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2019 Preview: National League West

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2019 Preview: National League West

The Padres won the offseason, signing infielder Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract. Despite the huge addition, they are still expected to be about a .500 team. The Dodgers are the prohibitive favorites in the NL West, followed by the Rockies and Diamondbacks with the Padres and Giants bringing up the rear.

Let’s talk about the teams.

Los Angeles Dodgers

For the first time since 2010, Clayton Kershaw will not be starting on Opening Day. Kershaw has an ailing left shoulder but is expected to return before the end of April. The Dodgers have not yet named their Opening Day starter. Walker Buehler could get the nod. That 2010 Opening Day starter, by the way? Vicente Padilla. It’s been a while.

The Dodgers added center fielder A.J. Pollock, inking the former D-Back to a four-year, $55 million contract in late January. They also signed reliever Joe Kelly to a three-year, $25 million contract. Other than that, they had a quiet offseason and will enter 2019 with largely the same roster they had at the start of last season, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Dodgers should have one of the better, more well-rounded offenses in the National League. Pollock and Cody Bellinger will steal the occasional base. Bellinger, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, and Justin Turner will supply the power. Turner, Muncy, and Bellinger will get on base at decent clips. Shortstop Corey Seager returns after missing most of the 2018 season. If he can return to form, he can very easily contend for the NL MVP Award.

The starting rotation is a shaky foundation but with very high potential. Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are anything but reliable when it comes to staying healthy, but we have seen in the past what they are each capable of doing when they take the bump. Buehler may end up being the anchor of the rotation, as the 24-year-old posted an impressive 2.62 ERA in 23 starts and one relief appearance last season.

Kenley Jansen will hold the fort down in the bullpen. He’s been dealing with a heart issue, but he remains one of baseball’s most dominant closers. Last year’s 3.01 ERA was actually a career-high, but he still racked up 38 saves with 82 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings. Kelly and Pedro Báez will bear much of the responsibility bridging the gap to Jansen in the later innings.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies added only one free agent during the offseason: second baseman Daniel Murphy on a two-year, $24 million deal. Winners of 91 games last year, the Rockies elected to have very little roster turnover. The most notable thing the club did was sign third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million extension in late February.

Arenado is the heart and soul of the Rockies. A perennial MVP candidate, Arenado hit .297/.374/.561 with 38 home runs and 110 RBI across 156 games last year while playing his usual outstanding defense. He has won a Gold Glove in each of his six seasons in the majors. Arenado will be backed up by shortstop Trevor Story, who broke out with a .914 OPS, 37 homers, and 108 RBI last year. Murphy, David Dahl, and Charlie Blackmon turn an otherwise good offense into a great offense. The Rockies’ offense last year ranked second in the NL in runs scored and very easily could be No. 1 in that department this year.

The pitching staff leaves a bit to be desired, though it’s a tough ask pitching half their games in Coors Field. Kyle Freeland broke out last year, going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA across 202 1/3 innings, but a repeat performance may be unrealistic. Freeland struck out only 173 against 70 walks, which isn’t predictive of a sub-3.00 ERA. German Márquez is a solid No. 2, registering a 3.77 ERA with 230 strikeouts and 57 walks in 196 innings last year. One could argue he has the higher upside between him and Freeland. The rotation will be rounded out by Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, and Chad Bettis.

In the bullpen, Wade Davis will reprise his role as closer. He led the league with 43 saves, but also put up a disappointing 4.13 ERA. We have seen in the past what he is capable of doing, but the right-hander is 33 years old and has seen his average fastball decline every year since 2015. The arms behind Davis in the bullpen don’t pop out at you, but it’s quite a solid mix of arms, including Seung-Hwan Oh, Scott Oberg, and Jake McGee.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks bid adieu to some outstanding talent during the offseason, trading All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals in December while watching Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock leave for free agency. The club was also expected to pursue trading Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, among others, but they’re here for now.

Greinke is in the fourth year of his six-year, $206.5 million deal, which hasn’t yielded dividends for the D-Backs. Over the last three years, Greinke has a solid but not great 3.53 ERA, but at least he has been mostly healthy, making 91 starts. Ray finished seventh in NL Cy Young Award balloting in 2017, but had a less successful 2018 campaign, making only 24 starts with a 3.93 ERA. If he returns to form and stays healthy, he and Grienke are a pretty good 1-2 punch. Behind those two are Zack Godley, Luke Weaver, and Merrill Kelly. Taijuan Walker could rejoin the team this summer as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

The offense will likely be the Diamondbacks’ biggest weakness. PECOTA, from Baseball Prospectus, projects Jake Lamb to be the only player crossing the 20-homer plateau. It also projects Lamb to lead the team with 71 RBI. There’s not much speed on the team, either, as Steven Souza, Jr. is projected to lead the team in steals with 11. And as far as on-base skills, Wilmer Flores is projected to be the best in that department among regulars at .332. Quite a motley crew.

Archie Bradley will handle closing duties for the first time. The 26-year-old right-hander was dominant in 2017, posting a 1.73 ERA. He followed it up with a solid 2018, finishing with a 3.64 ERA. Bradley has the potential to emerge as one of the league’s more dominant closers. Greg Holland and Yoshihisa Hirano will be tasked with handing Bradley the ball with a lead in the seventh and eighth innings.

San Diego Padres

The addition of Machado could help the Padres arrive sooner than expected. The organization is replete with tremendous upside. In MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospect list, they have shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. at No. 2, pitcher Mackenzie Gore at No. 15, infielder Luis Urías at No. 23, catcher Francisco Mejia at No. 26, pitcher Chris Paddack at No. 34, pitchers Luis Patino and Adrian Morejon at Nos. 48 and 49, pitcher Michel Baez at No. 72, pitcher Logan Allen at No. 74, and pitcher Ryan Weathers at No. 92.

The current iteration of the 25-man roster isn’t quite there yet, which is why the Padres are still projected to hover around .500. Machado will do Machado things, which is to say he’ll hit like an All-Star and play Gold Glove-caliber defense. If Wil Myers can stay healthy, he should be good for 20 homers and 20 steals. Eric Hosmer will hopefully be able to pick up his production after inking an eight-year, $144 million deal in February 2018. Beyond those three, however, it’s hard to project greatness from the rest of the offense.

Joey Lucchesi will lead the rotation following a solid rookie campaign last year. He posted a 4.08 ERA with 145 punch-outs and 43 walks in 130 innings. It wouldn’t be surprise him to see him finish with an ERA closer to 3.50 this time around. Lucchesi will be followed on the rotation by Eric Lauer, Robbie Erlin, Matt Strahm, and Chris Paddack.

Kirby Yates will serve as the club’s full-time closer. He impressed last year with 12 saves, a 2.14 ERA, and a 90/17 K/BB ratio in 63 innings. He can certainly put up a repeat performance. Craig Stammen and Adam Warren will help bridge the gap to him in an otherwise modest group of relievers.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants were rumored to have been involved in the pursuit of mega free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and particularly Harper until the very end. Ultimately, the team didn’t do anything during the offseason. Because of that, they’re expected to be the worst team in the NL West.

Madison Bumgarner will lead the rotation, but he could be wearing another uniform by the end of July. Bumgarner can become a free agent after the season, so the Giants could choose to turn him into a couple of prospects. Though he has battled injuries in recent seasons, Bumgarner is still among the better starters in the league and absolutely a guy a contending team would want to start for them in the postseason. In 21 starts last year, Bumgarner managed a 3.26 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 43 walks in 129 2/3 innings.

Dereck Rodríguez deserves a mention as well. The lefty did not get any love in NL Rookie of the Year balloting last year despite posting a 2.81 ERA across 19 starts and two relief appearances. His 89 strikeouts and 36 walks don’t inspire confidence in a repeat performance, but he also pitches in the spacious confines of Oracle Park. The rotation will be rounded out by Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland, and Andrew Suarez.

The offense will be a severe weakness. FanGraphs projects them to be the second-worst team in baseball at scoring runs, beating only the Marlins in that department. The bullpen isn’t terribly great either, featuring Will Smith, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon in the late innings.

The upshot: The NL West is the Dodgers’ division to lose once again. It is really difficult seeing any other team winning the title, but stranger things have happened. The Rockies can be a solid Wild Card team. The rest of the division is fairly weak, but as mentioned, the Padres could arrive a year earlier than expected, not unlike the Braves last year.

If 2020 season is canceled, which players would be hurt the most?

Miguel Cabrera
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Last week, I went over a few teams that stood to be hurt most if there were to be no 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, we will look at some players who may be adversely effected by a lost year.

Milestones

Players chasing milestones, especially those towards the end of their careers, would be stymied by a lost season. Tigers DH and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is the first one that comes to mind. He is 23 home runs short of joining the 500 home run club. Though he hasn’t hit more than 16 in a year since 2016, he would likely have at least hit a few this year and would have had an easier time getting there in 2021. He turns 37 years old in 10 days. Cabrera may be under contract through 2023, but it is not clear that his age and his health would allow him to play regularly such that he would be able to reach 500 home runs if the 2020 season were to be canceled. (Cabrera is also 185 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.)

Mike Trout has 285 home runs for his career. It’s almost a given that he would get to 300 and beyond in 2020. He is currently one of only 13 players with at least 250 home runs through his age-27 season. The only players with more: Álex Rodríguez (345), Jimmie Foxx (302), Eddie Mathews (299), and Ken Griffey Jr. (294). Trout likely would have also reached 1,000 runs for his career, as he is currently at 903. Losing a full season could really make a difference where he winds up on the all-time leaderboards at the end of his career.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent at season’s end, though he and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a contract extension. He turns 38 this summer and is 37 hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Even if this season never happens, Molina will likely join the 2,000 hit club in 2021 whether or not he signs a multi-year extension. Molina is also 84 RBI shy of 1,000 and 21 doubles shy of 400.

Free Agents

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto headline the free agent class heading into the 2021 season. Even if there eventually is a 2020 season, or something resembling it, teams are losing money across the board and that will result in stinginess in the free agent market. Make no mistake, Betts and Realmuto, as well as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, and Marcus Stroman will still get paid handsomely, but they likely won’t get as much as they would following a typical year. The players that really stand to get hurt are the mid-tier free agents, whose cost won’t match their relative upside — players like James McCann, Howie Kendrick, Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner, Michael Grantley, Marcell Ozuna, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jay Bruce, and Josh Reddick.

2020-21 Draftees and International Free Agents

At the end of March, MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a deal covering issues including service time, pay during the pandemic, and the amateur draft. In exchange for players on active rosters getting credit for a full year of service time whether or not there is a 2020 season, the league got the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds. The league also gained the right to delay the start of the 2020 and 2021-22 international signing periods.

The MLBPA effectively sold out what will be their future union members. A shortened draft this year and/or next year would mean that players who would otherwise have been drafted this year will go undrafted and thus will either become unsigned free agents or return to the draft next year as part of a crowded pool of players. Likewise, pushing back the international signing period will add more players to the market at the same time. This, obviously, benefits ownership as a surplus of labor diminishes those laborers’ leverage.

Bounce-back Candidates

Players coming off of injuries or otherwise down years in 2019 were hoping to use 2020 to bounce back, reestablishing themselves in the league. Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani didn’t pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in the first half of a normal 2020 season. We learned yesterday that Ohtani is expected to throw off a mound “soon.” If a 2020 season does happen, it likely wouldn’t begin for another couple of months at minimum, which should afford him enough time to get into pitching shape.

Ohtani’s teammate and perennial Gold Glove Award candidate Andrelton Simmons played in only 103 games last season due to an ankle injury. He mustered a meager .673 OPS as well, compiling just 1.9 WAR, his lowest total in any season since debuting in 2012. In 2017, he peaked at 7.8 WAR and put up 6.3 the following season. Simmons will become a free agent after the 2020 season, so he most certainly needed a healthy and productive 2020 to maximize his leverage on the market.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, now 36 years old, is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career. He hit .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 608 plate appearances, continuing a downward trend. He registered a 167 adjusted OPS as recently as 2017, but that declined to 126 in ’18 and 98 last year. The Reds, back to being competitive, were definitely banking on a bounce-back year from Votto. (Votto, by the way, is also 56 RBI short of the 1,000 milestone for his career.)