NL West Preview and Predictions

Disaster almost struck the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Their huge offseason pickup of Mookie Betts was nearly wasted, luckily the season was salvaged along with the possibility of the two best offensive players in the National League being able to make an impact in the same lineup.  The Dodgers are the clear favorites if the normal season took place, but with the season being relegated to just 60 games, the possibility of a talented squad catching fire can make a huge difference in who wins the west.  

Colorado Rockies

It may shock you that the Rockies along with another team in the NL West actually had the best 60 game run during the season. The Rockies were 37-23 during the middle of the season in 2019.  Unfortunately they were so far behind the front running Dodgers their run came pretty much unnoticed. Colorado will enter 2020 without any major changes to the organization.  Can they rely on their players improving? 

Serious rotation questions. 

The Rockies have Kyle Freeland and Antonio Sentzatela penciled into the rotation to begin 2020. Both pitchers are coming off of seasons of 6+ ERA.  This could lead to serious issues down the line with no clear answers to who replaces them in-season.  Top pitching prospect Ryan Rolison has never pitched above high-A.  He will need at least two full seasons in the minors unless something drastic changes.  That leaves just Chi-Chi Gonzalez and Peter Lambert as the potential 6 and 7 options.  It’s going to be a tough season for the Rockies rotation.  Lots of pressure will be put on the bullpen. 

Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado and…. 

Charlie Blackmon had another stellar season in 2019 with an OPS+ of 123 but the Rockies will need even more from the veteran in 2020.  A few unfortunate dart throws over the last few offseasons have left their mark on the lineup.  Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy have both performed at a less than expected level and it’s become time to call it a day in the hopes that they will perform.  The time is now to move on and give the youth a chance.  Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampsona and Sam Hilliard should be three names to keep an eye.  If all three can produce along with a finally healthy David Dahl the Rockies offensive may finally reach its potential. 

San Diego Padres

San Diego has amassed a large amount of young talent.  It’s getting close to put up or shut up time for the Padres and GM AJ Preller.  Accumulating talent is only as valuable as what that talent becomes.  Can they fit together to make a real run or are they a bunch of studs that will go down as historical pieces somewhere else?  2020 is time to see whether or not the Padres have a core worth moving forward.  Who will join Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado as the future of Padres baseball. 

The Rotation behind Chris Paddack.

San Diego made some interesting moves to bolster their rotation in the offseason. When you add veteran starting pitchers to a rotation you want guys that maybe once were considered potential aces but never panned out all the way.  That is not the case with Zach Davies.  Davies is a solid middle of the rotation starter that will be an innings eater and will pitch to contact.   The Padres stellar infield defense and large park should be a perfect fit for the former Brewer.   

San Diego also decided to take on a reclamation project in the often injured Garrett Richards.  Richards, a former 15 game winner, has not seen 16 starts in four years and only got into three total games last season.  He still brings to the table solid stuff that was a lost cost, potentially high reward signing.

The rest of the rotation behind Paddack will feature high upside starters Dinelson Lamet and Joey Lucchessi.  Both hurlers at certain points of last season found themselves taking the reins as the ace of the staff.  Top prospect MacKenzie Gore should make his debut in 2020 along with a host of other young arms including one of my favorite sleepers Ronald Bolanos in the bullpen.  The young arms that San Diego can throw at you will give them tons of depth that make them dangerous. 

What to do with Eric Hosmer? 

Hosmer is owed a lot of money. With a wRC+ of 95 which is his lowest since 2012.  He did still drive in 99 runs which was the only highlight of his entire season.  The most startling number is the 24% strikeout rate was also a career high.  San Diego will need Eric Hosmer who was a middle of the order producer with Kansas City or they will struggle behind Machado, Tatis and the newly acquired Tommy Pham. 

San Francisco Giants

The Giants got the most shocking news of the offseason.  Their franchise cornerstone Buster Posey decided to sit out the season.  San Francisco was not expected to make a run in 2020, but they did quietly tie the Rockies in the best record over a 60 game period going 37-23 in a 60 game stretch last season.  Can San Francisco’s veterans help them make an unlikely run in this shortened season?  

Can veteran staff lead the way?

Jeff Samardzija (35), Johnny Cueto (34), Drew Smyly (31), Kevin Gausman (29)

The front four of the Giants rotation reads like a list of potential trade chips by the end of August.  The contracts of Samardzija and Cueto may be tough to move but veteran’s Smyly and Guasman have shown the ability to handle the rotation and bullpen piece when needed. They could be valuable trade chips as the season goes on.  Top pitching prospect Logan Webb will round out the rotation, he reintroduced himself in spring training last year hitting 98mph on his fastball a year after recovering from Tommy John surgery.  With Webb the Giants should have a solid young arm to begin the rebuild of the starting staff but the rest of the arms in the system still need time to move up the board. 

Derek Rodriguez was disappointing last season off the heels of a stellar 2018, if he is able to rebound and discover what made him successful he could be another strong piece for the future.  The Giants rotation has the arms to keep them competitive but with the age and injury history of the top of the rotation they will need more depth to have any chance to compete.  

What to do without Posey. 

The Giants veterans just sit in the rotation.  Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence and even Pablo Sandoval all will have prominent roles in the lineup for San Francisco.  Journeyman Alex Dickerson and Mike Yaztremski both burst onto the scene last year, proving their worth on the major league level.  If they both can contribute similarly the Giants may have the bats to compete with the top of the powerful NL West.  

The signing of Wilmer Flores and the emergence last season of Mauricio Dubon along with Crawford will make a nice stop gap for the eventual coming of top prospect Marco Luciano.  Luciano most likely won’t see any time this season but he has a bright future in San Francisco and will look to take on a role in the bigs sooner than later.  

With the loss of Buster Posey for 2020 many will speculate that the Joey Bart era behind the plate will soon be coming to the bay.  Posey most likely will then be seeing more time at first base when he returns.  Bart though still hasn’t seen much time at higher levels playing only 22 games in double-A.  In those games he produced with a .902 OPS which could push the front office to give him the first shot behind the plate.  

Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona was one of the teams I was looking at as a potential sleeper to come out of the NL West.  Multiple offseason additions solidified a young core of players that already began their ascent to potential stardom. The front office made moves to take the next step in an ongoing battle with the dominant Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Madbum, the leader they need.

Arizona shocked the rest of the league by signing long time Giant Madison Bumgarner to lead their rotation.  The longtime division rival now finds himself in a similar role that he entered the league to do.  He has to step up and lead a developing team to overtake the powerful Dodgers. Bumgarner is still in the midst of the prime of his career as he enters his age 30 season.  Coming off of a WAR of 3.2 for a Giants team that didn’t always give him the support necessary for success shows that he has not lost anything as the innings have piled up.  Bumgarner brings leadership to a staff that has desperately needed it.  With a young core staff they need a guy who has been down the stretch and knows how to win.  

The Diamondbacks also had a player decide to sit out the 2020 season.  Veteran starter Mike Leake has decided to invoke his right to forgo the season, leaving the Diamondbacks with an open slot in the rotation. The immediate replacements are between righty Merrill Kelly and young lefty Alex Young.  Both rode the roller coaster of success and failure in 2019 and both will be given the chance to win the job.  Kelly, the former KBO standout, likely will have the first shot to take the job but his run of getting blown up in the middle of the season leaves him with a quicker hook than what would have happened if the season was going from day one. With Young it is a similar story, bursting onto the scene he looked like a lefty of the future for Arizona.  His peripheral numbers are intriguing in just 15 starts last season Young had 7 wins and an ERA of 3.56.  The troubling numbers show in the advanced analytics that show his vulnerabilities. Young’s FIP sits at 4.86 and he gives up a hard hit percentage of 48%.  

Arizona’s top four are as good as any in the division with Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen and Luke Weaver.  If they can find a number five that gives them a push this staff can be enough to sneak into the playoffs.  

Arizona’s offense is very nice. 

The easiest thing to say about the Arizona offense is that it is explosive.  The addition of Starling Marte allows everyone to move back and put themselves in an even better position to drive in runs.  Ketel Marte is a serious star in the making, Eduardo Escobar, Christain Walker, David Peralta, Kole Calhoun and Carson Kelly all have the chance to hit 20 homers and hit above .300.  Starling Marte brought his OBP up to .342 last season and his ISO up to .200.  This team is loaded and dangerous. 

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have been stacked for a number of years.  They have dominated not only the West but honestly the entire national league.  Despite being loaded with talent they have not been able to put it all together.  Their response to this is like what you would do on the video game MLB “The Show”, put the best possible player in your lineup in order to put yourselves over the top.  That player in this instance is Mookie Betts.  This team is good and I am not going to waste much time on breaking them down, but here we go. 

Rotation flaws?

Not really.  The re-acquiring of Alex Wood has put the Dodgers in a great spot.  Wood will slot into the #4 spot in the rotation behind Kershaw, Buehler and the rising phoenix Julio Urias.  That leaves one spot for either veteran Ross Stripling or young fireballer Dustin May, both would be top three on most rotations in baseball.  The Dodgers have as good of a full staff as anyone in baseball.  

Is Gavin Lux ready to make an impact?

When you have a top five prospect in baseball ready to take the reins it’s always exciting.  Lux will be given the chance to show what he is made of.  The Dodgers have plenty of bench depth to put Lux in a great spot day by day.  If they see a bad matchup then you can put guys like Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor in the lineup.  Lux doesn’t have to come in and carry the lineup,  he has maybe the least pressure of any top prospect in the entire league.  He can relax and play his game.  

Verdict:

The NL West is the Dodgers division.  They have the bats and the arms to take the entire league. The only team that can give them any trouble would likely be the Arizona Diamondbacks.  They have built a team that is ready to make a run at the playoffs right now. 

Standings:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. San Diego Padres
  4. Colorado Rockies
  5. San Francisco Giants

Klub and MadBum

The title to this blog would make for a great CBS sitcom.  I could see the commercials now, an odd couple of sorts changing cities in order to change their lives…maybe for the better?  Madison Bumgarner and Corey Kluber are two potential aces that have switched teams in the offseason. The theme of the 2019 Winter meeting seems to center around pitching.  With Strasburg and Cole signing massive contracts they have overshadowed the mometus moves by both the Diamondbacks and Rangers in order to bolster their staffs. The question I have is who really made the better move??

Bumgarner helps in more ways than one.

The Diamondbacks agreed to a five-year $85 million contract over the weekend.  Bumgarner will join a rotation that features Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver, Mike Leake, Zac Gallen, Alex Young and Robbie Ray.  With Madbum that makes for seven names for five spots. MLB trade rumors is suggesting that the pickup of Bumgarner means that Robbie Ray will be on his way out in Arizona.  If that happens, did the Diamondbacks really improve themselves? Surprisingly to most Bumgarner just turned 30 years old in August, a five year deal will not have him pitching into the twilight of his career. Bumgarner’s 3.2 WAR immediately puts him at the top of the starting pitchers for the D-Backs.  

Rotation WAR

Robbie Ray 2.0

Luke Weaver 1.8

Merrill Kelly 1.5

Zac Gallen .8

Alex Young .4

The Diamondbacks now have a proven starter at the top of their rotation. They addition of Bumgarner makes the trade market for Robbie Ray a lot better.   The impending free agent has the upside to miss bats that most contending teams are going to want to acquire. Arizona has pitching depth in the minor league system so moving Ray with the addition of Bumgarner will allow Arizona to get the depth the need at first base or the outfield.  The signing of Bumgarner has opened up the possibilities for Arizona, they improved their #1 starter and opened up the market for to continue improving their roster.  

Rangers get an Ace

The Texas Rangers have made their counter move in the stacked AL West adding former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber for basically some guys on a spreadsheet.  This deal seemed like a recreation of the Moneyball scene where Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt just threw out a few names to pick up a reliever.  

The Cleveland Indians picked up Delino Deshields Jr. and Emmanuel Clase. Clase is the player that brings the most interest in this trade. Clase is a 21 years old and possesses potential dominant stuff including a 100 MPH cutter.  Clase projects as a future relief option for the Indians. He still has only reached the High A level but immediately jumps into the top 30 prospect list for Cleveland. 

Now let’s talk about what the Rangers got in Corey Kluber.  The Rangers had starting pitching issues all season in 2019 and they were set on reworking their rotation.  Kluber has become the marquee name along with Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson. Those three will join Mike Minor and Lance Lynn making a rotation that can immediately make an impact in the loaded AL West. Kluber is coming off a lost season, dealing with multiple stints on the injured list but the upside he brings is well worth what is ultimate cost was.  While the Indians found him expendable the Rangers have a chance to push themselves into the playoff hunt with a healthy new ace of the staff. We tend to forget that 2018 Kluber won 20 games and added a 5.5WAR.  

Who did better?

Arizona and Texas both have tough divisions to deal with.  The NL West is still the Dodgers and the AL West is still the Astros until further notice.  Both teams were able to add impact starters for little cost. I am going to call Diamondbacks the winner of these two trades  Bumgarner allows the flexibilty to fill in any and all needs they may have. Kluber is a huge move for the Rangers but they still have a lot of work to do to contend for even a wild card spot in the American League.  If the D-Backs decide to hold on to Ray or move Ray they should have the rotational pieces that will make them a force to contend with in the National League.

Three Potential Targets for MadBum

Madison Bumgarner looks to be on the move during the upcoming trade deadline. The Giants lefty has craft fully dictate who he will go to. This trend can and should be motivation for other prominent stars moving forward. Rather than exercising a full NTC and perhaps limiting the length and value of their current contract, they should strategically pick some teams likely to be in contention for years to come in hopes of controlling their own narrative when the time comes.  If Bumgarner doesn’t decide to wave the no-trade clause there are still some teams that could be a good fit for him and the Giants.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays continue to baffle the baseball world.  They shouldn’t be that good with a payroll that Bryce Harper could cover with the first three years of his current contract.  Still the Rays find ways to make it work.  Great scouting, smart signings along with management team that seems to understand the puzzle of an MLB roster to perfection won 97 games during the 2018 season. The Rays still hold a top-rated farm system, ranking #2 behind only the San Diego Padres (more from them later). The Rays would be an ideal partner for the Giants as they have a core of intriguing position players to go along with a batch of young arms that are expendable.

Players like 1st baseman Nate Lowe, SS Lucius Fox could be a building blocks for a potential package while throwing in a pitcher like Matthew Liberatore.  Fox and Libertore rank in the top 55 in all of baseball and top ten in the Rays system.  A potential throw in like the once highly touted RHP Jose De Leon could very easily make close the deal.

Tampa Bay has the flexibility to move a few prospects to add to an already stellar rotation.  With the uncertainty of the return of Tyler Glasnow, Bumgarner could step right into a role alongside 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell giving the Rays a top of the rotation that would be tough to match in the playoffs.

Minnesota Twins

Minnesota was able to fill in a gap that held them back in 2018: Power.  Additions like Nelson Cruz and Johnathon Schoop along with growth from Jorge Polanco have made the Twins a a potent lineup one through nine. 

While the offense has flourished the starting pitching, staff has gotten contributions from unexpected sources.  Most notably veteran Martin Perez has reinvented himself with the addition of a cutter.  Perez has given up just four runs over his last four starts averaging 6 2/3 innings per start.  Even with Perez, the Twins still have some questions in the depth of their rotation.  Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda have all been serviceable but there is still something missing at the top of the rotation.

The Twins have solidified themselves early in the first half as contenders for the AL Central crown.  Adding a veteran champion like Madison Bumgarner can fill in the gap after all- star Jose Berrios.  Minnesota also has the depth in the farm system to make this deal happen.  The Twins currently rank as the 8th best farm system in baseball according to baseball MLB Pipeline.

San Diego Padres

This is a but farfetched as I don’t see the Giant moving Bumgarner within the division but if they would the Padres would be an ideal target for them.  San Diego has the farm system to make this deal as well as the location and money to sign Bumgarner long term.  Signing Manny Machado allows the flexibility with prospects Luis Arias and Xavier Edwards.  Two potential pieces that have become expendable for the organization. The Padres also have. Large number of young arms that have been on the way for a long time that could be moved for a potential ace to work with the young pitchers that have continued to develop like Joey Lucchessi and of course the talented Chris Paddack.