In the latest edition of MLBTR’s “3 Remaining Needs” series, we’ll focus on the National League West, a division ruled by the iron-fist of the Dodgers — division champs for six years running. With at least two playoff teams in each of the last three seasons, however, the competition remains fierce. Though the Diamondbacks are likely to take a step back this year, the Giants have new leadership in the front office, the Padres have the foreword to their Cinderella story ready to print, and the Rockies will be giving all they’ve got in what could be Nolan Arenado’s last season in Colorado.
- Replace A.J. Pollock. Whether they move Ketel Marte to center field or find a replacement on the trade market, the position needs to be addressed. Jarrod Dyson doesn’t offer enough upside, even to build value as a trade candidate, nor do the veterans signed to minor league deals thus far this offseason (Abraham Almonte, Kelby Tomlinson, Matt Szczur). They can attempt to build the value of an otherwise depreciating asset, a la Socrates Brito, they can move Marte to center and sign a stopgap veteran to flip at the deadline, a la Asdrubal Cabrera or Brian Dozier, or they can engage the trade market for an option in between those two, a la Michael A. Taylor, Kevin Pillar or Randal Grichuk.
- Trade Zack Greinke. Or if not Greinke, then at least one of Robbie Ray or Zack Godley. The Dbacks also have winter acquisitions Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly slated for the rotation, plus Taijuan Walker aiming for a midseason return. That’s not necessarily a terrible collection if they’re looking to contend, but considering the Dodgers depth, the Rockies urgency, and the sleeping giant in San Diego, it’s a tough row to hoe for the Diamondbacks in the West, and the Wild Card race is no less forgiving – especially now that they’ve bolstered a perennial contender in St. Louis. Assuming Arizona is willing to take a step back – even if just for a year – then it behooves them to make room at the major league level for the group of Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener and Taylor Clarke, their #1, #2 and #11 ranked prospects (per MLB.com). All three are at least 24 and coming off strong seasons in either Double or Triple A. Clarke is the closest, but also has the lowest ceiling, which is even more reason to give him a go while the others season in Triple A. Besides, trading one of their major league starters will help accomplish task #3.
- Further build prospect depth. They’ve got a ton of top 100 draft picks in June and already jumpstarted their youth movement by trading Goldschmidt and letting Corbin and (presumably) Pollock walk. While they’re at it, they should explore lesser returns for Nick Ahmed, Andrew Chafin, Yoshihisa Hirano or Alex Avila. They’ve resisted overtures for David Peralta thus far, but he’s 31 and still controllable on a year-to-year basis through 2020, which makes him perfect for a contender like Cleveland.
- Upgrade at catcher. Extending Arenado maybe should be the main priority, but if he’s set on testing free agency, the Rockies would do just as well devoting their energy to making Colorado as attractive a destination as possible, and that means building a sustainable winner. The budget is likely too tight for Yasmani Grandal, but Chris Iannetta and Tony Wolters struggled at the dish last season, so if they can backload a deal to spike after 2020 when most of their long-term money comes off the books,
- Add a veteran to the bench. The Rockies are in the midst of a mini youth movement with David Dahl, Garrett Hampson, Ryan McMahon and Raimel Tapia slated for significant playing time. They’ve added Daniel Murphy, who likely replaces DJ LeMahieu, but they could use a vet on the bench to fill the shoes of Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holliday and Gerardo Parra.
- Keep an eye on pitching. The Rockies have their best rotation in years, but they could use an extra arm at the right price. Antonio Senzatela has the inside track on the fifth starter role for now, and they have a host of options in the organization, but there’s room for the right guy. Same goes for the bullpen, which is stocked with high-priced veterans like Wade Davis, Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw and Mike Dunn. They need to replace the production they received last season from Adam Ottavino, but they may want to give this group a couple months to make it work. Basically, they have no cause to overreach on pitching, but if they have a target or two they like whose prices drop, they should be ready to bite.
Los Angeles Dodgers
- Find a catcher. Say what you will about Grandal’s playoff woes, but he was still a top-notch regular-season producer with the Dodgers from 2015-18. Now a free agent, reports have indicated the 30-year-old Grandal is unlikely to return to the Dodgers. At the major league level, the Grandal-less Dodgers are bereft at catcher aside from Austin Barnes, who took sizable steps backward last season after an excellent 2017. The Dodgers do have a pair of appealing backstop prospects in Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith, but they aren’t ready to assume the reins yet. Los Angeles will at least need to find a stopgap, then, though free agency’s not teeming with possibilities. If healthy, the Pirates’ Francisco Cervelli– who has reportedly been on the Dodgers’ radar – would make for a nice one-year Band-Aid. Former Dodger Russell Martin might also be available, but the current Blue Jay owns a pricey $20MM salary. Welington Castillo of the White Sox ($7.75MM guaranteed) could become expendable if Chicago goes after Grandal, and the Mets have two trade candidates in Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. Of course, the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto is far and away the premier option on the market, and the Dodgers have been involved in talks for him. However, LA is not ready to meet Miami’s lofty demands for the 27-year-old.
- Land another offensive threat, especially if Realmuto doesn’t end up in LA. The Dodgers’ offense led the majors in wRC+ and finished fourth in runs in 2018, but the group has since lost Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Manny Machado. The back-to-back NL pennant winners still carry a boatload of formidable producers – including Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Corey Seager (whose 2018 absence paved the way for the Machado pickup), Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor and Joc Pederson – but why stop there? The Dodgers don’t seem inclined to, judging by their interest in No. 1 free agent Bryce Harper and Tigers outfielder Nicholas Castellanos – a righty who’d provide balance to a lefty-heavy lineup.
- You can never have enough great starting pitching. Even though they traded Alex Wood to the Reds this month, the Dodgers’ starting staff remains as deep as any in the game. As things stand, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias, Caleb Ferguson and Dennis Santana represent a group of rather strong choices. Nevertheless, the Dodgers may want another front-end presence to join Kershaw (who hasn’t been as durable or as otherworldly of late) and Buehler, as they’ve pursued a trade for the Indians’ Corey Kluber. The two-time AL Cy Young winner has exceeded 200 innings in each season since 2014. That type of durability would be a breath of fresh air for the Dodgers, who have seen Kershaw, Ryu, Hill and Urias deal with significant injuries in recent years.
San Diego Padres
- Acquire a top of the rotation veteran. The Padres have been linked to Corey Kluber, Marcus Stroman and Sonny Gray recently – they clearly want to bring in a veteran to anchor their young rotation. Clayton Richard, their innings leader form a year ago, was recently cut loose, signaling a raising of the bar in San Diego. They’re looking not just for an innings eater, but a quality ace to set the standard on the hill. Joey Lucchesi, 25 had a solid rookie season, sporting a 4.08 ERA, 2.98 BB/9 to 10.04 K/9, but he needs some help in the rotation if the Padres are going to start to push the Rockies and Dodgers.
- Get a third baseman. Wil Myers, Christian Villanueva, Cory Spangenberg and Chase Headley were the four Padres who saw action at third in 2018, and three are now gone. Villanueva’s in Japan, Spanbenberg’s a Brewer and Headley has fallen off the map since the Padres released him last May. Myers, meanwhile, is more a fit at first base – where, because of Eric Hosmer’s presence, he can no longer play in San Diego – or in the corner outfield. As a result, upgrading at the hot corner is reportedly the Padres’ No. 1 priority heading into next season. Whether they can do it is the question. While the Padres seem bullish on Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar, whom the Bombers may move this offseason, they likely don’t have the ammunition at the major league level to acquire him. The Padres could also try for the Phillies’ Maikel Franco, whom they had interest in last summer and who will lose his spot in Philly if it signs Machado. In terms of salary, more expensive trade candidates include the Mariners’ Kyle Seager (though he could be immovable for Seattle), the Marlins’ Martin Prado, the Mets’ Todd Frazier, and current Cardinal and ex-Padre Jedd Gyorko. Free agency features Hosmer’s pal Mike Moustakas, among other less exciting choices.
- Clear the outfield logjam. Along with Myers, the Padres have a gaggle of other MLB outfielders in Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, Franmil Reyes, Manuel Margot and Travis Jankowski. Excluding Myers, San Diego could option any of those players to the minors, but the team may be better off moving at least one of them if it helps address a position of greater need. The Padres could try to deal Myers, but despite his middling production from 2017-18 and the $64MM left on his contract, they’re still bullish on the 28-year-old. It seems more likely another outfielder will go.
San Francisco Giants
- Acquire at least one starting outfielder. Perhaps the Giants could help the Padres with their backlog of outfielders, if the two division rivals are willing to make a trade. Few 2018 teams were worse off in the grass than the Giants, whose outfielders hit an ugly .238/.307/.363 with 0.1 fWAR over nearly 2,200 plate appearances. The only bright spot was Andrew McCutchen, whom the Giants traded to the Yankees in August and who’s now on the Phillies. So now what? Well, new team president Farhan Zaidi wants the Giants to get younger and more athletic. The 26-year-old Harper checks the young and athletic boxes, but there’s no indication the Giants are interested in coming anywhere close to his asking price. Unfortunately for the Giants, no one else in free agency looks like a perfect fit, but that’s not to say it would be wise to avoid the open market entirely. On the trade front, the Giants have reportedly shown interest in Blue Jays defensive standout Kevin Pillar, who will turn 30 on Jan. 4. Pillar has never been a real threat at the plate, meaning he wouldn’t do a lot to upgrade a San Francisco offense which scored the majors’ second-fewest runs in 2018. Nevertheless, as a player who has totaled at least 2.0 fWAR four years in a row, he’d give the Giants a desperately needed quality regular in the outfield. With Steven Duggar, Mac Williamson and Chris Shaw penciled into No. 1 roles, the Giants don’t have a single established starter in the grass at this juncture.
- Add to the pitching staff. Derek Holland led all Giants in innings last season and was quite effective from their rotation, but he’s now a free agent. Whether he’ll return is unclear, but San Francisco’s probably going to have to re-sign him or bring in someone else capable of eating innings. Madison Bumgarner is coming off back-to-back injury-shortened years and, if he’s not a trade candidate prior to the 2019 campaign, may become one by midseason; Jeff Samardzija had a horrendous 2018, both because of injury and performance issues; Johnny Cueto may not pitch in 2019, having undergone Tommy John surgery; and while there’s hope for Dereck Rodriguez, Chris Stratton and Andrew Suarez, only Rodriguez’s production was worth writing home about last season. Yusei Kikuchi – whom the Giants “scouted extensively,” according to Zaidi – would’ve been a great fit. Sadly for San Francisco, he’s going to Seattle. The 27-year-old Kikuchi may have been the only long-term possibility in free agency for the Giants, as nearly everyone remaining on the market is over 30. But there are a lot of hurlers in that bunch who could be sensible, affordable short-term targets, and the Giants could use pitcher-friendly AT&T Park to their advantage to scoop up at least one of them. The same logic applies to the Giants’ bullpen. Their relief unit performed well last year, but there could be an opening or two to fill if the Giants trade Will Smith or Tony Watson.
- Bolster the catching and infield depth. After undergoing season-ending hip surgery in August, catcher Buster Posey may not be ready at the start of the upcoming campaign. There’s little behind him in San Francisco, whose only other 40-man catcher is Aramis Garcia, though it could select ex-Phillies starter Cameron Rupp from Triple-A at some point. Free agent Nick Hundley, Posey’s backup from 2017-18, could return to the team. Across the infield, the Giants seem to have set starters at every position, but it’s not the promising group it would’ve looked like a few years back. Injury-prone first baseman Brandon Belt battled more health issues last season and dealt with a dip in production, and has been in trade rumors this month; second baseman Joe Panik was neither good nor healthy; shortstop Brandon Crawford wasn’t the same player from 2017-18 that he was over the prior two years; and third baseman Evan Longoria, at 33, appears to have hit a wall. Alen Hanson and Pablo Sandoval lead the Giants’ depth options, but there’s room for more. The team agrees, evidenced by its recent reported interest in free agents Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Harrison.