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November 7, 2013

One Move

National League West

by Craig Goldstein

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My colleague Ben Carsley introduced this series to you yesterday, with the moves he’d make for the AL East franchises, so today I give you what I’d do if given the chance to make one move for each NL West club. It’s a thought exercise, and isn’t limited to on-field transactions. It can be signing a player, making a trade (that’s feasible, we hope), or something more over-arching in regards to a club’s organizational tendencies.

We’re both well aware that we’ll likely get pilloried in the comments. In fact you probably hammered Ben pretty hard yesterday, but you wouldn’t play me like that would you? No matter, let us know what you think of our ideas in the comments or what ideas you have yourself, and remember, it’s supposed to be reasonable but in the end this was all about having some fun.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Stop Tinkering
They weren’t a great team last year, so not doing much of anything doesn’t seem to be a great solution. That said, they have a lot of good pieces, if they’d just let them play. They ran Justin Upton out of town and would have managed not to find time for Gerardo Parra had Adam Eaton not been injured early. They have a plethora of pitchers, yet seem intent on finding other, more expensive options for their rotation (I’m looking at you Jeff Samardzija). With Matt Davidson arriving at 3B and Didi Gregorius/Chris Owings at shortstop, along with frontline pitching prospect Archie Bradley looming, Arizona should be content to let its team find some cohesion and develop from within.

Arizona will continue to get mocked thanks to the grit-based culture they’re trying to instill. But the bottom line is that they carry talent at most every position and have enough flexibility (thanks to Martin Prado) to play matchups and bring their young talent along slowly. They want grit but perhaps consistency from one offseason to the next will help just as much.

Colorado Rockies: Sign Ubaldo Jimenez
It’s tempting to have them sell on Troy Tulowitzki and/or Carlos Gonzalez, but the nucleus of their team isn’t so bad if those players are healthy, and given their health issues and large contracts, you’re not necessarily getting the best value by moving them now. The Rockies top pick is protected (eighth overall), so they don’t lose a first rounder for signing Jimenez, and his power arsenal is the type that shouldn’t degrade too much at high altitude. It’s not going to make them the best team in the division, but there isn’t one move that will.

More than anything though, Colorado needs pitching. This is nothing new for the Rockies of course, but they intentionally started Roy Oswalt for heaven’s sake. On top of their desperate need for a starting pitcher, Colorado would be getting something it’s intimately familiar with, something not often found in free agency. Add to that Jimenez’s impressive turnaround in Cleveland last season, including 100 strikeouts against 27 walks in 84 innings pitched, combined with prior success in Colorado’s thin air, and it could make some sense. Obviously we can’t (confidently) predict the dollar figures that Jimenez will command, so it would have to make fiscal sense, but from an on-field standpoint this is a move that benefits the Rockies.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Hire Manny Acta... as bench coach
For better or worse it seems that manager Don Mattingly has signed on for at least one more year of Dodger baseball. He comes with his own set of strengths and weaknesses, and while the chorus of those wanting him gone grew ever louder following what some saw as a premature playoff exit, he’s not easily replaced. The team respects him, and he did well to manage a clubhouse full of varied and occasionally difficult personalities. With that in mind, and Acta’s previous failures as a head coach, despite what most deem to be impressive baseball acumen and a willingness to accept and work with advanced statistics, perhaps a bench coach position benefits all parties involved. If rumors are to be believed, former bench coach Trey Hillman had a lot of influence on many of the questionable decisions that Mattingly made. Now, Hillman might be a fall guy in this scenario, but ownership’s decision to retain everyone on the coaching staff except for Hillman gives us some insight into where they believe the problem resides.

The opportunity cost here is not addressing the gaping hole they could feature at 3B, as Juan Uribe is likely the best option on the market as well as an important clubhouse presence. There’s also the matter of the starting rotation, which has seen the likes of David Price or Masahiro Tanaka assigned to it. The third-base issue is a bit more pressing than the rotation, as Kershaw/Greinke/Ryu are just fine from one to three. Even so, third base isn't that pressing, as it appears to be a short-term issue rather than a long-term problem; the Dodgers’ likely top prospect, Corey Seager, is a candidate for the hot corner (at 6-foot-4, he’d be a huge shortstop) and could be ready as soon as mid-2015. Intangibles are difficult to quantify, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. This team seems to like Don Mattingly, but he needs some help to become a complete manager, and Acta is the guy to get him there.

San Diego Padres: Sign Josh Johnson
Ahh, yes. An oldie but a goodie. The case: the Padres have a cadre of young arms, many of whom are coming off injury or just haven’t thrown many innings recently. Robbie Erlin threw a combined 154 innings, while none of Joe Wieland, Casey Kelly, and Cory Luebke threw a pitch between the minors and majors in 2013. Those arms will be counted on to some degree, but it’s hard to see any of them sustaining a full season of action. The Padres did act preemptively, acquiring Ian Kennedy to pair with Andrew Cashner as a rotation option. After that it gets messy though, as Tyson Ross has shown talent in spurts but never remained healthy enough to put it all together and Eric Stults is… Eric Stults.

The case can then be made that adding one more high risk arm to the mix isn’t the answer, but if Johnson can rehabilitate his value (and what better place to do that than PETCO park), then the Padres can ship him off to a contender at the deadline and replace his production with one of their prospects. There’s not a lot of flash to this move, but it’s something that could appeal to both team and player. If it goes south, the Padres were unlikely to contend this season anyway.

San Francisco Giants: Sign Jacoby Ellsbury
Whoa. That’s a big’n. Let’s talk dollars first. The Giants currently have their 2014 payroll sitting at $110M or so, before factoring in arbitration eligible players. The Giants have already shelled out $120-plus million in future spending to Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum this offseason, and I’m talking about adding a guy who is almost certain to double that figure (again, in future spending). They went as high as a shade under $137M in 2013, and crested $130M in 2012 as well, so we know there’s some room in the budget. Add in the bump that every team is receiving thanks to new national television contracts, and there is reason to think the Giants payroll could push $145M, if they so choose. While an Ellsbury contract would push them perilously close to that hypothetical $145M based on likely AAV, the Giants could choose to backload the deal and have the dollars spike when Lincecum’s contract ends to give them room to operate as normal this offseason and next.

That leaves us with the type of fit, as well as opportunity cost to quibble with. Aside from outfield (well, left field but in this case Pagan could slide to left), the major area of concern for the Giants is the pitching staff. Beyond Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum there is… well… room for opportunity! So the downside to signing an Ellsbury is that you’re left to bottom feed with the back end of the pitching staff, but given the cost of the available options at starter, there might actually be more value in bottom feeding than overpaying a Ricky Nolasco-type to be your third or fourth starter. The other opportunity cost factor in paying Ellsbury is the loss of a first-round pick, which certainly hurts. The issue is, when looking for a move of impact for a team that can contend now (and this team certainly can), many of the available options come with such a tag. Matt Garza doesn’t, but the cost for him, combined with the role he’d play on the team doesn’t seem worthwhile to me. There’s definitely more cost to signing an Ellsbury, but there’s a lot more impact as well.

Which brings us to fit. I originally sketched out Curtis Granderson to the Giants because I liked what he did for their lineup, before realizing he too would cost a pick and that to give up a pick, you’d need more impact. But I was also swayed away from Granderson because he’s not the Giants style… but Ellsbury is. He’s a high contact type who can impact the game at the plate, on the bases and most importantly, in the field. Ellsbury is a plus centerfielder, especially when it comes to range, which is a huge factor in the Giants spacious outfield. The added bonus is it would shift Angel Pagan, who struggled in centerfield if you trust defensive metrics, into left field, giving the Giants one of the better outfield defenses in the league. This isn’t at all what I think will happen in San Francisco but if given the opportunity to influence one decision for the franchise, it’s the move I’d make.

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

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