Has anything interesting happened in the NL West so far this offseason?
Let's review each team's potential path to the postseason:
2015: 92-70, plus-72 run differential, lost in division series to Mets
Projected 2016 record from FanGraphs: 95-67
2015 payroll: $291 million
Projected 2016 payroll from Baseball-Reference: $205.6 million
Whoa, hold on here a second -- a 95-67 projected record? I mean, I've heard some of the complaints, read the articles. Listening to MLB Radio the other day, the host described the Dodgers as having the worst offseason of any team so far. Mark Whicker of the Los Angeles Daily News just wrote that Andrew Friedman "is fast becoming the most polarizing sports executive in town." That, "The problem is that the moves aren't integrated, that nothing really indicates an obvious plan. Or, maybe, there are too many plans."
Yes, the Dodgers have lost Zack Greinke, and that's a big deal. Over the past two seasons the Dodgers were 46 games over .500 when Greinke or Clayton Kershaw started and two games over .500 when anybody else started. It's fair to say those two carried an otherwise .500 team to two division titles. And that projection has the Dodgers improving?
OK, here's how that can happen even without Aroldis Chapman or Hisashi Iwakuma. Kershaw is still here, and he's the best pitcher in baseball, the one ace most likely to repeat his 2015 performance. FanGraphs projects Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu to combine for more than 300 innings and 5.1 WAR. Optimistic? Maybe, given Anderson's long injury history before 2015 and Ryu's shoulder issue that wiped out 2015, but both are good pitchers if they're healthy. Alex Wood is a solid midrotation starter. The bullpen was 19th in the majors in ERA but second in strikeout rate and had the seventh-lowest walk rate. So -- well, the projection systems like those kinds of numbers. (Dodgers fans simply point to the postseason.)
On offense, it's not difficult to envision a lineup that scores more runs than 2015, when the Dodgers ranked eighth in the NL. Corey Seager should be a big upgrade over Jimmy Rollins and his .285 OBP. Yasiel Puig, who for all the concerns about him, still owns a career .371 OBP. Joc Pederson had that terrible second half but has the plate discipline to rediscover his swing. They have plenty of depth. If anything, that's the key: The Dodgers don't project to be bad at any position.
Could they use another starter? Sure. Maybe they will make a big trade yet. Maybe they will hold on to Julio Urias and Jose De Leon, who could crack the rotation later in the season. The fans are restless, but the Dodgers are still the team to beat in the West.
2015: 84-78, plus-69 run differential
Projected 2016 record from FanGraphs: 87-75
2015 payroll: $180.7 million
Projected 2016 payroll from Baseball-Reference: $167.9 million
2015 combined numbers: 59 starts, 316 innings, 4.39 ERA, 0.1 WAR
2016 projected numbers from FanGraphs: 404 innings, 5.9 WAR
The Giants are hoping for more than a six-win improvement from their two big free-agent signings. In 2014, Cueto was worth 6.4 WAR on Baseball-Reference and Samardzija was worth 3.7. That's what they would like to see.
If they do, the Giants might be the team to beat in the West.
Note: The payroll suggests there is perhaps room for another signing. Alex Gordon? Justin Upton? Either makes sense, with Gregor Blanco shifting over to become the regular center fielder over Angel Pagan.
2015: 79-83, plus-7 run differential
Projected 2016 record from FanGraphs: 79-83
2015 payroll: $79.7 million
Projected 2016 payroll from Baseball-Reference: $98.4 million
New $206 million ace pitcher? Check. Welcome to town, Zack Greinke.
MVP candidate? Check. Paul Goldschmidt has finished second in the voting in 2013 and 2015.
Underrated star center fielder? Check. A.J. Pollock has blossomed into one of the best all-around players in the league.
Great defense? Check. The Diamondbacks led the majors in defensive runs saved in 2015, though the defense will take a major hit with Ender Inciarte going to the Braves in the Miller trade.
So the D-backs have the nucleus to be a contender. They will need more offense from shortstop Nick Ahmed and whomever ends up at second base (Chris Owings or Aaron Hill). They will need David Peralta to repeat his surprising 2015 (.893 OPS). They will need Yasmany Tomas -- or maybe Socrates Brito -- to step up and produce in right field. They will need Patrick Corbin to produce in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery.
If all that happens? Maybe the D-backs can win the NL West.
2015: 74-88, minus-81 run differential
Projected 2016 record from FanGraphs: 76-86
2015 payroll: $110.3 million
Projected 2016 payroll from Baseball-Reference: $99.4 million
Last offseason, A.J. Preller was busy collecting baseball players -- but not a baseball team. He ended up with three right fielders and no shortstop. Their first basemen were next-to-last in the majors in home runs. Bringing in Wil Myers ended up costing the Padres Trea Turner, Joe Ross and sleeper prospect Jake Bauers.
Still, for all that, it was the pitching that killed the 2015 Padres. The Padres scored 115 more runs; maybe not as many as Preller expected but still a significant increase. They allowed 154 more, however, and the net result was three fewer wins.
So what now? The FanGraphs projection doesn't like the Padres much, projecting them as the fifth-worst team in the majors. Preller has traded away his two best relievers (Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit) and infielders Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso, with Myers likely taking over at first base and Cory Spangenberg at second. Justin Upton is gone.
In other words, it's hard to see the Padres improving much. But this is supposed to be a path to the playoffs, so here goes: Matt Kemp improves on his .265/.312/.443 line; Myers has a monster, .300/30-homer season; James Shields and Andrew Cashner each lower their ERA by a run; Tyson Ross cuts down on his walks and posts a sub-3.00 ERA; the no-name bullpen delivers; Melvin Upton Jr. hits 28 home runs as he did back in 2012.
2015: 68-94, minus-107 run differential
Projected 2016 record from FanGraphs: 73-89
2015 payroll: $107.6 million
Projected 2016 payroll from Baseball-Reference: $101.8 million
The Troy Tulowitzki era is over, ending with a large thud as the Rockies lost 94 games -- their fifth season in a row with at least 88 losses.
The Carlos Gonzalez trade rumors persist, but trading him isn't going to turn around the franchise. This is what will: A starting pitcher -- or five -- who can throw more than 150 innings. Jorge De La Rosa led the staff with 149 innings in 2015.
On offense, the Rockies led the league in runs scored, but that's a product of Coors Field. Nolan Arenado hit .287 with 42 home runs but had a .323 OBP; that's not great for any home field, let alone Coors. Charlie Blackmon had a .347 OBP but just .300 on the road. And those are their best players. In other words: The offense is arguably just as much of an issue as the pitching.
I guess I didn't provide a path to the playoffs. In this division, with their current rotation and lineup, it's a very narrow road along a very windy cliff. Maybe Arenado hits 50 home runs and boosts that OBP. Blackmon learns to hit on the road. Corey Dickerson returns with a healthy season. CarGo is traded for some pitching help. Jose Reyes discovers the fountain of youth. And somehow the Rockies find a bunch of pitchers who can make 30 starts and a bullpen that can keep its ERA under 4.70 (worst in the majors).