Pre-Meetings Forecasting (NL West)
While I won't digress into analysis on every deal signed yesterday, I'm going to spend this week looking into where every Major League team currently stands, and looking into where the GMs will have their focus during the Winter Meetings. I start with the NL West...
San Francisco Giants
Despite housing the best attendance numbers in the game last season, Giants' GM Brian Sabean was told his 2004 payroll would have to be substantially smaller than the 2003 figure. Sabean has found mid-level veterans to fill every hole, and is almost completely finished heading into the Winter Meetings.
Yesterday the Giants re-signed J.T. Snow to split the first base job with Pedro Feliz. Snow hit well vs. right-handers last season (.284/.387/.450) and displayed Gold Glove-caliber defense, leading to a one-year, $1.75M contract. Feliz has hit seven home runs off left-handers in the last three seasons, spanning only about 150 at-bats.
San Francisco also tied up outfielder Michael Tucker to a two-year contract yesterday, spending $3.5M in the process. He will platoon with Jeffrey Hammonds, as Tucker showed an affinity to right-handers last season (.274/.342/.474), while Hammonds hit left-handers very well. Tucker did hit considerably better in Kauffman Stadium (.297/.391/.518), and didn't even hit .230 away from home. The team has also decided not to extend an arbitration offer to Rich Aurilia, deciding that Neifi Perez and Cody Ransom will split duties next season. Pathetic.
In a trade earlier this offseason Sabean brought in A.J. Pierzynski, and the team will be using Yorvit Torrealba against southpaws. Overall, this is my projected 2004 Giants lineup...
Giants vs. RHP
Giants vs. LHP
Not a horrible lineup, as Durham and Alfonzo should both build from mediocre 2003 seasons. The pitching staff still has one open hole, which is Sabean's only order of business the rest of the winter. Jason Schmidt currently heads the pack, after what was a sensational Cy Young-type season. Kirk Rueter and Jerome Williams will back up Schmidt, and I fully expect Williams to leapfrog Rueter on the depth chart this season. The fifth slot will be a battle between Dustin Hermanson ,Kevin Correia, and Ryan Jensen, with no one being a clear favorite.
It will be the fourth slot in the rotation that Sabean must fill, with about $5M to spend. Sidney Ponson will not be back next season, although that's best with rumors of a partially torn labrum. I've always rumored Greg Maddux would be a good fit in San Francisco, and I will maintain with that philosophy. Maddux will get little interest elsewhere, and signing him to a two-year, $10M offer would greatly strengthen this team.
Despite losing closer Tim Worrell, the Giants bullpen looks to be very formidable in 2004. Robb Nen will return as closer, with longtime set-up man Felix Rodriguez waiting in the wings. Matt Herges signed a two-year, $2.5M deal last week to be the primary right-handed middle reliever. Jim Brower succeeded in a long relief role last season, and should resume those duties next season. The team will hand two left-handed spots to either Scott Eyre, Chad Zerbe, or Jason Christenson, with Zerbe likely the odd man out. If Felipe Alou decides to carry 12 pitchers, one of the losers of the 5th starter slot will be kept on the roster.
Giants To-Do List= Only to sign one SP, with Greg Maddux my suggestion
The 2001 World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks have been busy this winter, already trading Curt Schilling while acquiring a powerful bat in Richie Sexson. The team gave up negotiation rights for Miguel Batista yesterday, severing ties with their #3 starter.
By acquiring Sexson and dealing Junior Spivey and Criag Counsell, the Diamondbacks have already designed their 2004 offense, barring any substantial changes:
The team may pursue a bat to compete with Bautista in right field, just as they had Raul Mondesi playing the position in the second half. The pitching staff remains the largest question now that Schilling and Batista are out of the picture. Randy Johnson and Rookie of the Year winner Brandon Webb appear to be locks, although everything else remains cloudy. Garagiola may feel obliged to give spots to Elmer Dessens and Casey Fossum, both big name acquisitions in past trades. I would question these moves, although it's likely the course they will follow.
The team has discussed moving Oscar Villareal to the starting rotation, but he's likely to stay in the bullpen. The team has John Patterson, Andy Good, Edgar Gonzalez, and Mike Gosling all battling for one spot, as the team hopes to find a diamond in the rough, as they did with Webb last season.
Matt Mantei will be an expensive closer next season unless Garagiola's efforts to deal the expensive right-hander ever come to fruitition. Jose Valverde had a good season, and will be the set-up man unless Mantei is dealt. Villareal and Mike Koplove are both very good middle relief options, and Steve Randolph emerged as a fine LOOGY last season. Newly acquired southpaw Shane Nance also will make the team, serving as both the second leftie and long reliever.
Arizona could very well be finished for the offseason, although Garagiola will use any extra money possible to acquire a RF and one more starter, while trying as hard as possible to deal Matt Mantei.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles has struggled with direction this offseason, as their long fight to find ownership seems endless. Dan Evans is still working as the General Manager, and has a lot ahead of him to fix an ailing offense. The team will be in the news quite often during the next week connected with Nomar Garciaparra, who will get dealt if Alex Rodriguez agrees to join the Boston Red Sox.
In the next week I expect the Dodgers to be heavily associated with Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero, and Nomar, although who they get I don't know. Tejada may be a Mariner early next week, and I've all but accepted the fact Vlad will reunite with Jim Beattie in Baltimore. If the Nomar trade goes down it will be with the Dodgers, but I'd be lying if I said I expected the A-Rod, Nomar, Manny switch to happen. That would leave Dan Evans to a lot of second-tier players, and a lot of options. Wanna get confused? Here's the course of action I would take if I were Evans:
- Hope Mike Cameron signs with the A's, and then trade Paul Lo Duca to the A's for Mark Kotsay
That's the best I can forecast. In reality, the team will battle with the Angels for the services for Rafeal Palmiero, as well as trying to get a good bat for Odalis Perez. Trading him in-division, to the Padres for Phil Nevin may be a good choice. The team re-signed Robin Ventura yesterday, although I think Ventura's skill set has diminished to that of a bench player. I also think the Dodgers will start flirting heavily with Rich Aurilia, as Cesar Itzuris sucks more than anything in the world. Whew! In conclusion, I expect the Dodgers to be after every hitter available, losing out on most. Odalis Perez is a powerful weapon, but in the end he may just bring in a player like J.D. Drew or Paul Konerko.
The pitching staff will be Nomo, Brown, Edwin Jackson, Kaz Ishii, and Darren Dreifort, with Joel Hanrahan waiting in the wings if anyone fails. Wilson Alvarez may be brought back, although I think the team should spend every penny available on hitting. The bullpen will have Gagne, Shuey, and Mota from the right side, with Tom Martin and Victor Alvarez from the left. And the Dodgers will be in 4th place next season, sitting snug between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the...
The Rockies will be in financial troubles the next few seasons as Charles Johnson, Todd Helton, Preston Wilson, Larry Walker, and Denny Neagle are tying up lots of money on this team. Dan O'Dowd has failed time and time again at making them a winner, and stands second to Chuck LaMar as GMs who need to move on.
I was in favor of the Uribe for Aaron Miles trade last week, and I write before you as the same man today. If you asked me what the Rockies 2004 lineup should be, I would give you this:
1. Mark Bellhorn- SS
The team will listen to my plea to non-tender Jay Payton, although it's doubtful they'll go to Spring Training with Bellhorn and Atkins penciled in on the left side. The rumors that are currently the most popular are Vinny Castilla and Deivi Cruz, who would likely cost about $3M next season. Any hitter can perform in Coors, and Atkins is just as likely to win the Rookie of the Year as Castilla is to reverting to the stats he posted in the 1990s.
For a club with such bad starting rotation, I've yet to hear the Rockies in any rumor for a starter this offseason. The team has Denny Neagle, Jason Jennings, Shawn Chacon, Chin-Hui Tsao, and Scott Elarton penciled in so far, with Jason Young, Aaron Cook, and Adam Bernero waiting in the wings. That's a pretty bad group, and I think the team would be better without Neagle or Elarton pitching every fifth day. But, the team is content with that group, and instead appear to be in the market for a closer.
After losing out on Rod Beck, the newest rumors are that the Rockies are considering Armando Benitez and Antonio Alfonseca in the closer's role. And to that, I ask why? The team is just as likely to succeed with Justin Speier in the role than Alfonseca, and it wouldn't cost the extra $1M that should be spent on starters. I really like the pair of Brian Fuentes and Javy Lopez on the left side, and I think Speier and Steve Reed is a nice combo as well. Adam Bernero will probably become the team's long reliever, and in the end, O'Dowd will spend money towards a bad reliever.
Names you'll hear associated with the Rockies in the coming weeks: Vinny Castilla, Jeff Cirillo, Deivi Cruz, Rich Aurilia, Antonio Alfonseca, and Armando Benitez.
San Diego Padres
Despite winning only 64 games last season, Kevin Towers has managed to put the Padres on the list of favorites next season, thanks to key acquisitions like Brian Giles and Ramon Hernandez. The team has unfinished business for the rest of the offseason, but appear to be heading in the right direction.
San Diego already has the offense to win this division next season, although their current team would lack a lot defensively. Going to Spring Training with an estimated outfield of Ryan Klesko, Brian Giles, and Xavier Nady could result in disaster, precisely the reason the team is interested in Kenny Lofton and Mike Cameron. Lofton would be the leadoff bat the team desperately needs, as well as providing enough centerfield defense to get by. They could then trade Phil Nevin to the Dodgers for Odalis Perez, although that likely won't happen. Instead Nady will become the team's 4th outfielder, and the Padres will use this lineup:
1. Lofton- CF
That is a very impressive team. I would still worry about their defense, but Towers is currently assessing that problem. To acquire Hernandez the team had to take on Terrence Long, and Long's name has been hot in rumors in the past weeks. The New York Mets are looking to rid themselves of Roger Cedeno, so Towers has presented a Long and Kevin Jarvis offer for Cedeno. While I hate Roger more than any other Major Leaguer, his limited skill set might do well in San Diego, coming in as a pinch runner and defensive replacement on the corners.
Also, the Padres' pitching staff still needs tweaking. Brian Lawrence, Jake Peavy, and Adam Eaton are a fantastic threesome, although the team wants a left-hander to go with these youngsters. David Wells, Chuck Finley, and Wilson Alvarez are the most popular rumors, and Wells makes the most sense. Neither the Yankees or Padres appear to be ready to offer Wells a guaranteed contract, but he's much more likely to catch on in San Diego. The team would then give their last spot to Ben Howard, a 24-year-old whom succeeded in September.
Trevor Hoffman will be back as closer next season, although Rod Beck re-signed to push Hoffman. The team also has negotiating rights to a Japanese right-hander, who will team with Scott Linebrink and Jay Witasick in middle relief. The team has Mike Mathews and Kevin Walker to pitch against left-handers currently, those Peter Gammons is reporting the team is looking to trade for a LOOGY.
With these moves, I would guarantee victory for the Padres in 2004:
1. Sign Kenny Lofton and David Wells to guaranteed contracts
Peace. I'll be back with the NL Central tomorrow.