2009 MLB Preview: NL West
Ken Griffey Jr. may have found time to finally sign with a club, but too many fairly prominent free agents remain on the market for one to make accurate predictions… right?
Spring training is underway and while some players have decided against punctuality this year, enough are in camp to have a pretty good idea as to who will be where at the end of the year.
For the sake of this blog, I’m going to assume players like Manny Ramirez will be where we think they will be. I’ll note those assumptions at the end of my notes for that particular team.
Let’s get started.
5) San Diego Padres
If I wasn’t completely convinced Jake Peavy still has a moving truck parked outside his SD house, I’d actually have the Pads one spot higher. They have a fairly decent trio of young players with upside in Adrian Gonzalez (26), Chase Headley (24), and Kevin Kouzmanoff (27) although Kouz is running out of time to prove he is worth anything whatsoever.
Aside from those three players, Jake Peavy (I think he just got mentioned in another Cubs trade rumor as I was writing this article) and Chris Young, this is little more than a 4-A team.
-Jake Peavy’s replacements: Whoever they end up being, SD had better hope they can play.
-Chris Young: SD needs Young to make at least 30 starts. Odds are… he won’t.
-Kevin Kouzmanoff: It’s go-time Kouz. You in or you out?
-Chase Headley: Possibly the most talented hitter on this team, including Gonzalez, but will he prove it?
TEAM GRADE: D-
4) Colorado Rockies
I don’t like this team. The Rockies from two years ago are gone and they aren’t coming back. Trading Matt Holliday for a guy who should never close (Huston Street), an outfield prospect who likely won’t even crack their starting lineup (Carlos Gonzalez) and a pitcher with very limited upside (Greg Smith) certainly didn’t help the cause.
If Jake Peavy somehow lasts the year in SD, expect this team to finish dead last.
-Troy Tulowitzki: Tulo put fantasy owners everywhere out of their misery last year when he tore a tendon in his left quad. The Rockies need their “Derek Jeter to be” to stay healthy and hit much better than .263 this year.
-Aaron Cook: Cook actually had a decent 2008 season (16-9; 3.96-ERA) but he’ll need to pitch better than that as he once again heads this meager staff.
-Ubaldo Jimenez: Has yet to live up to the hype.
-Manuel Corpas: If Corpas can’t hold down the closer fort, Huston Street gets the nod. Take it from an A’s fan; the Rockies don’t want that to happen.
Team Grade: D
3) San Francisco Giants
Tell me again why everyone loves this team to win the division if the Dodgers don’t get Manny? The rotation isn’t nearly as deep as publicized. Lincecum is one of the most dependable aces in the game, so long as his arm doesn’t break down from overuse. Matt Cain is tainted goods, though he is talented, and have we all forgotten Randy Johnson’s sole goal for playing this year appeared to be reaching the 300-win milestone (he’s currently sitting at 295)? One of the reasons more teams didn’t go after the future hall-of-famer was they feared he would hang ’em up after reaching his goal. The good news for SF fans is — and Cain can attest to this — if the offense has any say in the matter, it may take Johnson two years to get five more wins.
Johnathon Sanchez literally came from nowhere last year. The Giants thought of him as more of a long/ middle reliever before he stopped walking hitters.
Barry Zito flat-out stinks.
Isn’t starting pitching supposed to be this team’s strength?
So how exactly are they going to win the division?
-Randy Johnson: If the old guy pitches past his 300th victory, pitches well, and the next three guys I mention pan ou, this team has a puncher’s chance.
-Jonathon Sanchez: Is there any way he can duplicate his ’08 season?
-Barry Zito: His Big-3 days in Oakland are long gone. Zito needs to have a big year… but he won’t.
-Pedro Sandoval: The kid will play third rather than catch, because the team’s clean-up hitter is Bengie Molina. I repeat… this team’s clean-up hitter is BENGIE MOLINA.
TEAM GRADE: C+
2) Arizona Dimondbacks
I’m willing to bet I will be one of the few writers picking the D-Backs to finish higher than the Giants, but in my opinion Arizona is better than SF in nearly every facet of their team.
Brandon Webb/Dan Haren are loads better than Lincecum/Cain, and it’s not even close. The D-Backs also have two reliable, though not spectacular veterans in Doug Davis and Jon Garland, and one lights out second year stud in Max Scherzer.
So they have a pretty good rotation.
They also have a fair stable of ponies on the offensive side as well. If they weren’t all extremely young guys (many of whom had very poor seasons last year) I would put my money on Arizona to win the West. As it is, let’s just say Chris Young, Justin Upton, Stephen Drew and even Conor Jackson all have the potential to make things happen.
-Justin Upton: Needs to have a good March, or else his April will be in Reno, and Eric Byrnes will be in right field.
-Max Scherzer: The kid will be fine in the long run, but he could make Webb and Haren’s life a whole lot less hectic if he brings it in ’09.
-Chris Young: For a player who is supposed to be a shoe-in 30/30 guy he sure fell short last year (22-HR; 14-SB).
-Chad Quals: Has the task of closing, and if he falters the back end of the pen could end up hurting the club.
TEAM GRADE: B-
1) Los Angeles Dodgers*
The asterisk represents Manny Ramirez. If, like the mark, Manny remains with the Dodgers, they will take the division crown, edging out the D-Backs. If Manny goes to the Giants or elsewhere, LA will still contend, but will likely miss the playoffs. I’m going to continue to assume Manny is and will remain a Dodger, as I have yet to be presented with information that would stimulate a difference in that belief.
With Manny the Dodgers will have the most potent offense in the division (I know, it’s hard to believe isn’t it?) and when coupled with a pitching staff that could, and should be better than advertised, I see no reason to buy into any other team as the champ of the West.
-Manny Ramirez: If I led off with any other player here, I’d expect you to figuratively shoot me with a gun… if not literally.
-Clayton Kershaw: I believe the rotation will be better than advertised because I believe Kershaw will play a huge role this year.
-Russell Martin: Played night and day better with Manny in the lineup last year. LA needs him to play like he did in the second half, the whole year.
-Rafael Furcal: I really wanted to put Matt Kemp on this list, but if Furcal doesn’t suit up for a minimum of 135 games this team could be in trouble. I see him playing in 142.
TEAM GRADE: B