Craig Calcaterra

San Diego Padres manager Andy Green, center, talks with pitcher Phlip Humber, left, and James Shield during spring training baseball practice Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Associated Press

2016 Preview: San Diego Padres


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres

The Padres got a new general manager and a whole new look before the 2015 season. That . . . didn’t work out too well, so they got a whole new look once again heading into 2016. Gone are Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Ian Kennedy, Joaquin Benoit, Shawn Kelley, Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko among others. Coming in: Fernando Rodney, Alexei Ramirez and Jon Jay. The order of the day now is to build a bit more slowly rather than try to make a big splash. That means that you shouldn’t expect all that much more than nice weather in San Diego this summer.

New manager Andy Green will be tasked with finding some sort of offense from the likes of Cory SpangenbergWil MyersMatt KempDerek Norris, Alexei Ramirez, and Jay. Myers will hopefully play more than the 60 games he played last year. Kemp, after a very slow start, ended up putting together a fine season. Ramirez will be an upgrade over the dreck the Padres trotted out to short last year. Jay’s 2015 was an 80-game disaster, but he could bounce back. And hey, Melvin Upton Jr. is still there. We’re on at least year four of saying “he can’t be that bad, can he?” And, to be fair, he was pretty decent after coming back from an injury last June. This is no great lineup to be sure, but it could be better than last year, when they were the worst in the league in OBP.

As far as pitching goes, we used to say that Petco Park is a pitchers paradise, but that wasn’t as much the case last year. A lot of homers flew out of the joint in 2015, in large part because Padres pitchers were allowing them. James Shields was particularly bad in this department and he’ll have to bounce back. Tyson Ross was solid but Andrew Cashner was not. Each are capable of being above-average starters and a best-case scenario for the Padres is those two leading the way with Shields returning to respectability. Beyond that . . . things fall off. It’s more likely that Cashner and Ross are on the trading block come June than they are leading the Padres into respectability.

It’d be easy to say that the bullpen will be a disaster now that Craig Kimbrel and Joaqun Benoit are gone, but the pen wasn’t all that great with them. Now with Fernando Rodney closing and a lot of filler, well, filling, it will probably still be bad. Just for different reasons.

Ain’t no way to spin this: the Padres are going to be bad in 2016. They won’t be a massive failure of high expectations like they were in 2015, but it’s hard to see them winning many more than the 74 games they won last year either. And even if they do exceed those expectations a bit, their best case scenario is likely a slightly better fourth place finish than expected. They’re not catching Los Angeles, San Francisco or Arizona. They’re probably big sellers at the deadline.

Prediction: Fourth place, NL West.

2016 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke throws during spring baseball season practice in Scottsdale, Ariz., Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Associated Press

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks made perhaps the biggest and most surprising move of the offseason in signing Zack Greinke following his opt-out with the Dodgers. Putting him at the top of their rotation — the day after revealing their new uniform combinations — instantly transformed the image of the Dbacks. And instantly got people talking about them as contenders. But was adding Greinke enough?

No one player can make a baseball team, of course, but there was more than one addition this past winter. Joining Greinke at the top of the rotation is Shelby Miller, acquired in a trade from the Braves. Miller was historically unlucky in Atlanta last year, ending up being the first pitcher to lose 17 games with an ERA under 3.50 since 1984. His run support was awful and things just always broke wrong for him, rarely is own doing. While his strikeout and walk rates and his move to a far more hitter-friendly ballpark may suggest that he’s not quite as good as his 2015 ERA suggests, he’s a nice upgrade for the Snakes. Moreover, Arizona will have the services of Patrick Corbin all year long. Corbin made a nice comeback from Tommy John surgery in half a season last year and has looked sharp this spring. Expect the Diamondbacks to have the best 1-2-3 in the rotation that they’ve had in years.

The lineup is headed up by one of the best hitters in all of baseball in Paul Goldschmidt, who should be an MVP candidate once again. Behind him is A.J. Pollack, a guy so often called the most underrated player in the game that he may no longer be underrated. But he’s still outstanding, both with the bat and the glove. David Peralta hit a ton last season. Yasmany Tomas‘ rookie year was nothing to write home about at the plate, but he has potential as a hitter, as do prospects Brandon Drury and outfielder Peter O’Brien and third baseman Jake Lamb. The Dbacks will score runs, both because of their talent and because of their home park.

The biggest problem on this team, however, is going to be defense. Pollock is great but the Dbacks lost one of the best defensive outfielders in the game when they traded Ender Inciarte to the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal. That will move Tomas — who was an absolute trainwreck at third base last year — to the outfield, where one can’t reasonably expect him to be any good with the leather either. Peralta is no great shakes himself. Between the more hitter-friendly park and the butchers in the outfield corners, Greinke and Miller may wish they came here at times.

The one other big addition of the offseason was Tyler Clippard. He’ll likely get the highest leverage innings while Brad Ziegler closes and Daniel Hudson helps out late. Assuming health, it could be a nice back-end.

There is a lot to like about the Diamondbacks. Many are picking them as a sleeper team this year, claiming that they may be a surprise challenger to the Dodgers and Giants. I don’t know that you can be that big of a surprise when you sign Zack Greinke and have Paul Goldschmidt anchoring the lineup, but I do think they could be a pretty frisky team, especially if Corbin and Miller continue to build on their 2015 performances. I do worry an awful lot about defense, though. Defense has been absolutely critical for contending teams in the past several seasons, and Arizona’s could be a disaster.

Prediction: Third place, NL West. But, like I said, they could be pretty frisky.

2016 Preview: San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, right, throws the ball to starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija before the team's spring training baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Associated Press

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The San Francisco Giants.

If the Dodgers have questions about their rotation, the Giants sure don’t. At least at the top. San Francisco made a concerted effort to upgrade the pitching over the winter, signing star right-handers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. They’ll join Madison Bumgarner atop what looks to be a devastating 1-2-3 combo for opposing hitters. At least if Bumgarner’s aches this spring prove to be minor. Which, at the moment, they seem to be. Depth could be a concern, though. Matt Cain‘s continued injury woes have pushed Chris Heston into the five-spot behind Jake Peavy at four, and beyond those guys, there are not a lot of reinforcements should any of the horses pull up lame.

The lineup is likewise solid. As always, things start with a Hall of Fame-bound catcher Buster Posey. The biggest non-Posey factor in the lineup may be Brandon Belt, who was terrific during the 137 games he played in 2015, hitting .280/.356/.478 with 18 homers and 68 RBI. The most curious part of Belt’s 2015: 18 homers, which came alongside his lowest fly ball percentage of his career (37.9%). His contact and his talent is such that, if that fly ball rate was an anomaly, Belt could be find himself having a breakout year some point soon, pairing that nice uptick in on-base and slugging with a bunch of extra long balls too. Beyond those two, the supporting cast of Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy were all excellent last year, giving the Giant a well-rounded lineup. If Hunter Pence can shake off his injury-plagued 2015 and return to form this season, that lineup goes from well-rounded to downright scary.

As is the case with the rotation, depth may be the offense’s only weak spot. Denard Span was signed to a three-year contract to serve as the club’s leadoff hitter, and he’s a good on when healthy, but he missed a lot of time last year. If he and Pence are on the DL again this year Gregor Blanco can definitely fill in, but Angel Pagan showed some serious decline last year so Blanco may be better-used to replace him in left than to fill-in for injuries. A bigger question is the catching corps behind Posey, which has been racked with injuries this spring. Finding a way to keep their star fresh without the DH is a challenge Bruce Bochy is used to, but one which is still kind of annoying.

The Giant are an excellent team on paper. And hey, it’s an even year and they always win the World Series in even years, right? The biggest x-factor for them is what to do if and when the injury bug hits, which it always does in some way, shape or form. They have a front office which has, in the past, done well in finding replacements on the fly, however.

I’m bullish on San Francisco. Depending on the injury situation, they could easily beat the Dodgers for the NL West crown. Even if they don’t, they have enough talent to be in the playoff mix all season long.

Prediction: Second place, N.L. West, but it will be not at all shocking if they win the dang thing.