a pretty likeable bunch (unless, bizarrely, you dislike Yasiel Puig or you’re just a Diamondbacks fan). There have been no notable offensive additions over the winter (no, Chone Figgins doesn’t count), although Dee Gordon has the chance to steal a ton of bases if he can get on enough to stay in the lineup. Alexander Guerrero represents his competition for the second base spot. Dan Haren has been brought into the rotation headed by Clayton Kershaw, reigning Cy Young Award winner and the best pitcher in the game. Paul Maholm will start in the bullpen. The presence of Vin Scully in the booth makes the majority of Dodgers games a delight to watch. Savour him.
It would be easy to write a paragraph lampooning Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson for worshipping at the altar of grit and hustle, and while we’ll avoid that temptation, it is worth noting that the team has been noted more for its preferred style of player than for its on-field success in the past few years. As Nick Piecoro wrote in this year’s Baseball Prospectus, the Diamondbacks “don’t seem to care if they get back pennies on the dollar so long as they land the guys they want.” This attitude is part of the reason we’ve seen Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Justin Upton depart, and the likes of Cody Ross and Mark Trumbo come in. Away from this aspect of the team’s identity, however, the skills of many of Arizona’s players shouldn’t be overlooked. Paul Goldschmidt nearly won the MVP award last year, after a stellar season in which he hit .302/.401/.551; injury-hit Aaron Hill couldn’t replicate his excellent 2012, but still presents a solid starting option at second base; Mark Trumbo won’t hit for much average, but should hit around 30 home runs. There’s perhaps less to excite on the pitching side, but internet favourite Brandon McCarthy should be useful if he can stay healthy, and Archie Bradley is the team’s most alluring prospect (although he’ll probably start the season in triple-A).
San Francisco Giants
Giants fans have not been starved of success in recent years, with two World Series successes in the last four seasons. Things didn’t go according to plan in 2013, however, as San Francisco finished third in their division, 16 games behind the Dodgers. It’s going to be a slog to overcome LA, but the Giants to have some very good players with both bat and ball. Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence (with a new five year, $90 million deal in hand), Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval form a good offensive core, while Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are a good one-two in the rotation. Tim Hudson was brought in to replace Barry Zito, and Tim Lincecum is the great unknown. On paper, the team’s pitching staff looks absolutely fine. It will need to be much improved on last year – San Francisco’s team ERA ranked 13th out of 15 National League teams – and if that happens, there may be a proper tussle atop the division.
San Diego Padres
Similar to the Rockies, the Padres’ ballpark is also notorious. In Petco’s case, it’s where fly balls go to die. Despite the fences being brought in before last season, the ballpark was still very pitcher-friendly. Not that the Padres could capitalise, mind you. Edison Volquez and Clayton Richard have been binned, and while free agent signing Josh Johnson inevitably secured himself a spot on the D.L. before the season started, the rotation should be better this season, particularly if Andrew Cashner has the kind of season of which many believe him capable. Offensively, a lot will depend on the kind of season that Chase Headley has. The team as a whole could also do with having fewer injuries this year. There are some good players in the minors (the team’s farm system was ranked 11th by Baseball Prospectus this year) but they’re unlikely to reach the big leagues until 2015. We’re probably not going to see the Padres in the play-offs this year, but it seems as though the club is heading in the right direction.
The first couple of months of last season saw the Rockies get off to a strong start. It was always unlikely to last, and the team finished with a 74-88 record, good enough for last place in the NL West. The offense isn’t optimum, but it’s a good start when the line-up is anchored by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Having both in the lineup for most of the season seems easier said than done though. Justin Morneau has been added over the winter. The pitching gives more cause for concern. Jhoulys Chacin was very good last year, and will likely be the Rockies’ leading light with the ball once more in 2014 when he returns from injury. Other than him, though? Jorge De La Rosa will probably regress, Juan Nicasio and Tyler Chatwood are unlikely to offer much, and Brett Anderson is a bit of an unknown (with injury worries). It’s another year of not knowing whether the Rockies are coming or going, and it will probably end in disappointment for Colorado.