NL West Questions
Question: This team was awful last season, however they have successful experience in management in the persons of Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa. How long does it take for the Diamondbacks to be competitive in the West again?
Lee: I am sure the Diamondbacks have a plan, but some of the moves they made this offseason were odd. Their farm system is strong on pitching and weak on hitting, so of course they trade two nice hitting prospects for a number 4 or 5 starter. Strange. I like the signing of Yasmany Tomas, but seems like they are going to try him at 3B. He was a corner outfielder in Cuba. Weird. But to answer the question, IF the Diamondbacks young pitching pans out over the next couple of years with the hitting they already have, they should be ok. Of course, that’s a big if.
Todd: I give them three seasons, assuming they get some players. And they know how to do that.
Question: Will Tomas be the next great Cuban player or a disappointment?
Lee: He’s got power. Not Jose Abreu power, but that is rare. Tomas will be very good if he moves back to the outfield, but his value goes down if he sticks at third. I am not sure one can use the word “great” on a player who has never proven himself at the major league level, but the potential is there for him to be at least very good.
Todd: One scout has compared him to Kevin Mitchell, and I can see totally see that. Is that a disappointment? Your call.
Question: Considering all the injuries, was it the right move to fire Kirk Gibson, but keep both the hitting and pitching coaches?
Lee: Gibson was in over his head, and his temperament was not a good fit for this team. New manager Chad Hale is an Arizona guy. He played college baseball at Arizona. He has worked with the Diamondbacks before as well. He’s helped coach a successful A’s team over the last three years. And I don’t think the fact that he does not have major league level managerial experience matters much; we have seen guys succeed lately (Mike Matheny, Brad Ausmus…and yes, I know those guys started with teams with much more talent) who never even coached before. Hale reminds me of Joe Maddon. They are guys who know the game and make the team better. I would have chosen Hale over Gibson as well.
Todd: I’m a huge fan of Gibby, but other than the first season (Hey! Enthusiasm!) and last (Hey! We’re all hurt!), they were a .500 ballclub. So I can see the dismissal, but why keep most of the staff? Do you really want continuity here? Hell no.
Question: Better chance: Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are traded to other teams on/by July 31st or cannot be traded because they are on long-term DL?
Lee: I don’t think teams take a risk on Gonzalez because of his contract and his health. His contract on the surface looks ok, 7 years and $80 million. But it’s back-loaded. He will make $16 million this season, $17 million next season and $20 million in 2017. That is a lot of money to pay a guy who may or may not play. So, he will stay with Colorado. Tulowitzki is signed through 2021 and will make $20 million in each of the next five seasons. Still, I could see an American League team trading for him in hopes that he can still play short for the next few years and then DH on the back end. Will he get hurt? Yes. Does he produce when he plays? Yes. Especially at home.
Todd: I’ll split the difference: both are traded, and THEN wind up on the DL.
Question: Both Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa had significantly lower ERAs on the road than at home (1.5 and 2.0 runs better, respectively). How in the name of all that is holy was this possible?
Lee: Sometimes it is just a matter of comfort. However, in Chacin’s case he wasn’t very good at home either: 1-3 with a 4.55 ERA. He was just simply bad last year. And De La Rosa seems to love pitching in Denver and is therefore insane. He was 10-1 at home in 2013.
Todd: Witchcraft. I honestly don’t know. De La Rosa got lit up by the Dodgers and Giants on the road, ERA just over 7 combined, while Chacin is more a victim of a small sample size (15 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings killed him). I expect they’ll pitch better on the road, and horribly at home.
Question: Like the Diamondbacks, the Rockies seem to be in long-term trouble. If you were the GM what would you do to try to make the team better sooner?
Lee: Hope Tulo stays healthy enough to trade him for pitching. Then just be patient. The Rockies have the number 8 ranked farm system, according to Keith Law at ESPN. Three of the top six are pitchers. I think that the Rockies will be fine in three or four years, and they don’t have the parts now to attempt to speed up the process anyway.
Todd: Keep the balls in the humidor longer, and sell my soul for Cliff Lee.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Question: The new double play combo of Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins is an overall 3.5 better in WAR than last season’s duo, and even better than that defensively (combined 2.5 WAR vs. -.9). Will the improved defense get them to the World Series?
Lee: The team will be immensely improved. How could it not be with a Rollins taking over for Hanley Ramirez? Plus, Rollins stays healthy. Dee Gordon was not a bad fielder, but he could not get on base the second half of the year. Kendrick, though, is a much better and more consistent player overall. Will those two improved positions be enough to get the Dodgers to the World Series alone? Probably not. They do need to lock up Kendrick before he hits free agency this offseason, though.
Todd: Not just the improved defense of these, two, no. But it’s a big step up, and I see this as a big part of an even better Dodger squad for 2015.
Question: Will the trade for Yasmani Grandal have a bigger impact on the pitching staff, or on the offense?
Lee: A.J. Ellis is not a bad catcher. He threw out 33% of would-be base stealers. And the pitchers, especially Clayton Kershaw, really like him. Ellis will be a major league manager one day. But he is not a good hitter. And he is not great at framing pitches. Grandal, though, could hold a Master’s course in pitch framing. Of pitches that should have been called strikes, 89% were actually called that way when Grandal was catching. That is the best rate in the majors. He also is not a bad hitter. His numbers overall were not great last season, but in his last 42 games he had a .270/.373/.467 slashline with six home runs (137 at-bats). And there’s this, in the past three seasons the Padres went 99-80 when Grandal started. They were 130-177 when he did not. To answer the question, he will have a big impact on both, neither one more important than the other.
Todd: A switch-hitter with decent power, he’s a nice upgrade offensively over Ellis. Ellis remains the more productive bat against lefties, so it’s a classic platoon situation for the Dodgers. Moreover, they like how he frames the plate, so they don’t lose anything behind the plate, either. I’d say it’s an equal upgrade here, especially as Ellis can be used in a role that only amplifies his skills.
Question: Should the team trade one or two of the trio of Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias to try to get Cole Hamels (or another top end starter) to try to win this season?
Lee: First of all the new front office team of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi won’t trade any of the guys for Hamels. But should they? No. I like Hamels, but he’s a number three on this team. Urias is a potential number one and reminds people of a young Pedro Martinez. Pederson is the starter in centerfield. Seager might be the starter next season at shortstop.
Todd: I would. Since 2010, Hamels has averaged about 5.0 WAR, never lower than 4.6. He’s as sure a value as you can get for starting pitching. Yes.
San Diego Padres
Question: Wow. The Padres made a lot of moves no one expected. How much better, if at all, are they than last season?
Lee: This team will strike out a lot and play not-good defense. But it will score runs. The Padres ranked 30th last season in runs scored, and that won’t happen this year. If Matt Kemp stays healthy, and with the additions of Justin Upton and Wil Myers and James Shields plus the pitching that was already in place, the team will definitely be improved. The Padres won 77 last season, and I see them winning 85 this year.
Todd: They’re clearly better at the plate and in the outfield. Is that enough, though?
Question: Can the new outfield hit enough in this park to get this team into contention?
Lee: PETCO is a big park, and the home run numbers might not be there, but the one thing Kemp, Myers and Upton can do is hit. Yes, the outfield will hit enough for the team to be in playoff contention.
Todd: It’s definitely an upgrade, but it isn’t exactly Belle, Lofton and Ramirez. Or Henderson, Murphy and Armas. Or – fill in the blank with your favorite trio. This group isn’t quite it. Again, the new OF is a nice upgrade, but the Padres need more than this.
Question: Better chance: the team finishes fourth or wins the division?
Lee: The defense is bad. The pitching and hitting are good, though. The Padres are clearly better than the Rockies and Diamondbacks. That said, if Kemp gets hurt, Myers’ numbers stay mediocre like last year and Upton decides to strike out 200 times, then the team will not meet expectations. Still better than Colorado and Arizona, however.
Todd: Better chance to win. And I only say that because I could see injuries causing big problems for the Dodgers, rather than the Rockies and D’Backs miraculously becoming decent teams. I’d put the odds at 20% chance in first, 15% in fourth.
San Francisco Giants
Question: Bearing in mind that the Panda, Pablo Sandoval, was never a superstar in the regular season (let’s not mention the postseason, ever again), how much does replacing him with Casey McGehee hurt the team?
Lee: It hurts mostly because the Giants will make the postseason (sorry!) and Sandoval was a good player to have then. But it hurts in the regular season too. McGehee is not a terrible player, but he does not hit for power and isn’t the fielder the Panda is. Really, though, McGehee is more likely a one year rental and the Giants are looking elsewhere next offseason. (Which might work well for McGehee because he seems to be on track to play for every team in the majors before he is done.)
Todd: They’ll miss the power, but they won’t be in the postseason anyway, so it won’t be Panda time. 2016, they need an upgrade, as they’ll be back in the playoffs.
Question: If you could have Madison Bumgarner or Clayton Kershaw, which one would you take?
Lee: If this question was simply about the postseason and it was phrased as, “Bumgarner or any other pitcher?” then the answer would probably be Bumgarner, and not solely based on last postseason. However, you have to play the regular season to get to the playoffs, and Kershaw is the best pitcher in the regular season and has been for several years. Bumgarner is a very good pitcher, of course, but he is not Kershaw.
Todd: Kershaw. I think the postseason questions will be answered. Bumgarner is a helluva pitcher, but Kershaw – is there a Beastmode in baseball? Yes, yes there is.
Question: Who are the biggest question marks in their rotation?
Lee: Everyone after Bumgarner. Will Matt Cain or Jake Peavy stay healthy? Will Tim Lincecum consistently throw strikes? How much does Tim Hudson have left? Are there too many starters named Tim? But it’s the Giants. The rotation after Bumgarner will go 27-89 and somehow the Giants will make a deep run in the playoffs.
Todd: Two for me. Can Peavy come close to last season’s surprising performance, and can Lincecum manage to not throw his arm clean off his shoulder? My guess is no for both.
*-denotes playoff team