With the winter meetings rapidly upon us and the hot stove heating up by the day, we decided to take a step back briefly to analyze offseason transactions and chart out a broad plan for all 30 MLB teams to move toward a World Series berth.
Yesterday we released our American League end of year reviews and plan forward for each team. Today we review the Senior Circuit.
This project is truly a site effort, with many of our writers involved in writing about one or more teams. These were all written prior to Monday, so activities from Monday onward are likely not included. Feel free to leave comments at the bottom or contact any of us on twitter.
Steven Martano, @SMartano
Los Angeles Dodgers, 92-70, first in the NL West. Lost in the NLDS
Signed Brett Anderson to a one-year, $15.8 million contract (accepted qualifying offer)
Signed Yusniel Diaz for $30 million (half to player, half tax)
Signed Omar Estevez for $12 million (half to player, half tax)
The Dodgers have to be evaluated on a different standard than basically any other team in baseball. While Bill Shaikin at the Los Angeles Times reported that ownership is hoping to cut salary gradually and not run the highest payroll in the league from now into perpetuity, the Dodgers remain the team with the most financial clout and have demonstrated their willingness to use it.
This is a good thing considering LA does not have the farm system to sustain a team in the traditional fashion. Their actions in the international market have either been clever or borderline immoral, depending on whom you ask, but for a team that hasn't been able to rebuild via the draft and has piles of money, this is an effective strategy. Yusniel Diaz is a 19-year-old Cuban center fielder who ranked third on MLB.com's international prospect list, and Omar Estevez is a 17-year-old second baseman, also Cuban and also seemingly pretty good. The specific players aren't that important, since they're both likely 3-5 years away from any major league impact; what's important is that the Dodgers are continuing to find a way to sustain their farm system's depth and high end using only cash.
This is not to say they don't need some help at the major-league level. The focus has been on their starting rotation, driven by Zack Greinke's election to free agency, and it's certainly possible they make a big splash by re-signing either Greinke (especially with David Price off the board) to a mammoth deal he will end up getting. However, their rotation is surprisingly good, headlined by some guy named Clayton Kershaw and filled out by the aforementioned Anderson, Alex Wood, Mike Bolsinger, and Carlos Frias, and that's ignoring Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, whose imminent returns from their respective injuries may significantly help. As a result, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Dodgers play for dependability more than upside and sign a Hisashi Iwakuma or John Lackey. On the other hand, Dodger$ gonna Dodger$, so the high-end option is always a real one.
Their other problems are relatively minor. Like every team, they could use more decent relievers, so expect them to throw some money at Ryan Madson or Darren O'Day. Like last offseason, they have more position players than they know what to do with, so a Carl Crawford or Yasiel Puig trade is highly plausible. On the whole, however, the Dodgers are fine, and they're continuing to leverage their financial advantage in the best way possible. The year they aren't a World Series contender will be a surprise.
San Francisco Giants, 84-78, second in the NL West
Signed Brandon Crawford to a six-year, $75 million extension
Signed Kyle Blanks to a minor-league deal
As it stands now, the San Francisco Giants have yet to make any truly meaningful acquisitions this offseason. While they signed Kyle Blanks to a minor league deal, he's not a lock to make the 25-man roster once spring training ends. Despite their seeming lack of inactivity thus far, the Giants have little work to do and can take their time. With an entirely homegrown infield, and Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence set for outfield duty, Bobby Evans and his front office staff have just two areas of weakness that they need to address: starting pitching and left field.
Behind Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco's rotation consists of Jake Peavy, Matt Cain, and Chris Heston. Both Peavy and Cain dealt with injuries last season, and given the latter's struggles throughout the season, it's difficult to know what the Giants' former ace will be able to do in 2016. In 60.2 innings, Cain posted a HR/9 rate of 1.78 along with an FIP of 5.54, and a SIERA of 4.78.
As for Heston, despite making 31 starts last season, he's not guaranteed a rotation spot as 2016 approaches. In his final 11 starts, he posted a BB/9 of 5.05, an FIP of 5.88, and a SIERA of 4.97. The Giants reportedly want to sign two free agent pitchers this offseason, which would likely push Heston to the side.
If they fail to acquire two starters to bolster their rotation, they could also turn to Clayton Blackburn, who posted an ERA of 2.85 and an FIP of 3.55 in the hitter-friendly PCL. His most impressive feat last season was arguably his HR/9 rate of just 0.44. In fact, over the course of his minor league career, which spans 530.1 innings, his HR/9 rate is just .407.
If San Francisco can address their need for starting pitching, they just might be able to continue their uncanny trend of winning a World Series every other year. They posted the 2nd highest offensive team fWAR in 2015 (32.7), and did so without Pence for most of the year. Joe Panik also missed the final two months of the season due to a back injury.
While they've already won three World Series titles since 2010, with a controllable infield (Buster Posey, Matt Duffy, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik are all under team control through 2020), the Giants' window for contention could be open for quite some time.
Arizona Diamondbacks, 79-83, third in the NL West
Traded 1B/OF prospect Daniel Palka to the Minnesota Twins for C/OF Chris Herrmann
Traded Jeremy Hellickson to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitching-prospect Sam McWilliams
Pretty quiet, to date. Acquiring a cheap catcher who had a solid year offensively in AAA and can serve behind Welington Castillo, the first trade was for depth to replace the now-departed Jarrod Saltalamacchia. When looking at the Hellickson trade, however, you'd be hard-pressed to call it ineffective. It allowed the Diamondbacks to net a prospect for a guy who was a strong non-tender candidate. That's better than nothing.
As far as contention goes, the Diamondbacks are not that far away.
The one area in which they don't need a huge improvement is their lineup. Their outfield should be considered one of the best in all of baseball...no seriously! DBacks outfielders combined for a .298/.344/.462 slash line backed up by an MLB-leading.347 wOBA good for a wRC+ of 116, third among all outfields. Granted, the .342 batting average on balls in play is not likely sustainable, but that's another story.
The infield corners seem set as well, featuring two homegrown talents in Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb. Shortstop is defended strongly by Nick Ahmed. With Aaron Hill, Chris Owings, and Phil Gosselin at second they could stand to improve, but this is likely something they address after figuring out their starting pitching situation.
Oh yeah, the starting pitching situation.
The big question, though, is whether the Diamondbacks wait on prospects like Aaron Blair, Braden Shipley, and Yoan Lopez, who are knocking on the door, or do they make a big splash through a trade and/or free agent signing?
Well, why not a combination of both? Here is what the Diamondbacks do: sign Kenta Maeda and trade for Tyson Ross. After the $20 million posting fee, Tim Dierkes predicts Maeda to get five years for $60 million. While he isn't being posted with Yu Darvish or Mashiro Tanaka-type numbers, Maeda isn't far behind and should be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher at worst. Tyson Ross is an ace under team control for two seasons and is undoubtedly carrying a lower price tag than Sonny Gray.
Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, and Archie Bradley are three guys who will likely have starting spots going into Spring Training. Although he still has high upside, the latter's spot is surely the most tentative. This means that the aforementioned moves give the Diamondbacks over six good starters from which to choose, and having a surplus of starting pitching is never a bad thing.
The Diamondbacks are a young, sneaky-good team. They are positioned well to compete for the National League West crown in 2016, and these moves would help facilitate the opening of their window for a World Series run in the near future.
San Diego Padres, 74-88, fourth in the NL West
Traded Joaquin Benoit to the Mariners for Enyel De Los Santos and Nelson Ward
Traded Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Logan Allen, and Carlos Asuaje
Claimed Josmil Pinto off waivers from the Minnesota Twins
It's impossible not to look at the 2015 Padres season and wonder what could have been. At the outset of the season, FanGraphs projected them for an 83-79 record, two games ahead of the Mets, one game ahead of the Blue Jays and Yankees, and one game behind the Cubs. Had things broken their way, they easily could have slipped into the playoffs, and AJ Preller's aggressive 2015 offseason would've been hailed as genius. Instead, things decidedly did not break their way, and now they're in the midst of what could be described as reloading only a year after that wild offseason.
It makes sense, though; the Padres' payroll was increasingly crowded, and while their 2016 chances will suffer as a result, it's much easier to see them putting up a real challenge in 2017. The prospect windfall from the Kimbrel trade, headlined by Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra, is unlikely to make a real impact in this year but could offer a big boost past that. Melvin Upton is signed through 2017, and if he continues his resurgence, moving him at the deadline will be an attractive option. How you feel about James Shields and his contract probably depends on how you feel about HR/9 rates, but he's another player that could get moved after a good 2016 (at inflated trade deadline prices or in an offseason looking to be light on free agent starters), or held on to as a solid, if unexciting starter.
In sum, the Padres core isn't awful, but not good enough to build on for 2016. With Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe likely needing some adjustment time, and no superstars departing at the end of the season, there's no compelling reason to sell out for 2016. I'd expect a quiet offseason, with perhaps another veteran or two dealt, and a focus on getting ready to contend in 2017.
Colorado Rockies, 68-94, fifth in the NL West
Moves of note
- Traded Tommy Kahnle to the White Sox for Yency Almonte
- Traded Rex Brothers to the Cubs for Wander Cabrera
The Rockies are in a tough spot. They just completed their fifth straight season with fewer than 75 wins. Not only did they play dismally, but over the course of that season, they made the difficult decision to part with homegrown hero Troy Tulowitzki. Unfortunately, they were probably a year or two late to maximize Tulo's value and they received a decidedly underwhelming return as a result.
2015 was a disaster in the Mile High City. Going into 2016, they're left with a roster that doesn't look like a contender: per FanGraphs' current depth charts, the Rockies rank 19th or lower at seven of eight fielding positions, and have only five position players projected to be worth 1 WAR or more. This will have to be an entire rebuild and not a reload; the Rockies have no foundation on which to build. As a result, the question becomes not who they'll acquire, but who'll they'll send away and for what return.
Of the five position players projcted to be worth over one WAR, only two are signed past 2016: Corey Dickerson (through 2019), and Nolan Arenado (2018). The other three — Carlos Gonzalez, Nick Hundley, and Jose Reyes — should be traded as soon as possible (if possible; the Jose Reyes domestic violence allegations are awful, for reasons far more important than baseball, but do complicate this process).
Gonzalez is a bit of an enigma, with fWARs of 4.7, -0.5, and 2.4 over the last three years, and is due to earn $37 million between 2016 and 2017. The good news is the right field free agent class behind Jason Heyward is extremely slim, so it's not hard to see Gonzalez going to a team looking to contend, with deep pockets and a need in the outfield. The field opens up further if the Rockies are willing to eat some of his remaining contract, which is exactly what they should do, allowing them to essentially trade cash for improved prospect quality.
Still, my best guess is the Yankees making a run at CarGo, despite the ghost of Carlos Beltran hitting better from the left side. Considering Beltran really shouldn't be wearing a glove anymore, a deal with New York feels plausible, even for Gonzalez's entire contract. Hundley and Reyes should definitely be traded, but they're just not that valuable, and I can't see them bringing back much more than a live AA arm.
Even taking all these suggestions, where would that leave the Rockies? Terrible in 2016, yes, but that's a foregone conclusion. Their farm system is very good, ranked third by MLB.com after this year's trade deadline, but their consensus best prospect, Brendan Rodgers, is 19 and unlikely to be anywhere near the big leagues soon. The rest of the top of their system is also pretty far off on the whole, and so it's not unreasonable to think that the Rockies should be planning for 2018 or even 2019 as their next chance to fully compete. With that in mind, I think trading Nolan Arenado is not a crazy idea.
He's great, really really great, which means he'd be hard to give up but also means he'd bring back a lot in return. The extremely preferable alternative would be for the Rockies to extend Arenado into perpetuity, but I also don't think this is a trade they need to make if they don't buy out his arbitration years and more. Arenado will still be good in 2017 and 2018, and could certainly be a big part of some winning Rockies teams. But the Rockies have a well-documented difficulty signing free-agent pitchers, for somewhat obvious reasons, and so if they want to look beyond their own farm system for starting pitching, now might be the time to do it. On the other hand, starting pitching prospects are about as far from a sure bet as you can get, so I could be very easily talked out of this. It's something to consider, at least. In any case, the Rockies are pretty much sunk in 2016, so at this point it's just a question of what happens beyond that. On the plus side, at least they have the Yard Goats.