Tuesday, April 8, 2014

2014 MLB Preview: NL West

Welcome to our first divisional preview of the senior circuit, the quietly compelling NL West. The Dodgers have the most star power and the most polarizing player in the game (Yasiel Puig), but each of the other four teams has a guy who has been a serious MVP candidate within the past two to three years (Buster Posey, Chase Headley, Paul Goldschmidt, and Carlos Gonzalez) and other talented players. The Giants could use a bounce-back from their non-Madison Bumgarner pitchers and a big year from Pablo Sandoval. One of these years all the young talent in San Diego is going to jell. Arizona backs up Goldschmidt with the grittiest bunch of scrappy ballplayers in the league, and Colorado hopes for full seasons from Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki along with a rotation that can at least survive in Denver's thin air.

Previous previews: AL West

Glossary of stats: .275/.350/.475 = batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage, HR = home runs, SB = stolen bases, wOBA = weighted on-base average, WAR = wins above replacement, IP = innings pitched, K/BB = strikeouts/walks, ERA = earned run average, FIP = fielding independent pitching.*

*All 2014 statistical projections are courtesy of Fangraphs, along with my bet whether the player in question will exceed or fall short of that projection. When WAR is mentioned in a written paragraph, it typically refers to the Baseball-Reference version.

5) Colorado Rockies

Lineup
CF   Drew Stubbs (age 29, .250/.316/.396, 15 HR, .314 wOBA, 1.1 WAR) - over
RF   Michael Cuddyer (age 35, .288/.343/.471, 20 HR, .353 wOBA, 1.1 WAR) - under
LF   Carlos Gonzalez (age 28, .305/.376/.551, 29 HR, .395 wOBA, 5.2 WAR) - over
SS   Troy Tulowitzki (age 29, .306/.379/.531, 27 HR, .390 wOBA, 5.7 WAR) - over
1B   Justin Morneau (age 33 .266/.328/.443, 18 HR, .334 wOBA, 0.2 WAR) - under
C     Wilin Rosario (age 25, .280/.310/.478, 25 HR, .341 wOBA, 2.1 WAR) - over
3B   Nolan Arenado (age 23, .280/.320/.438, 17 HR, .328 wOBA, 3.2 WAR) - over
2B   D.J. LeMahieu (age 25, .291/.326/.363, 1 HR, .304 wOBA, 1.0 WAR) - under

Rotation
RHP Jhoulys Chacin (age 26, 198 IP, 134/66 K/BB, 3.75 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 3.1 WAR) - over
LHP Jorge de la Rosa (age 33, 168 IP, 125/60 K/BB, 3.75 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 2.7 WAR) - under
RHP Tyler Chatwood (age 24, 153 IP, 97/58 K/BB, 3.95 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 1.8 WAR) - over
LHP Brett Anderson (age 26, 119 IP, 92/37 K/BB, 3.82 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 1.7 WAR) - over
RHP Juan Nicasio (age 27, 132 IP, 101/46 K/BB, 4.42 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 1.8 WAR) - under

Bench/Bullpen
C/IF Jordan Pacheco, OF Charlie Blackmon, OF Corey Dickerson, IF Josh Rutledge, OF Brandon Barnes, LHP Franklin Morales, LHP Boone Logan, RHP Matt Belisle, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, RHP Wilton Lopez, RHP Rex Brothers, RHP Adam Ottavino

Best Offseason Move
Finding solid, consistent pitching has been the bugaboo of the Rockies' entire existence, with experiments that have never been better than adequate and have occasionally been disastrous (the Mike Hampton/Denny Neagle free agent signings, the 2012 four-man rotation with limits of 75 pitches). So getting a talented if injury-prone quality starter in Anderson to bolster the rotation is something of a coup, especially since he's only on the hook for $8 million this year (with a $12 million team option for 2015) and cost the Rockies nothing but the disappointing Drew Pomeranz and a middling prospect. Of course, it's been a couple years since Anderson tossed even 100 innings, but thus far this spring he looks healthy and able to at least eat some of the innings that the Rockies need.

Worst Offseason Move - Having gotten lucky with a career year from one former Twin (Cuddyer) in 2013, the Rockies decided to roll the dice on another (Morneau), giving him a two-year, $12.5 million contract with a $9 million mutual option for 2016 to replace retired icon Todd Helton. Poor Morneau hasn't been the same player since a middle infielder's knee gave him a concussion in 2010; he had been hitting ..345/.437/.618 through about half a season up to that point, but in the three years since has mustered just a .256/.319/.406 slash line, which works out to an exactly average hitter. There were better options available in free agency than the former MVP, such as Kendrys Morales and Mike Napoli, a move the Rockies should have considered given that their two best players are very injury-prone

Key Player - When healthy, Tulo is probably one of the five or ten most valuable players in baseball, a top-notch defensive shortstop who hits like a star first baseman or corner outfielder, especially in the offensive environment of Coors Field. However, Tulo has only played 140 or more games three times since his 2007 rookie year. He missed 36 games last year and 115 in 2012, raising serious questions about his durability, which would be fine if he weren't signed through 2020. He's already the third-best player in Rockies history by WAR, and will play this entire season at the age of 29. With him in the lineup for 150 games, Colorado is a threat to win 85 games or more. Any extended absences, however, make the Rockies a middling team or worse.

Most Exciting Player - Apart from Tulo's two-way excellence, this category falls to CarGo, a smooth lefty outfielder who has found Coors Field much to his liking since coming over from Oakland in the 2008 Matt Holliday trade. CarGo is a 30-30 threat when healthy and a very good defensive outfielder who can handle center field but has spent most of his career in left. Much like Tulo, however, the "when healthy" caveat applies to Gonzalez as well; he has yet to play 150 games in a season and has topped 135 just once, in 2010 (when he won the batting title, led the league in hits and total bases, and finished third in MVP balloting). He's still just 28 years old, and the Rockies need him around in order to be competitive almost as much as they need Tulo.

Possible Breakout Star - Arenado played 133 games last year and couldn't hit; his .267/.301/.405 line doesn't look terrible in a vacuum but when adjusted for Coors Field his OPS was well below league average. He turned out to be excellent with the glove, however, giving the Rockies more than two wins (22 runs) with his defense alone. As young as he is (23), there's a good chance that he will improve significantly with the stick and give his team at least average offense to go with his slick leather.

Potential Achilles Heel - The answer here should be "pitching" for the foreseeable future, at least until another ice age flattens the Rocky Mountains to something closer to sea level. The team has yet to find a formula for making their pitchers effective at Coors, and this year will trot out a staff filled with good-but-not-great starters who might struggle to keep the Rockies in front should the team's offensive stars miss any significant time.

Hidden Strength - For the first time in years, the Rockies have some legitimate homegrown pitching prospects, including a pair of guys who are near the top of Keith Law's top 100 prospect rankings in 2013 top draft pick Jonathan Gray and 2012 second-rounder Eddie Butler. The latter is a little closer to the majors now, but both guys are potentially ready to jump to Denver this summer. Both guys can sit in the upper 90s with their fastballs, and also have wipeout sliders and strong changeups. They may not have a huge impact on this year's Rockies, but don't be surprised if both are rotation mainstays as soon as next spring.

4) Arizona Diamondbacks

Lineup
RF   Gerardo Parra (age 27, .273/.327/.383, 7 HR, .310 wOBA, 2.4 WAR) - over
3B   Martin Prado (age 30, .290/.339/.411, 12 HR, .329 wOBA, 3.2 WAR) - under
1B   Paul Goldschmidt (age 26, .292/.385/.538, 34 HR, .394 wOBA, 5.4 WAR) - over
LF   Mark Trumbo (age 28, .252/.310/.484, 34 HR, .341 wOBA, 1.8 WAR) - over
2B   Aaron Hill (age 32, .283/.340/.449, 17 HR, .343 wOBA, 3.2 WAR) - over
C     Miguel Montero (age 30, .269/.351/.413, 15 HR, .335 wOBA, 3.5 WAR) - under
CF   A.J. Pollock (age 26, .273/.327/.388, 8 HR, .315 wOBA, 2.6 WAR) - over
SS   Chris Owings (age 22, .268/.300/.386, 11 HR, .302 wOBA, 1.9 WAR) - under

Rotation
LHP Patrick Corbin (age 24, 205 IP, 172/53 K/BB, 3.50 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 3.4 WAR) - over
RHP Bronson Arroyo (age 37, 201 IP, 123/40 K/BB, 4.11 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 0.8 WAR) - under
LHP Wade Miley (age 27, 202 IP, 146/57 K/BB, 3.81 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 2.3 WAR) - over
RHP Trevor Cahill (age 26, 187 IP, 138/73 K/BB, 3.75 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 1.6 WAR) - under
RHP Brandon McCarthy (age 30, 144 IP, 88/23 K/BB, 4.42 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 1.4 WAR) - over

Bench/Bullpen
OF Cody Ross, IF Cliff Pennington, IF Eric Chavez, C Tuffy Gosewisch, OF Matt Tuiasosopo, RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Brandon McCarthy, LHP Joe Thatcher, RHP Brad Ziegler, RHP David Hernandez, RHP Josh Collmenter

Best Offseason Move - In this case, with this team, "best" means little more than "least confusing." After a three-team trade that sent one of their top pitching prospects to Anaheim and a promising young outfielder to Chicago, the Diamondbacks were left with a possible hole in their rotation, which instead of leaving to Delgado (who made 19 starts last year and is just 24 years old), they signed 37-year-old Bronson Arroyo, who if nothing else can be counted on to throw 200 innings if necessary. Arroyo is a fly ball pitcher, and while he should fare well on the road against the California teams, the light air of Phoenix may limit him to a mediocre innings eater. His presence will at least allow Delgado and Archie Bradley to develop at their own pace before joining the rotation.

Worst Offseason Move - The lure of bringing power hitters to the desert air is strong, which must be why GM Kevin Towers dumped Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton to bring in Trumbo, despite the fact that Arizona already has a first baseman and can't use a designated hitter. That means that Trumbo will have to play in Arizona's fairly spacious outfield, where his severe lack of range will be a problem. What he will contribute is power, and lots of it. Trumbo has hit 29, 32, and 34 home runs in his first three big league seasons, despite playing half his games in the pitchers' paradise of Anaheim. His approach is basically Whack-A-Mole, with the titanic blasts punctuating long strings of whiffs (184 last year and 465 career). At least he should be able to plate some of the runs that Goldschmidt leaves on the table.

Key Player - Speaking of Goldschmidt, it is just about impossible to find a player who has improved year-by-year as much as he has, especially one who's just 26 years old. In his second full season, Goldschmidt hit .301/.401/.551 with a league-leading 36 bombs, collected a Silver Slugger and a deserved Gold Glove, and finished second in MVP balloting to Andrew McCutchen. An overlooked prospect who was drafted in the eighth round out of Texas State in 2009, Goldschmidt also adds impressive value on the bases for such a big man (6'3", 245), with 37 career steals in 47 attempts. He's signed to a ridiculously below-market contract that will pay just $32 million over the next five years, with a $14.5 million team option for 2019. On the open market, he'd probably be worth somewhere around $20 million per season. As it is, he should be a perennial MVP candidate at a very low cost for some years to come.

Most Exciting Player - Corbin was part of the haul Arizona received for trading Dan Haren to Anaheim in 2010 (along with Skaggs, who has now gone from LA to Phoenix and back again). His ceiling was supposed to be "good #2 starter," but he started last season like a house afire, earning an invite to New York for the All-Star Game. He cooled a little down the stretch, but the list of southpaws with 95-mph heat and two other strong pitches (slider, change) is pretty short. If you're an old-school fan, you might also root for Montero, the unofficial police chief of baseball's unwritten rules, and the possibility that he might snap and punch out Yasiel Puig during a game this year.

Possible Breakout Star - I would say Delgado here if the Arroyo signing hadn't likely demoted him to long relief, spot starting, or AAA Reno. Goldschmidt and Corbin are ineligible also, so let's go with Pollock. Towers and manager Kirk Gibson think highly enough of him that they shipped Eaton to the South Side this winter, and Pollock will have every opportunity to build on a solid .269/.322/.409 slash line with excellent defense (18.5 UZR). If he exceeds projections and hits, say, .275/.340/.420, the Diamondbacks will have a five-win player on their hands.

Potential Achilles Heel - Towers and Gibson have made some strong moves together in Arizona, but also some head-scratchers. It seems to be a little too easy to get yourself in their doghouse if they don't think of you as scrappy or gritty enough. Ask Justin Upton, a serious MVP candidate in 2011 who spent the next year on the trading block before getting dealt to Atlanta a year ago. This method of keeping everyone on edge could keep them sharp...or cause a breakdown throughout the entire team structure. Towers and Gibson are Jimmy Dugan's "There's no CRYING in baseball!!!" speech come to life. Bears watching.

Hidden Strength - A reason that the Snakes were okay with shipping Skaggs back to Orange County over the winter (and Trevor Bauer to Cleveland a year ago) is that the organization is rich in pitching depth, much of it of the young variety. Corbin and Delgado are 24, Cahill is 26, and Miley is 27. McCarthy is practically an old man at 30. Archie Bradley should debut this summer, and Braden Shipley isn't far behind. Even the bullpen can't find enough spots for all the available arms. Even if injuries strike, Arizona's pitching should be solid.

3) San Diego Padres

Lineup
SS   Everth Cabrera (age 27, .271/.349/.360, 4 HR, 55 SB, .318 wOBA, 3.8 WAR) - over
RF   Will Venable (age 31, .261/.318/.417, 16 HR, .320 wOBA, 2.3 WAR) - under
3B   Chase Headley (age 30, .278/.365/.443, 18 HR, .354 wOBA, 5.3 WAR) - over
LF   Carlos Quentin (age 31, .272/.373/.481, 19 HR, .374 wOBA, 3.1 WAR) - under
2B   Jedd Gyorko (age 25, .270/.330/.468, 25 HR, .347 wOBA, 4.0 WAR) - under
1B   Yonder Alonso (age 27, .288/.358/.434. 14 HR, .344 wOBA, 2.8 WAR) - over
C     Yasmani Grandal (age 25, .271/.372/.422, 10 HR, .350 wOBA, 3.7 WAR) - over
CF   Cameron Maybin (age 27, .255/.312/.370, 9 HR, 50 SB, .302 wOBA, 2.2 WAR) - over

Rotation
RHP Andrew Cashner (age 27, 195 IP, 169/59 K/BB, 3.35 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 2.6 WAR) - over
RHP Ian Kennedy (age 29, 203 IP, 192/67 K/BB, 3.84 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.9 WAR) - over
RHP Josh Johnson (age 30, 164 IP, 163/55 K/BB, 3.57 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 2.3 WAR) - under
RHP Tyson Ross (age 27, 154 IP 149/58 K/BB, 3.70 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 1.4 WAR) - over
LHP Eric Stults (age 34, 153 IP, 101/37 K/BB, 3.64 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.2 WAR) - under

Bench/Bullpen
OF/1B Kyle Blanks, C Nick Hundley, OF Chris Denorfia, OF Seth Smith, IF/OF Alexi Amarista, RHP Huston Street, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Casey Kelly, LHP Cory Luebke, RHP Tim Stauffer, RHP Joe Wieland, LHP Alex Torres

Best Offseason Move - The Padres might be the single most under-the-radar team in the majors, dwarfed as they are in their own division by the likes of the Dodgers and Giants, and lacking a giant payroll or any outsize personalities. So it was with little fanfare that they signed the injury-prone Johnson to a one-year deal, fresh off of a disastrous season with Toronto. Johnson allowed 135 base runners in just over 80 innings with the Jays last year, but a move to the best pitchers' park in baseball, coupled with a return to (some) health should make him a bargain at $8 million this season. He may never be the beast that he was in 2009-10 for the Marlins (a combined 13.8 WAR in those two seasons), but even a two-win Johnson helps stabilize a pitching staff that is in serious flux.

Worst Offseason Move - It's hard to tell if the Padres are trying to contend this year, or if they're still in rebuilding mode. If they want to be a serious player in the division, then it would have behooved them to find a better option in right field than the mediocre Venable, especially with an extra $26 million to play with thanks to MLB's new national television contract. Don't you think Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo would look pretty good near the top of this lineup? Hell, even the second-tier options (Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran) would have been a substantial improvement. As it stands, it isn't clear what the Padres are doing, but giving a starting spot to league-average (or worse) veterans in a division with a couple of financial powerhouses seems like a good way to stay floating in the middle of the pack.

Key Player - In 2012, Headley got plenty of back-end MVP votes (he finished 5th) thanks to a .286/.376/.498, 31-homer season that netted him 6.2 WAR (although a lot of the votes were probably based on his league-leading 115 RBI - as if he had any control over that). The Padres elected to keep him rather than trade him for a raft of prospects, and last year he regressed to merely good (.250/.347/.400 with 13 homers). Headley is a perfectly good defender who can hit better than most third basemen not named David Wright, and he also happens to be a plus base runner. If he can split the difference between last season and 2012, he could give the Fathers enough extra oomph to contend for a wild card spot.

Most Exciting Player - Cabrera is a base-stealing menace at the top of the lineup, and he gets on base enough to make his presence felt often. Maybin's outstanding range in center is what keeps him in the lineup, and he's one of the few outfielders on Earth who can handle Petco Park's vast expanses of greenery (although he will be out until June with a biceps tear). I can't pretend to know much more than that, because as stated earlier this is a pretty blah team, right down to the uniforms.

Possible Breakout Star - Now here is a category that this team can dominate. It seems like it's been three years since the baseball world has awaited the impending stardom of Alonso, Kelly, Cashner, and Grandal. Alonso and Grandal were the biggest part of the bounty that the Padres received from Cincinnati for Mat Latos, a pair of top-shelf prospects who were expected to quickly take over at first base and catcher, respectively. Alonso's power has been slow to come along, with just 20 long balls in 321 major league games, but he gets on base at a respectable clip, flashes some leather, and doesn't strike out often. Grandal made a bang in his 2012 debut, becoming the first player in history to homer from both sides of the plate in his first major league game. Injuries and a Biogenesis-related suspension limited him to just 28 games a season ago, but if healthy he can be one of the best catchers in the game, both at the plate and behind it. Cashner had a mini-breakout last year, but more is expected of him and the injury-prone Kelly, who missed all of last year after getting zippered.

Potential Achilles Heel - This team has a lot of guys who hit for some power (Headley, Grandal, Blanks, Quentin, Gyorko, and maybe Alonso), but really no one who is a solid bet for 30 homers, especially not in the Petco graveyard. To keep the runs coming, San Diego needs all of its semi-boppers to have strong seasons, and especially needs Alonso to hit something like 20 bombs in one season, instead of spread across parts of three.

Hidden Strength - This team might have the greatest collection of names in baseball. Seriously, can you do better than Yonder Alonso, Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, Yasmani Grandal, and the undisputed champion of this category, Jedd Gyorko? I almost want to tune into all Padres road games just to hear those teams' announcers mangle the pronunciations of that crew. Can't we bring back Joe Morgan or Tim McCarver just to hear them say "Jedd Gyorko"?

2) San Francisco Giants

Lineup
CF   Angel Pagan (age 32, .287/.336/.415, 8 HR, .328 wOBA, 2.8 WAR) - under
2B   Marco Scutaro (age 38, .288/.337/.364, 3 HR, .312 wOBA, 1.8 WAR) - under
1B   Brandon Belt (age 26, .289/.369/.479, 20 HR, .368 wOBA, 4.3 WAR) - over
C     Buster Posey (age 27, .308/.383/.479, 18 HR, .373 wOBA, 6.7 WAR) - over
RF   Hunter Pence (age 31, .281/.335/.469, 24 HR, .349 wOBA, 4.1 WAR) - over
3B   Pablo Sandoval (age 27, .297/.349/.473, 19 HR, .354 wOBA, 4.5 WAR) - over
LF   Gregor Blanco (age 30, .269/.339/.336, 3 HR, .304 wOBA, 2.1 WAR) - over
SS   Brandon Crawford (age 27, .254/.313/.360, 8 HR, .296 wOBA, 2.5 WAR) - under

Rotation
RHP Matt Cain (age 29, 216 IP, 182/60 K/BB, 3.08 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 2.8 WAR) - over
LHP Madison Bumgarner (age 24, 216 IP, 210/56 K/BB, 2.87 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 4.3 WAR) - over
RHP Tim Hudson (age 38, 145 IP, 103/39 K/BB, 3.70 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 1.7 WAR) - over
RHP Tim Lincecum (age 30, 205 IP, 203/79 K/BB, 3.89 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 1.8 WAR) - under
RHP Ryan Vogelsong (age 36, 134 IP, 97/48 K/BB, 4.58 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 0.1 WAR) - over

Bench/Bullpen
OF Michael Morse, IF Tony Abreu, C Hector Sanchez, OF Roger Kieschnick, IF Joaquin Arias, RHP Sergio Romo, RHP Santiago Casilla, LHP Jeremy Affeldt, LHP Javier Lopez, RHP Yusmeiro Petit, LHP David Huff, RHP Heath Hembree

Best Offseason Move - Can you believe that the Barry Zito era is finally over in San Francisco? Granted, he stepped up in the 2012 playoffs, but for most of his tenure on the west side of the Bay, that seven-year, $126 million contract was a millstone around the organization's neck. To replace his innings, GM Brian Sabean turned to Zito's former Oakland teammate, Tim Hudson. Hudson may be 38 and coming off of a nasty ankle injury that he suffered last summer, but he profiles as the kind of pitcher who ages well, a sinker-baller whose few fly balls probably won't make it out of AT&T Park. For a team with limited talent in the minor leagues (and no pitchers who are close to ready), a two-year, $23 million flier on Hudson is well worth the risk.

Worst Offseason Move - When a player has one bad year, you can write it off as an aberration. When he has two consecutive down years, it starts to become a pattern. When that player is an undersized power pitcher with a max-effort delivery and over 1400 innings on his odometer who has lost significant velocity on his fastball, you should be very concerned that maybe he's no longer the star he used to be. So what was Sabean thinking by outbidding himself for Lincecum's services, handing him a two-year deal worth $35 million before free agency even started? The Freak used to be the best pitcher in baseball, but he hasn't even been above average since 2011. He can still strike out close to a batter an inning, but that drop in velocity (combined with his usual slight tendency towards wildness) means that he gets hit harder and more often. I doubt that on the open market, with a clear pattern of decline entering his age-30 season and with his slight build (5'11" and 170, probably fully dressed), that Lincecum would have gotten more than Hudson, or maybe even just a one-year deal to reestablish market value. It's a shame, but the guy who owned hitters from 2007-2010 is gone, and he probably ain't coming back.

Key Player - Not many players have had as much of a direct impact on their teams to start their career as Posey. The fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft joined the big league club for good in 2010, and in 108 games he hit .305/.357/.505, good enough to be the best hitter on the team, win the NL Rookie of the Year award, and lead the Giants to their first World Series title in over half a century. In late May of 2011, Florida's Scott Cousins ran him over at the plate and prematurely ended his season (a major impetus in the recent crackdown on home plate collisions), and the Giants finished 86-76, out of the playoffs. In 2012, Posey was hotter than the Atacama Desert for the entire second half, finishing with a .336/.408/.549 line, winning league MVP honors, and again leading San Francisco to a championship. Last year he was merely really good (and still the best Giant hitter), and the Giants struggled. If Posey goes after another personal trophy and the Giants win the World Series for a third time in five years, then the correlation will be pretty well proven. And don't rule it out. He's the best-hitting catcher in the game, with good receiving skills and the athleticism to play first so that manager Bruce Bochy can rest Belt against tough lefties and keep Posey's bat in the lineup (a move that gets him about 15 extra games a year). Look for him to be among the league's best players once again.

Most Exciting Player - When he's dialed in and in shape, there are few players in baseball more fun to watch on a regular basis than Sandoval, the roly-poly third baseman who swings at everything yet somehow has a career OBP of .351. Kung Fu Panda (or Fat Ichiro, or the Round Mound of Pound) also plays a surprisingly nimble third base, and hits well from both sides of the plate (although with significantly less power from the left). If he starts the season closer to 210-220 pounds instead of 250 or more, we'll know that we're in for a pretty big year (and because it's a walk year for the Panda, don't be surprised if that is the case).

Possible Breakout Star - Not applicable. The Giants don't have a single young player who hasn't already become something like what he is/was expected to be as a finished product. The only possibility is that maybe more people take notice of Bumgarner's brilliance, as the southpaw has become one of the best lefties in baseball entering his age-24 season and topped one writer's trade value rankings, but there's really no one else here that people don't already know about.

Potential Achilles Heel - Even if the Giants played in a neutral park (or division, for that matter, it's questionable whether anyone in this lineup would hit thirty home runs. Morse, whose extreme lack of defensive range will definitely prevent him from being an everyday player in San Francisco, is the only man on the team who has ever cracked that number in any season, three years ago with the Nationals. The low wattage of this offense will mean a lot of tight games, and although the rotation and bullpen are both strong, the Giants may need some of the Orioles' luck in one-run games from 2012 in order to contend for the division crown.

Hidden Strength - The bullpen is strong enough that when closer Brian Wilson went down with a UCL tear in early 2012, the Giants never missed a beat, passing the baton first to Casilla and then to Romo. Lopez is one of the best LOOGYs in baseball, and Affeldt is the rare lefty reliever who carries no substantial platoon split and can give you two strong innings. Plus, the forgiving dimensions and climate at AT&T make everyone better on the bump.

1) Los Angeles Dodgers

Lineup
RF   Yasiel Puig (age 23, .290/.361/.502, 26 HR, .371 wOBA, 5.2 WAR) - over
CF   Matt Kemp (age 29, .290/.352/.491, 22 HR, .359 wOBA, 3.6 WAR) - over
SS   Hanley Ramirez (age 30, .290/.350/.488, 23 HR, .363 wOBA, 5.0 WAR) - over
1B   Adrian Gonzalez (age 32 .292/.346/.465, 21 HR, .349 wOBA, 3.5 WAR) - under
LF   Andre Ethier (age 32, .278/.352/.425, 13 HR, .340 wOBA, 2.3 WAR) - under
3B   Juan Uribe (age 35, .249/.309/.357, 9 HR, .292 wOBA, 2.2 WAR) - under
C     A.J. Ellis (age 33, .255/.346/.367, 9 HR, .318 wOBA, 3.1 WAR) - under
2B   Dee Gordon (age 26, .249/.315/.304, 40 SB, .281 wOBA, 1.1 WAR) - under

Rotation
LHP Clayton Kershaw (age 26, 233 IP, 241/55 K/BB, 2.39 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 5.7 WAR) - over
RHP Zack Greinke (age 30, 204 IP, 186/51 K/BB, 3.07 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 3.6 WAR) - over
RHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (age 27, 192 IP, 159/50 K/BB, 3.45 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 2.5 WAR) - over
LHP Paul Maholm (age 32, 176 IP, 115/50 K/BB, 3.78 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 0.7 WAR) - over
RHP Dan Haren (age 33, 156 IP, 132/29 K/BB, 3.94 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 1.8 WAR) - under

Bench/Bullpen
OF Carl Crawford, C Drew Butera, OF Mike Baxter, OF/IF Scott Van Slyke, IF Alex Guerrero, RHP Kenley Jansen, RHP Brian Wilson, RHP Brandon League, RHP Jamey Wright, LHP J.P. Howell, RHP Chris Perez, LHP Scott Elbert

Best Offseason Move - With more than $27 million worth of starting pitchers recuperating from injury (Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley), the Dodgers had a couple of holes in their rotation, and money being no object, plunked down another $11.5 million on Haren and Maholm to bridge the gap. Maholm is a crafty lefty who won't strike out a ton of guys but can eat innings well. Haren is no longer the All-Star-caliber pitcher that he was three or four years ago, but he remains an excellent control artist whose occasional gopheritis should be kept in check by Dodger Stadium. Plus, both guys should be healthy enough to give the Dodgers 150-180 innings, which will be plenty considering that the bullpen gets a lot of breaks when Kershaw and Greinke pitch.

Worst Offseason Move - The Dodgers bought out Mark Ellis' contract with a million bucks that they had lying around in take one/leave one cups because they planned on Guerrero taking over second base, but now the reports are that he won't be ready, and the only other major league-ready second baseman (which is being EXTREMELY generous) is Gordon, who brings a slick glove but can't hit his weight, only salvaging any value as a plus base runner. What the Dodgers should have done is bite the bullet and deal one of their overqualified fourth outfielders (my move would have been Ethier over Crawford because he's slightly cheaper), likely swallowing part of that player's contract in the process (it's not like they lack for it) in an effort to get a decent or better second baseman. An Ethier-for-Brandon-Phillips swap would have made sense for both teams, giving Cincinnati an everyday guy who can push Ryan Ludwick to the bench and getting rid of Phillips' attitude, although maybe the Dodgers don't need yet another wild card in the clubhouse (to go with Beckett, Puig, Wilson, Perez, and Ramirez).

Key Player - The Dodgers have a storied pitching tradition, from Nap Rucker to Dazzy Vance to Sandy Koufax to Don Drysdale to Don Sutton to Fernando Valenzuela to Orel Hershiser to Kershaw, who currently holds the title of "Best Pitcher in Baseball." Would you believe that Kershaw, who just turned 26, is already tenth all-time in WAR for pitchers in Dodgers history? He's led the majors in ERA the past three seasons, and since he turned old enough to drink in a bar he hasn't posted a figure lower than 2.91. He has won two of the last three Cy Youngs, finishing second to R.A. Dickey and his touching life story in 2012. Kershaw brings the heat in the mid-90s and has a curve that, quite simply, turns hitters (especially lefties) into quivering piles of goo. And he only appears to be getting better. If you're placing bets in Vegas on the Cy Young for Kershaw vs. the field, I would take Kershaw.

Most Exciting Player - You mean, other than the best pitcher on the planet? Well, of course this category belongs to Puig, who debuted in June last year and instantly made his mark with his bat, glove, and arm. Puig only knows one way to drive or play baseball, and that is pedal-to-the-medal. He plays something like Vlad Guerrero in his long-ago prime, only if Vlad ingested as much cocaine as Pam Poovey. There is never a minute when you forget that Puig is on the field, especially when you're the other team's third base coach.

Possible Breakout Star - Much like with the Giants above, this category doesn't really apply to a team full of established stars. Hell, even Perez, who will be either a seventh-inning or mop-up guy for this squad, has two All-Star appearances on his ledger as the Indians' closer. Instead, I'll use this space to talk about the potential for a comeback season by Kemp. The center fielder was the best player in the National League in 2011, hitting .324/.399/.586, playing great defense, and coming within one homer of a 40-40 season (although he lost the MVP to a roided-out Ryan Braun). Since then, however, he has missed 145 games with a variety of ailments, and as he approaches age 30 there are questions about whether he can ever be that guy again. He's certainly getting paid like that guy, entering year three of an eight-year, $160 million contract, but has been worth only 2.9 WAR over the past two seasons combined after an eight-win season in 2011. Even 75% of that guy would be one of the best players in the league and give the Dodgers a dynamite outfield even if you put an actual corpse in left next to Kemp and Puig. Management certainly hopes that Kemp will become a force again, and it would certainly make Los Angeles baseball more entertaining.

Potential Achilles Heel - What happens if an infielder gets hurt? Or what happens if the four outfielders all stay healthy and one or more of them chafes at not playing every day? Would the Dodgers try to convert Kemp or Puig to the infield if the hole is that glaring? (Ethier and Crawford are both left-handed.) None of Los Angeles' top prospects are anywhere close to major league-ready, and the cream of the crop are still teenagers. If Guerrero starts the season in Albuquerque, the Dodgers will be hoping that he gets ready for the bigs quickly, because infield depth is a big issue here.

Hidden Strength - It's not really hidden, but the Dodgers have the financial might and flexibility to pull off just about anything, whether it's trade from their glut of outfielders or Proven Closer(TM)s (Wilson, Perez, League) while eating some money to shore up other spots on the roster, or simply taking on bad contracts that other teams don't want in order to gain a potentially valuable piece (as they did in taking Crawford and Beckett off of Boston's hands when they wanted Gonzalez). Or they might throw $40 million at the next Cuban defector who washes up on the beach. You never know with this team, and they will make the NL West one of the more interesting divisions in baseball.

Coming tomorrow; the AL Central.