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June 27, 2012

What the Contenders Need

NL West

by Bradley Ankrom, Jeff Euston and Kevin Goldstein

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With a little over a month to go until the non-waiver trading deadline, talks between teams are heating up. In a seven-part series appearing over the coming week, several BP authors will be covering the needs, potential fits, and more for the contenders in each division and wrapping up with a look at the top 10 player trade targets. Today, we get things started with a look at the NL West.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Playoff odds
Opening Day: 46%,
High: 66% (4/10)
Low: 16% (5/22)
Current: 52%

Payroll picture
Arizona opened 2012 with a $74 million payroll, a jump of nearly 40 percent from 2011. The Diamondbacks then awarded catcher Miguel Montero a $60 million contract, a club record for total value.

The D-Backs have eight players signed for 2013 at a cost of $50.75 million. Shortstop Stephen Drew’s deal includes a $10 million mutual option for next season, and Arizona holds a $6.5 million option on J.J. Putz. With Ian Kennedy and Ryan Roberts among six arbitration-eligibles, Arizona could face a financial crunch if the team’s payroll remains in the $75 million range, as it has for three of the past four seasons.—Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Kevin Towers is probably most famous for his ability to construct excellent bullpens out of scrap-heap players, but he’s also made some very astute mid-season deals since coming to Arizona in 2010. The Diamondbacks’ current BWARP leader, second baseman Aaron Hill, was acquired from Toronto last August in exchange for Kelly Johnson. Glove-first infielder John McDonald also came to Arizona in that trade, and he has teamed with Willie Bloomquist to fill in for the injured Stephen Drew at shortstop.

Towers fortified the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation last winter when he traded top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker, relief pitcher Ryan Cook, and outfielder Colin Cowgill to Oakland for Trevor Cahill and reliever Craig Breslow. Cahill’s presence has made it easier for Arizona to endure the loss of Daniel Hudson for an extended stretch, and Breslow immediately became the Diamondbacks’ top left-handed option out of the bullpen. Another bullpen stalwart, Brad Ziegler, was picked up from Oakland at last year’s trade deadline for since-released first baseman Brandon Allen.

Biggest positional needs
The left side of the Diamondbacks’ infield has been an offensive mess, though the return of Drew to the lineup later this week should provide some relief. A dreadful .152/.240/.242 April put third baseman Ryan Roberts in a deep hole to begin the year, but he’s rebounded to hit .282/.313/.413 since May 1.

The rotation has taken its lumps with the loss of Hudson and inconsistency of Ian Kennedy, but rookies Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin have picked up much of the slack. Trevor Bauer, last year’s top draft pick out of UCLA, is expected to make his major-league debut on Thursday in the turn occupied by Josh Collmenter last week.

Potential fits
With the Padres unlikely to trade Chase Headley within their division, and the Mets contending with David Wright, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious upgrade at third base for the club to pursue. Placido Polanco could be an option if the Phillies decide to clean house, but the odds of that situation coming to fruition appear low. Polanco’s ability to make contact would certainly be welcomed in a lineup that ranks in the top half of the National League in strikeout percentage.—Bradley Ankrom

Top trade chips
With a system heavy on pitching, Arizona certainly isn't going to deal Tyler Skaggs, but lefty David Holmberg could be available if the return is great enough. While he's been a bit of a disappointment, former first-round pick Bobby Borchering has power, which is becoming a rare commodity, as does Double-A outfielder Marc Krauss. Tools fiends remain intrigued by Keon Broxton, and while right-handed reliever Evan Marshall lacks upside, he's close to being big-league ready.—Kevin Goldstein

Los Angeles Dodgers

Playoff odds
Opening Day: 18%
High: 83% (6/17)
Low: 17% (4/3)
Current: 68%

Payroll picture
Two years ago, the Rangers emerged from the Chapter 11 reorganization process at midseason and managed to reach the World Series. With a vastly improved financial position and early indications that ownership is willing to spend, the Dodgers hope to follow suit.

In the rear-view mirror is the disastrous McCourt era, which reached its nadir in 2011 when Ned Colletti was reduced to asking every Dodger earning a salary north of $1 million to defer cash.

With a new ownership group now in place—Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson and Mark Walter closed on their $2.15 billion purchase of the Dodgers in May—the club approaches the trade deadline with some semblance of financial certainty for the first time in years.

The Dodgers opened the season with a relatively modest payroll of $95 million, plus another $11 million in dead money for Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones. But within six weeks of taking control of the franchise, ownership green-lighted an $85 million extension for Andre Ethier, a deal that begins in 2013, the same year Matt Kemp’s new contract kicks into high gear, doubling his salary to $20 million.  All told, the Dodgers already have more than $100 million committed to 12 players for 2013, but that amount will fall to about $50 million for three players in 2014.—Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
As R.J. Anderson noted recently, Ned Colletti may receive an unfair amount of criticism for the trades he has made as Dodgers general manager, but one thing is certain: he isn’t afraid to deal potential future value for assets that his major-league squad can leverage to win games immediately.

Some of Colletti’s better trades have come when correctly identifying the lemons in his own bunch. He traded Bryan Morris and LaRoche to acquire Manny Ramirez (easily the best deal of his career), used the intrigue of Joel Guzman to land Julio Lugo (whom, for whatever reason, fell to pieces, mitigating an otherwise clever deal), grabbed Jon Garland for Tony Abreu, got Jim Thome for nothing, and added Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot for Blake DeWitt and two prospects who were unable to make the Cubs’ top-20 list this preseason.

Colletti’s acquisition of left fielder Bobby Abreu (.286/.393/.412 with the Dodgers) earlier this year has paid off, softening the blow of losing Matt Kemp for much of the last six weeks.

Biggest positional needs
Since 1950, 19 first basemen have earned at least 3,000 plate appearances and been worth fewer than five wins above replacement. James Loney is one of them, joining the likes of Rico Brogna, John Mabry, Lee Stevens, and Casey Kotchman. Loney’s bat has toed the replacement-level line for much of his career, and this year he’s fallen below it, ranking 20th out of 22 qualifying first basemen in True Average (.225) and WARP (-1.0).

The only consistently useful piece of the Dodgers’ infield this year has been second baseman Mark Ellis (.273/.373/.364); the left-side regulars, shortstop Dee Gordon and third baseman Juan Uribe, have gone a combined .228/.274/.390 in more than 400 plate appearances.

Potential fits
Like the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers are going to find the pickings slim if they try to upgrade at the hot corner this summer. If Houston’s Jed Lowrie is made available, he could be a nice upgrade over Gordon at shortstop.* If the Blue Jays slip further out of the race in the American League, they could make either Adeiny Hechavarria or Yunel Escobar available.

*In theory, any replacement-level shortstop would be an upgrade over Gordon and his -0.4 WARP.—Bradley Ankrom

Top trade chips
The Dodgers’ system has some depth, but there are few must-have prospects in the system. Teams looking for instant fixes might take a look at Triple-A tease Jerry Sands, as well as right-handed reliever Josh Wall, who has the ability to miss bats. Teams looking for more risky upside could have an eye on right-hander Ralston Cash or outfielder James Baldwin at Low-A, as well as Jarrett Martin, an inconsistent left-hander who shows power stuff. Other relievers with good scouting reports include Yimi Garcia and Logan Bawcom.—Kevin Goldstein

San Francisco Giants

Playoff odds
Opening Day: 57%
High: 71% (6/23)
Low: 35% (5/11)
Current: 67%

Payroll picture
The Giants topped the $100 million payroll mark for the first time in franchise history in 2011, a season after winning their first title in San Francisco. Their Opening Day payroll for 2012 remained flat at $117 million, good for the eighth-highest figure in baseball. Factor in the dead money still going to Aaron Rowand, and San Francisco is spending a club-record $130 million this season.

Recent history provides a good indication of how highly Brian Sabean values roster and payroll flexibility. Entering the offseason, only one Giant had signed for longer than two years since 2008. (Matt Cain received a three-year extension in spring training of 2010.) That changed this winter, as Sabean spent $162.5 million to lock up Cain and Madison Bumgarner through 2017. He paid another $17.15 million to buy out Pablo Sandoval’s arbitration years.

Larry Baer, who replaced retiring team CEO Bill Neukom in November, has indicated that he does not foresee the Giants extending big offers for high-dollar free agents. Sabean already has committed about $80 million to seven players for 2013. Buster Posey reaches arbitration this winter, and Melky Cabrera hits the free-agent market after the World Series, so financial room to maneuver is at a premium.—Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Brian Sabean isn’t one to sit still at the trade deadline, though his only significant move in recent years came when he dealt top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets for center fielder Carlos Beltran last July. He’s more apt to acquire insurance rather than impact, and that approach has generally worked out: the Giants averaged 89 wins annually from 2009-2011 and won a championship during that span, but they haven’t been confused with an offensive juggernaut since the days when Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, and Rich Aurilia wore the orange and black.

Biggest positional needs
Middle infielders have been the Achilles’ heel of a mediocre Giants offense whose only reliable hitters are Posey, Cabrera, and Pablo Sandoval. Brandon Crawford’s defense at shortstop can make up for only so much of his offensive ineptitude, and a .215/.281/.303 slash line through nearly 500 career plate appearances doesn’t inspire confidence that he’ll improve further. When compared to Crawford, second baseman Ryan Theriot actually looks like a decent major-league second baseman, but don’t be fooled—he isn’t.

On the whole, Giants hitters have been better than average at reaching base; the problem is that their lineup hasn’t provided enough extra-base power to drive runners home.

 

2B

HR

TB

AVG

OBP

SLG

R/G

Giants

114

46

963

.262

.320

.380

4.07

NL Average

127

67

984

.252

.318

.398

4.19

Without the offensive contributions of Crawford and Theriot, the Giants’ team slash line is .265/.322/.393. Of course, replacing Crawford and Theriot with average players would also negate their defensive contributions, which is where Crawford’s only value is derived. Theriot, on the other hand, has exactly one positive-FRAA season to his credit since 2006.

Potential fits
Lowrie would be the Giants’ best all-around shortstop since Rich Aurilia, but with the dearth of middle-infield options available this summer, he won’t come cheaply. Colorado’s Marco Scutaro could be a less-expensive, and less-impactful, fit, assuming he has no lingering effects from being hit in the head by a Stephen Strasburg fastball Monday night. Though he’s signed to a team-friendly long-term contract, don’t be surprised if the rumors of Yunel Escobar’s availability become louder as the summer wears on, especially if Adeiny Hechavarria continues to hit well at Triple-A.

The trouble with upgrading the Giants’ lineup is that aside from the middle infield, there really aren’t many bad players to be found. Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan are nice players to have around, but neither is going to hit 20-plus home runs, and that’s the kind of modest pop this lineup sorely needs.—Bradley Ankrom

Top trade chips
The Giants traded away their top prospect last summer in Zack Wheeler, and while plenty of teams will come calling for righty Kyle Crick, it's hard to see them flipping another high-ceiling righty. Potential groundballing innings eaters Mike Kickham and Clayton Blackburn should generate some interest, but teams looking for position players will have little to choose from in the system. The Giants aren’t going to sell low on Gary Brown and/or Tommy Joseph, but outfielder Roger Kieschnick is in the midst of a breakout season that has generated some limited buzz.—Kevin Goldstein

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Giants,  Dodgers,  Diamondbacks

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