WTNYDecember 19, 2003
California Love
By Bryan Smith

While the East coast teams are always the more interesting and dramatic topic of discussion, this offseason has been quite tumultous for a foursome out West. Four California teams, the Padres, Angels, Dodgers, and A's, all have posed very interesting subplots during this offseason. In short, they read as follows:

San Diego: Back in the game, using surprise element to take NL West
Angels: New owner, more money, 2002 philosophy
Dodgers: No owner, no offense, no money
A's: Billy Beane's creativity, very different Oakland team in 2004

Now, for the more detailed versions...

San Diego Padres

After five years of being out of contention, Kevin Towers chose his time wisely. While each of the NL West teams have become worse during this offseason, the Padres began improving last July. Towers used money he received from Trevor Hoffman's insurance to trade for Brian Giles, one of the best OBP players in the Majors today.

Quickly during the offseason, Towers traded with Oakland, acquiring Ramon Hernandez (and T. Long) for Mark Kotsay, which would then open up a slot for Xavier Nady. He kept Mark Loretta, a player who broke out last season, Hoffman, and new fan favorite Rod Beck. He went after a Japanese relief ace, and has most recently finalized the rotation. Yesterday, the team announced it had struck deals with Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes. Here is a look at those two players...

Hitchcock: 6-4 4.72 91/87.2 68/32
As starter: 4-1 4.26 35/38 33/11

Valdes: 8-8 6.10 148/115 47/29
Road: 3-4 4.98 69/59.2 18/16

Neither of these are huge signings, but each has a little bit of upside. Hitchcock showed great improvement starting with the Cardinals down the stretch, showing very good H/9 and K/9 numbers. Valdes was terrible last season, but it was also because of pitching in the third worst stadium in baseball for starters, Arlington. His road numbers are likely indicative of where he stands, and by moving to the NL, and especially the spacious NL West ballparks (save Coors), Valdes should be right around 4.50. His contract is miniscule, and the team could still conceivably make an offer to Greg Maddux.

One problem this team faces is defense. Their starting outfield right now would be Ryan Klesko in left, Giles in center, and Xavier Nady in right. I've advocated trading Phil Nevin, but it appears that a centerfielder will be acquired and Nady will find himself on the bench. San Diego lost out on Mike Cameron and Kenny Lofton, and they are having a difficult time trading for centerfielders, because everyone asks for Peavy.

Jake Peavy had modest numbers last season (12-11, 4.11), but is one of the top ten pitchers in baseball primed for a breakout season. He had great H/9 numbers (173H/194.2IP), and also struck out a considerable number of batters (156). His second half ERA was just 3.46, and his BB/9 and HR/9 improved in that span. The team is refusing to trade Peavy at all costs, and same goes for Adam Eaton. Eaton is a very similar pitcher who made great strides coming back from arm surgery last season, and should improve even more in 2004. These two youngsters, along with Brian Lawrence, have provided a good foundation for the rotation.

All that's left on the to-do list for Towers is to acquire a CF, and sign a LOOGY. Jacque Jones appears to be a reasonable candidate, and the team will pursue Jay Payton if they believe he has the range for center. I am calling for Mike Myers to be picked up as a LOOGY, and that's reasonable given the dwindling resources Towers has. Regardless, I am already looking forward to the Padres v. Giants battle next year, one that will largely depend on the arms of Hitchcock, Valdes, Peavy and Eaton.

Anaheim Angels

Arte Moreno vowed to Angel fans when he bought their franchise that he would spend this offseason. So far, he has not let them down, forking over serious coinage for the likes of Kelvim Escobar, Bartolo Colon, and most recently, Jose Guillen. The team also surprised me Thursday by re-signing Adam Kennedy to a three-year contract, deciding against non-tendering him. This either means that David Eckstein is about to join the non-tender list, or that scrappy middle infield will be back in 2004.

Another difficult non-tender decision will be that of Jarrod Washburn. Escobar, Colon, and Guillen have limited Stonemann's money, and while Washburn would make this rotation fantastic, he would prove costly. Plus, the team now has six starters: Colon, Escobar, Washburn, Ortiz, Lackey, and Aaron Sele. Prospects Bobby Jenks and Ervin Santana will be up in September, if not earlier.

The bullpen won't be a worry, and the team may very well non-tender Ben Weber on Saturday as well. Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez are great at the end of games, and Brendan Donnelly is fantastic in middle relief. The club also loved what they saw from Derrick Turnbow, and Scot Sheilds remains their long man. The team has lacked a real LOOGY for years, indicating that Kevin Gregg or Greg Jones may gets spots as well.

Offensively, the addition of Guillen is questionable. Jose's OBP dropped to just .311 with the A's, and his OPS was .770 while in the American League. But, he struggled within the confines of Oakland, a problem he won't face so much next season. Guillen is also a standout defensively, almost enough so to justify the money spent in this acquisition. He also moves Tim Salmon to DH, a move that should helpfully increase Salmon's numbers, as well as the length of his career. The only thing left on the slate is a first basemen, as the team doesn't appear to be content with Shawn Wooten in the role. Both names that have been mentioned, Travis Lee and Rafael Palmiero, make sense, although I would think the former is more logical. Lee is Gold Glove-like at first, and his bat emerged in Tampa.

The Angel team will take a new shape this weekend, when the team is forced to make non-tender decisions on Jarrod Washburn, Ben Weber, David Eckstein, and Shawn Wooten. Moreno is trying to make Angel fans forget about Gene Autry, and they should start opening up to him next year, when the Angels are submerged in battle with Oakland.

Los Angeles Dodgers

I can only write so much without getting sick here. The ownership situation of the Dodgers isn't the publicized topic I thought it would be, but it's definitely a problem for Major League Baseball. First, FOX supposedly reached a deal with Tampa Bay Buccaneer owner Malcolm Glazer, and now with Frank McCourt. Either way, FOX is cutting its losses, and Dan Evans hasn't had the money he's used to and help baseball's worst offense in 2003.

It all started with Juan Encarnacion, a move made during the Winter Meetings. I don't think Encarnacion will play well in Dodger Stadium, and Evans should end up looking like a fool for that. He's also saved money to spend in other places, although as I said yesterday, the big names are all gone. The team will probably look at Javy Lopez and Pudge Rodriguez, then either trading Lo Duca or moving him to first. The team saw Tejada and Kaz Matsui drive by at shortstop, all while the Dodgers were busy holding their breath for Nomar Garciaparra. Now it's time to move on, as Nomar appears locked in the cages of Fenway Park for one more season.

The Dodgers will make an interesting decision in the coming days as well, regarding the tendering of Odalis Perez. Odalis has appeared in every trade rumor possible the last few seasons, but now no one is calling. And, the team has been left with seven starters. Wilson Alvarez signed a contract to stay yesterday, and he'll surely have a rotation slot. As will Hideo Nomo. So does Odalis, if he stays. And Jeff Weaver. And Kaz Ishii. In that scenario, Darren Dreifort would move to the bullpen, and Edwin Jackson to AAA. That likely is the best option, and it gives the team one helluva bullpen, again.

Eric Gagne will be back in 2004, probably pitching as good as ever. His set-up man, Guillermo Mota, is likely to return as well. Paul Shuey, ace middle relief pitcher, is back, as is friend and LOOGY Tom Martin. Dreifort is set to join the bullpen, and assuming he doesn't hurt himself, his fastball/slider combination should be effective down there. Steve Colyer should be the second leftie, and the team will probably use one more player, maybe Duaner Sanchez, from the right side.

Dan Evans has very little wiggle room, as he doesn't know how long his job will last when Frank McCourt takes over. The team currently would have an infield of Ventura, Cora, Izturis, and Beltre, assembling possibly the worst infield in the game. Evans must get rolling, and he must do so fast. He must investigate Vladimir Guerrero thoroughly, and should lack Rafael Palmiero up at any cost. Rich Aurilia wouldn't be terrible at short, and Todd Walker could be used at second. It's probably too little, too late for the Dodgers, and they will soon be asking fans to wait for the likes of Jackson, Greg Miller, and James Loney.

Oakland A's

It hasn't been long since I last wrote about Billy Beane's team, but they've already changed so much since. Beane has now found his closer, signing Arthur Rhodes to a three-year contract (worth $9.2M) late yesterday. He also acquired left-hander Chris Hammond from the Yankees, whom will join Ricardo Rincon from the left side. And, the team is high on Rule V pick Frank Brooks, also a leftie. But, it's these different philosophies that have worked before, so I'll wait to see the results this bullpen has before I criticize.

Tuesday, Beane added soft-throwing leftie Mark Redman to a star-strapped rotation. This pushed Justin Duchscherer out of the picture, and makes top youngster Rich Harden the best fifth starter in the league. It also gives Beane a valuable bargaining chip midseason, when Joe Blanton or Duchscherer prove ready for rotation slots. Redman should succeed in Oakland, although the ERA should be slightly up from 3.59 next season.

To clarify, I think Beane has a plan with this bullpen. Rhodes will close, and Moneyball hero Chad Bradford will pitch in relief. Chris Hammond will also be used as a reliever, as he actually showed a reverse platoon split last year. Expect Mike Remlinger and Hammond to follow similar path lines the rest of their careers. Anyway, Ricardo Rincon will be used to get tough lefties out, and Jim Mecir will be called on in groundball-needed situations. Duchscherer will make the team as a long reliever, possibly leaving a seventh spot open for Rule V pick Brooks. It ain't pretty, but I don't doubt that it will work.

Same applies to the A's offensively, where Beane is putting everything on the line for this team. The team lacks a real catcher, although Damian Miller could be named an A within days. That would give the team a defensive leader, as well as an effective bottom of the order hitter. Beane is looking for more from personal choices like Erubiel Durazo, Bobby Kielty, and Mark Kotsay next year. He is praying for improvement from Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye, and for development for Mark Ellis and Bobby Crosby.

But while this A team is no lock to win the division next year, I wouldn't advise anyone to bet against Zito-Hudson-Mulder-Harden-Redman.

Have a good weekend, and I'll probably make a quick post before Monday concerning the non-tenders...