By Marc Normandin
The National League West was a mess in 2012. Don't take offense; it was the kind of mess that's highly entertaining to watch. The Rockies fell apart, the Diamondbacks struggled to repeat their playoff appearance, the Padres dealt with injuries that forced them to use pitchers you forgot existed, and all the while the Giants and Dodgers traded off the division lead -- in between acquiring seemingly every available player on the market over the summer.
The Giants won the World Series while the rest of the division started up their off-season. Now that the year is over for everyone, all five teams have work to do in order to be in the mix in 2013.
San Francisco Giants
What They Have: Most of the roster from their championship season remains intact. Catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Pablo Sandoval are the heart of the offense. Brandon Belt will man first base in his second full-time season. Brandon Crawford might not be able to hit much, but the shortstop's glove is terrific. Hunter Pence is in his last year of arbitration, and gives the Giants their right fielder for 2013. The rotation remains loaded, with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, the last guaranteed year of Barry Zito's deal, and the return of Tim Lincecum, starting pitcher. The bullpen is in a similarly happy place, and even gets former closer Brian Wilson back. The downside to that is having to see and hear Wilson, as well. But if his arm is healthy and he's good to go, that's easy to tolerate.
What They'll Lose: Aubrey Huff's option was already declined. The bullpen will lose Jeremy Affeldt and Guillermo Mota, while the bench is down Xavier Nady and Freddy Sanchez. None of those are significant losses; if you're looking for that, look no further than Marco Scutaro. His loss means the Giants have no second baseman yet, and since he hit .362/.385/.473 after his acquisition, that's no small thing. Melky Cabrera, who hit a similar-looking .346/.390/.516 in 113 games before his PED suspension, is also a free agent. Angel Pagan, who just had his most productive full-season ever, is also no longer a Giant.
Key Targets: The 2010 and 2012 teams earned World Series championships because, in conjunction with strong pitching, they had quality hitting … or at least, hitting at the right time. In 2009, the Giants pitching staff held opponents to just 3.8 runs per game, but the lineup scored four per contest. That's cutting things pretty close, and they won just 88. In 2011, the pitchers held the opposition to 3.6 runs per game, but the offense mustered just 3.5. Key contributors either left or failed to replicate their success. You might be noticing a theme here, one that, when combined with the above free-agent hitters, is potentially spelling out San Francisco's 2013 fate. This can be avoided if the right players are brought back (or in), giving the Giants a chance to defend their title.
Pagan's bat was great, but with Pence in right and Gregor Blanco in left, San Francisco should look into acquiring a center fielder. If they want to go the long-term route, Michael Bourn is available. His bat won't replace Pagan's, but he gets on base at an above-average rate and is a fantastic defensive player. He'll be expensive, but with Aaron Rowand's contract off the books at last, and Zito's ending after this season, money has been freed up. B.J. Upton is also an option, and he has already shown that he can hit in a park that favors pitchers. Both of these players received qualifying offers, so they would cost the Giants their first-round pick.
Second base is a bit ugly on the market, so re-upping Scutaro should be a priority. He won't hit like he did in October, but he's very good defensively at the keystone.
Dark Horse Addition: The Giants swoop in and bring Cody Ross back after his strong season with the Red Sox, pushing Blanco to center field.
Los Angeles Dodgers
What They Have: More money on the books than anyone else in baseball, including the Yankees. The Dodgers, thanks to their mid-season spending spree on the trade market, owe roughly $200 million toward 2013 salaries before even accounting for arbitration-eligible and pre-arb players on the 25-man roster. All of that money has bought them quite the core of players, though. From left to right, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier make up what could be one of the best outfields in baseball -- that is, if Crawford's Tommy John surgery that follows last year's wrist surgery allows him to return to the form that earned him a long-term deal with Boston to begin with. Hanley Ramirez is at shortstop once more, unless the Dodgers decide to give Dee Gordon another spin, pushing Ramirez to third. If not, Luis Cruz will likely be given a shot to retain his gig at the hot corner, where the surprise 28-year-old hit .297/.322/.431 in 78 games. Second base is Mark Ellis once more, while first has finally been freed from James Loney, thanks to the Adrian Gonzalez acquisition. A.J. Ellis and his excellent walk rate remain behind the plate, where he finished third on the club in OPS+ in 2012.
The rotation has six starters, with Clayton Kershaw leading the staff, followed by Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly and Josh Beckett. Back in the NL, in an easier division and friendlier park for pitchers, Beckett could very well be the team's No. 2 starter, and a legitimate one at that. The bullpen has its share of cost-controlled, potentially dominant options, so on the pitching side, the Dodgers, like their closest competitors in San Francisco, are already set.
What They'll Lose: Nothing of any consequence, or rather nothing that hasn't already been replaced. Bobby Abreu and Shane Victorino were 2012 acquisitions in the last year of their contracts, both brought on board to fill a hole that doesn't exist now that Crawford will be in left. Joe Blanton was brought in for similar reasons, but the rotation already goes six deep, and more than that if you count what the farm system could provide.
Key Targets: That's a tough one with Los Angeles, which already has so much money spent, and will likely fill out the roster with players under team control. The lineup is set, the rotation and bullpen are set - what's there to do? The Dodgers should make sure they have some depth in left field, in case Crawford isn't back when the season begins, as is hoped. Perhaps Juan Pierre, or Juan Rivera back on a cheaper deal now that his option has been declined.
The move of the off-season for the Dodgers might be dealing Andre Ethier, who starts a five-year, $85 million extension in 2013. There is no guarantee they make a move, given Ethier's high salary, extreme platoon splits and odd tendency to hit much better at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium than on the road. But if they're looking to clear salary, and aren't picky about the return, there will be a market for him, likely to teams that miss out on free agent Nick Swisher. If they succeed in moving Ethier, a short-term solution in right, someone like Ichiro Suzuki could be worth looking into.
Dark Horse Addition: The Dodgers prove that they have no spending ceiling and trade some of their starting pitching depth to the Phillies for Cliff Lee, absorbing his salary and giving them the rotation they need to stand with the Giants.
What They Have: Too many outfielders, as Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton, Justin Upton and Gerardo Parra can't all start. Miguel Montero remains both behind the plate and very good at baseball. Paul Goldschmidt is set to follow up his first full season with another round of power at first. Second baseman Aaron Hill might have received a ton of help from his home park in 2012, but the 2013 iteration has the same address. The rest of the infield is a bit weaker, with Chris Johnson at third and either John McDonald or Cliff Pennington manning shortstop, now that Stephen Drew is gone. This all gives the Diamondbacks a lineup that looks decent enough but isn't anything special, unless Upton goes all 2011 on the world again.
The rotation is in a similar spot. Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Trevor Cahill make for a strong top three, but none of this group is much better than a strong No. 2. In a division with the Giants and Dodgers, and with Arizona's good-but-not-great lineup, that's probably not enough. Wade Miley is a decent back-end option, though, after a successful 2012, and the Diamondbacks have enough young pitching in the system to fill out the fifth slot. Trevor Bauer is the one with the most upside of the group, and if he can show that he's capable of controlling his pitches, he could be back in the majors very soon -- to stay.
The bullpen is much better than it was before general manager Kevin Towers took over, but it's not necessarily an asset yet. Still, there's a lot to be said about a pen that can probably hide Heath Bell's expensive decline within it.
What They'll Lose: The Diamondbacks already dealt Chris Young to the Athletics. Reliever Matt Lindstrom and backup catcher Henry Blanco are the only free agents, and neither played a significant role in 2012.
Key Targets: The Diamondbacks need help at positions where there isn't much help to get. Third base is weak on the free-agent market, and while Chris Johnson hit well enough in his limited time after escaping Houston, this is your reminder that he's still Chris Johnson, the .276/.315/.430 hitter who has spent his entire career in offense-minded parks. He'll have to do for now, though, unless D'backs fans want Towers to sign Geoff Blum yet again. The same goes for shortstop, where a desperate enough executive might talk himself into Jason Bartlett as a productive member of baseball society. But the D'backs can stand pat with their two defensive-minded options.
This means that Arizona's chief goal this off-season is going to be moving either Jason Kubel or Gerardo Parra. Kubel is who the Diamondbacks should be moving, as he's a designated hitter playing left field, and isn't all that good offensively when not at home -- Kubel is something of the Dante Bichette of his time. This also means that Kubel won't bring much back, whereas Parra might attract more in the right deal, given his defensive chops, team control and relative inexpensiveness. One of them should go, though, in exchange for a prospect or infield depth for the left side.
Dark Horse Addition: Towers trades the league's newest Adam Eaton for Adrian Gonzalez, just for the nostalgia rush.
Fine, fine, that's unrealistic. Instead, he'll sign Chris Young -- no, the other one -- as inexpensive depth for the rotation.
San Diego Padres
What They Have: Probably more than you realize. The Padres finished fourth, with just 76 wins, but after some roster reshuffling (and in spite of injuries) they went 59-51 from June 1 on. Carlos Quentin gives them some legitimate power in left, Cameron Maybin's glove makes him useful even when his bat vanishes, and right fielder Will Venable is the happiest player on the planet thanks to the Padres' plan to bring the fences in at Petco. Chris Denorfia is back once more for another season of World's Busiest Platoon Player -- the bench outfielder appeared in 130 contests in 2012, posting a 122 OPS+ in the process.
Third base is anchored by underrated MVP candidate Chase Headley, while the rest of the infield is manned by kids. Everth Cabrera's defense was better this time around, and while his bat isn't great, he plays shortstop, and was light years ahead of Jason Bartlett offensively. Logan Forsythe (106 OPS+) could man second, or the Padres could promote top prospect Jedd Gyorko, making Forsythe the infield's Denorfia. First base and catcher are staffed by two pieces of the Mat Latos trade in Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.
The pitching staff is a little messier, thanks to a slew of injuries. Clayton Richard is average as can be, but dependable. Edinson Volquez works as a back-end starter, but could be pushed to the pen when health and prospects force the issue. If Andrew Cashner can stay on the mound, he might produce as a starter. Casey Kelly already got his start in the bigs late in 2012, and when recovery allows, both Joe Wieland and Cory Luebke will enter the fray as well. The uncertainty in the rotation is a big reason why it's tough to gauge how San Diego's 2013 will go, despite the steps forward from the offense in the second half of last season.
What They'll Lose: Mostly the Band-Aids plastered all over their bleeding self in 2012. Jason Marquis is on the way out, and is the club's only free agent. Kip Wells was let go right after the year ended, and ties to Jeff Suppan were severed in June. The question marks above might be a problem, but they sure beat relying on Wells or Suppan.
Key Targets: The Padres need another stable presence in the rotation while they await the return of their young, talented arms, either ones coming back from injury (Luebke, Wieland), or those in the minors (Kelly, Robbie Erlin). Hiroki Kuroda fits the bill, and has interested the Padres in the past. Kuroda spent his entire career on the west coast with the Dodgers prior to 2012, and if the Padres don't mind sacrificing their first-round pick as compensation, Kuroda could head west once more. Failing that, San Diego should look at the likes of Ryan Dempster, or attempt to bring in Scott Baker and his ability to throw strikes.
Chase Headley has two years left on his contract, as he has four years of arbitration total. The Padres can afford him now, though, thanks to their new television deal and ownership that isn't handcuffed by divorce or the repayment of the sale price. Teams refused to pay the steep price that San Diego felt Headley was worth this past deadline, and it's likely that remains the situation this winter.
Dark Horse Addition: The Padres will sign Dan Haren to a short-term contract, as Haren seeks to build up his value once more. They have the depth to account for Haren's back issues, if it comes to that, and could use the stabilizing presence of a healthy Haren atop their rotation.
What They Have: The Rockies are in a weird place. The last vestiges of the most successful Colorado clubs remain, while the building blocks for the next great Rockies' team attempt to stick. It was ugly in 2012, as the team's inability to play anything resembling defense destroyed its ability to prevent runs in a park that scoffs at the very notion. Injuries didn't help, either, but even a healthy Troy Tulowitzki wasn't going to fix a 98-loss team by himself.
Along with Tulowitzki, the Rockies employ Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Wilin Rosario as members (or aspiring members) of their core. Josh Rutledge filled in admirably at short for Tulowitzki, and could play second, if DJ LeMahieu doesn't take the job first. Chris Nelson played a solid third base, while Michael Cuddyer immediately reminded the Rockies why a lucrative multi-year deal for a 33-year-old maybe wasn't the best use of their resources. Injuries ended his year, giving Tyler Colvin a chance to power his way to relevance at altitude.
The lineup isn't the real issue, so much as their gloves: the Rockies posted the worst Defensive Efficiency in the majors since the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who were themselves one of the worst defensive teams in the history of baseball. Defensive Efficiency measures the percentage of balls in play converted into outs by the defense. The Rockies just weren't getting to balls in play, and even after adjusting for their home park, the results were ugly.
This reflected on the pitchers, only one of whom threw even 100 innings. The Rockies attempted to go to a six-man rotation, plugged in young pitcher after young pitcher, but nothing stopped the flow of offense from the opposition. Jhoulys Chacin is the lone Rockies' starter from 2012 to post an above-average ERA+, while the staff as a whole came out about eight percent below-average -- again, even after park adjustments. Alex White and Drew Pomeranz are more promising than that suggests, but it might be a painful growth process given their environment.
Bottom line on the Rockies: They can hit, but their hitters damage the team with their gloves, hurting pitchers who need the help.
What They'll Lose: Jonathan Sanchez, though that's probably a positive. Jason Giambi, who is kept around in part for his clubhouse presence, but is vying for the manager's job. Then there's Jeff Francis, who, despite his affiliation with the glory days of Rockies' baseball, isn't any kind of answer in the rotation.
Key Targets: Poor Rockies. They need pitching, but this isn't the late '90s, and there isn't a gullible Mike Hampton, or even a Denny Neagle, in sight. They're going to have to work with what they have in this regard, and hope whoever they pull from the scrap heap is capable of surviving the rigors of Coors Field. Trying to lure someone like Carlos Villanueva, who has never had a full-time starting job, might be their best bet. Figuring out what all the kids can do is important, but someone needs to be relied upon for a consistent workload. Villanueva might not be it, but Zack Greinke isn't walking through that door.
As for position players, the Rockies might want to sacrifice some hitting for gloves. There isn't much to work with in that regard on the market, though. A full season of Tulowitzki is a start, and having two shortstops up the middle, should Rutledge win the job at second, will be a boon to the defense. If the Rockies want to be crazy, they could replace Todd Helton with James Loney in order to give the pitching staff another glove to work with. Desperate times and all that.
Dark Horse Addition: Jason Giambi as player/manager, hopefully with a mustache befitting a manager, as well as constant stories about what color thongs he wore to break out of slumps.
* * *
Marc Normandin writes and edits for Over the Monster, a Boston Red Sox blog, and also contributes to Baseball Nation. He's one of many behind the e-book "The Hall of Nearly Great," and has written for Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and others. You can follow him on Twitter @Marc_Normandin.