Pitchers and catchers report soon.
Here’s the first in what I plan (time permitting) to be a series of pre-spring training predictions for the 2003 baseball season.
First, the National League West.
- The Los Angeles Dodgers: One of the best trades the Dodgers have made in a while, I think, is picking up Daryl Ward from the Astros. This kid just needs a chance to play everyday. He’s a real slugger and should provide good protection for Shawn Green. Fred McGriff is a big improvement over Eric Karros at first. The Dodgers starting pitching is still impressive and their middle relief should be solid. The two big questions — can Eric Gagne repeat his performance from last year, or did Jim Tracy overuse him and wear out his arm? And, is Dave Roberts for real, or was last year a fluke. If Gagne and Roberts come through, the Dodgers might get past their under-achieving skid of the last decade or so.
- San Francisco Giants: The loss of Russ Ortiz and Jeff Kent hurt the Giants, but the biggest cut of all was losing Dusty Baker. As much as I like Felipe Alou, he’s no Dusty Baker. Baker has always gotten more out of the Giants than the talent around him would seem to make possible. Key acquisitions, such as Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo help, but I’m not convinced it’s enough. Barry Bonds is at the age where we can expect to see his numbers decline. Still, there’s a lot of talent there and the Giants will be tough to beat.
- Arizona Diamondbacks: When you think Arizona, you think Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. These two guys are amazing. They are among the greatest 1-2 combinations in baseball history (think Spawn and Sane, Drysdale and Koufax). But if either one gets injured — at their age, not out of the question — then the Diamondbacks are sunk. They’re an old team, getting older each year. I’m just waiting for the collapse. I also think Junior Spivey last year was a fluke. He never produced at that as a minor leauger, so there’s no reason to believe he will continue at that level as a major leauger. Juan Gonzalez can’t carry this team.
- San Diego Padres: The only reason I’m not picking my Padres to finish last is they’re in the same division as Colorado. The only reason I’m not picking my Padres to finish third is Trevor Hoffman won’t be the closer to start the season, maybe not for the entire season, maybe not ever again. The Padres have a good young pitching staff. They have the nucleus of a good offense in Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko, Mark Kotsay and Sean Burroughs. I like the addition of Mark Lorretta and I’m confident Ramon Vazquez is the man for short stop. I’m worried about catcher and right field. The last couple of years, injuries more than anything have killed the Padres. I’m concerned that there is a deeper problem here (like the trainers) and that this year will be no different, but if the Padres stay healthy, they will be a competitive team. But it’s a tough division.
- Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have no pitching. And they’ll never have any pitching so long as they play in Denver. Maybe. Jason Jennings was 16 – 8 last year with a 4.52 ERA, which isn’t bad for a Rockies pitcher. It was, of course, inflated by his home ERA (well over 5), but unlike, say, Mike Hampton, getting knocked around at Coors did not shake Jennings confidence and he pitched well on the road. If Jennings isn’t a fluke, and the Rockies can clone him, the team might actually have a shot at a pennant some day.
Next: The American League West.
UPDATE: fwiw: I’m not wedded to this whole Dodgers finish first thing. I think they have the most balanced roster at this point, but their starting pitching is full of question marks. Read the comments — Matt Welch has more confidence in the Padres than I do … let’s hope he’s right. Dimn Andrew even has more confidence in the Padres than I do. Hell, when I liberal supports my team more eagerly than I do, you’ve got to believe it’s a topsy turvey world these days.