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October 31, 2007
Lies, Damned Lies
Offseason Plans, NL West
This is the last of a six-part preview of the impending offseason. Once I hit the 'submit' button and send this article to Christina, my column output is likely to be sporadic over the next several weeks as I tend to BP2K8 and PECOTA. I'll still be pitching in on Unfiltered in the meantime, and we'll have plenty of coverage for you as the stove turns from lukewarm to white hot.
That is, of course, right at the range where adding a little bit of talent can go a long way, since there are a tremendous number of National League teams in that same territory. There's an obvious place to upgrade in the starting pitching department; Webb, Davis, Micah Owings, and Johnson are a credible front four, but there's a big drop-off after that (plus, there's no guarantee that Johnson will pitch the entire season). One intriguing fit could be Greg Maddux, if the Padres do not pick up his option; he's still a groundball pitcher, and he could take advantage of Orlando Hudson's vacuum-like defense at second base. Otherwise, most of the alternatives require use of the trade market. Nick Piecoro mentions Cliff Lee, Ervin Santana, and Daniel Cabrera as possible alternatives. All of those make sense, particularly the latter two, and the Diamondbacks have some excess assets like Chad Tracy and Carlos Quentin to utilize.
One potential starting point would be trading Garrett Atkins for a starting pitcher, and allowing Ian Stewart to graduate to the position. This is not as much of a drop-off as you might think, considering that Stewart is a better glove, and the market for Atkins should be fairly robust given that several big-market suitors will come up short in the A-Rod derby. I also see no particular reason for the Rockies to break the bank for Torrealba, who had just a .235 EqA last season; I would rather give the job to Chris Iannetta, or pursue a higher-impact free agent alternative. And I would devote $10-$12 million to the bullpen, preferring to re-sign my own guys because I know that they're comfortable in Coors.
San Diego Padres
The Padres' infield is largely set. In the long run, the group is Headley, Khalil Greene, Antonelli, and Gonzalez. Kevin Kouzmanoff will hold Headley off for not more than one more season; after that the Padres will have to figure out whether Kouz hits enough to warrant a move to a corner outfield position. There's an outside chance that Antonelli could make the club out of spring training; otherwise, the Padres will be looking at a Tadahito Iguchi-type one-year fix. The pitching should continue to be an asset, though it's a little top-heavy--the Padres should accept Maddux' option and look to add a fourth starter, perhaps a flyball pitcher like Eric Milton who wouldn't work in most other parks.
But the big decisions are in the outfield, where there's neither much present-day talent nor much on the farm. From the following group, the Padres need to sign at least one and quite possibly two players: Barry Bonds, who could thrive in San Diego's low-key media environment; Kosuke Fukudome, who has already been linked with the Padres; Torii Hunter, who will require a lot of money but provides a lot of marginal gain in Petco's large outfield; Andruw Jones, who is closer to Hunter in reality than in perception; and Aaron Rowand, for whom the same is largely true.
Los Angeles Dodgers
SS Furcal C Martin 1B Loney 2B Kent LF Kemp RF Ethier 3B LaRoche CF Pierre
That group would be significantly better than league average at two positions (catcher and second base), slightly better than average at three positions (shortstop, left field, and probably first base), about average in right field, and slightly below at center and third (though not for long in Andy LaRoche's case, especially with Nomar Garciaparra serving as his caddy). Overall, it's one of the better position player groups in the league. So then you take the money you're saving yourself on Luis Gonzalez and spend it on a mid-level starting pitcher, to round out a rotation with Penny, Lowe, Schmidt, and Chad Billingsley. Coupled with the great one-two punch in the bullpen, that is also an above-average group. That's it. You're done. You've spent next to nothing--and you still have a potential pennant winner on your hands. It looks like about an 88-win core that can creep into the 90s if the veterans stay healthy.
Instead, all rumors are that Ned Colletti's compass is pointed in the opposite direction. What I envision happening is something like the following: Kemp or LaRoche are included in a deal for a premium starting pitcher. And then--guess what--you do have a hole at left or third, and you do need to work the free agent market to repair it. But it isn't a hole that existed before; it's one that you've created yourself. The behavior is literally almost pathological, a kind of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome: Colletti seems determined to make the Dodgers sick so that he can make them well again. Playing the kids--these talented kids from your farm system that embody everything that used to be called the Dodger Way--well, that's just too darn obvious.
If the Dodgers feel like they have to have a 94-win club instead of an 88-win club--and there's no reason they should feel that way after drawing almost four million fans last year--there are still a couple ways they could accomplish this. For instance, beat Curt Schilling's second-best offer by 30 percent, which probably means something like $18 million. By definition, you're overpaying, but the magnitude of the mistake is much, much smaller than trading Kershaw and Kemp for one year of Johan Santana, or signing Alex Rodriguez and permanently burying either LaRoche or Hu. Or, beat Torii Hunter's second-best offer by 10 percent, and see if you can't get someone else to eat most of Juan Pierre's contract. Of course, all of this speculation may be premature; the Dodgers haven't done anything yet this winter but replace Grady Little with Joe Torre, which surely has to be considered an upgrade. But based on their past performance, they're not a club to which I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
San Francisco Giants
To get back into playoff contention would require five, maybe six significant free agent signings--say a first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, left fielder, and closer--which would probably take payroll somewhere northward of $120 million. The problem with that approach is not just that it's expensive, but that it requires tremendous coordination to pull off; if you sign three of your six free agent targets, and get outbid on the others, then you're stuck shelling out $90-$100 million for what's going to be a losing baseball club. There are two approaches I can see making sense here. The first is to go with an old-school, Whitey Herzog speed-and-defense approach, which could work well in a big field like AT&T Park. The Giants allowed 720 runs last year with a +7 FRAA; if you can somehow turn that +7 into a +70, then you're talking about allowing barely more than four runs a game, at which point an offense that plays around one-run strategies could scratch and claw out a few victories. It wouldn't be a winning approach, mind you, but it would be interesting, and it would give the team an identity while aiding the development of the young pitchers. This is my preferred strategy.
The second approach is to sign Alex Rodriguez. This would not be done with the expectation of having a playoff club in 2008, nor probably in 2009. Rather, it would be done to give the fans something to chew on while you do a deep rebuild on the rest of the roster. We know that the fans have been very supportive in San Francisco--the Giants turned out more than 3.2 million fans last year in spite of having their third consecutive losing season. But throughout that period, the Giants at least looked like they were trying; it's very dangerous to look like you're abandoning hope-and-faith, especially when the kids left on the roster can't play. The reason I prefer signing A-Rod for $30 million/year to three middling free agents at $10 million/year is because it doesn't involve as much opportunity cost; you don't tie up other positions where you might develop a prospect, or get lucky and have something go right for you.