Editor's Note: This is part of a three-day series that assesses each of baseball's 30 teams in a division-by-division format. Teams are listed according to the order in which they finished the regular season in their division in 2013.
On June 21, the Dodgers were 30-42, they were 9.5 games out of first place, Don Mattingly was about to be fired and the team with baseball's highest payroll was a complete disaster. Then the Dodgers won six in a row, kicking off one of the most remarkable stretches in baseball history: They would go 42-8 over a 50-game stretch during which they posted a 2.45 ERA and averaged 4.9 runs per game.
Yasiel Puig was a lightning rod for the surge, having been called up in early June, but Hanley Ramirez returned from the DL and was the NL's best hitter the final four months, Clayton Kershaw had another Cy Young-caliber season and Zack Greinke showed why he was worth the big free agent money. The season ended with a disappointing loss to the Cardinals in the NLCS, with Kershaw getting shelled in Game 6 and Dodgers fans wondering what would have happened if Ramirez hadn't fractured a rib in the first game of the series.
The Dodgers have three-fifths of the rotation locked in with Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu and will have Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley returning from injuries (with Beckett expected to be ready for spring training and Billingsley perhaps in May after Tommy John surgery), but expect them to be a player in the starting pitcher.
They also signed Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, who is expected to compete for the second base job. Juan Uribe is a free agent, opening up a potential slot on the left side of the infield, depending on whether Ramirez plays third base or shortstop. Bullpen depth will also be a priority.
The Dodgers may bring back Ellis to hedge their bet on whether Guerrero is ready to jump straight to the majors. They'd consider bringing back Wilson and Howell, although Wilson will look for the opportunity to be a closer, which he won't get with Kenley Jansen around. The team could decide to bring back Uribe, but the Dodgers may still have the taste of his poor 2011 and 2012 seasons.
For the Dodgers, that's just something to walk around with in their very deep pockets. They do have about $30 million coming off the books, although Kershaw will get a big raise in his final year before free agency and they do have $175 committed to just 12 players (not including Kershaw). Expect them to make a huge offer for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Barring that, they could look to re-sign Nolasco, bring back Hiroki Kuroda on a one-year deal, or look to deal prospects for Tampa Bay lefty David Price.
Shortstop Stephen Drew is another attractive free agent who would improve the team's defense if Ramirez is moved over to third.
No matter who the Dodgers bring in --- and they'll bring in somebody -- they'll enter 2014 as the heavy favorites in the NL West. The most interesting offseason decision they face could be whether they trade Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier – in either case, they'd have to eat some money to make a deal happen -- to erase the outfield logjam, not that the group will ever be healthy at the same time. Ethier is probably the guy they'd like to trade as he's not a center fielder and doesn't have a position with Puig and Carl Crawford in the corners.
The Diamondbacks finished 81-81 for the second straight season, a record that led GM Kevin Towers to say part of the problem was the team's pitchers weren't tough enough. "Some of them, contractually, it's tough to move," Towers said. "But I think come spring training, it will be duly noted that it's going to be an eye for an eye and we're going to protect one another."
So all the D-backs need to do in 2014 is retaliate more often and hit more opposing batters! Or they could get a better year from catcher Miguel Montero. Or power from the outfield (last in the majors with just 37 home runs). Or pitch better. Or just get more grit.
They'll certainly be looking to add a power bat, probably in left field, with Adam Eaton and defensive whiz Gerardo Parra holding down center and right. Cody Ross is still around, but he's really a platoon guy at best.
The bullpen was a mixed bag: It tied the Astros for the major league lead with 29 blown saves, but the D-backs did go 17-8 in extra-inning games. Still, the back of the pen with J.J. Putz and David Hernandez was unreliable, leading to Heath Bell and Brad Ziegler getting most of the saves. Look for Towers to do some reshaping there.
The D-backs have most of their players from 2013 signed or under team control, so other than losing a few veteran reserves, most of the team will remain intact. Well, other than those who are afraid to throw at opposing hitters and traded away in March.
The coaching staff will also get a makeover as Matt Williams got the Nationals' managerial gig and hitting coach Don Baylor left for the Angels while pitching coach Charles Nagy and first base coach Steve Sax were fired.
"I wasn't hired to play .500 baseball in Arizona," Towers said after the season. "At this point in my career, it's not much fun."
But with Arizona's payroll coming in close to $100 million with their current roster, don't expect them to make much of a play on the free-agent market, although a guy like Curtis Granderson could be a nice fit in left field. Instead, Towers may have another busy trade winter. Shortstop prospect Chris Owing could be shopped around and with starters Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley close to the majors, maybe a pitcher like Wade Miley or Patrick Corbin is offered up for a big bat.
There is potential here, but outside of MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, the D-backs are lacking in star power. They're sort of going with the Oakland approach – win with depth -- but there is little margin for error that way. In 2013, Brandon McCarthy (4.53 ERA) and Ian Kennedy (5.23 ERA before traded away) combined for a -1.7 WAR. They need McCarthy and one of the young pitchers to step up and improve.
The Giants nearly became the first World Series champion to finish in last place the next season, as they were in last with 15 games to go before finishing up with a 10-5 stretch. Still, their 76-86 record was the team's first losing season since 2008. Interestingly enough, they had a winning record against all four NL West rivals.
The main culprit was the starting rotation that finished 13th in the NL in ERA. Considering their home park, the Giants arguably had the worst rotation in the league. Other than Ryan Vogelsong and Angel Pagan, injuries weren't really much of an issue as six regulars played in 140-plus games. The Giants were just a bad team in 2013.
The Giants elected to re-sign Tim Lincecum to a questionable two-year, $35 million contract, a high price to pay for a guy worth -0.6 WAR in 2013 and even less in 2012. Even with his return, two-fifths of the rotation could be up for up grabs.
The Giants also re-signed right fielder Hunter Pence to a five-year, $90 million deal. He's coming off one of his best seasons, but he'll 31 in April and his final .283/.339/.483 line was bolstered by a monster September with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs. Even with Pence back, the team will be looking for an outfielder, probably a left fielder.
The Giants will undoubtedly buy out Zito, although they could decide to retain Vogelsong. The final numbers on Zito's seven-year, $126 million deal: 63-80, 4.62 ERA and one very big win over Justin Verlander in the World Series. They would like to bring back Lopez, but he'll get a lot of interest from other teams.
Look for the Giants to go after a free-agent starter: Bronson Arroyo could be the type of veteran the Giants bring in on a shorter deal, or they could take flier on Dan Haren, who pitched better in the second half for the Nationals. Matt Garza or Ricky Nolasco would be more expensive options.
Remember, re-signing Lincecum and Pence doesn't make the team better; it only holds the status quo from 2013. There is room for improvement if Matt Cain bounces back and Lincecum pitches like a $17 million starter, but there isn't much growth potential in the offense other than bringing in a productive left fielder. Even then, it's a team without much power, even factoring in the home park (yes, they were last in home runs in 2012 and won the World Series). The farm system doesn't look ready to provide any impact talent, so it's free agency or bust.
The Padres' RBI leader was rookie second baseman Jedd Gyorko with just 63, but it was actually the pitching staff that's the biggest problem. The Padres allowed 700 runs, 13th-most in the NL, and you're going to make the playoffs allowing the 13th-most runs in the league playing in Petco Park. The starters were the biggest problem -- Edinson Volquez had a 6.01 ERA in 27 starts, making him maybe the worst regular starter in the majors.
The offense is a better than it appears once you factor in their home park. They were seventh in the NL in runs on the road -- they scored more than the Pirates or Braves, for example. But with Chase Headley unable to replicate his 2012, it's an offense without an obvious star.
Pitching, pitching, pitching. A couple years ago the Padres may have been looking at a rotation that included Cory Luebke, Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland, but all three missed all of 2013. The good news is that Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross made big strides forward. Ian Kennedy came over late in the season from the Diamondbacks but he hasn't been the same guy who won 20 games in 2011. Veteran lefty Eric Stults pitched 200 innings, but he's 33 years old and may have had his career year. Rookies Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith showed some promise down the stretch. Outfield is also an issue as Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin combined for just 96 games played.
It's the Padres here, so don't expect them to make a big pitch for Matt Garza, but look for them to trade for a veteran guy a sign a second-tier free agent.
The Padres had a .668 OPS versus right-handed pitching (.728 versus left-handers), so if they do try to upgrade the offense look for it to be a left-handed bat. Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson are probably out of their price range, so maybe somebody like free agent David Murphy or a minor trade for Andy Dirks.
The Padres still have an interesting farm system but most of the top guys -- Austin Hedges, Max Fried -- were in Class A and remain a couple years away. So the big league club is banking on improvement from some of the young regulars -- Gyorko, catcher Yasmani Grandal, first baseman Yonder Alonso -- and for Cashner and Ross to build upon their promise of 2013. It could happen, but the Padres still look a long ways behind the Dodgers.
The Rockies went 74-88 but that was a 10-game improvement from 2012. That improvement was all on the defensive side of things as even with Troy Tulowitzki mostly healthy the offense scored 52 fewer runs. But the pitching dropped 130 runs with Jhoulys Chacin (5.8 WAR) and Jorge De La Rosa (4.3 WAR) having quietly unrecognized seasons.
But the team's road woes existed once again as they went 29-52 away from Coors Field, scoring 162 fewer runs on the road. After going 16-11 in April, they were under .500 each of the next five months.
Despite the solid years from Chacin and De La Rosa, the Rockies still need pitching help in both the rotation and bullpen. They ranked last in the NL in runs allowed and that wasn't just a Coors Field thing; only the Phillies and Padres allowed more runs and had a higher ERA on the road.
First baseman Todd Helton retired after his storied career, but let's face it: He's been mostly a drag on the team for several years now, posting a below-average OPS+ in three of the past five years. Look for the club to move Michael Cuddyer to first base, opening up right field.
Otherwise, the rest of the roster is comprised of young cost-controlled talent whose jobs are more or less set in stone.
Helton's retirement should be viewed as a positive, a chance for the Rockies to improve production at first base and improve the defense in right field. Center fielder Dexter Fowler and catcher Wilin Rosario are also potential trade chips. Fowler has two years left until free agency and is coming off a disappointing .263/.369/.407 season while Rosario has power but questionable defense.
The Rockies have to do better than bringing the retreads they've tried the past couple years in Jamie Moyer, Francis, Oswalt and Jon Garland. Those guys all had fine-to-outstanding careers, but they were not anything near playoff-caliber pitchers.
Owner Dick Monfort has the said the club's payroll should increase from $84 million to $95 million with the new national TV money. The new TV contracts will be worth about $25 million per club, but, hey, you don't have to pump all of that into payroll.
Will the Rockies go after pitching? Will they trust young lefties Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich? Will they sign a right field or keep Cuddyer there and go for somebody like James Loney to play first base? You can never predict what the Rockies will do other than they'll leave you scratching your head.