Exhibition games in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are beginning to get under way as we enter March and the peak of 2015 Spring Training. As the major sprees of the off-season are behind us, and arbitration settlements slowly shrinking within every clubhouse, now is the time we recap the big moves and questionable calls that have etched the foundations of an exciting 2015 regular season. Edward Overend wrote a stellar piece recently upon the Top 20 moves of the baseball off-season; I follow up this write up with an outlook of all 30 teams’ individual off-season performances, in which we finally conclude with the National League West.
Big contract signings, key arbitration agreements, crushing departures via free agency and monumental trades shall all be summarised within a single grade. Who do I think struck gold and orchestrated the A-grade winter; who succumbed to the pressure and withered in the corner for a D-grade disaster; we break down each team by division, offering an early look at the state of each division heading into Spring training. (Note: statistics in brackets denotes 2014 regular season; batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage; pitching win-loss record, earned run average)
Arizona Diamondbacks: D+
All the way back in late September, Dave Stewart was hired to be the new General Manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks, replacing the recently dismissed Kevin Towers in attempts to ride the organization to great prospers. Follow that with the hiring of fiery new skipper Chip Hale in October, and the Diamondbacks completed their front office overhaul that was desperately needed after a 64-98 record in 2014. Under the watchful eye of former team-mate and current Chief of Baseball Operations Tony La Russa, Stewart’s first offseason in the desert saw a mixture of unfortunate setbacks and tough departures to once-key contributors. Despite a bulk of veteran talent stripped from last season, the Diamondbacks have a refreshed persona, with prosperous youth as their main agenda.
No personnel change reflects this more than the trading of All-Star C Miguel Montero (243/329/370) to the Chicago Cubs. If anything else, this was a contract-shredding manoeuvre. Letting go of three years and $40 million worth of salary was enough to let the veteran backstop go in exchange for just two low-level prospects (Jeferson Meija and Zack Godley). From the outset, Montero’s replacement for the D-backs showcased a complete failure in following through this trade: they signed no one. But, at a closer look, the decision to let the back-up Catcher Tuffy Gosewisch (225/242/310) take the reigns with prospect Oscar Hernandez (acquired from Tampa with Rule 5 draft pick in 2014) waiting in the wings was a low-risk, high potential move. The 31-year old late bloomer Gosewisch, while lacklustre at the plate, was a stellar defensive contributor in 2014, producing a .996 fielding percentage and a range factor of 8.26. He also presents a strong arm behind the plate after tallying an impressive 42% caught-stealing rate in 282 innings last season.
There is a huge bundle of potential within the backstop position right now in Arizona, showcased by the sudden rise in notoriety of young C Peter O’Brien, who is starting to show the organization his devastating power at the plate during Spring Training workouts. In the long haul this is a great shift in direction at the position for the organization, although it will be uncomfortable to start off with; not having Montero and his 72 RBI’s from last year will take a good amount out of the offense to start the season.
2015 will see SS Chris Owings (261/300/406) reclaim his starting position after being ousted by promising youngster Didi Gregorius (226/290/363) during last season. Gregorius was part of a very notable trade that sent him to the Yankees and becoming the top candidate to replace retired SS Derek Jeter. Trading the 24-year old Gregorius ticked many boxes for the Diamondbacks this winter in regards to generating value for their clubhouse. While he does show a lot of promise as a middle-infielder, particularly in his glove (4.45 RF in 2014), Gregorius’s batting numbers were not overly impressive during his 80 appearances last season. The three-team trade that featured Gregorius to New York saw pitching prospect Robbie Ray and Dominican infielder Domingo Leyba head to the desert. While he lacks the abilities in the field to Gregorius, Owings is a far more productive contributor at the plate, showcased by his .406 slugging percentage; ranking 5th amongst all qualified players in that department.
The Diamondbacks got a whole lot of slugging when they made the biggest international signing of the offseason; 24-year old Yasmany Tomas departed his native La Habana in Cuba and joined the D-backs on a six-year, $68.5 million deal in late November. Tomas joins the likes of recent defects Rusney Castillo (Red Sox), Joe Abreu (White Sox) and Yasiel Puig (Dodgers) in a dominating wave of Cuban talent into the major leagues. Tomas spent five seasons for the Industriales of La Habana in the Cuban National Series, in which he solidified himself as one of the top sluggers in the country. He has hit slugging percentages of .580 in 2011, and .538 in 2012, and has a career OPS of .849 in Cuba. Some would question the decision to slot Tomas at third-base; being such an important infield position, considering that the Diamondbacks already have promising lefty-hitting 3B Jack Lamb at the helm. But this is simply Dave Stewart spreading out his top talent across the starting line-up; Tomas needed to break away from the outfield in Arizona because of the talent currently occupying it (Trumbo, Peralta, Pollock). It’s also notable the Tomas doesn’t showcase a lot of speed and agility in the outfield, and from a physical standpoint (6ft 4, 230 lbs) his big frame sees third-base as a natural fit. This is a win-win for the Diamondacks; the transition of Tomas to the hot-corner will undoubtedly create a rather large chip of the young shoulders of Lamb.
Lamb, the 6th-ranked highest prospect in the Diamondbacks’ organization, is reporting to Spring Training in great shape, with a hard work ethic and a drive to get attention for his battle for a spot on the major league roster. His left-handed bat will go a very long way for the Diamondbacks, even if it’s coming off the bench if he does indeed get somewhat lost in the shuffle as Tomas learns third-base. Their only other lefty bat in the infield is switch-hitting IF Cliff Pennington (.250 against left-handed pitching in 2014), who continues to fall deeper into the bench. Lamb will be counted on a lot throughout the season, even if he is forced to start in the minor leagues come April. If Tomas either struggles against right-handed pitchers, or is falling behind in defensive production, Lamb will be the go-to guy on the hot-corner. Skipper Chip Hale can always, at the drop of a dime, move Tomas back into the outfield and provide a rotational scheme from there.
One would wonder why Tomas wasn’t signed into the Diamondbacks organization sooner? After all, his last playing season was in 2013; a very long period of time since his last competitive tenure. You can thank the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for prolonging his unblocked status until last summer, after Tomas and others established temporary residency in Haiti. The wonders of escaping a country, all for the good of baseball.
Pitching was the biggest downfall for the Diamondbacks last year; first through poor performances on the mound, and then costly injuries derailed their 2014 season. The states of starters Patrick Corbin, who missed the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John Surgery, and Bronson Arroyo (7-4, 4.08 ERA), who underwent the same surgery in July, were the biggest concerns heading into the new year. Although there has been optimism around their recoveries, especially with the 2013 All-Star Corbin, both starters are still projected to miss at least the first 2 months of the season.
Dave Stewart was very wise in adding more young talent on the mound, despite the D-backs influx of young pitchers last summer (rookie Chase Anderson and former-Yankee Vidal Nuno). In early December, Arizona made a big trade with Boston; sending future ace pitcher Wade Miley (8-12, 4.24 ERA) for a duo of prosperous youngsters in Allen Webster (5-3, 5.03 ERA) and Rubby de le Rosa (4-8, 4.43 ERA). In Miley departs their most talent, endurable pitcher (only pitcher to pitch over 200 innings for Arizona in 2014). But what they get in return could turn out to be double the fun of Wade Miley leading the rotation. The ‘Corporan’ de la Rosa has already had a few major-league tenures under his belt with the Dodgers and Red Sox. He offers top-end velocity in his fastball (up to 100mph), as well as a nasty slider. The road to the major leagues has not been pretty for Corporan; coming off Tommy John Surgery in 2011 and having tenures as a relief pitcher to work on his craft. He finally got a crack at the rotation with the Sox in 2013, and has produced to a solid level since his stay.
Allen Webster shows a lot of potential as a top-end starter in the rotation; don’t let the bloated ERA number deceive you of his abilities. His HR/9 ratio of just 0.5 is very impressive, considering having to pitch predominantly at Fenway Park (only 2 HR given up through 120 AB’s at Home). At Chase Field, Webster will get a lot more outfield to work with as he entices more fly-outs to trim down his ERA from last season. At 25-years old, Webster is in prime position to break out and soar through the rotation, although be it with more aggression towards the batter at the plate (just 5.5 strikeout rate in 2014). Webster and Corporan join a long ling of potential starting pitchers, and that’s excluding the injured Corbin and Arroyo.
After an injury-marred 2014 campaign, the D-backs signed former Gold Glove SP Jeremy Hellickson (1-5, 4.52 ERA) to a one-year, $4.28 million deal in November. The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year winner heads into Chase Field as a serious option to lead the rotation in 2015. But, he must drastically turn around his slump in production since his Glove Glove-winning season in 2012. His WHIP ballooned to 1.44 last year, and 2013 saw his ERA stretch out to an ugly 5.17 ERA. That being said, his veteran presence, as well as his defensive abilities (career .972 fielding percentage) are valuable for an organization that will need leadership at the top of the rotation. Josh Collmenter (11-9, 3.46 ERA) is the current shoe-in to be the ace come Opening Day. The ‘Tomahawk’ made an excellent transition from being a key relief pitcher from previous years into being a starter in 2014; highlighted by his complete game shut-out of the Reds (4-0) on May 30th.
Even with Corbin and Arroyo out until June, Arizona’s rotation looks promising enough to receive some major development as 2015 goes along. Their 3rd and final pitcher currently on the shelf, heralded RP David Hernandez, is reportedly on the verge of making significant progress on his recovery of Tommy John Surgery from last Spring Training. He is still scheduled to miss the first month of 2015, but the projected future closer still has time left to make up for lost ground in the bullpen.
As constant young talent dominate the major league scene in the desert this Spring Training, it’s easy to forget one former D-backs star pitcher who has essentially fallen off the earth. Nearly 800 days ago, Daniel Hudson was the face of the Diamondbacks organization. Then came his first Tommy John surgery on July 9th, 2012. And then another Tommy John surgery on June 18th, 2013. He joined the blacklist of double-Tommy John pitchers, and was nearly wiped out of significance. September 3rd last year saw Daniel Hudson make his long-awaited return on the mound for the D-backs; he pitched in relief against the Padres and a recorded a clean 1-2-3 inning, which triggered a huge ovation from the Padres’ crowd. Hudson’s road to recovery will hit a climatic point this Spring Training, as he hopes to fend off a sea of prospects and young starters towards reclaiming a spot on the Arizona rotation.
The Diamondbacks’ new front office regime made significant strides towards establishing the future for this struggling organization. The talent to compete is not there right now, especially when it comes to their pitching. But it is here right now as well, reserved for future seasons in which we will no doubt receive a spectacular preview during the 2015 season. Yasmany Tomas was the pinnacle of the winter in the desert, and he will join centre stage with Goldschmidt, Trumbo, Pollock and Peralta as the new identity of the Diamondbacks. It won’t be pretty, but the struggles will soon turn into fireworks at Chase Field before it is all said and done.
Colorado Rockies: D-
Not even the cold could stop the Rockies from unravelling this offseason. For the Mile High faithful, this winter period could have produced a much different outcome if the hottest rumours were followed through. Unfortunately, potential deals fell flat, and now the Rockies find themselves on the crossroads between contending or rebuilding. In the fall, young, fresh-faced Jeff Bridich was promoted to General Manager for the Colorado Rockies, replacing the resigned Dan O’Dowd in the process. Bridich has kept very much in-house this winter, perhaps too much considering the mass of potential within trading his top stars and finally hitting the club’s biggest needs.
To either the joy or utter dismay of Colorado fans, their two biggest trade chips still remain at Coors Field. Rumours have been non-stop since November regarding the potential trading of SS Troy Tulowitzki and RF Carlos Gonzalez. The speculation surrounding a blockbuster trade by the Mets for Troy and Car-Go have been the most notable match this offseason, but is becoming more unlikely as we head deeper into Spring Training. Injuries have been an influence towards the downfall of potential deals, as both star players ended their 2014 campaigns by having surgery. There’s always a possibility that these two teams can negotiate heading into the midseason and the July trade deadline, as the prospect of acquiring top-prospect pitching for at least one of their two stars would be very appealing for the Rockies. With Tulowitzki being owed a colossal $114 million through to 2020, as well as Gonzalez being owed $53 million through to 2018; Colorado can free up a mountain’s worth of budget space in which they can direct towards acquiring pitchers. This is arguably the main factor behind their lack of acquiring top pitching talent within the past few offseasons, including the one just gone.
A sequence of offseason events have put C Wilin Rosario on the brink of being both on the starting line-up and a contributor to the organization, and has most certainly made him a viable trading option for the Rockies. Early January saw C Nick Hundley (243/273/358) being penned to a 2-year, £6 million deal. Hundley was the leading Catcher for the Orioles during the second half of the 2014 season, replacing the injured Matt Weiters as the full-time backstop. He will head to Coors Field as the lead candidate for the full-time Catcher’s duties. If that wasn’t enough to throw Rosario off the bus, the solid 2014 campaign made by back-up C Michael McKenry puts the former in no-man’s land. McKenry has no more club options remaining, and cannot be sent down to Triple-A without passing waivers. Febraury saw Rosario’s arbitration case soundly defeated by the Rockies, settling for $2.8 million over the requested $3.3 million after a down year in 2014, making his trade status more appealing due to the lowered salary. It’s fair to say that Rosario’s days at Coors Field are numbered. His only realistic place on the 25-man roster is backing up 1B Justin Morneau (another Rockie who wasn’t traded), who for a player that racked up 410 plate appearances and 54 RBI last year, would be a serious step down in production.
2014 saw the Rockies’ pitching staff record the league’s worst team ERA of 4.87, a league-worst 24 saves and 173 Home Runs allowed; a trifecta that reflects the common fiasco on the mound at Coors Field. Eventually one needs to look past the factors of thin air and the altitude of 1600 meters; even with denser baseballs to play around with, talent will always be the determining factor in the success of the Rockies’ pitching staff. Yet another season pitted at the bottom of the pitching pile adds a more frustrating spectrum towards the lack of big trades in Colorado this winter.
From the current rotation, only three pitchers from 2014 can be truly deemed starter-worthy. Current ace Jorge De La Rosa (14-11, 4.10 ERA) was rewarded a two-year, $25 million extension back in September after doing a fantastic job in maintaining a low home run ratio (under 1.0 since 2013), as well as reducing the amount of hits against him on the mound (7.9 in 2014). the 34-year old will no doubt be the Opening day starter for a second consecutive year. Alongside the solid veteran will be one of the developed young guns in left-hander Tyler Matzek (6-11, 4.05 ERA). Matzek will be heading into his first full major league season in 2015 after producing a good rookie campaign, that was capped off with a stellar finish in the summer (1.90 ERA in final seven starts). Despite slowly progressing in the minor leagues since 2009, Matzek is coming into Spring Training with a lot of optimism and expectation.
SP Jordan Lyles, who was an acquisition in the Dexter Fowler trade to the Astros in 2013, pitched to a fine level in his first season at Coors Field, and kept his home run ratio below 1.0 (0.9). The 24-year old is sure fit in the back-end of the rotation, surprisingly entering his fifth major league season. Incumbent 2014 starter Franklin Morales (6-9, 5.37 ERA) was let go during the winter, and was recently signed to a minor-league deal with the Kansas City Royals. SP Jhoulys Chacin suffered a catastrophic 2014 campaign, lasting only 11 starts before being shut down via shoulder injury. There seems to be optimism surrounding the health of the former Opening Day starter, and the Rockies are hoping that a regain in health can also ignite a regain in form from 2013 (3.47 ERA, 0.5 HR/9). It’s worth noting that Chacin is sporting a career 3.78 ERA, all of which earned within the confines of Coors Field.
The issue with the Rockies’ pitching staff heading into 2015 is more obvious now that the surviving cast of 2014 has been laid out: where’s the right-handed pitching? Chacin is a big risk heading into 2015; Lyles is still young is yet to step up to a top-end role in the rotation. When your two most potential starters are both left-handed, in a hitting environment such as Coors Field, you can easily forecast the outcome. Their only winter signing to make the starting rotation would be Kyle Kendrick (10-13, 4.61 ERA), who signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal. Kendrick spent his entire career in the Phillies’ organization, and has a recent track record of being durable (at least 182 innings in 2013 and 2014), but has struggled in his appearances at Coors Field (5.26 ERA in 37 2/3 innings). Kendrick can slide into the #4 or #5 role in the rotation, but it is not the answer towards providing a top-end, right-handed pitcher. It’s worth noting that former SP Tyler Chatwood (1-0, 4.50 ERA) is still recovering from his Tommy John surgery back in early July, and is hopeful to return to the mound after the All-Star break.
GM Jeff Bridich did go out and acquire depth behind a somewhat patchy rotation, being on the heels of an injury-plagued 2014 season. Former Braves’ right-handed pitchers David Hale and Guss Schlosser were traded to the Rockies in exchange for minor-league catchers Jose Briceno and Chris O’Dowd in late January. Hale is the potential goldmine in this deal; pitching in 45 games and compiling a 3.30 ERA last season, he can certainly work his way into the rotation but can easily start off as a relief pitcher. Schlosser pitched in Triple-A last year, and compiled a 4.18 ERA in 25 games (15 starts). Veteran left-hander John Lannon was signed over the offseason to provide some left-handed depth, although he has suffered some major regression since being used in limited duties (5.33 ERA, 13 starts in 2013; 15.75 ERA, 3 games in 2014).
Chad Bettis (9.12 ERA, 2.1 WHIP), Christian Bergman (5.93 ERA) and Yohan Flande (5.19 ERA) are three struggling youngsters that need to turn things around if they want to have a shot at breaking the starting rotation during the 2015 season, especially since the real excitement in the Rockies’ organization comes right after them. #3 pitching prospect Eddie Butler (1-1, 6.75 ERA) made his major league debut in September last season, and has a lot of promise heading into 2015. His only red flag is the notably low strikeout rate (1.7 SO/9); look for Butler to start in the minor leagues and work on his pitching command to really utilise his repertoire. #6 pitching prospect Tyler Anderson, heading into Spring Training with injury issues that have caught up from earlier in his career, shows a lot of potential after posting an impressive 1.98 ERA in Double-A Tulsa in 2014. If he can shake off the recent injury bug, we can undoubtedly see Anderson in the big leagues come the second half of the year. Another hopeful for the future to keep an eye on is #4 prospect Kyle Freeland, who was the 2014 first round pick for the Rockies. His 1.15 ERA in 39 innings between Rookie-League Grand Junction and Single-A Asheville recently earned him a spot on several 2015 Top 100 prospect boards, including MLB.com, ESPN and Baseball Prospectus.
Topping off the prosperous talent waiting in the farm system is current #1 Rockies’ prospect and top 15 MLB prospect in right-hander Jon Gray. Gray’s first professional season was spent in Double-A Tulsa, posting a stellar 3.91 ERA and making an instant impact so far up the minor league system. Gray is the kind of pitcher that can blow the doors off within a minor-league affiliate, most likely Double-A New Britain or Triple-A Albuquerque for 2015. It won’t be a shocker to see Gray enter the major-league scene late into 2015; like in 2014, look for this top prospect pitcher to exceed expectations and really accelerate his development.
The excitement ensuing within the farm system will no doubt make 2016 a very promising year in regards to pitching. Nonetheless, there could have been so much more done in the short-term to provide a fundamental step forward at the top level. The Rockies’ starting rotation is still flawed, and lacking talent that can lead the next wave of prospects once they reach the major league level. But the bullpen has technically gone backwards since their horrendous 2014 season. The Rockies ranked 29th in bullpen ERA (4.79) and joint 29th for home run rate (1.06 HR/9) to match their equally disastrous home-run/fly-ball rate (12.6%). Matt Belisle is the only full-time contributor from 2014 who has departed (Cardinals), with no notable additions bought in to bolster the struggling bullpen. CP LaTroy Hawkins (3.31 ERA, 23 SV) will lead the bullpen charge once more in 2015. Tommy Kalne (4.19 ERA) and Adam Ottavino (3.60 ERA) will be the set-up men once more, and behind them lie a mass of raw, erratic bullpen arms like Rex Brothers (5.59 ERA) and Boone Logan (6.84 ERA, 2.2 HR/9). Acquire all the low-key starting depth and anticipate prospects, but the organization needs relievers to finish games and maintain leads. Look for very little of that in 2015.
To round off this erratic offseason for the Rockies is the notable addition of former Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso (242/333/311), signed on a two-year, $3.6 million deal. Descalso spent five seasons with the Cardinals, who saw more limited playing time at Busch Stadium due to the rise of young infielders Kolton Wong and Matt Carpenter. He is also coming off a down year in regards to power in 2014, failing to hit a home run in his 161 at-bats, and producing the rare feat of a slugging percentage (.311) lower than his on-base percentage (.333). A very versatile infielder, Descalso can virtually play every position in the infield, predominantly at 2B and SS. His role as a utility infielder comes on the heels of former starting 2B and temporary SS Josh Rutledge departing to the Angels of Anaheim this winter. The other major noteworthy departure within the starting line-up from 2014 was injury-hit OF Michael Cuddyer, who was signed by the New Yorks Mets in November.
Jeff Bridich’s maiden offseason as GM saw more starting talent leave the organization than what was bought in. Beyond the potential dark horse additions behind a struggling rotation (i.e. David Hale), as well as bolstering the back-stop position (Hundley), very little was done towards improving this team after a disappointing 2014 campaign. The bullpen continues to lay in disarray from last season, which will be the pinacle of the Rockies’ downfall in 2015. Pitching in particular will see the best and worst within the organization; a struggling starting rotation will soon be hit with the influx of prosperous talent from the farm system that will act as a previous for 2016. It clearly seems as if the Rockies have opted for the rebuilding approach towards aspiring in a couple seasons’ time. Unfortunately, this outcome outline the downfall of their winter offseason, for it goes back to the first point in this review: why are Troy and Car-Go still here?
Los Angeles Dodgers: B
Being cold in Los Angeles during the winter is never a huge concern; even if it was, the Dodgers kept themselves too busy in the offseason to feel the Californian chills. After finally reclaiming the NL West division for the first time since 2009, a major revamp of their major league roster occurred with the clear intention of winning right now and soaring to a potential World Series berth in 2015. This was led by a new front office team, as Farhan Zaidi replaced Ned Colleti as the General Manager of the organization in November. Zaidi’s arrival was soon followed by hiring Josh Byrnes as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and Andrew Friedman- former GM for the Tampa Bay Rays- as President of Baseball Operations.
The most notable change to the Dodgers’ starting line-up is the middle infield personnel. Speedy All-Star 2B Dee Gordon (289/326/378) was traded in a big deal with the Miami Marlins that sent top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney to downtown L.A. It only lasted for a brief period of time however; Heaney was traded once more to the Angels in exchange for the Dodgers’ eventual replacement for Gordon, arguably one the unlikeliest players that Dodgers’ fans would ever see picking up the blue jersey in Los Angeles. Former Angels 2B Howie Kendrick (293/347/397) will be heading up north from the outskirts of Anaheim; trading in his red jersey for blue after playing for the Angels’ organization for his entire professional career since 2002.
Kendrick is coming off one of his most productive seasons as a major leaguer, and made full use of a resurgent Angels’ offense in 2014 with a career-high 674 plate appearances and 617 at-bats. His 181 hits set a career-high also, and a stellar 75 RBI tied his mark set back in 2010. As the numbers tell, Kendrick thrived in the top-end of the batting order on a starting line-up that really found its groove all year long and produced so much batting time for their starters. While Gordon departs after a breakout 2014, as well as his league-leading 64 stolen bases, he still shows the inconsistency that hindered his progress back in 2013. 19 times caught stealing, as well as a staggeringly high 107 strikeouts (too high for a player with a power ISO of just .089 and 2 HR in 2014), show that there are still noticeable cracks in Gordon’s production at the plate.
Kendrick, the 30-year old former All-Star 2B, is coming off a career-high 5.4 WAR season last year, which is a touch or two higher than the still-impressive 3.1 WAR recorded by Gordon. Not necessarily a significant big hitter (ISO .104), Kendrick did suffer a slight decrease in power (slugging % down .042 from 2013), which made his 110 strikeouts a little too much for comfort. Nonetheless, he did tally 33 doubles and a combined 40 extra-base hits (7 home runs included). The Dodgers made some great moves in acquiring a more stable and stellar talent at 2B for 2015.
One of the biggest contract signings to a fielding player this winter made a big impact on the shortstop position in Los Angeles. SS Hanley Ramirez (283/369/448) signed a 4-year, $88 million deal with the Boston Red Sox in late November, which saw one of the Dodgers’ solid all-rounded hitters depart and leave a big clog in the well-oiled machine in the process. Ramirez thrived in getting on base in 2014; his .369 on-base percentage was only topped by Yasiel Puig (.382), drawing 56 walks and keeping his strikeouts to a decent 84 in 449 at-bats. Hanley also showcased his solid power capabilities with 35 doubles and 13 home runs, to help compile 71 RBI throughout last season. Another unlikely addition was sent in during the winter to replace Ramirez at SS; long-time Phillie and former MVP Jimmy Rollins (243/323/394) was traded for minor league prospect pitchers Tom Windle and Zac Eflin in mid-December. The Dodgers are trying to catch lighting in Rollins’ sudden power surge in 2014. The 36-year old clubbed 17 home runs and recorded a power ISO of .151, which was convincingly more productive than his 2013 season (6 HR, .050 ISO). Rollins waived his no-trade rights in order to make the deal absolute, coming on the heels of the Phillies’ attempts to rebuild their major league roster.
There will be no doubt some concern surrounding the state of the starting infield and its lack of youth and vitality. Gonzalez (33), Kendrick (30), Rollins (36) and Uribe (35) do put up a bloated combined age (134), but it is worth noting that there are slightly younger utility players behind them if durability becomes a factor, such as Darwin Barney (28) and Justin Turner (29). It is a disappointing transition, however, in starting shortstops for the Dodgers, especially since the significantly older and less productive Rollins is set to make $9.5 million in 2014, though be it his contract year. Rollins is still durable for his age, but with it creeping higher and higher to the forty-mark, the option to allow a little more room for Barney or Turner to come off the bench could benefit everybody when it’s all said and done. Turner, who had 322 plate appearances in 2014, ranked 5th on the team in WAR with a great rating of 3.2. Who ranked 4th with a 3.4 WAR? Hanley Ramirez.
Trade rumours that first ignited back in 2013 finally came full circle this past winter; the Dodgers finally traded their former face of the franchise in OF Matt Kemp (287/346/506). Amidst a crowded outfield, Kemp was dealt to the San Diego Padres in mid-December in exchange for C Yasmani Grandal and prosperous pitcher Joe Wieland. Despite his team-high 145 strikeouts in 2014, Kemp was still able to compile a .506 slugging percentage and a .220 power ISO, slugging 25 home runs and 89 RBI. While Kemp had a staggering Offensive WAR of 25.0 last season, his Defensive WAR was a catastrophic -26.5; far too unproductive of a defensive contributor for the amount of salary hanging over him. An oversized $107 million salary is on the head of Kemp through until 2019, in which the Dodgers will be donating a generous sum of $32 million to the Padres to ease the monetary struggles of fielding the former All-Star OF. But perhaps the most important reason revolving on Kemp’s departure was the intent to eradicate the dysfunctional clubhouse environment caused by several long-term, big-contract personnel. Call it more of a relief than a success that the new front office of the Dodgers were able to pay off the huge bill for Kemp’s flight to San Diego.
While one financially heavy Outfielder was shipped off to free up budget space, another still remains after the Dodgers failed to find a suitor for their next trade chip. OF Carl Crawford, owed $64.8 million through to 2017, was another figure of the dysfunctional persona regarding the Dodgers’ clubhouse underneath the old front office, and a player that Zaidi would have been delighted with trading in order to free up precious budget space for future talent. Crawford had a solid but very one-dimensional 2014 campaign that revolved on his .300 batting average and 103 hits in 105 games and 343 at-bats. But only being able to force 16 walks really hindered Crawford’s on-base percentage, although he was able to tally a fine 2.5 WAR in 2014. Trading Crawford would have given the Dodgers a clean slate for 2015 that would have featured a prolific four-piece outfield. But with the 4-time All-Star still in L.A., Van Slyke will likely bat in platoon with Crawford in LF, with Ethier and the promising Pederson sharing playing time in CF. As expected, Yasiel Puig remains harmless in RF as the fundamental piece of the Dodgers’ offensive juggernaut.
The failure to ship Crawford shouldn’t damped the Dodgers’ prizes that were caught in the Matt Kemp trade. Yasmani Grandal (225/327/401) will provide competition for ailing veteran C A.J. Ellis (191/323/254) for the starting role behind the plate. Grandal provides potential power behind the plate, showcased by his 15 home runs last year. Though it is noteworthy that Grandal allowed a painfully high 12 passed balls last year, and recorded a flat 13% caught stealing rate. His fielding skills will need tweaking and developing, so look for a platoon between the two as the season opens. Grandal is a switch hitter behind the plate, who hit .241 off right-handed pitchers; every one of his 15 home runs last season were hit off right-handers. 25-year old Joe Wieland will get an opportunity to truly break out and become a legitimate middle rotation starter in 2015 upon the detoxed starting rotation.
Departures dominated the pitching staff, headlined by two featured starters; one left on his terms, the other controversially did not. Coming off a year in which he recorded a no-hitter back on May 25th but finished on the DL with an injured labrum in his hip, 3-time All-Star SP Josh Beckett (6-6, 2.88 ERA) announced his retirement on October 8th last year. With surgery on his hip upcoming this May, the rehab procedure and the amount of time out was deemed too long and too inconvenient for Beckett to make any significant impact on the 2015 season. Being his contract season, a minimal 2015 would have put Beckett in a less than promising situation for the upcoming free agency next year. Beckett was already coming back from thoracic outlet syndrome near his right shoulder in 2014, an injury that required Beckett to undergo four hours of physical preparation before every start.
Dan Haren (13-11, 4.02 ERA) didn’t have the luxury of ending his Dodgers’ tenure on his terms. Haren, a native of Monterey Park, CA, was traded to the Marlins alongside Dee Gordon in a move that did not sit well with the 12-year veteran. Wanting to continue pitching in his native California, a trade to East coast couldn’t have been a more frustrating move for the former All-Star pitcher, especially after settling down after a couple shaky seasons in Washington with the Nationals. With Beckett and Haren both gone, two big opportunities opened in the Dodgers’ rotation heading into Spring Training. One notable addition who won’t be in the mix is Brandon Beachy. The former Braves standout pitcher was placed on the DL late February, one day after signing a one-year, $2.75 million deal with a club option for 2016, as he continues to recover from Tommy John Surgery from last year. Hoping to be back in time for the All-star break, Beachy will hope to really step up his rehab through Spring Training and create anticipation for his comeback later in the season. Beachy went 14-11 in 2013 and recorded a 3.23 ERA.
Two likely candidates to fill the two open spots in the rotation are newly signed pitchers Brandon McCarthy (10-15, 4.05 ERA) and Brett Anderson (1-3, 2.91 ERA). McCarthy spent 2014 between the Diamondbacks (5.01 ERA) and Yankees (2.89 ERA), in which he saw a huge regain in form following his trade to the Bronx. Holding his WHIP to 1.15 and walk rate to 1.3 in 90 IP with the Yankees, McCarthy went into free agency coming off a hot second half. The Dodgers, like with the ageing Rollins, are hoping that they can catch lightning in a bottle with McCarthy, who is fresh off the heels of his most durable season to date (200 IP in 2014). McCarthy will be the shoe-in for the #4 starting role, whereas former Athletics’ team-mate Brett Anderson will look to finally rebound from continuous injury setbacks to earn the #5 spot.
Anderson has yet to record a full season since his rookie campaign in 2009 where he made 30 starts; year after year of being shut down and limited outings have hindered his value almost beyond repair. Despite only pitching 43 innings with the Rockies in 2014, a 2.91 ERA is a very impressive feat in the deadly altitude levels of Coors Field. And throughout all the setbacks, the left-hander holds a career 3.73 ERA and a solid 1.29 WHIP in the major leagues. Recovery is the key to Anderson’s Spring Training, especially with the hot prospect Wieland now on the scene from southern California. Other candidates to earn a starting role this Spring are Dominican youngster Carlos Frias (1-1, 6.12 ERA, 32 IP) and former amateur team-mate of NL MVP Clayton Kershaw, Mike Bolsinger (1-6, 5.50 ERA, 52 IP).
The Dodgers rounded off their pitching overhaul with a major shredding of veterans and potential fat checks. Chris Perez, Paul Maholm, Jamey Wright, Roberto Hernandez and Brian Wilson were all non-tendered and let go after below-par campaigns in 2014. Look for younger talent such as J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez to really thrive in upgraded roles in the bullpen. Joining those two later on in the year will be young reliever Chris Withrow; still recovering from Tommy John Surgery from last June, he will re-enter the fray after the midseason. But the Dodgers were dealt a crucial blow running up to Spring Training, as CP Kenley Janson (2.76 ERA, 44 SV) required foot surgery via sudden discomfort during the winter period, and will be out potentially until May.
Janson’s injury opens a temporary spot as the team’s closer, which is a very intriguing two-way competition. 38-year old Joel Peralta (3-4, 4.41 ERA) was bought into the organization via trade with the Rays back in November, originally to be the go-to pitcher in the 7th inning. Peralta has been a very solid pitcher in relief in his 4 seasons with the Rays (3.58 total ERA), maintaining a good hit-rate (7.7 H/9) and strikeout rate (8.4 SO/9), as well as restricting walks (2.6 BB/9) towards recording a very slim 1.14 career WHIP. Peralta could be a decent short-term replacement as a closer, despite only sporadically taking the mound in save situations (12 SV). Brandon League (2-3, 2.57 ERA), once the 2011 AL All-Star CP with the Settle Mariners (37 SV), has seen a radical, up-and-down tenure since his most heralded accolade. But in 2014, League thrived as the set-up man for the Dodgers behind Janson; avoiding the long-ball all season (0 HR, 63 IP) and recorded a 5.3 PtchR (Adjusted Pitchers Runs; contribution towards runs allowed) that was right on par with his All-Star calibre season in 2011. League was one of the bet set-up men in 2014; recording a stellar 11 holds from 13 save situations, he heads into Spring Training as the favourite to be the Dodgers’ closer for the first 6-8 weeks of the 2015 season.
So much talented was thrown around the Dodgers’ organization this winter, all while the new front office staff were settling in for their prosperous tenure ahead. They certainly got things right by unloading a tonne of personnel that held up too much budget space in the winter. And while parting with talented contributors, such as Gordon, Kemp and Ramirez, the Dodgers’ found solid replacements and received stellar rewards in their trading. Only some additions held the Dodgers back from having one of the more successful offseasons in baseball, such as replacing Hanley Ramirez with Jimmy Rollins; failing to ship Carl Crawford and his fat pay-check; leaving the #5 starting role to too many unheralded hands following the departures of Beckett and Haren. Such movements would question whether the Dodgers added enough starting talent to compensate their win-now mentality, following a winter period in which they freed up a lot of budget room for potential spending sprees to come in the future.
San Diego Padres: A+
New Padres’ GM A.J. Preller turned in an outstanding offseason in San Diego this winter, and has drastically turned the organization into a legitimate contender for the NL West in 2015. After being on the cusp of contending the last two seasons, the Padres went all in and utilized their prosperous talent in a sea of blockbuster trades.
The outfield will look completely different this upcoming season at Petco Park. December witnessed three monumental trades, first with the deal that sent Matt Kemp from the rival Dodgers in exchange for prospect SP Joe Wieland and young C Yasmani Grandal. It’s worth noting that San Diego also receives $32 million from the Dodgers throughout the remainder of Kemp’s contract towards compensating part of his enormous $107 million owed through to 2019. Kemp had a hot finish to 2014, slugging 17 of his 25 home runs after the All-Star break. He has had injury scares in past, however, missing over 150 games in the last three seasons due to ankle and shoulder surgeries.
To compliment that big trade was the equally significant deal for Braves OF Justin Upton, who was traded days after the arrival of Kemp. Upton was dealt from Atlanta for four minor league prospects in what was a clear sign that the Padres are bidding to contend strictly in 2015. This season will be Upton’s contract season, and will easily see offers that hit over $100 million. The Braves were very smart to trade Upton at this time, and for a large quantity of solid quality in the prospects they received. Whether San Diego envisions a long-term tenure for Upton at Petco Park remains to be seen, but he comes into 2015 after a stellar 2014 campaign that saw a whole lot of power. Upton hit 29 HR, as well as 34 doubles, and notched an incredible 102 RBI for the Braves last season. He did strike out a whopping career-high 171 times, but maintained a solid OBP by drawing 60 BB.
But arguably the Padres most successful trade of them all in the OF was the addition of Will Myers (222/294/320). The Rays’ starting OF and uber-prospect was dealt in a three-team, eleven-player trade that involved both the Rays and the Nationals alongside San Diego. Starting C Rene Rivera and prosperous 1B Jake Bauers head to Tampa, while hot prospect SS Trea Turner and RHP Joe Ross head to Washington. San Diego also received C Ryan Hanigan and prospects LHP Jose Castillo and RHP Gerardo Reyes. Trea Turner turned heads in the Rays’ organization after being their 1st round draft pick last year, playing beyond expectation in Single-A. Rene Rivera had a breakout year behind the plate; posting an OPS of .751 that was 2nd amongst all starters. At this point in time, the Padres look like clear winners in bagging the exciting prospect of Myers. He had a down year in 2014 regarding his power (6 HR, .614 OPS); with his walk rate (9.4%, up 0.5%) and strikeout rate (24.9%, up 0.5%) being almost identical to last season, his downgraded slash-line was the product of being challenged more at the plate (coming off his 2013 rookie of the year honours), and his wrist injury suffered in June.
San Diego now has an elite trio in the outfield; arguably the most talented on paper in the National League, yet there is concern of overcrowding the rather spacious Petco Park grass, as only Seth Smith left the scene during the winter period (Seattle). Luckily for the Padres, this crowded scenario will not last for the long run; both Carlos Quentin (177/284/315) and Will Venable (244/288/325) are entering contract years. But look for Quentin to be eagerly traded by the Padres’ front office during 2015, as he potentially sits on a $3 million buyout if his club option is not activated at season’s end. Another hot trade chip for San Diego will be athletic yet incumbent CF Cameron Maybin (235/290/331); still owed $15 million in the next two seasons for what would unquestionably be a back-up role now that the outfield has been significantly upgraded. Venable will likely play behind Kemp in RF and prove a valuable bench option due to his left-handed bat, so look for the speedy OF to remain at Petco Park for the entirety of this season.
A.J. Preller wasn’t done with his trading beyond the overhauled outfield. Using the recently acquired Hanigan from the Wil Myers’ trade, the Padres traded the veteran back-stop for 3B Will Middlebrooks shortly afterwards. With SS Everth Cabrera being non-tendered earlier in the winter, depth was a definite need within the infield. It’s no secret that Middlebrooks (191/256/265) has struggled to maintain a starting role in the Boston infield due to injuries, but shows flashes of incredible potential to be a stellar hitter on the hot corner. He’ll join the recently acquired SS Clinton Barmes, who brings a stellar glove, as bench players with chips on their shoulders, looking to hustle in Spring Training and bite into the playing time of current starters 3B Yangervis Solarte and SS Alexi Amarista. Don’t be surprised if Bud Black spreads out his two newest, versatile infielders around the diamond to fully utilise them coming off the bench.
While starters Josh Johnson and Cory Luebke continue to sit on the shelf until July and recover from their respective Tommy John surgeries, the Padres had to leave it late in the offseason to strike gold on the mound. SP James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA) was signed to a four-year, $75 million deal- the largest contract issued in Padres history- and immediately becomes the team’s ace to lead a stellar, unheralded pitching staff. Shields could have been inked for a much higher price tag, if it weren’t for his collapse in the 2014 postseason (6.12 ERA in 25 IP). While Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy hold the stellar rotation behind Shields, another new pitcher in San Diego will need to compete in order to earn the #5 spot. Brandon Morrow (1-3, 5.67 ERA) was signed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal and looks to make an emphatic comeback after having such a torrid, injury-prone tenure with the Blue Jays. He’ll compete with 2014 rookie breakout SP Odrismar Despaigne (4-7, 3.36 ERA) for the final spot on the rotation, but do look for Morrow to be used in the bullpen come the start of the 2015 season.
The bullpen did not see much of an overhaul after generating so many solid contributors from last season. Only veteran Tim Stauffer departed during the winter to Minnesota, with former-Yankees’ RP Shawn Kelley (3-6, 4.53 ERA) heading to sunny San Diego to join the high-product bullpen. Kelley has been effective as a strikeout pitcher (career 10.0 SO/9), and did a good job of holding a lot of fly balls from leaving the yard last season (0.9 HR/9). He’ll find a solid amount of work in the middle-third of the ballgame, behind key contributors Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent and Kevin Quackenbush. Joaquin Benoit will start his first Spring Training as a Closer in his 13-year career.
And to compliment the new additions on the mound are a completely new, refreshed back-stop squad. As Grandal and Rivera departed via trades this winter, the Padres used even more trades to bring in their major league Catchers for 2015. Prosperous 2014 SP Jesse Hahne (7-4, 3.07 ERA) and prospect R.J. Alvarez were traded to Oakland for 2014 All-Star Derek Norris (270/361/403) in a move that gives the Padres a significant slugger behind the plate. Norris clubbed 10 home runs and drove in 55 RBI, but also drew 54 walks and kept his strikeouts to a decent 86 in 385 at-bats. Joining Norris is a complimentary piece of the Matt Kemp trade; Tim Federowicz (113/158/197) arrives still undeveloped as a late bloomer out of the minor leagues are a frustrating 2014 campaign bouncing around the organization. If given time to settle in, Federowicz will provide a solid defensive option as back-stop for San Diego’s rotation.
It’s amazing to come to the conclusion that the Padres didn’t do enough trading in the offseason; seeing so much personnel arrive and depart en route to a spectacular overhaul to the major league roster. But a crowded outfield and key trade chips that are still off the table have yet to be resolved as Spring Training develops for the Friars. Preller rolled the dice on tremendous potential, especially in the outfield; Kemp, Myers and Upton, along with Shields as their ace for the future, gives the San Diego faithful almost too much to praise heading into the 2015 season. It’s been a long time since the Padres have looked this dangerous after a thunderous winter period; and to the dismay of their NL West rivals, the Padres’ trading frenzy is by no means finished. All they need to do, is find out who’s leading off.
San Francisco Giants: B-
The last team on our 30-team tour is the reigning World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants! Brian Sabian took the red-hot Gaints’ major league roster and focused on retaining the prestigious, strong clubhouse bond that provided them the x-factor en route to their memorable postseason triumphs in 2014.
But the Gaints’ winter will be remembered mainly for the departure of one of their most popular stars. 3B Pablo Sandoval (279/324/415) inked a five-year, $95 million deal with the Red Sox in November: the biggest contract signing to a fielding player in the offseason. The switch-hitting “Kung-Fu Panda” spent his entire professional career with the Giants, and has matured into a solid hitter in the middle of the batting order in his seven years in the majors. He has also solidified himself into a postseason legend; a former World Series MVP, the Panda tallied a historic 12 hits in the Giants’ World Series victory over the Royals last Fall. Sandoval showcases one of the most stellar gloves at third-base (.971 Fld%), which will be the biggest loss for the Giants in this departure.
Once renown for being a clubhouse full of misfits, a long-time misfit and journeyman travelled from Miami all the way to the Bay. Marlins’ 3B Casey McGehee was acquired for a couple of minor-league pitchers. Once in Japan back in 2013, McGehee (287/355/357) is one of the most recognised journeyman players in baseball, and will no doubt fit right into the quirky bond of current Giants’ stars. His return to the major leagues in 2014 was a huge success; resurrecting himself, the 32-year old saw huge production in the middle of the batting order, tallying 76 RBI and showcasing excellent durability on the hot corner (160 games, 691 PA). An equally as stellar glove as the departing Sandoval (.976 fld%); McGehee enters AT&T Park as an excellent, low-key replacement for the big-money Panda.
Joining McGehee in the Bay area this winter was a recent World Series foe in Royals’ OF Norichika Aoki (285/349/360); signing a one-year, $4.7 million deal to be the Giants’ sought-after lead-off hitter for 2015. Showing great speed between the bases (17 SB, 33% Runs Scored Baserunning rate), and having solid contact at the plate, Aoki and his left-handed bat will prove great value at the top of the batting order. Switch-hitting OF Angel Pagan and prosperous breakout 2B Joe Panik are other strong candidates to either lead-off or be very close to the top of the batting order as Spring Training ensues.
As McGehee departed Miami in the winter, the former LF Michael Morse took the plunge and left for the fish-tank in mid-December, on a two-year, $16 million deal. After slumping in 2013, Morse returned and resurrected himself with the Giants, racking up 32 doubles and 16 home runs en route to a strong .811 OPS last season. Whilst striking out an illustrious 121 times (career-high 27.6% rate), it didn’t stop Morse from maintaining a solid batting average and being a key contributor with his bat, as well as his leadership during 2014.
It is worth noting the significant lack of legitimate major-league personnel within the Giants’ field depth. Brian Sabian and skipper Bruce Bochy have a clear trust in the young, unheralded talent coming out of the Giants’ unpredictable farm system; so much in fact that notable back-ups such as Gregor Blanco, Brandon Hicks, Joaquin Arias and Hector Sanchez all return as key bench players for the defending World Series champions.
Concerning their pitching, the Giants opted to stay in-house and re-signed their two starting pitcher in need of new contracts. Jake Peavy, who arrived in the Bay area during last summer, reached a two-year $24 million deal. A notably fiery competitor for the Giants in the second half of the season, Peavy compiled a 6-4 record and 2.17 ERA to rebound from his poor first half with the Red Sox. Settling back into San Francisco will be Ryan Vogelsong (8-13, 4.00 ERA), who signed a one-year, $4 million deal in late January. The 37-year old’s production had decreased since 2012, but did compile a solid season in 2014. Vogelsong started a career-high 32 games and was able to retake command of his home run rate (0.9 HR/9) and WHIP (1.27). But with the return of Matt Cain from injury, as well as another season with stellar veteran Tim Hudson on the mound; one must wonder who will be the odd man out of the rotation? Certainly the pressure must be on two pitchers in particular as Spring Training continues: Ryan Vogelsong, and Tim Lincecum.
If the moves upon the Giants’ rotation seemed quiet, their moves towards the bullpen were flat-line. Not a single addition joined nor left the Giants’ bullpen, remaining entirely intact from the 2014 season. Though former-closer’s a plenty still remain in the free agent market, the Giants are fully committed towards keeping Santiago Casilla (1.70 ERA, 19 SV) as their closer. After Sergio Romo lost his role in the 9th inning during 2014, Casilla came in and took full opportunity (19-23 SVopp, 2.03 ERA in 9th inning) and spearheaded the bullpen into the postseason and beyond. The same blend of long-term veterans (Affeldt, Lopez, Romo) and prosperous youngsters (Petit, Machi, Kontos) make up one of the top performing bullpens heading into 2015. The only cautionary limb on the bullpen is the lack of left-handed support behind fading 36-year old specialist Javier Lopez (3.11 ERA). David Huff (6.30 ERA) and Michael Kickham (22.50 ERA); two young but raw relievers are the only replacements behind the coveted lefty.
San Francisco’s quiet offseason is more emphasised by the activity occurring around them within the NL West and the National League. Season-changing overhauls with the Padres and the Cubs; the radical offseason with the rival Dodgers puts serious pressure on Sabian’s Giants and their in-house mentality on display this past winter. It’s a battle of chemistry over marketing; the eventual victors of the must-see NL West division in 2015 will set a major statement, and will radically influence how we look back on an entertaining, unforgettable 2014 MLB winter offseason.