Posted: Thursday February 16, 2006 12:59PM; Updated: Tuesday February 21, 2006 3:58PM
The Giants' trio of Barry Bonds, Randy Winn and Moises Alou could put up some huge numbers in '06 if everyone stays healthy. True, there are problems elsewhere. Shortstop Omar Vizquel is closing in on 39 years old, and he faded badly in the second half of '05 (.229 after the All-Star break, with just a .318 on-base percentage). Third baseman Pedro Feliz was worse (.217, .271 on-base after the break). And remember, those are key guys who hit near the top of the order. Still, it's hard to argue with any lineup that features a healthy Bonds.
The Dodgers lost big right-hander Jeff Weaver to free agency, but they gained a couple of could-be-good starters in their wild winter, notably Jae Seo (who went 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 14 starts with the Mets) and Brett Tomko (who struggled last year in San Francisco but is not as bad as that 8-15, 4.48 ERA indicates). The top of the rotation consists of Derek Lowe and Brad Penny, two big right-handers who never have lived up to their ace-type status. If those two can put in the innings, though, and newcomers Seo and Tomko hold their own, the Dodgers should have the best rotation in a division lacking in top-notch starters.
Every one of the contenders took a hit in the bullpen this winter. The Padres lost Akinori Otsuka, Rudy Seanez and Chris Hammond. The Giants lost Scott Eyre and LaTroy Hawkins. The Dodgers lost Duaner Sanchez and Giovanni Carrara. The Dodgers recovered nicely, though, in a trade that brought them former Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez and former All-Star Lance Carter. Those two guys should be thrilled to play in L.A., if for no other reason than to get out of the American League East. Plus, closer Eric Gagne should be healthy and back with his old stuff.
Simple. If Barry Bonds is Barry Bonds, the Giants are in and Bonds is the reason why. But, just for argument's sake, let's put Brian Giles' name in for consideration. The Padres' right fielder hit .301 with 15 homers and 83 RBIs last season, and his .423 on-base percentage was third in the NL, behind Todd Helton and Albert Pujols. (Giles' 119 walks were the most in the majors.) He's what makes the Padres' offense -- what there is of it, anyway -- go.
Jake Peavy made 30 starts through bruises and infections and other various maladies -- including some fractured ribs he suffered in a celebration when the Padres won the NL West title -- and still came out with 13 wins, a 2.88 ERA and the league lead in strikeouts. So what can he do for an encore? Stay healthy, for one, maybe win the West again, maybe pick up the Cy Young ... and, this time, watch those celebrations.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Josh Barfield, the son of former major leaguer Jesse Barfield, hit .310 with 15 homers and 72 RBIs in 137 games last season for the Padres' Class AAA Portland farm team. So this spring Barfield will get a chance to beat out veteran Mark Bellhorn for the starting job at second base. Nobody's expecting immediate stardom for the 23-year-old. If he makes the team, he's likely to be pushed way down in the lineup. But he's shown some promise and some pop, and the Padres need both of those badly.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Again, Bonds is it, if he's healthy. He'll get a little publicity, too, with that chase of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron going on. But you have to give consideration here to the Dodgers' J.D. Drew, too, who played in only 72 games last year after a career-high 145 in Atlanta the year before. If Drew stays healthy -- he hit .305 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs for the Braves in '04 -- the Dodgers can ride him a long way.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Mike Piazza behind the plate in San Diego. Johnny Estrada catching in Phoenix. Nomar Garciaparra at first base in L.A., Matt Morris in San Francisco. Mike Cameron with the Padres. All interesting new faces in new places. But the most important NL West newcomer may be shortstop Rafael Furcal, who will lead off for the Dodgers, setting up the likes of Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew. If Furcal hits and gets on (he has a career .348 on-base percentage), he'll make a huge difference.