We have reached the end! Our AL previews — East, Central, and West — wrapped up Monday, while we hit the NL East and Central over the past two days. And so we bid the division-preview series adieu with the Dodgers, the fancy new Padres, and the rest of the NL West.
The NL West is home to the closest thing baseball has to a dynasty: The San Francisco Giants have won three of the past five World Series — but whether you believe in the #EvenYear superstition or the more likely reason of regression to the mean, it’s tough to see the defending champs as much more than an 80-win also-ran this season. Meanwhile, after dramatically upgrading their miserable offense in one of the most manic 24-hour periods in hot stove history, the Padres look poised to take advantage of any drop-off from the defending world champs. Over in the Four Corners, the Rockies sport some upside, but much of that depends on solving the Coors Field injury puzzle, and the less said about the Diamondbacks the better. In the end, the team most likely to win the division crown is the one that’s claimed the past two and built up a little dynasty of its own: the talent-laden, money-loaded Los Angeles Dodgers.
Programming notes: Projected lineups and rotations come from RosterResource.com. Projected player stats and team records come from FanGraphs and combine ZiPS/Steamer-projected performance with playing-time estimates from the FanGraphs depth charts. Projected player improvements and declines are restricted to hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2014 and 2015 (projected), and pitchers who threw at least 50 innings in 2014 and 2015 (projected). Finally, injury projections for hitters and pitchers are provided by Rob Arthur and Jeff Zimmerman, respectively.1 Teams are ordered according to our personal, infallible forecasts of the final regular-season standings, so stop reading right now if you don’t want the next six months spoiled.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The starting pitcher DL projections were created with a process outlined in this article. The formula was derived from established starters who threw at least 120 innings in the previous season; for this preview, the same formula was applied to any pitcher projected to start in 2015. The estimates may be less dependable for pitchers who didn’t meet the 2014 innings threshold.
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
|Dodgers Projected Starting Lineup|
|1||SS Jimmy Rollins||S||.239/.305/.366||92||595|
|2||LF Carl Crawford||L||.275/.316/.406||105||450|
|3||RF Yasiel Puig||R||.292/.370/.493||145||595|
|4||1B Adrian Gonzalez||L||.279/.336/.457||123||616|
|5||C Yasmani Grandal||S||.242/.336/.411||114||432|
|6||2B Howie Kendrick||R||.283/.330/.408||109||546|
|7||CF Joc Pederson||L||.232/.319/.406||108||574|
|8||3B Juan Uribe||R||.257/.297/.388||94||420|
|Dodgers Projected Starting Rotation|
|1||LHP Clayton Kershaw||2.23||2.43||221.0||10.2||1.9|
|2||RHP Zack Greinke||3.04||3.16||202.0||8.4||2.1|
|3||LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu*||3.27||3.26||147.0||7.9||2.1|
|3||RHP Brandon McCarthy||3.62||3.42||179.0||7.6||1.6|
|4||LHP Brett Anderson||3.58||3.48||72.0||7.4||2.8|
|*Ryu will start the year on the disabled list. Juan Nicasio or Joe Wieland are the most likely candidates to replace him.|
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Improvement: Yasmani Grandal, 2.1 WAR/600 PA; none
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Decline: Justin Turner, minus-3.5 WAR/600 PA; Kenley Jansen, minus-2.5 WAR/200 IP
Hitter With Most Projected Days Missed: Carl Crawford, 37 days
Highest Projected Starting Pitcher DL Probability: Brett Anderson, 54 percent
Best Offseason Move: Trading Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Miguel Rojas, and cash to the Marlins for Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher, Enrique Hernandez, and minor leaguer Austin Barnes. When you’ve got all the money in the world, roster spots become the most precious commodity. Despite an All-Star season in 2014, Gordon’s lack of power and lousy batting eye meant he’d be an offensive question mark heading into 2015 and beyond, while Haren profiled as a competent back-of-the-rotation starter but not the strike-throwing, out-generating machine he used to be. In return, the Dodgers got back the Marlins’ top pitching prospect (Heaney), a capable backup infielder (Hernandez), a converted catcher with a solid fastball-splitter combination who fanned 60 batters against just 11 unintentional walks and four homers in 56 innings last year (Hatcher), and someone who could eventually emerge as a decent big league backup catcher (Barnes).
More important is what came next: The Dodgers flipped Heaney for Howie Kendrick, an excellent and underrated second baseman who’s a free agent at year’s end, which both upgrades the club in 2015 and allows it to slot newly signed Cuban infielder Hector Olivera into the lineup by 2016. Then they signed Brandon McCarthy to a reasonable four-year, $48 million deal, giving them what Haren was a few years ago: a strike-zone-pounding right-hander who’s a very good mid-rotation option when healthy.
Worst Offseason Move: None. Really, there were only more nominees for best move, including unloading Matt Kemp’s decline phase (and most of his big contract) for a good collection of young talent led by 26-year-old catcher Yasmani Grandal, and acquiring one of the best shortstops in the league (Jimmy Rollins) without sacrificing any top-tier prospects.
Greatest Team Strength: Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke form arguably the best one-two punch in the game, making 400-plus dominant innings a virtual lock for Los Angeles this year. While we’ve written extensively about Kershaw’s brilliance, Greinke is a phenomenal pitcher in his own right. Among guys with at least 350 innings pitched over the past two seasons, Greinke ranks sixth in park-adjusted ERA, trailing only perennial Cy Young candidates Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, and, of course, Kershaw.
Greatest Team Weakness: The health of the other three starters. McCarthy’s 2014 campaign marked the first time he’d made more than 25 starts in his 10-year career. Even though he was a reliever or swingman for a couple of those seasons, it doesn’t bode well for his continued health. Brett Anderson is a talented lefty who broke into the majors with a strong 30-start debut in 2009, but he hasn’t even managed 20 starts in a season since. Meanwhile, the relatively durable no. 3, Hyun-Jin Ryu, turns out to be the one who will start the season on the disabled list until mid-to-late April. If those pitching injury issues deepen beyond Ryu’s troubles, look for the Dodgers to aggressively trade for help.
Player We Can’t Wait to Watch: Yasiel Puig. He’s really good, he knows it, he flaunts it, and other people resent it. There might not be a more must-see player in the game.
Noteworthy Miscellaneous Stat: The Dodgers were the National League’s fifth-best defensive team last year, according to Baseball Info Solutions’s Defensive Runs Saved, and they just upgraded three of 2014’s worst defensive positions: Joc Pederson takes over for Andre Ethier, Kemp, and the other non–center fielders who played center; Rollins replaces Hanley Ramirez, who isn’t even a shortstop anymore; and Kendrick is an improvement over the speedy-but-oddly-defensively-shaky Gordon at second. As if Kershaw needed any more help.
Off-Field Story Line: More than two-thirds of fans in Southern California were unable to watch Dodgers games on television last year. And with Time Warner Cable at a standstill with major distributors such as DirecTV on how much TWC can charge would-be broadcast partners to carry the games, the situation doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon. The Dodgers have unlimited money to spend — maximized TV revenue or not — but it’s still a pain in the ass for the fans. They can console themselves by remembering that they live in Southern California.
Projected Record and Over/Under: 91-71 — OVER. I’m taking a bit of a leap of faith here with the health of the nos. 3 through 5 starters. But even if attrition shakes up the rotation, the Dodgers have more than enough talent and more than enough money to entice trade partners and to take on big contracts. While some have fretted over the loss of two big bats in Ramirez and Kemp, Los Angeles will still rank among the league leaders in offense — and will have a much improved defense to boot. The Dodgers are the consensus favorites in the NL West, and rightfully so. It’s tough to see things going any other way.
2. San Diego Padres
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
|Padres Projected Starting Lineup|
|1||CF Wil Myers||R||.257/.327/.422||114||539|
|2||1B Yonder Alonso||L||.266/.327/.402||108||462|
|3||RF Matt Kemp||R||.269/.335/.444||121||555|
|4||LF Justin Upton||R||.256/.339/.442||124||560|
|5||3B Will Middlebrooks||R||.227/.275/.372||85||385|
|6||2B Jedd Gyorko||R||.239/.299/.397||100||525|
|7||C Derek Norris||R||.236/.328/.384||107||480|
|8||SS Alexi Amarista||L||.242/.285/.343||79||490|
|Padres Projected Starting Rotation|
|1||RHP James Shields||3.25||3.24||217.0||8.1||2.1|
|2||RHP Andrew Cashner||3.50||3.43||163.0||7.4||2.5|
|3||RHP Tyson Ross||3.33||3.29||169.0||8.9||3.3|
|4||RHP Ian Kennedy||3.71||3.65||200.0||8.8||3.0|
|5||RHP Brandon Morrow||3.68||3.54||88.0||8.5||3.2|
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Improvement: Wil Myers, 1.8 WAR/600 PA; none
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Decline: Justin Upton, minus-0.7 WAR/600; Shawn Kelley, minus-1.7 WAR/200 IP
Hitter With Most Projected Days Missed: Carlos Quentin, 49 days
Highest Projected Starting Pitcher DL Probability: Brandon Morrow, 56 percent
Best Offseason Move: As part of a three-team trade with the Nationals and Rays, trading Rene Rivera, Burch Smith, and minor leaguers Joe Ross and Jake Bauers in exchange for Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, and minor leaguers Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes. The big get here is the 24-year-old Myers, who sports a great minor league track record and is just a year removed from being named AL Rookie of the Year. An injury-plagued 2014 killed his numbers — and there were whispers that the Rays were unhappy with his mental approach — but the Padres get five years of service time with enough upside to make the deal a logical gamble. After the later deals for Matt Kemp and Upton, Myers will temporarily be forced into a center-field position he really shouldn’t be playing, but even with that awkward fit, the former Kansas City draft pick should make San Diego better on aggregate.
Worst Offseason Move: None. Last year, the Padres finished last in the majors in runs scored, and they were spectacularly awful to watch, continuing a years-long run of being both dull as heck and poorly run. Consider the Friars from that angle and you can understand why GM A.J. Preller went on that 24-hour acquisition binge in mid-December to land Myers, Kemp, Upton, Derek Norris, the entire Coastal Carolina Chanticleers’ 25-man roster, and 150 Papa John’s franchises. Sure, the Dodgers might end up with the better end of the Kemp deal, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a beneficial deal for the Padres too. It would’ve been nice if San Diego’s freewheeling approach led to a legitimate center fielder or upgraded what was an apocalyptically bad infield last year, but the club’s two biggest needs were “excitement” and “offense.” Both improved this offseason.
Greatest Team Strength: The signing of James Shields — plus the better-than-average trio of Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, and Andrew Cashner — gives the Padres a formidable quartet of rotation right-handers.2 The key here — stop me if you’ve heard this before — will be health: Cashner made just 19 starts in 2014 and has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. Although Ross turns 28 next month, last year marked the first time he’d ever tossed more than 125 innings in a major league season. Flip through theoretical fifth starter Brandon Morrow’s injury history and see if you can find a pitcher who’ll even make it through Memorial Day, let alone September. As for Josh Johnson — nope. It’s nearly a lock that we’ll see Odrisamer Despaigne, who showed some potential as a rookie last year, and Robbie Erlin, who’s just 24 but has back-of-the-rotation potential, in the rotation at some point this season. Considering the lack of depth, for the Padres to contend this year, Shields and Kennedy will have to deliver as expected, while Ross and Cashner need to thrive when they’re healthy.
By park-adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching, Cashner was 15 percent better than league average last season, Kennedy 12 percent, and Ross 11 percent.
Greatest Team Weakness: All five projected starting pitchers and six of the eight projected members of the starting lineup are right-handed. That’s not great, especially when banjo-hitting Yonder Alonso and Alexi Amarista are your two lefty swingers. On the hitting end, though, this is by design: Preller saw what he believed to be a dearth of right-handed power in the game and moved aggressively to snatch up that rare commodity. Except, while Petco Park is murder on left-handed power hitters — a good thing for the legion of righties on the pitching staff — it’s not exactly a picnic for righty sluggers, either. Being this right-handed could make the Friars vulnerable to late-inning bullpen matchups from other teams’ righties, and it’ll be an issue when the pitching staff takes lefty mashers in games outside San Diego.
Player We Can’t Wait to Watch: Kemp. Did the Padres just acquire a two-time All-Star, the player who should have won the NL MVP four years ago, and the beastly hitter who slashed .309/.365/.606 in the second half last season? Or should San Diego fans worry that Kemp is still a major injury risk with shoulder, ankle, and other health problems that could resurface at any time? If it’s the former, the Padres could contend for their first playoff spot in nine years. If it’s the latter, then probably not.
Noteworthy Miscellaneous Stat: Last season, the Padres set a live ball era record for the worst team batting average in any month, hitting just .171 in June. If San Diego approaches that level of monthlong offensive futility at any point this season, something will have gone horribly wrong.
Off-Field Story Line: While the Padres seemingly spent infinity dollars during that wild December spree, Preller somehow also maintained much of the team’s payroll flexibility: Highly paid players like Upton and Kennedy as well as less expensive types like Will Venable, Kelley, and Morrow are all eligible for free agency at year’s end. That kind of roster construction leaves the team with only a moderate $56.2 million committed toward 2016 salaries. If they’re in the mix for a playoff spot, such flexibility could see the Padres make even more trade-market noise this summer.
Projected Record and Over/Under: 83-79 — PUSH. The Padres almost certainly won’t win exactly 83 games. Given the upside that big bats like Kemp, Upton, Norris, and possibly Myers bring, balanced against Kemp’s downside, the still shaky infield, and injury concerns in the rotation, it’s easy to envision scenarios in which San Diego wins 88 games or loses close to 85. Eighty-three wins seems to mark a reasonable midpoint projection for a team that might be tougher to predict than any other in the National League.
3. San Francisco Giants
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
|Giants Projected Starting Lineup|
|1||CF Angel Pagan||S||.275/.324/.383||104||420|
|2||2B Joe Panik||L||.259/.310/.340||89||546|
|3||1B Brandon Belt||L||.263/.342/.444||126||525|
|4||C Buster Posey||R||.300/.367/.474||141||564|
|5||RF Hunter Pence*||R||.267/.324/.428||116||504|
|6||3B Casey McGehee||R||.255/.321/.355||97||560|
|7||LF Nori Aoki||L||.276/.341/.360||106||546|
|8||SS Brandon Crawford||L||.238/.308/.360||91||595|
|*Pence will be out injured to start the year. He’ll be replaced by Gregor Blanco.|
|Giants Projected Starting Rotation|
|1||LHP Madison Bumgarner||2.89||3.07||211.0||8.9||2.1|
|2||RHP Tim Hudson||3.74||3.63||170.0||6.1||2.1|
|3||RHP Matt Cain||3.68||3.88||180.0||7.6||2.6|
|4||RHP Jake Peavy||3.49||3.71||171.0||7.3||2.4|
|5||RHP Tim Lincecum||4.14||3.96||142.0||8.0||3.5|
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Improvement: Buster Posey, 0.5 WAR/600 PA; Sergio Romo, 2.6 WAR/200 IP
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Decline: Hunter Pence, minus-1.5 WAR/600 PA; Jeremy Affeldt, minus-1.4 WAR/200 IP
Hitter With Most Projected Days Missed: Angel Pagan, 41 days
Highest Projected Starting Pitcher DL Probability: Matt Cain, 46 percent
Best Offseason Move: Bringing back Jake Peavy. The loss of Pablo Sandoval and injury to Hunter Pence could dent an offense that finished third in the National League last season in park-adjusted offense. But with bats (including Sandoval’s) going at premium prices, the Giants instead made the modest move of re-signing Peavy to an affordable two-year, $24 million deal. If all San Francisco gets is the pitcher who posted a 3.73 ERA over 202.2 innings last year in Boston and the Bay Area, that’s still a league-average innings-eater who’ll help maintain the rotation’s depth and keep the bullpen fresh deep into the season. And if Peavy’s results strictly as a Giant — 78.2 innings, 58 strikeouts, 16 unintentional walks, 65 hits, three home runs — turn out to be even remotely sustainable, his contract becomes a straight-up steal.
Worst Offseason Move: None. The Giants made so few significant moves that it’s hard to find much fault in any of them. Nori Aoki and Casey McGehee look like below-average options in the latter stages of their careers, but they were cheap, low-risk options who won’t crater the offense or defense. By not paying Sandoval well into his decline phase and refusing to give Mike Morse a multiyear deal after watching him flail around chasing fly balls in left for a year, GM Brian Sabean rightly showed restraint this offseason.
Greatest Team Strength: Catcher depth. We know about Buster Posey, the 28-year-old star backstop who already has an MVP and three World Series rings in what has been a very Jeteresque career. But the Giants will also roster 25-year-old Andrew Susac, who, with his combination of capable defense behind the plate and a potentially better-than-average bat,3 is good enough to start for many other teams. If first baseman Brandon Belt gets hurt again — or just needs a breather against a tough left-handed starter — going with Susac behind the plate sets up more playing time for Posey at first. And if the Giants can’t find enough playing time for him, Susac’s broad-based skill set, youth, and six years of available service time would be appealing to plenty of teams in a trade.
Susac hit .254/.362/.422 in 989 minor league plate appearances and .273/.326/.466 in his 95-PA major league debut.
Greatest Team Weakness: Power. The Giants finished 17th in home runs last year. Granted, AT&T Park absolutely kills left-handed power hitters, but Sandoval and Morse tied for third on the team in homers last year (16) and they’re both gone, while the no. 2 slugger (Pence, 20) is out for at least a few more weeks. New additions Aoki and McGehee managed just five combined dingers in more than 1,200 plate appearances last year, so there won’t be any help coming on that front.
Player We Can’t Wait to Watch: HUNTER.
Noteworthy Miscellaneous Stat: The Giants have drawn more than 3 million fans in each of the past five seasons, making them one of only four MLB clubs to claim that distinction.4 The team’s owners showed a willingness to spend money when building AT&T Park without public funds, so as long as that fan fervor carries on, the Giants are likely to spend liberally.
The others are the Yankees, Cardinals, and Angels. Granted, these parameters are unfair to the Dodgers, who have drawn 3 million–plus in 13 of the past 14 seasons, coming up just short in 2011.
Off-Field Story Line: With Sandoval gone, the heads of Giants fans could become dangerously unadorned with no more reason to don the fluffy panda chapeaux. We’re taking suggestions for the next round of AT&T Park headwear. Money hats for Pence? Leather wraparounds for Belt? Or maybe, in honor of Posey, just a classic San Francisco flower-in-your-hair look? With the right idea, there are serious merch dollars to be had here.
Projected Record and Over/Under: 81-81 — OVER. But just barely. Like the Padres, the Giants project as a likely 80-something-win team. Of course, the devil’s in the details: If they match this projection, that’s a .500 season, but just seven more wins got them a trip to the playoffs last year and ultimately another World Series parade. Re-signing Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, and master of deception Yusmeiro Petit gives the team seven solid options for the rotation led by superhuman postseason legend Madison Bumgarner. Yet while letting Sandoval go makes sense financially, he was a plus contributor in the regular season. The injury to Pence, who might not be back until May, could further deflate the offense at the beginning of the season.
The bet here is that San Francisco hangs on the fringes of wild-card contention before settling for a game or two better than breakeven. Given what we know about the regression monster and about teams that stand pat after winning it all, that seems the most likely outcome. As for all you #EvenYear devotees, a so-so 2015 would put the Giants right where they want to be in 2016.
4. Colorado Rockies
|Rockies Projected Starting Lineup|
|1||CF Charlie Blackmon||L||.276/.323/.423||92||595|
|2||LF Corey Dickerson||L||.287/.336/.510||117||630|
|3||SS Troy Tulowitzki||R||.307/.386/.539||141||504|
|4||RF Carlos Gonzalez||L||.281/.346/.509||120||450|
|5||1B Justin Morneau||L||.293/.348/.470||111||525|
|6||3B Nolan Arenado||R||.286/.326/.466||104||630|
|7||C Nick Hundley||R||.260/.307/.413||84||320|
|8||2B DJ LeMahieu||R||.281/.321/.374||77||546|
|Rockies Projected Starting Rotation|
|1||LHP Jorge De La Rosa*||4.42||4.35||141.0||6.9||3.3|
|2||RHP Kyle Kendrick||4.89||4.72||165.0||5.3||2.5|
|3||RHP Jordan Lyles||4.63||4.40||142.0||6.1||3.0|
|4||LHP Tyler Matzek||4.52||4.34||132.0||7.4||3.9|
|5||RHP Jon Gray||4.45||4.26||102.0||7.3||3.1|
|*De La Rosa is expected to start the year on the disabled list. He could be replaced by David Hale or Christian Bergman.|
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Improvement: DJ LeMahieu, 0.2 WAR/600 PA; John Axford, 2.6 WAR/200 IP
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Decline: Troy Tulowitzki, minus-2.0 WAR/600 PA; Adam Ottavino, minus-1.4 WAR/200 IP
Hitter With Most Projected Days Missed: Carlos Gonzalez, 39 days
Highest Projected Starting Pitcher DL Probability: Christian Bergman, 43 percent5
The Rockies starting pitcher rated most likely to hit the DL this year by Jeff Zimmerman’s injury projection system, Jorge De La Rosa, will start the year on the DL.
Best Offseason Move: Letting Michael Cuddyer walk. As a reward for saying good-bye to a 36-year-old player who’s a huge defensive liability and missed 113 games last year, the Rockies snagged the 27th overall pick in this summer’s amateur draft. Over a winter that featured very little hot stove action in Denver, landing that pick becomes a de facto blockbuster for the Rockies.
Worst Offseason Move: None. New GM Jeff Bridich vowed to bide his time before making any splashy moves, and he’s stayed true to his word. The Rockies made some useful incremental moves, adding a few young arms in David Hale and Gus Schlosser, in addition to an inexpensive bounce-back candidate in reliever John Axford. There’s nothing here the Rockies will regret, but that’s simply because they didn’t make any big bets.
Greatest Team Strength: Infield defense. Nolan Arenado is a one-man GIF machine, the National League’s version of Manny Machado, and a player who might be able to fill a semitruck with Gold Gloves by the time he’s done playing baseball. Tulowitzki’s defense gets overlooked because he’s the best-hitting shortstop in the league by a mile, but he’s also a premier gloveman, ranking in the top eight among all MLB shortstops in five of the past six years, according to Baseball Info Solutions’s Defensive Runs Saved. On the right side, Justin Morneau remains a slick glove around the bag at first, and LeMahieu might be the most underrated defender in the game, saving 16 more runs than the average second baseman last year, per Baseball Info Solutions.
Greatest Team Weakness: Calculate as many park adjustments as you want, but the truth remains the same: The Rockies lack quality starting pitching. Colorado starting pitchers finished last in the league in both park-adjusted ERA and park-adjusted FIP last season. While you can blame some of that on injuries, since they fared somewhat better in 2013, they still finished second-to-last in park-adjusted xFIP. The Rockies releasing Jhoulys Chacin should open up opportunities for Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, and other young pitchers coming up through the system. In particular, Gray is the most highly touted homegrown starter (and most popular Vine darling) the team has ever seen. Whether he makes it through the crucible of Coors Field, though, remains to be seen.
Player We Can’t Wait to Watch: Tulo. Last season, he hit like an unholy hybrid of Barry Bonds and Rogers Hornsby through the first five weeks. If he repeats that performance — or even comes close to it at any point this year — one of two things may happen: Either the Rockies could play some delightful, winning baseball or Tulo could reemerge as a trade candidate that 29 other teams would kill to have. In fact, we might even see both.
Noteworthy Miscellaneous Stat: At 42 years and four months of age, LaTroy Hawkins enters the 2015 season as the oldest player in baseball. Never a big strikeout pitcher, Hawkins’s K rates have fallen to near-career lows, with just 32 punchouts in 54.1 innings last season. However, with just 11 unintentional walks and three homers allowed in 2014, he’s remained effective at closing out games. Adam Ottavino and Rex Brothers get talked up as heir apparents to the closer job, but Hawkins’s Aaron Cook impersonation has worked well in Colorado, so he might be tougher to bump from the role than you’d think.
Fun fact: Hawkins’s first major league game came two weeks after Arenado’s fourth birthday.
Off-Field Story Line: Will Bridich trade Tulo and CarGo? Rumors have swirled around the Rockies’ two star players for a while now, but they’re still wearing purple and black. Following injury-marred seasons from the pair, they’re both at the nadir of their value, so it doesn’t seem likely Bridich will be looking to deal either one just yet. The blueprint here might end up resembling what Rick Hahn did as GM of the White Sox: Wait to see what happens, and if the team struggles, start working the phones hard.
Projected Record and Over/Under: 75-87 — UNDER. The injury bug remains a going concern, as does the state of the pitching staff. A brittle club with a weak rotation, combined with the possibility of multiple players getting dealt this summer if things aren’t going well, points to another losing season — but it should at least be an improvement on last year’s 96-loss debacle.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Norm Hall/Getty Images
|Diamondbacks Projected Starting Lineup|
|1||CF A.J. Pollock||R||.272/.322/.428||106||490|
|2||2B Aaron Hill||R||.258/.309/.400||94||490|
|3||1B Paul Goldschmidt||R||.282/.377/.522||145||651|
|4||RF Mark Trumbo||R||.253/.307/.475||112||613|
|5||3B Jake Lamb||L||.247/.304/.410||94||385|
|6||LF Yasmany Tomas||R||.261/.300/.452||105||375|
|7||SS Chris Owings||R||.264/.296/.395||88||525|
|8||C Tuffy Gosewisch||R||.220/.252/.331||57||301|
|Diamondbacks Projected Starting Rotation|
|1||RHP Josh Collmenter||4.07||4.24||174.0||6.5||2.5|
|2||RHP Jeremy Hellickson||4.24||4.21||159.0||7.0||2.5|
|3||RHP Chase Anderson||3.97||3.99||109.0||8.0||2.8|
|4||RHP Rubby De La Rosa*||4.24||4.16||119.0||7.1||3.3|
|5||LHP Allen Webster*||4.42||4.45||73.0||6.6||3.6|
|*Bronson Arroyo and Patrick Corbin, both coming off Tommy John surgery, are expected to rejoin the rotation once healthy. However, their replacements, De La Rosa and Webster, are projected to pitch more innings this season.|
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Improvement: Mark Trumbo, 3.5 WAR/600 PA; Addison Reed, 1.8 WAR/200 IP
Biggest Projected Hitter/Pitcher Decline: Ender Inciarte, minus-2.6 WAR/600 PA; Oliver Perez, minus-1.3 WAR/200 IP
Hitter With Most Projected Days Missed: Cody Ross, 40 days
Highest Projected Starting Pitcher DL Probability: Jeremy Hellickson, 44 percent6
The Diamondbacks starting pitcher rated most likely to hit the DL this year by Jeff Zimmerman’s injury projection system, Bronson Arroyo, will start the year on the DL.
Best Offseason Move: None. The D-backs made their fair share of moves, but no deal sticks out from the pack. They acquired young right-handers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster for the 28-year-old Wade Miley, but both come with significant flaws. De La Rosa, who underwent Tommy John in 2011, doesn’t have reliable breaking stuff, while Webster lacks anywhere near enough fastball command to be a reliable pitcher. Arizona also traded for right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who might become their new staff ace, but that says a lot more about the Diamondbacks than it does about Hellickson.
Worst Offseason Move: Trading Miguel Montero to the Cubs for minor leaguers Zack Godley and Jeferson Mejia. A 2013 10th-round pick who’s already 24 years old, Godley’s only minor league experience consists of relief appearances in Single-A, while Mejia pitched 12 games for Chicago’s rookie league team in Mesa, Arizona, and offers the underwhelming pedigree of an undrafted free agent. After a monster year in 2012, Montero is coming off two mediocre offensive seasons, but he remains a league-average catcher who’s a plus defender and excellent pitch-framer. Signed for three years and $40 million, the 31-year-old is an asset that should have brought back more in return than two long-shot pitchers.
Greatest Team Strength: Right-handed power. After an injury-ruined 2014, Paul Goldschmidt should bounce back as an MVP-caliber player. The 29-year-old Trumbo, who missed even more time to injuries than his teammate last season, blasted 95 home runs from 2011 through 2013. Add in the 24-year-old, potential-laden Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas, and you have what could be one of the best trios of righty sluggers in the league.
Greatest Team Weakness: Starting pitching. Simply put, they don’t have any. Patrick Corbin could be their best pitcher, and we might not see him until this summer as he recovers from March 2014 Tommy John surgery. De La Rosa’s lack of secondary pitches severely handicaps his effectiveness. Hellickson and Collmenter don’t have much upside beyond being potentially league-average pitchers. Trevor Cahill, Chase Anderson, Randall Delgado, and others project as similarly ordinary — and that’s only if a whole bunch of things break right. It’s hard to envision any scenario in which this isn’t one of the worst rotations in baseball.
Player We Can’t Wait to Watch: Less than two years ago, some prospect hounds considered Archie Bradley to be the best pitching prospect in baseball. The no. 7 pick in 2011, he had a chance to be the big breakout pitcher last year as a 21-year-old, but Bradley got shelled in five early-season starts at Triple-A Reno and then missed two months with a flexor tendon injury. While he’s since dropped a tiny bit in the prospect rankings — ESPN has him no. 22 overall — and is no longer even the highest-rated youngster in the organization, he still possesses an exciting fastball-curveball combination. Plus, being ranked behind the über-talented Braden Shipley isn’t much of a slight. The trio of Bradley, Shipley, and right-hander Aaron Blair offers Arizona’s best hope for the future. Each one should get brought up to the majors at some point this year — but expect Bradley to earn the first call.
Noteworthy Miscellaneous Stat: Despite the presence of Goldschmidt — one of the most patient hitters in baseball — for 109 games, the D-backs finished 28th in walk rate last year. Getting supreme hack-master Trumbo — 89 strikeouts and 28 walks in 362 plate appearances — back for a full season won’t exactly help matters in that department, either.
Off-Field Story Line: Chief baseball officer7 Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart are both untested in those roles. I’m not one to get too excited about public comments by a GM, but Stewart recently taking the hammer to analytics was aggressively provocative. With the Diamondbacks posting baseball’s worst record last year and playing in the same division as the defending World Series champs and a powerhouse in L.A., Stewart and La Russa have a giant mess to clean up too. Ignoring analytics probably isn’t the best way to begin the franchise’s rehabilitation.
Apparently this is an actual title now.
Projected Record and Over/Under: 75-87 — UNDER. Get ready for lots and lots of homers from Arizona’s right-handed sluggers — but even more from opposing batters teeing off against its flimsy pitching staff. If you like watching 8-7 baseball games, this could be your team. Just brace yourself: They’ll probably put up a fair bit more sevens than eights.