The National League West underwent a changing of the guard in 2013, with the Los Angeles Dodgers ascending to the top of the division and making a deep run into the playoffs while the defending champion San Francisco Giants finished 16 games out. Los Angeles' return to first place was fueled mainly by moves made by their new ownership group at the end of last year and over the winter, because other than ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the new Dodgers mostly weren't built from within, but assembled from the expensive albatrosses that other franchises didn't want to carry any longer. It's unlikely we'll see a team this offseason as active as Los Angeles was -- and it's worth remembering that by now, most of the Dodgers' big acquisitions were done, the only two remaining being the signings of pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu -- but each team in the West will be trying to get better in their own way, from the Diamondbacks' focus on clubhouse culture to the Giants' fixation on veteran experience around the diamond.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Needs: C, 2B, 3B, SP
The Dodgers showed everyone what an infusion of cash could do last offseason, turning themselves from an afterthought in the shadow of the defending champion San Francisco Giants into the 2013 NL West division champions. It's unlikely we'll see anything from them this offseason quite as extreme as their trade with the Boston Red Sox in the last weeks of the 2012 season, or their $200+ million spending spree on pieces like Zach Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Yasiel Puig, Brandon League and others, but their budget is big enough (or non-existent enough) that we could see something close.
The talk all year was about how the Dodgers were the other big contender for the services of Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who will be hitting free agency this offseason. Los Angeles put a damper on that earlier in the month by saying their focus was on signing Clayton Kershaw to a long-term extension, and then reinforced the perception by signing Cuban middle infielder Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal last week. It's worth noting that given the amounts of money involved -- this is the Dodgers, after all -- the Guerrero deal in no way precludes Los Angeles from making a play for Cano. If anything, the fact that the team has a cheap club option on current second baseman Mark Ellis is what makes it unlikely, since he could give the Dodgers stability at the position if they choose to see what Guerrero's made of in the minors. All that said, executives tell the media one thing and do another all the time. Los Angeles will only be completely out of the market on Cano when he signs with someone else.
After Luis Cruz fell apart, third base in Los Angeles was handled mostly by Juan Uribe, who had his most productive season in years, along with cameo appearances by Jerry Hairston and Michael Young. It's possible Uribe returns given his performance and the weakness of the third base market; However, assuming Jhonny Peralta is willing to move from shortstop to third base, he could be the top candidate for the job. Considering how fast the list of third basemen in free agency falls off after Peralta and Uribe (Placido Polanco, Mark DeRosa, Casey McGehee, etc.), if neither of those two men is a fit the Dodgers could try to address this position in the trade market, i.e., Chase Headley.
Other than that, the Dodgers are pretty much set. If anything, they need to get rid of some outfielders, and while they could upgrade at the catcher position, A.J. Ellis has been perfectly serviceable there thus far. They have no real pressing needs in the bullpen outside of re-signing J.P. Howell or adding a lefty to replace him should he leave, and the top three of their starting rotation -- Kershaw/Greinke/Ryu -- should be in Dodger blue for a long time to come.
The Dodgers will probably either re-ink Ricky Nolasco or sign another starter of that caliber at some point, but the majority of their dollars in that department will likely be focused on retaining Kershaw. The back of the Los Angeles rotation might be a good landing spot for Scott Feldman, Jason Hammel, or even Roy Halladay if he decides to come back for one more year, though they have plenty of internal solutions with Josh Beckett & Chad Billingsley each coming back from injury, and top prospect Zach Lee on the way.
Needs: RF, SP, RP
The Diamondbacks are a tough organization to handicap, because they seem to have gone a slight bit culture-crazy -- trading away talented players at the nadir of their value because they didn't conform to what was expected of them in the clubhouse, for instance, or firing the pitching coach because the staff was insufficiently aggressive after one of the Diamondbacks was hit by a pitch. That said, they do have a decent core of players, and the team's few needs are in the outfield corners and on the pitching staff. In both cases, they probably won't need to make many moves to address them.
While the infield of Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, Didi Gregorius and Martin Prado should be more or less set for next year barring injury, and while Miguel Montero will be the catcher in Arizona until at least the latter half of this decade, the outfield corners are a mess. Jason Kubel was a disaster and was sent off to Cleveland at the end of the year; Cody Ross was a league-average bat at best before breaking his hip. In Adam Eaton the Diamondbacks have a guy they hope is the future in centerfield, and A.J. Pollock & Gerardo Parra are two very good fourth outfielders who don't have the power that teams like to see out of the corners. It's hard to see any of the free agent outfielders fitting into the mold the Diamondbacks are crafting in Arizona except perhaps David Murphy or David DeJesus, if Tampa Bay lets him hit the open market. It's likely that, if Ross is healthy, the Diamondbacks will just go with him and Parra in left and right respectively.
The Arizona rotation was underwhelming this year, with former ace Ian Kennedy falling apart before being traded. Patrick Corbin wound up leading the staff with 208.1 innings of 112 ERA+ ball, and most of the rotation's component pieces (Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and Randall Delgado) are young enough and cost-controlled to the point where Arizona has no real impetus to go throwing money around the free agent market. That's especially true if they instead choose to spend those funds on buying out Gregorius' and/or Eaton's arbitration years in 12 to 18 months. Arizona also has two fantastic pitching prospects in Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs waiting in the wings, and Brandon McCarthy entering the second year of a cheap, two-year deal. They might find themselves dealing pitchers away this offseason instead of signing them.
The bullpen was a problem last year mostly due to injury and manager Kirk Gibson's insistence on allowing Heath Bell to pitch important innings because he'd done so effectively at some point many years before. If J.J. Putz is back and healthy, those tendencies should be alleviated, but the pen could still use a shutdown reliever or two to transition to Putz. Joe Smith, Javier Lopez, and J.P. Howell (if the Dodgers let him walk) would be the top options in terms of effectiveness. Depending how obsessed the team is with collecting former closers, Edward Mujica and Kevin Gregg could get looks.
San Diego Padres
Needs: SP, RP
The Padres are another team without many immediate hot stove needs, though that's not the same as saying they're a good team or that every position has a proven starter. In the infield, the Padres have young guys penciled in at first base (Yonder Alonso) and second base (Jedd Gyorko) who they think are going to be mainstays of the lineup for the next five years or so. Catcher Yasmani Grandal is probably on that list as well, but he barely played this year between a PED suspension and a season-ending knee injury that might impact 2014 as well. Shortstop Everth Cabrera is a player whose 2013 would be talked about as a breakout season... if it weren't for that 50-game PED suspension of his own tacked on at the end.
Unfortunately, third baseman Chase Headley, the big name of the Padres offense and arguably the face of the franchise, had a poor season by his standards in 2013. The Padres may still trade him instead of extending him, but they'll likely wait until the 2014 trade deadline to see if he can build back any of his value. Headley missed time early with a hand injury, then revealed after the season he'd had a sore knee all year, for which he underwent October surgery.
In left field, Carlos Quentin's bat has been great when he's not missing games due to injury or suspension, which is far too often. Will Venable and Chris Denorfia gave the team two solid outfielders who ate up much of the time in center and right, which is a good thing because regular center fielder Cameron Maybin spent almost the entire season injured, while Alexi Amarista showed little in his attempts to fill in. Maybin is signed through the end of the 2016 season with a 2017 club option, so it's fairly clear that the Padres aren't going to cut bait on him just yet.
Most of the work the Padres can do in free agency is in the place the Padres seem to always be doing work these days: the pitching staff. If San Diego wants to take the next step, they'll first need to clean house on a rotation that, due to injury and ineffectiveness from others, gave over 250 innings to Jason Marquis and Edinson Volquez. That's in addition to the 203 innings that Eric Stults received, and while Stults was surprisingly useful... he's still Eric Stults.
The Padres have two starters worth bringing back in Andrew Cashner and Clayton Richard, but Cashner's ceiling is probably a #2 starter and Richard was hurt this year and terrible when he was available. There's been talk that San Diego should sign the Phil Hugheses, Mike Pelfreys, or Chad Gaudins of the world, presumably to try to flip them at the deadline for prospects, but the baseball world is fairly familiar with that scam by now. The Padres should be acquiring pieces to win, and the pitcher on the market who gives them the best shot at that might be Ervin Santana.
If the Royals extend a qualifying offer to Santana and he declines it, as seems likely, then this choice becomes a lot harder because signing Santana will also give Kansas City the Padres' first round pick. If Santana is allowed to walk without a qualifying offer, however, Petco Park would be one of the best environments for a flyball pitcher with a high home run rate. If Santana gets too expensive for San Diego's budget, Jason Hammel and Gavin Floyd are both reasonably young guys with recent upside; Scott Baker and the patron saint of the one-year post-injury contract, Dan Haren, might also be guys to look at.
The Padres bullpen could use some work, but not the kind that comes by signing name relievers to big money -- San Diego is already set with Luke Gregerson and Huston Street in the 8th and 9th, and while adding someone like David Aardsma, Luis Ayala, or David Purcey could help, it's likely the same sort of help could be had for less expense through a judicial use of spring training invites next March.
San Francisco Giants
Needs: LF, SP
It's weird to be talking about the Giants as a team that would be great if it could just find some quality starting pitching, but here we are. Brian Sabean has made handicapping his offseason very easy so far, since we no longer have to wonder if Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum are going to get ludicrous fat and/or long extensions: both already have. Pence will be a Giant until the end of the 2018 season, earning $90 million in that time, while Lincecum will return to San Francisco for another two years for $35 million total with a full no-trade clause. (In the last two years, Lincecum has thrown 383.2 innings of 4.76 ERA ball while playing in one of the pitcher-friendliest parks in the game.) That should give you an idea of how much Sabean values holding onto his guys.
That means it's fairly reasonable to believe that ace reliever Javier Lopez will be back with the Giants next season, perhaps after the San Francisco general manager overpays for the privilege, and the only real places the Giants have places to sign new guys are the back of the rotation and perhaps left field. Gregor Blanco saw the most playing time of the nine different left fielders the team used, and while he was slightly north of terrible (.690 OPS), there's definitely some room for improvement there depending what the Giants' budget is. David Murphy fits both the profile and price point of a Sabean Giants free agent signing, while Nelson Cruz, Marlon Byrd, and perhaps even Mike Morse could be in the mix.
The top of the rotation is more or less set unless San Francisco wants to invest in Matt Garza or Masahiro Tanaka -- Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum will take the ball with the Giants hoping the latter two will be more effective than they were in 2013. Barry Zito's contract has expired, leaving one definite spot in the rotation, and Ryan Vogelsong will likely have to compete for a spot in spring training. The Giants' top starter prospects are in Single-A at the moment, so they'll need at least one free agent starter. The Giants already took a long look at Ricky Nolasco near the trade deadline, so it wouldn't be shocking to see them come back to him after his performance for the rival Dodgers down the stretch. Scott Feldman and Paul Maholm fit that similar short-term, back-of-the-rotation mold.
Needs: 1B, 2B, 3B, SP, RP
While we're on the subject of weird years, it's odd to see a Rockies team that needs hitting instead of pitching. The Rockies are bidding farewell to Todd Helton, a fixture in Colorado for nearly the past 20 years, and are looking for a first baseman for the first time since Bill Clinton was in office.
There's no standout star waiting for them in free agency, but Corey Hart could be the next best thing. Hart has been a Brewer for years, but missed this entire season due to injury. When healthy, he's shown legitimate, consistent power over the past few years with the Crew. Complicating things is the fact that if one assumes that Mike Napoli will re-sign with the Red Sox, Hart's left as the only legitimate first baseman available, as the next best options are a Justin Morneau heavily in decline, and a James Loney immediately following his turn as the 2013 Mysteriously Effective Tampa Bay First Baseman. Still, if Hart wants counting numbers, he can get those in Colorado; if not Hart, Mark Reynolds or Kevin Youkilis could work as stopgaps.
Second base in Colorado was manned by DJ LeMahieu and the less-entertainingly named Josh Rutledge in 2013, and if the Rockies want to compete in 2014 that's going to have to change. Colorado probably won't be in the running for the top three second base options -- Cano, Ellis (if his club option is declined) or Infante -- but could probably make do with Kelly Johnson, or, in a pinch, Nick Punto. There have also been rumblings that the Cincinnati Reds want to trade Brandon Phillips, and the Rockies are one of the many teams for whom acquiring Phillips would make sense, assuming they can pick up the tab.
The Colorado Rockies are set at shortstop. Obviously.
Rookie Nolan Arenado was the Colorado third baseman for most of the season, and while he wasn't as underwhelming as LeMahieu and Rutledge, a .706 OPS from a corner infielder who plays home games at Coors isn't impressing anyone, though he was surprisingly good with the glove. It seems just about everyone needs a third baseman this offseason and it would be silly to get into a bidding war over Juan Uribe or the like, so the Rockies will almost certainly give Arenado another go at the position in 2014 and see what the market looks like again this time next year.
For the first time in a while, Colorado only needs to tweak their rotation instead of completely overhauling it, with Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood all having very good seasons. The bullpen was solid as well, anchored by a breakout season from closer Rex Brothers, though the Rockies could perhaps use one or two more shutdown options in middle relief. Colorado has Jonathan Gray, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, signed and in their farm system, so the only thing the Rockies absolutely need right now is another free agent back-end starter on a short term deal, as the back of the rotation was a trainwreck at times in 2013. If the Pirates buy out Wandy Rodriguez and let him walk, he'd fit the bill perfectly, or guys on injury make-good contracts like Josh Johnson and Scott Baker would work too. If they can avoid the Jeff Francis/Jon Garland/Roy Oswalt merry-go-round next year, the Rockies should be just fine.