2012 could prove to be one of the tightest races the NL West has ever seen, with no team in the division taking an obvious step back or tremendous step forward this offseason. As for the San Francisco Giants, they'll certainly have to earn it if the want the NL West title this season.
Some may call it a crapshoot, but I call it good old-fashioned baseball, hopefully going down to the final out on the final game on the final day of the season. Here's a closer look at each team's offseason moves and my predictions from first to worst during the 2012 campaign:
San Francisco Giants
2011 record: 86-76, 2012 prediction: 95-67, 1st place in NL West
SUBTRACTIONS: OF Andres Torres (traded to Mets), RHP Ramon Ramirez (traded to Mets), LHP Jonathan Sanchez (traded to Royals), INF/OF Mark DeRosa (free agent, signed with Nationals), RF Carlos Beltran (free agent, signed with Cardinals), OF Cody Ross (free agent, signed with Red Sox), 2B Jeff Keppinger (free agent, signed with Rays), LF Pat Burrell (retired), SS Orlando Cabrera (retired).
The Carlos Beltran experiment last season didn't turn out the way the Giants had hoped, and spent the offseason cleaning some house, aided but some players retirement like Pat Burrell and Orlando Cabrera. The additions of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera help bring some speed and production to the plate and the outfield of AT&T Park, though it will be pitching that will carry this team once more.
Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain both signed new contracts with the team, keeping their one-two punch intact for two more seasons at least, but with Barry Zito being Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong starting the season with some back issues, rotational depth is certainly a concern for the Black and Orange.
The main cog offensively will be be Buster Posey, and how well he can perform/maintain throughout the season with his surgically repaired ankle. It hasn't seemed to cause him any problems this spring, but will likely have to share some time at first base and get some extra days off during the season because of it. Pablo Sandoval had an All-Star caliber year last season, one of the lone bright spots for the offense in 2011. But the Giants still scored the fewest runs in the NL last year, so the sky's the limit for improvement there.
Freddy Sanchez's return from shoulder surgery, Brandon Belt's playing time and Aubrey Huff's hopeful bounce-back from a not-so-good 2011 will certainly play large parts of the team's success as well, but if the Giants want to make the playoffs, they'll have to get it done on the mound more than the batters box.
2011 record: 94-68, 2012 prediction: 92-70 2nd in NL West
SUBTRACTIONS: RHP Jarrod Parker (traded to A's), OF Collin Cowgill (traded to A's), RHP Ryan Cook (traded to A's), RHP Jason Marquis (free agent, signed with Twins), LHP Zack Duke (free agent, signed minor league deal with Astros), RHP Micah Owings (free agent, signed minor league deal with Padres), 1B/LF Xavier Nady (signed with Nationals)
Kirk Gibson and his D-backs snuck up on everybody a bit in 2011, blowing past the rest of the NL West with a stellar second half of the season. They won't be sneaking up on anybody in 2012 though, especially with their improved pitching staff.
The additions of Cahill, Breslow and Saito will certainly help shore up their rotation, joining ace Ian Kenedy and hatchet-man Josh Collmenter. Pair that with guys like Chris Young, Miguel Montero, Justin Upton and youngster Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup, they certainly won't struggle much for offense at hitter friendly Chase Field, the 5th best NL park to hit homers last year according to ESPN the Mag.
Arizona only got better after 2011 on paper, but can guys like Ryan Roberts repeat their career years' of 2011? Something tells me Kirk Gibson will keep his team from complacency and towards the top of the division once more.
2011 record 82-79, 2012 prediction: 87-75 3rd in NL West
ADDITIONS: LHP Chris Capuano (free agent from Mets), RHP Aaron Harang (free agent from Padres), UTL Jerry Hairston Jr. (free agent from Brewers), INF Adam Kennedy (free agent from Mariners), C Matt Treanor (free agent from Royals), 2B Mark Ellis (free agent from Rockies), C Josh Bard (minor league free agent from Mariners).
SUBTRACTIONS: 3B Casey Blake (free agent, signed with Rockies), RHP Jonathan Broxton (free agent, signed with Royals), INF Jamey Carroll (free agent, signed with Twins), C Rod Barajas (free agent, signed with Pirates), LHP Dana Eveland (traded to Orioles), RHP Hiroki Kuroda (free agent, signed with Yankees), RHP Vicente Padilla (free agent, signed minor league deal with Red Sox).
L.A. enjoyed a improved second half of 2011 thanks largely in part to guys like Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, but also a number of younger players making small time salaries and big time plays on the diamond. Now with new ownership in place and some slight tweaks to the lineup, the Dodgers believe they are ready to win once more.
Dee Gordon will be a large part of the Dodgers success, as will guys like Andre Eithier and James Loney, because if these guys aren't producing, much of the offensive burden lands on Kemp, who certainly can't do everything. Veteran additions like Aaron Harang and Mark Ellis could prove to pay dividends in 2012, and utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. is a solid glove just about anywhere you shove him.
But just how important are Kemp and Kershaw to the Dodgers? They had a combined 17.0 WAR in 2011 according to baseball reference, so I'd say they're pretty crucial. The Dodger revival might not completely take hold in 2012, but they've certainly built the foundation for years to come.
2011 record 73-89, 2012 Prediction: 85-73, 4th in NL West
ADDITIONS: INF/OF Michael Cuddyer (free agent from Twins), OF Tyler Colvin (trade with Cubs), INF DJ LeMahieu (trade with Cubs), RHP Tyler Chatwood (trade with Angels), C Ramon Hernandez (free agent from Reds), RHP Guillermo Moscoso (trade with A's), LHP Josh Outman (trade with A's), INF Marco Scutaro (trade with Red Sox), LHP Jamie Moyer (minor league free agent).
SUBTRACTIONS: 3B Ian Stewart (traded to Cubs), RHP Huston Street (traded to Padres), C Chris Iannetta (traded to Angels), INF/OF Ty Wigginton (traded to Phillies), 2B Mark Ellis (free agent, signed with Dodgers), LHP J.C. Romero (free agent, signed with Cardinals), RHP Aaron Cook (free agent, signed with Red Sox), 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (free agent, signed minor league deal with Royals), OF Seth Smith (traded to A's), OF Ryan Spilborghs (free agent, signed with Indians), RHP Kevin Millwood (free agent, signed minor league deal with Mariners), RHP Clayton Mortensen (traded to Red Sox).
The Rockies made a lot of offseason moves, and are still adjusting from some mid-season ones last year as well. The departure of Ubaldo Jimenez last season opened a gap in their rotation for the last half of 2011. That void was filled this spring by 49-year old journeyman Jamie Moyer as the No. 2 pitcher in rotation, an interesting change of styles to say the least.Ubaldo may not be too confortable with it yet though.
Colorado was also bombarded by injury towards the end of last season as well, with a number of players like Carlos Gonzalez (right wrist), Troy Tulowitzki (left hip), Jonathan Herrera (broken fingers), Charlie Blackmon (broken foot) and of course pitcher Juan Nicasio's incredibly scary broken neck, though all of these players should be healthy for 2012. LHP Jorge De La Rosa is still on the mend from Tommy John surgery last season, and should be ready in a month or so.
Colorado got rid of a lot of their team from 2011, like a whole lot, but the additions of veterans like Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro will help tighten up the infield while adding Ramon Hernandez could add some extra oomph to the lineup offensively as well. Look for LHP Drew Pomeranz to have a solid 2012 as well, who could be a large factor in the team's success this year as well.
Out of all the teams in the NL West this year, I foresee Colorado making the biggest improvement from 2011, basically because they have nowhere to go but up after last year's late collapse.
2011 record 71-91, 2012 prediction: 75-87, 5th in NL West
ADDITIONS: RHP Andrew Cashner (trade with Cubs), OF Carlos Quentin (trade with White Sox), RHP Edinson Volquez, 1B Yonder Alonso, RHP Brad Boxberger and C Yasmani Grandal (trade with Reds); RHP Huston Street (trade with Rockies), C John Baker (trade with Marlins), OF/1B Mark Kotsay (free agent from Brewers), RHP Micah Owings (minor league free agent from Diamondbacks).
SUBTRACTIONS: 1B Anthony Rizzo (traded to Cubs), OF Aaron Cunningham (traded to Indians), RHP Mat Latos (traded to Reds), RHP Aaron Harang (free agent, signed with Dodgers), LHP Wade LeBlanc (traded to Marlins), RHP Heath Bell (free agent, signed with Marlins), 1B-OF Brad Hawpe (free agent, signed with Rangers), RHP Chad Qualls (free agent, signed with Phillies).
The Padres pitching staff certainly took a hit as arguably their three best arms left this offseason in Aaron Harang, Mat Latos and closer Heath Bell. Acquiring bats like Carlos Quentin and youngster Yonder Alonso will certainly add more power to their lineup, while youngster Cory Leubke and closer Huston Street can take some of the sting away of losing Latos and Bell. That still leaves a lot of pressure on guys like Cameron Maybin to have outstanding seasons, especially after his big pay day.
Their farm system is seen by many as the best in baseball, and will likely have to use a few of their youngsters sometime this season if they want to try and keep up. Guys like catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Robbie Erlin will be staples for the Padres down the line, but may see some call-up work this season.
The Padrs seemingly made something out of nothing in 2010, fighting with the Giants until the last day of the season. All in all in 2012, there's still light at the end of the tunnel in San Diego, but the Padres have a ways to get to it still.
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