NL West Hot Stove forecast (cont.)
2010 Results: 80-82, 4th place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 667/692
Pythagorean Record: 78-84
Free Agents: SP Hiroki Kuroda, SP Vicente Padilla, RP Jeff Weaver, C Rod Barajas, C Brad Ausmus, OF Reed Johnson, OF Jay Gibbons
Players with Options: None remaining
Prospects on the Verge: SS Ivan DeJesus Jr.
Building For: a return to the postseason
Strengths: Bullpen, front of the rotation
Biggest Holes: Left field, back of the rotation, catcher
Targets: RF Jayson Werth, 1B Adam Dunn, C Yorvit Torreabla, SP Jorge De La Rosa, Kuroda
Though the McCourt divorce continues to hang over the team, general manager Ned Colletti said that the Dodgers will increase payroll in 2011, likely surpassing the $100 million mark once again, then set out to put that money where his mouth was by handing Ted Lilly a three-year, $33 million extension to hold down the middle of the Dodger rotation and picking up Scott Podsednik's $2 million option to serve as what is likely to be no more than a fourth outfielder for the coming season.
Still, the Dodgers may chose to pinch pennies on former All-Star catcher Russell Martin, who, coming off two miserable seasons at the plate (combined .249/.350/.330) and a season-ending hip fracture, is a serious non-tender candidate. With incumbent backstop Rod Barajas a free agent, such a move would make finding a catcher Job One for the Dodgers going forward. Victor Martinez is the big fish there, though there are several viable veteran options, including Bengie Molina, A.J. Pierzynski, Yorvit Torreabla, John Buck or a repeat engagement for Barajas, and the Dodgers could likely find a smarter way to spend their extra cash than on a 32-year-old catcher who can't stop the running game, no matter how well he hits. For the rotation, the Dodgers already have an ace in Clayton Kershaw, so the second-tier list included above for the Padres, specifically Pavano, Kuroda, and De La Rosa, applies here as well.
The Dodgers' fall in 2009 was largely due to a lineup that scored just 4.12 runs per game. As things stand right now, their best opportunity to add an impact bat is the spot vacated by Manny Ramirez in their outfield. Bringing Jayson Werth back and moving Andre Ethier to left would be the ideal way to fill that hole. However, if they want to get really daring, another route to more run production would be non-tendering James Loney, whose production has been headed the wrong way ever since his strong 2007 performance at the age of 23, and taking a run at Adam Dunn, who would bring some left-handed balance to the lineup, along with a ton of power.
2010 Results: 65-97, 5th place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 713/836
Pythagorean Record: 69-93
Free Agents: 1B Adam LaRoche (option declined) SP Brandon Webb, SP Rodrigo Lopez, SP Mike Hampton, SP Kris Benson, RP Aaron Heilman
Players with Options: None remaining
Prospects on the Verge: 1B Brandon Allen, SP Josh Collmenter, SP Matt Torra
Building For: Still hoping their young talent will coalesce
Strengths: Youth, cost control, lineup potential
Biggest Holes: Bullpen, one rotation spot
Targets: SP Jorge De La Rosa, SP Hiroki Kuroda, CL Rafael Soriano, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Koji Uehara, RP Scott Downs, RP Jeremy Affeldt, OF Jayson Werth, LF Carl Crawford
The Diamondbacks have a new general manager in long-time Padres GM Kevin Towers and have re-signed mid-season managerial replacement Kirk Gibson, giving the club a fresh management team on matching two-year contracts. That would seem to led some urgency to things given that Arizona's now-aging young core will start to hit free agency after the 2012 season. Indeed, when Towers was hired he said, "I'm not a big believer in five-year plans, six-year plans. I want to win next year and these guys want to win next year."
So how does a 65-win team from a division that produced the World Series winner go from worst to something close to first in a single offseason? Start with fixing the bullpen, which was by far the worst in the majors and in fact one of the worst in major league history, worth a negative 4.4 wins according to Baseball Prospectus's win-expectancy-based WXRL. No other bullpen was worth less than two wins on the positive side of the ledger in 2010, and the median WXRL total was about 7.4 wins, so getting the D'backs 'pen up to average could improve the team an almost unbelievable 11 wins. Working from their Pythagorean rather than actual record, that already gets the team up to 80 wins.
As for the rotation, they need to replace the departing stop-gap Rodrigo Lopez with a someone to anchor the incumbent quartet of lefty Joe Saunders and youngsters Dan Hudson, Barry Enright and Ian Kennedy. Jorge De La Rosa, whose Coors-proof strikeouts-plus-grounders recipe would also play well at Chase Field, or groundballer Hiroki Kuroda, could, when combined with an improved bullpen, be enough to help the Diamondbacks could creep back over .500.
After that, Towers could go after a big bat to replace Gerardo Parra in left or Adam LaRoche, whose option he declined, at first base. In the latter case, Brandon Allen lurks as a power-hitting in-house solution, so start with left field. It would be a better fit for Arizona go after a big thumper who would benefit from their homer-friendly ballpark, that means Jayson Werth, but Towers may prefer an option that wouldn't exacerbate the team's strikeout problem quite as much as Werth, thus Carl Crawford. Failing either of those there are plenty of options at first base from Adam Dunn down through Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee, Aubrey Huff, LaRoche himself, and Carlos Peņa, among others. The one key is that, if Towers wants to cut down on the runs his team allows, he shouldn't sacrifice defense for offense, which means no Dunn or Manny Ramirez or the like in left, and that it may not be worth investing the extra green in Dunn with slicker fielders such as Lee and Peņa available.
As for how to pay for all of this, Towers' enthusiasm doesn't scan with reports that the team is looking to keep payroll below the $75 million level it was at last year, but with Brandon Webb and Eric Byrnes among others coming off the books, they have just shy of $20 million committed for 2011, so there's still room for imports even with the lower cap. Yes, they have several key players due for multi-million-dollar arbitration awards (including Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew, Joe Saunders, and Miguel Montero), but Towers is an expert at building bullpens on the cheap (the Padres' strong unit was mostly his doing), and a second-tier starter such as Kuroda or De La Rosa shouldn't be that expensive. Besides which, Towers needs to be mindful of Type-A free agents, such as Soriano, Downs, De La Rosa, and most of the bats discussed above. If those players' former teams offer them arbitration, they will cost the D'backs their top draft picks in the talent-rich 2011 draft, which would make the total expense too much for the organization to bear in the long run, regardless of its short-term enthusiasm.