Diamondbacks are hoping offseason changes will allow them to contend in the NL West
General manager Kevin Towers was at his wheeler-dealer best again this offseason, and his acquisitions should return the Diamondbacks to contention in the NL West, the division they won in 2011 in his first full season on the job. Towers believes in pitching, and he added key pieces to the starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen, his area of greatest expertise. He also added offensive firepower and clubhouse chemistry in free agents Cody Ross, Eric Chavez, Eric Hinske, and trade acquisition Martin Prado. Combined with the holdovers, the D-backs appear to have all the ingredients for a bounce-back year.
Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley comprise the front three, with newcomer Brandon McCarthy penciled in as 3b. Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, prospects obtained from the Los Angeles Angels in the Dan Haren 2010 deadline deal, and Randall Delgado acquired over the winter from Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade, competed for the fifth spot. Currently Corbin stands as the winner, although getting Skaggs regular starts at Triple-A is not a bad thing. Kennedy was fourth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting when he went 21–4 in 2011, but he lost some command of his fastball at times last season and fell to 15–12 as his ERA jumped from 2.88 to 4.02. Kennedy’s typical season probably lies somewhere in between. He has logged more than 200 innings in each of the last two seasons, and when he pounds the strike zone, his fastball-changeup combination can be very effective. Cahill also got to 200 innings in his first season with the D-backs and finished strong, winning four of his last five starts. Miley, the only lefthander in the top four, was the surprise of 2012, starting in the bullpen and finishing as a top candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Miley commanded the strike zone — he averaged 1.7 walks per nine innings — and got early contact. McCarthy signed a two-year, $15.5 million free-agent deal shortly after the Winter Meetings. Like Cahill the year before, McCarthy will face the challenges of moving from a pitcher’s park in Oakland to a hitter’s park in Chase Field. McCarthy reinvented himself two years ago by throwing more two-seam fastballs, and that approach should play well in his new home. Corbin, Skaggs and Delgado should be fixtures in the rotation in the near future.
This is the strongest area of the team, and with it the D-backs should be able to shorten a lot of games. It starts at the very back with righthanders J.J. Putz, Heath Bell and David Hernandez. All three have closed games in pressure situations. Bell, who had three 40-plus save seasons in San Diego from 2009-11, was acquired in a three-team trade with Miami and Oakland early in the offseason. The pecking order entering spring training is set — Bell in the seventh inning, Hernandez in the eighth and Putz in the ninth. Putz lost some velocity when he toyed with a cut fastball early last season, but he junked that after six weeks and dominated from then on, finishing with 32 saves and a 2.82 ERA. Hernandez has 15 saves since joining the D-backs’ bullpen in 2011 as another Towers find and averaged 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings with his fastball/slider combination last season. Bell struggled after signing a $27 million free-agent deal with Miami, but the D-backs believe a change of scenery and a reunion with Towers will help. Strike-throwing submariner Brad Ziegler had the best season of his career in 2012, and his arm angle gives righties fit. Newcomers Tony Sipp and Matt Reynolds will give the D-backs two lefthanders for the first time in, well, forever. Sipp enjoyed good success against lefties in Cleveland last season. Long reliever Josh Collmenter pounds the strike zone with a high-80s mph fastball, a high-70s mph changeup and guts galore.
Aaron Hill may be the best two-way second baseman in the NL. He won the 2012 Silver Slugger Award by hitting a career-high .302 with 26 home runs and also showed great range on the fast track at Chase Field — especially to his right, where he made play after play on balls hit up the middle. Cliff Pennington was acquired from Oakland in the three-team trade that also landed Bell, and will open the season at shortstop.
Paul Goldschmidt took another step forward in his first full season in the majors in 2012, developing into the kind of guy a franchise could build around. With the bluest of blue-collar attitudes, Goldschmidt hit .286 with 20 home runs, 43 doubles and 82 RBIs while playing a solid first base. He has power to all fields, and it would not be a surprise to see more of those doubles turn into homers as he continues to learn pitchers and counts. As tough as it was to trade Upton, getting a player like Prado should pay huge dividends. He can play several positions well having started at four different positions at one point last season in four consecutive games. He is a proven .300 hitter and terrific in the clubhouse.
Jason Kubel led the D-backs with 30 homers and 90 RBIs in his first season in Arizona, and his 14 outfield assists also led the team. Ross, who was the NLCS MVP with San Francisco in 2010, signed a three-year $26 million free-agent deal to add an experienced hand in center field after the trade of Chris Young to Oakland. Gerardo Parra, who spent much of 2012 as the fourth outfielder returns as a starter. The former Gold Glove winner has a tremendous arm in right field and can be disruptive on the base paths.
Miguel Montero signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension two months into 2012, and the big-money deal already appears to be a bargain for the D-backs. Montero followed his All-Star 2011 season by hitting .286 with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs. His bat is hardly his only weapon. Montero threw out 42 percent of the runners who attempted to steal on him last season, and his 41 percent success rate is the best in the majors the last two years. He is an upbeat clubhouse presence, and when he talks, pitchers listen.
Towers made a concerted effort to improve this area and signed several of the players he targeted, including left-handed bats Chavez and Hinske and reserve catcher Wil Nieves. Chavez and Hinske provide quality pinch-hit and designated hitter options, and Chavez could be part of a platoon, playing third base and allowing Prado to move to the outfield on occasion. All three bring the clubhouse presence that Towers has made a priority during his tenure. Willie Bloomquist was the starting shortstop on the 2011 NL West title team, and he can play just about anywhere after seeing his first career action at third base in 2012. He’ll nurse a oblique injury to start the season. Outfielder Tony Campana can’t seem to land a starting gig, but in limited action last year, the left-handed hitting speedster swiped a team-high 30 bases for the Cubs.
Managing partner Ken Kendrick and president/CEO Derrick Hall have opened the purse strings, green-lighting a $95 million budget for the 40-man roster, a number Towers reached when he signed Ross. Towers must feel like he won the lottery — his budgets in San Diego were routinely half of what he has this season. The D-backs had their largest attendance in the last four years in 2012, but that is less a driving force on the increased payroll than a determination to put a winning product on the field.
The under-appreciated NL West will only get more difficult, with the Giants building on the momentum of two World Series championships in the last three seasons and the Dodgers now able to spend freely under new management and a new TV deal. The D-backs under manager Kirk Gibson will never give an inch, however, and they believe they have the nucleus to reprise 2011, when they won 94 games and the division.
Lineup CF Cody Ross (R)
The MVP of the 2010 NLCS with the Giants, he is back in the NL after a year with the dysfunctional Red Sox. A strained calf may keep him on the shelf for the first week of the season. 3B Martin Prado (R)
Career .295 hitter has carried an average of .300 or better in four of the last five seasons. 2B Aaron Hill (R)
A perfect fit in Chase Field, Hill set a career high with 76 extra-base hits in his first full season in Arizona. C Miguel Montero (L)
Has blossomed into one of the elite two-way catchers in the game with regular use the last two seasons. 1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
All you need to know about his acuity — he tagged up from first and took second on a 45-foot foul-out to the catcher. LF Jason Kubel (L)
He had a triple-double — 30 homers, 90 RBIs, 14 outfield assists — in his first season with the D-backs. RF Gerardo Parra (L)
A 2011 Gold Glove winner owns one of the best arms in baseball. SS Cliff Pennington (S)
He had 58 stolen bases in three seasons as an Oakland regular; can play both middle infield positions.
Bench 3B Eric Chavez (L)
Hit 16 home runs in part-time duty with the Yankees last season and made playoff starts ahead of A-Rod. UT Eric Hinske (L)
Valuable member of four playoff teams — the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Braves. UT Willie Bloomquist (R)
Always in high gear; the D-backs see him as a perfect handyman at three infield spots and as a pinch-hitter/runner. An oblique strain will cost him at least a week and could be more serious. C Wil Nieves (R)
A quality defender and clubhouse presence; his two-month stint in 2012 earned him a return date. OF Tony Campana (L)
A basestealing wonder who can’t seem to find a place in the starting lineup. May be pushed aside when promising rookie Adam Eaton is ready to return from elbow sprain he sustained in spring training.
Rotation RH Ian Kennedy
The top winner in the National League with 36 victories the last two seasons (21 and 15). RH Trevor Cahill
Already with 53 victories in 128 starts, Cahill does not turn 25 until early in spring training. RH Brandon McCarthy
Back to full function after suffering a brain contusion and skull fracture when struck by a line drive Sept. 5. LH Wade Miley
Turned the corner in his first full season in 2012 by throwing strikes and pitching to contact. LH Patrick Corbin
Used both in the bullpen and the rotation in his rookie season, averaged only 2.1 walks per nine innings.
Bullpen RH J.J. Putz (Closer)
Was his dominant self the final four-plus months of 2012; has 77 saves and a 2.48 ERA in two seasons in Arizona. RH David Hernandez
A mid-90s fastball and a slurvey breaking ball he can throw in the 80-85 mph range give hitters pause. RH Heath Bell
Jerked around in Miami when his closer’s role was taken away early; a return to the NL West should help. RH Brad Ziegler
Continued to holds righties at bay and made a sharp improvement in success against lefties in 2011. LH Tony Sipp
A workhorse who had 202 appearances and 51 holds the last three seasons in Cleveland. LH Matt Reynolds
After 144 appearances the last two seasons in Colorado, should benefit from a change of venue. RH Josh Collmenter
He brings an 87-mph fastball, a 73-mph changeup and a Michigan woods full of smarts and guts.
Rockies look to rebound from franchise-worst 98 losses under new manager Walt Weiss
The Rockies will try to rise from the ruins of a 98-loss season, the worst in franchise history, and steer a new course under manager Walt Weiss. A popular, heady shortstop for four seasons with the Rockies and later a special assistant to general manager Dan O’Dowd for seven years, Weiss was coaching a high school baseball team in the Denver area when the Rockies reached out to him after manager Jim Tracy surprisingly resigned and walked away from $1.4 million. Tracy saw his job being marginalized when Bill Geivett was given the title of senior vice president of major league operations in August with a desk in a conference room adjacent to Tracy’s office. Those dynamics won’t deter Weiss, eager for the opportunity and in no position to quibble about workplace conditions having never coached or managed at the professional level. Weiss will bring honesty and toughness to his new role and will try to create an environment where the players respect and trust each other and, consequently, the greater good reigns. Chemistry, esprit de corps and a harmonious clubhouse matter, of course, but the Rockies need better starting pitching to make any meaningful progress. The Rockies’ 5.22 ERA was the worst in the majors. Their starters went 29–68 with a big-league high 5.81 ERA last season and at Coors Field were 17–33 with a 6.70 ERA. The Rockies rotation should be healthier and hence better this season. But the depth is questionable, and notable improvement is needed from young starters Drew Pomeranz, Christian Friedrich and Tyler Chatwood.
Injuries marred last season for lefthander Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio, which forced the Rockies to rely too heavily on inexperienced youngsters. De La Rosa, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2011, finally returned to the Rockies last September but went 0–2 with a 9.28 ERA in three starts and was understandably inconsistent. After his August return, Chacin pitched well in his final nine starts, but that was after spending more than three-and-a-half months on the disabled list with an irritated nerve in his pectoral muscle. Nicasio, who is less experienced than De La Rosa or Chacin, suffered a season-ending knee injury in early June. Lefthander Jeff Francis, 32, is a veteran who provides depth at the back of the rotation but must have precise location at this point to succeed. With none of the youngsters seizing the fifth spot, the Rockies turned to veteran Jo Garland, who spent most of the spring with Seattle. Almost immediately after his release from the Mariners, Colorado pounced. He brings a badly needed veteran presence. Josh Outman, Pomeranz, Friedrich and Chatwood will contend for a spot in the rotation at some point this season.
As protection against a decline by closer Rafael Betancourt, who will turn 38 in late April, the Rockies acquired Wilton Lopez, who will give the team another late-inning weapon and help Matt Belisle and lefthander Rex Brothers in the setup role. Lefthander Adam Ottavino should have a significant role in middle relief and veteran Chris Volstad will eat innings in long relief.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hits cleanup and can make a huge impact on offense and defense, provided he can stay on the field. That wasn’t the case last year. Tulowitzki played only 47 games, none after May 30 due to a strained left groin that required surgery. A healthy Tulowitzki can go a long way toward improving the Rockies’ defense, which was shaky last season, particularly on the left side of the infield. Josh Rutledge made an immediate offensive impact when called up from Double-A Tulsa to play shortstop at the All-Star break but then tailed off. He also made seven starts at second base, where he will play with Tulowitzki back.
First baseman Todd Helton, who turns 40 in August, is expected back for his final season after playing in only 69 games due to a labrum tear in his right hip that eventually required season-ending surgery in August. If he’s healthy, the Rockies can count on Helton for stellar defense and a decent on-base percentage but not much run production at this point. Jordan Pacheco and Chris Nelson both hit better than .300 last season but provide little power and ordinary defense (at best) at third base. Newcomer Ryan Wheeler will challenge for playing time at third as well.
Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez is a plus defender and a solid No. 3 hitter who still had a very productive season despite not having Tulowitzki protecting him for the final four months. Center fielder Dexter Fowler had a breakthrough season on offense, hitting .300 with a .389 on-base percentage and 42 extra-base hits, and has the plus range needed in expansive Coors Field. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer, limited to two starts after July 31 by a right oblique strain, was terrific as advertised in the clubhouse but did not produce as much as expected on the field.
Wilin Rosario had a superb rookie season on offense, setting club records for a catcher with 28 homers and 71 RBIs, but his receiving skills were very shoddy as he led big-league catchers in passed balls (21) and errors (13). Rosario played more than expected because of injuries to Ramon Hernandez, who turns 37 in May and is now a $3.2 million backup.
Tyler Colvin can play all three outfield positions and first base, where he and Cuddyer can spell Helton. Colvin hits for power — 18 homers and an .858 OPS last year — but strikes out too often (117 times, or once every 3.6 at-bats last year). Eric Young Jr. has worked hard to become an acceptable corner outfielder who can make a difference offensively with his speed and energy. Injuries limited Hernandez to 52 games, including 45 starts at catcher, where he has declined. Reid Brignac can play multiple positions, but doesn’t have much pop in his bat.
The Rockies showed a willingness to experiment, instituting two notable changes last year, one short-lived. With an eye toward overcoming the inherent challenges at Coors Field, the Rockies switched to a four-man rotation with a limit of 75-80 pitches in mid-June. However, they abandoned that plan two months later because the pitchers, too cognizant of pitch counts, were not efficient and were able to do less work between starts. And on Aug. 1, Geivett was given the title of senior vice president of major league operations. O’Dowd retains final say over trades but will focus more on scouting and player development. The Rockies have had little success developing starting pitchers they’ve drafted, a reason Mark Wiley was hired to oversee pitching throughout the organization.
Injuries last season enabled several young position players to gain experience. But of that group, only Rosario at catcher seems to be a future everyday player capable of making an impact, and that’s provided his defense improves markedly. The young starting pitchers were generally overmatched and looked to scouts like future No. 4 or No. 5 starters. Weiss seems capable of growing into the job of manager. But this offseason the Rockies have been outspent and outmaneuvered by their NL West foes. This team can improve with better health, particularly from starting pitchers De La Rosa, Chacin and Nicasio. But how much of a load can those three shoulder as they come back from injuries? A breakthrough from a young starter would help. Regardless, the rotation lacks certainty, making another losing season likely.
Lineup CF Dexter Fowler (S)
Hit .315 with .395 OPS and .462 slugging percentage right-handed and .293/.387/.479 left-handed. 2B Josh Rutledge (R)
Third-round pick in 2010 showed some decent power in his first season in the big leagues. LF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
Hit .330 with 17 homers before All-Star break and .261 with five homers after the break. SS Troy Tulowitzki (R)
On a nine-game hitting streak, was 14-for-36 (.389) with four homers and four doubles when his season ended May 30. RF Michael Cuddyer (R)
Despite the benefits of Coors Field, his .317 OBP was his lowest for any season spent primarily in the majors. 1B Todd Helton (L)
Played in a career-low 69 games due to a hip problem that required season-ending surgery Aug. 10. C Wilin Rosario (R)
.530 slugging was highest by rookie catcher in majors since Mike Piazza (.561) set all-time rookie catcher mark in 1993. 3B Chris Nelson (R)
OPS was .881 in 180 at-bats after All-Star break compared to .733 in 165 at-bats before break.
Bench OF Tyler Colvin (L)
Played all three outfield positions and first base and hit everywhere in the lineup except eighth and ninth. OF Eric Young Jr. (S)
Hit .420 with three homers and 15 runs scored in 19 games before season-ending rib muscle injury Aug. 19. C Ramon Hernandez (R)
Hit four homers in 49 at-bats through April 27 and one homer in final 135 at-bats rest of season. 3B Jordan Pacheco (R)
First NL rookie to finish in top five in batting since Greg Gross (third) and Bill Madlock (fifth) in 1974. UT Reid Brignac (L)
Hit just .185 in 270 at-bats over the past two seasons with Tampa Bay.
Rotation RH Jhoulys Chacin
Came off DL on Aug. 21 and went 3–2 with 2.84 ERA in final nine starts. LH Jorge De La Rosa
Made first of three starts for Rockies on Sept. 20 following slow comeback from June 2011 Tommy John surgery. RH Juan Nicasio
Struck out 54 in 59 innings pitched prior to injury to his kneecap in 2012. LH Jeff Francis
Went 3–2 with 4.97 ERA in first 10 starts and 3–5 with 6.06 ERA in final 14. RH Jon Garland
Veteran spent almost all of spring training with Seattle before his release and immediate signing with the Rockies.
Bullpen RH Rafael Betancourt (Closer)
In first full season as closer, blew seven saves but finished with 31, tied for fourth-highest total in club history. RH Wilton Lopez
Went 10-for-12 in save opportunities while serving as the Astros’ closer in final two months of 2012. LH Rex Brothers
Led the Rockies with eight wins and an average of 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings. RH Matt Belisle
Wore down after All-Star break with 6.21 ERA and .317 opponents batting average. RH Adam Ottavino
Finished third on the team with 81 strikeouts, trailing only reliever Rex Brothers and starter Drew Pomeranz (83). RH Edgmer Escalona
He struggled in 22 games last season, but is out of options and had a strong spring. RH Chris Volstad
With 123 starts and only one relief appearance in his career, he’ll begin the season as the long man.
The Dodgers enter 2013 with the highest payroll in MLB history — and expectations to match
It has been a billion-dollar makeover. The Dodgers have emerged from bankruptcy and the dark days of the McCourt ownership transformed into one of baseball’s heavyweights. Armed with deep-pocketed owners (and anticipating a multi-billion dollar windfall from the negotiation of a new TV rights deal), the Dodgers have taken on $600 million in salary commitments over the past year, trading for former All-Stars Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in midseason then adding free-agent pitching prize Zack Greinke and top Korean lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu in the offseason. The midseason makeover did not take. The anticipated playoff push never materialized. Now the Dodgers will enter 2013 with the highest payroll in MLB history — and expectations to match.
The Dodgers pieced together a rotation for 2012 with low-cost signings of free agents Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. The result was a 3.41 starters’ ERA that ranked second in the National League and third in the majors. That wasn’t good enough to secure a playoff spot, though, and the Dodgers made landing a top-tier starter their No. 1 offseason goal. Health issues with ace Clayton Kershaw (hip), Chad Billingsley (elbow) and Ted Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) made depth in the starting rotation a need as well. A commitment of over $200 million satisfied both goals as the Dodgers gave Greinke the second-largest contract ever given to a pitcher ($147 million over six years) and signed Ryu. The result could be one of the best 1-2 punches in any rotation (Kershaw and Greinke), uncommon depth (Billingsley, Ryu and Beckett), and potential trade chips to address other possible needs (Capuano, Harang and Lilly).
A deep bullpen was a Dodgers strength in 2012, and GM Ned Colletti did his best to put the band back together for 2013. Re-signing Brandon League was the first step. Acquired from the Mariners in July, League will open the season as the team’s closer. But the Dodgers have a hard-throwing option to step in if needed in Kenley Jansen (recovering from a surgical procedure to address recurring problems with an irregular heartbeat). J.P. Howell was signed as a free agent to fill the lefty specialist role.
The “best-case scenario,” manager Don Mattingly said during the offseason, is for Ramirez to be the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop in 2013. That will take a re-commitment to defense by Ramirez, who has not been known as the most focused and consistent performer in the field, or the hardest worker. That sounds great, but Ramirez tore a ligament in his thumb in spring training and will miss the first two months. So much for Ramirez taking over at short. When he returns, if Ramirez has to move to third base, Luis Cruz is the next option at shortstop. Second base figures to be shared by steady veteran Mark Ellis and Skip Schumaker, a versatile left-handed bat acquired from the Cardinals.
Not that long ago, Gonzalez was one of the most complete and consistent hitters in baseball. The Dodgers are hopeful that Gonzalez — sidetracked by the pressure and clubhouse drama that come with playing for the Red Sox — can once again provide a productive presence in the middle of their lineup. If Gonzalez does, he and Matt Kemp could form a 1-2 combo to rival other top duos like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit or the anticipated pairing of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols in Anaheim. Third base is more of a question mark. The Dodgers hope Ramirez grabs hold of the shortstop position when he returns in June. If he does, Cruz gets first crack at being their everyday third baseman. The journeyman hit .297 with 40 RBIs in 78 games for the Dodgers last year and is the best of some unappealing options at third base. For now, Cruz will be the main man at short with Nick Punto filling in at third.
Kemp, Crawford and Andre Ethier might be the best outfield in baseball — if this were 2010. It isn’t, however, and the Dodgers are counting on a rebound to health by Kemp (offseason shoulder surgery) and Crawford (wrist and elbow surgeries in 2012) as well as bounce-back years overall from Crawford and Ethier to make this group worthy of the massive financial investment the Dodgers have made in them. Kemp is the best bet to live up to his potential. After a near-MVP season in 2011, Kemp was limited to 106 games in 2012 due to hamstring and shoulder injuries, and there is some concern that Kemp’s power could take time to return. If the rest of the Dodgers’ potentially potent lineup is productive, there won’t be as much pressure on Kemp. Crawford and Ethier are much more questionable commodities. Crawford was a complete bust with the Red Sox. Health issues were only part of his problem, and Crawford has a long way to go to rediscover the game that produced four All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger award with Tampa Bay. Ethier has become a flawed player since his All-Star selection in 2010, posting disturbing splits against left-handed pitching. That could be less of a problem with a much deeper lineup around him in 2013.
For all the headline-grabbing moves the Dodgers made last season, one of the most pleasant and valuable developments was the emergence of A.J. Ellis at age 31 as a rare commodity — an everyday catcher capable of contributing offensively. Ellis hit .270 with 13 home runs and a robust .374 on-base percentage that was critical in helping turn over a National League lineup. Defensively, he handled the Dodgers’ evolving staff well enough to have a catcher’s ERA of 3.31. The Dodgers are confident enough in Ellis’ ability to reproduce that performance in 2013 that they could stick with inexperienced Tim Federowicz as his backup.
The Dodgers added an important, versatile piece when they traded for Schumaker. He provides a left-handed bat off the bench capable of filling in for Kemp and Crawford in the outfield if they are not at full strength after 2012 surgeries (as well as providing balance at second base with the right-handed Ellis). The rest of the bench is an assortment of spare parts left over from last season — Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Uribe, Punto and Federowicz, the backup catcher.
Has any GM in baseball weathered a wider swing in fortunes than Colletti over the past few years? Colletti has gone from needing to pinch pennies and make do with limited resources in the dying days of the McCourt era to the free-spending billionaire-backed days of the new ownership. But the high payroll and big investment made in these Dodgers have created high expectations that both Colletti and Mattingly will have to meet — or likely feel the heat.
The Dodgers will carry the highest payroll in baseball history during the 2013 season — and big bucks have not always brought big success for their predecessors among baseball’s biggest spenders. The Dodgers changed a third of their roster on the fly last season, adding a passel of former All-Stars. It remains to be seen how that group will play together, and health issues (with Crawford and Billingsley, in particular) could scuttle any progress made. Playing in the same division with the Giants (World Series champions in two of the past three seasons) also presents a large challenge. Given all that the Dodgers’ new owners have invested in the past year, however, anything short of a playoff spot and deep run into the postseason would have to rank as a disappointment.
Lineup LF Carl Crawford (L)
Dodgers are counting on combination of good health and escape from Boston to revive his career. 2B Mark Ellis (R)
Veteran second baseman came back after nearly losing leg from fluke injury in May. CF Matt Kemp (R)
Talk of 50-50 season disappeared with injuries in 2012 — but massive potential remains intact. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
Career .244 hitter at Dodger Stadium, second-lowest of any park in which he’s played (.236 at Tropicana Field). RF Andre Ethier (L)
Has gone from foundation piece to flawed complementary player (poor lefty-righty splits) in matter of months. SS Luis Cruz (R)
Feel-good story with breakout season in 2012 after 12 seasons in pro baseball with six organizations. Will spend the first two months at shortstop. C A.J. Ellis (R)
One of only four catchers in NL last year to start at least 125 games (Buster Posey, Miguel Montero and Yadier Molina). 3B Nick Punto (S)
The solid defender will fill in at third as Cruz shifts to short while Hanley Ramirez recovers from a torn ligament in his thumb.
Bench UT Jerry Hairston Jr. (R)
Played well in super-utility role last season until hip issue that led to surgery became problematic. 2B-OF Skip Schumaker (L)
Could see plenty of playing time as multi-position backup — and protégé of hitting coach Mark McGwire. IF Juan Uribe (R)
Has hit .199/.262/.289 in first two years of misguided three-year, $21 million deal. C Tim Federowicz (R)
Could head back to Triple-A if Dodgers sign a more experienced backup for Ellis. UT Alex Castellanos (R)
Appeared in 16 games last season as a rookie, entering five times as a pinch-runner.
Rotation LH Clayton Kershaw
Young ace is 35–14 over past two seasons, lowest ERA and WHIP in NL each year. RH Zack Greinke
$147 million man only 10th in wins (57), 24th in ERA (3.37) among starters since 2009. Elbow inflammation is a red flag. RH Chad Billingsley
Offseason rehab and throwing program have put surgery for partially torn elbow ligament on hold — for now. LH Hyun-Jin Ryu
Led Korean Baseball Organization in strikeouts five times in seven seasons — but will that translate to MLB? RH Josh Beckett
ERA dropped from 5.23 with Red Sox to 2.93 as Dodger last season, but WHIP didn’t (1.33).
Bullpen RH Brandon League (Closer)
Lost closer job in Seattle but finished season with one run, eight hits, 27 strikeouts in final 27.1 IP with Dodgers RH Kenley Jansen
Has closer stuff and could be back in that role quickly if League’s Seattle struggles resurface. RH Matt Guerrier
Veteran presence was lacking for much of 2012 due to elbow problems. LH J.P. Howell
Held left-handed batters to a .200 batting average with the Rays in 2012. LH Ted Lilly
Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitching could land a veteran like Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) in the pen. RH Ronald Belisario
Struck out 69 last season and allowed just 47 hits. RH Aaron Harang
Evidently, he’s still in the league.
Despite new ownership and a new TV deal, expect more of the same from these Padres
Despite new ownership and a new TV deal, it looks like it’s going to be more of the same for the Padres. While the NL West rival San Francisco Giants are coming off a second World Series title in three seasons and the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to spend lavishly, the Padres appear content with the status quo. They hope Chase Headley will replicate his big season, and they will continue to build from within. They don’t seem inclined to go after big-name free agents, even though they are bringing in the fences at Petco Park. The Padres were so bad in April and May that a strong second half couldn’t lift them out of fourth place.
The Padres were hit particularly hard by injuries to starters last season, beginning when projected Opening Day starter Tim Stauffer was scratched hours before first pitch due to a sore elbow. Stauffer came back in May and made only one start before the injury flared up again. Then again, it wasn’t a powerhouse rotation to begin with. Edinson Volquez, one of four players obtained from Cincinnati for Mat Latos, bounced back nicely from a disappointing final season with the Reds. Jason Marquis made 15 starts after coming to San Diego from Minnesota, and posted the lowest WHIP (1.302) of his career. Eric Stults seemed to get better as the season progressed. The Padres won eight of his final 10 starts. Tyson Ross, who never found his groove in Oakland last season, has earned the fifth spot with s strong spring.
Injuries weren’t limited to the rotation. Huston Street, who replaced Heath Bell as the closer, was on the disabled list twice, with lattisimus dorsi and calf injuries. Nonetheless, he made his first All-Star team and converted 23-of-24 save opportunities. The Padres gave him a $14 million, two-year contract extension. San Diego will look for some stability in the bullpen, where 19 different pitchers made at least one appearance last year. The pen featured seven rookies, including righthanders Brad Boxberger (2.60 ERA in 24 games), Brad Brach (3.78 ERA in 67 games), Dale Thayer (3.43 ERA in 64 games) and Nick Vincent (1.71 ERA in 27 games). Luke Gregerson is the only remaining pitcher from San Diego’s former 1-2-3 punch in the pen, which included Mike Adams and Bell.
The Padres injected some life into their dismal season when they released second baseman Orlando Hudson and placed shortstop Jason Bartlett on the disabled list with a knee injury on May 17. On the same day, the Padres brought up Everth Cabrera, who has been with the Padres off and on since 2009, and exciting Alexi Amarista, who stands just 5'7" and was obtained from the Angels in the deal for reliever Ernesto Frieri. Cabrera became the first Padres player to lead the National League in stolen bases, swiping 44 bags in 48 attempts. While Cabrera took over at shortstop, Amarista split time with Logan Forsythe at second base. Forsythe is the projected starter at second, but Amarista will definitely be in the mix. Top prospect Jedd Gyorko could force himself into the picture if he continues to hit well.
After failing to put up the kind of numbers expected of a third baseman in his first four big-league seasons, Headley more than made up for it with a career year in 2012. The Padres, who control Headley’s rights for two more seasons, would like to see him do it again. He’ll get a late start this season due to a fractured thumb that will cost him the first month or so. With a more aggressive approach and adjustments to his swing that helped him cope with spacious Petco Park, he hit .286 with 31 home runs and led the National League with 115 RBIs. Headley was rewarded with his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and he finished fifth in NL MVP voting. On the other side of the infield, Yonder Alonso had a solid rookie season. He started 144 games at first base, hit .273 and led all big-league rookies with 39 doubles, which set a Padres rookie record. Alonso is one of four players obtained from the Reds for Latos the previous offseason.
Two of the three probable starters, left fielder Carlos Quentin and center fielder Cameron Maybin, have contract security. The Padres haven’t yet bestowed that on right fielder Will Venable. Quentin had a mixed season, showing the power the Padres sought when they obtained him from the White Sox but missing considerable time after having arthroscopic knee surgery during spring training. Quentin played in only 86 games, hitting .261 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs in 284 at-bats. After being reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on May 28, he announced his arrival by hitting five home runs, four doubles and driving in nine runs in his first six games. If he can stay healthy, he can do some damage at Petco Park. The Padres gave Quentin a $27 million, three-year contract that runs through 2015. During spring training, the Padres signed Maybin to a $25 million, five-year contract. He started slowly but set career-highs by playing in 147 games and driving in 45 runs, and tied his career-best with 44 walks. Maybin made several spectacular catches, including robbing Matt Kemp of a go-ahead homer in a Padres win at Dodger Stadium in early September. Venable made a career-high 103 starts, 80 of them in right, while hitting .264 with nine homers. Chris Denorfia started 60 games in right and proved his worth by setting career-highs with a .293 average, 102 hits, 19 doubles, 56 runs scored and 130 games played.
The Padres were thrilled with Yasmani Grandal after he made his big-league debut on June 20. He hit .297 with 16 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs in 60 games, with 52 starts. Then they were shocked when Grandal was suspended for the first 50 games of 2013 after testing positive for testosterone. Grandal’s suspension gives the job back to Nick Hundley, who seemed expendable after an awful season. Hundley was given a $9 million, three-year contract extension during spring training, then proceeded to hit just .157, was demoted to Triple-A and then, after being recalled, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Backup John Baker also returns.
Denorfia is practically a starter, platooning with Venable in right field and also making starts in left and center. Amarista excited fans with his speed and hustle as he played second base and a little bit at shortstop. Baker ended up starting 52 games at catcher and will be called on again early this season due to Grandal’s suspension. The Padres like Mark Kotsay’s veteran leadership — in the clubhouse as well as in the dugout — so much that he’ll be back at age 37.
The Padres picked up the options for 2014 and ’15 for manager Bud Black, who is the eternal optimist. On one hand, he’s perfect for this club because of his positive nature. On the other hand, there are some who would like to see Black get on his players more. Like Bruce Bochy before him, Black seems destined to shepherd a team that’s barely given a fighting chance by ownership. General manager Josh Byrnes says the Padres were inspired by seeing another low-budget team, the Oakland A’s, reach the playoffs last season.
The Padres teased their fans with a strong finish in 2009, followed by a 90-win 2010 season that fell just short of the playoffs. They appear to be following the same script, although losing 10 of their final 15 games of 2012 put a damper on what had been a strong second half. The Padres might inch closer to finishing .500 or slightly above, but that’s probably about all the fans can expect this season. If they’re really going to contend, that probably won’t happen until 2014 or later. Their payroll is expected to increase beyond last year’s $55 million, but much of it will go toward salaries decided in arbitration rather than to free agents. A big clue came when the Padres were extremely quiet during the Winter Meetings.
Lineup SS Everth Cabrera (S)
Recalled on May 17 and became first Padre to lead NL in stolen bases with 44 in 48 attempts. 2B Logan Forsythe (R)
Played in 91 games, including 73 starts at second, and hit .273 in first full big-league season. Could lose playing time to top prospect Jedd Gyorko, who will fill in at third during Headley's absence. 3B Chase Headley (S)
Former second-round pick became the first player in Padres history to have two months with 30-plus RBIs. Will miss the start of the season with a fractured thumb, but hopes to return in April. LF Carlos Quentin (R)
Limited to 86 games after knee surgery; five of his 16 homers came in his first six games. 1B Yonder Alonso (L)
Made 144 starts, had .348 on-base percentage and hit .273 with Padres rookie-record 39 doubles. RF Will Venable (L)
Played in career-high 148 games, including 103 starts; tied career-best with .264 average. CF Cameron Maybin (R)
Set career highs with 147 games played and 45 RBIs and tied career-high with 44 walks. C Nick Hundley (R)
Rough year included demotion to minors, .157 average and season-ending knee injury.
Bench C John Baker (L)
Played in 63 games and started 52; threw out only 9-of-58 basestealers. UT Jesus Guzman (R)
Utilityman made first Opening Day roster and started 65 games at three different positions (plus DH). OF Mark Kotsay (L)
Hit .271 with two homers and nine RBIs as pinch-hitter; started 29 games. Should make a terrific manager some day. OF Chris Denorfia (R)
Made career-high 77 starts in outfield; batted leadoff in 45 games, hitting .303. IF Alexi Amarista (L)
Injected life into middle infield after trade from Angels; first career home run was game-winning grand slam.
Rotation RH Edinson Volquez
Was 11–11 with 4.14 ERA in first Padres season; threw first complete game, a one-hitter vs. Houston at Petco. LH Clayton Richard
Workhorse set career-highs with 218.2 innings, 14
victories and 31 homers allowed. RH Jason Marquis
After release by Twins was 6–7 with 4.04 ERA in 15 starts for Padres before breaking left wrist. LH Eric Stults
Waived by White Sox; went 8–3 with 2.92 ERA in 18 games with Padres, including 14 starts. RH Tyson Ross
Struggled mightily with Oakland last season, but has rebounded with a strong spring.
Bullpen RH Huston Street (Closer)
First-time All-Star converted 23-of-24 save opportunities; earned two-year extension. RH Luke Gregerson
Had career-bests with 2.39 ERA and nine saves in team-high 77 appearances. RH Dale Thayer
Was 2–2 with 3.43 ERA and seven saves in 64 games in his longest big-league stint. RH Brad Brach
Was 2–4 with 3.78 ERA and led all NL rookies with 67 appearances, second-most on team. LH Joe Thatcher
Bounced back from 2011 shoulder surgery to pitch in 55 games, going 1–4 with 3.41 ERA. LH Tommy Layne
Made jump from Double-A to majors, going 2–0 with a 3.24 ERA in 26 appearances. RH Anthony Bass
Split between rotation and pen; went 2–8 with 4.73 ERA and had first career complete game and save.
With the band virtually intact, the Giants are poised for another title run
A band of misfits won the World Series in 2010. Two years later, the Giants simply banded together. Their second title in three seasons felt more scripted than ad-libbed, as a fantastic defense made plays behind a talented pitching staff, and NL MVP Buster Posey steadied the entire operation from behind the plate. The Giants survived six playoff elimination games and became the first NL team since the Big Red Machine in the 1970s to win two World Series in a three-year span. But these Giants aren’t seen as a dynasty yet, mostly because they’ve had so much turnover in their everyday lineup. There will be new challenges as the Giants seek to wear the crown a bit better this time around, especially since the archrival Dodgers all but broke into Fort Knox while loading up their roster with former All-Stars since the middle of last season. Even though the Giants brought back all their impact players from a year ago, they might be considered, by some, underdogs to win the West. It’s a role that has suited them just fine.
The Giants received at least 30 starts from five different pitchers — and all five return this season. Stalwart ace Matt Cain had no complaints after signing a $112 million extension, throwing the first perfect game in the Giants’ 129-year existence, starting for the NL All-Star squad and capping it off with another World Series ring. Madison Bumgarner, who turned 23 in August, topped 200 innings for the second consecutive year. Well-traveled Ryan Vogelsong proved his breakout 2011 campaign was no fluke; he led the NL in ERA as late as Aug. 12 and completed at least six innings in each of his first 21 starts — the longest streak by a Giant since Atlee Hammaker in 1983. As for Barry Zito, long the butt of jokes for his $126 million contract? He paid dividends as the Giants went 21–11 in his starts — including 14 consecutive wins to end the season, if you include his three playoff starts. Those fantastic four made it easier for the Giants to absorb a wildly erratic year from two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, whose 5.18 ERA was the highest among all NL pitchers to qualify for the ERA title. But this lines up to be the NL’s best rotation in 2013.
It’s hard to replace a ninth-inning presence like Brian Wilson, but the Giants made a successful adjustment after the black-bearded Taco Bell pitchman was lost to elbow surgery on the season-opening road trip. After non-tendering Wilson and letting him become a free agent, the Giants will be in committee mode again to open the season. Sergio Romo is expected to get first crack at the ninth inning after he fearlessly threw his sweeping slider and 88 mph two-seamer to escape every big spot in the playoffs. The Giants re-signed valuable lefthander Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year contract and wrapped up righthander Santiago Casilla for three more years, too. Casilla saved 19 of his first 20 chances last season before yielding the closer job in July. Sidewinding lefty Javier Lopez also returns; he’s allowed one home run in two-plus seasons as a Giant.
Brandon Crawford is a Bay Area native who grew up idolizing Royce Clayton. When Crawford took over the everyday shortstop position, his idol gave him one piece of advice: Stabilize the infield. Crawford struggled to do that in the first two months of last season while committing 12 errors in his first 59 games. But he committed just six miscues after that, and he was a playmaking force in the postseason while mixing in a few clutch hits. The Giants paired Crawford’s youth with second baseman Marco Scutaro’s professionalism after they acquired the league’s best contact man (he misses on just 5.3 percent of swings he takes) from Colorado at the trade deadline. Scutaro, the NLCS MVP, hit .362 for the Giants during the regular season, and he carries a 20-game hitting streak into 2013. The 37-year-old probably won’t approach those numbers, but he’s a reliable hit-and-run presence for a team that thrives on crossing the plate without home runs.
The bad news: Pablo Sandoval spent a lot of time on the disabled list for the second straight year. The good news: The switch-hitter has no more hamate bones to break, after dealing with surgeries to repair fractures in both hands. Sandoval, the World Series MVP by virtue of his three-homer game off of Justin Verlander, is forever on the verge of an MVP-caliber season. Although his weight is scrutinized, he’s a gifted athlete who moves well enough to be a solid defender at third base. Brandon Belt endured an up-and-down first season but showed flashes of the pure-hitting talent that allowed him to rocket through the minor leagues. The former pitching prospect is a Gold Glove-caliber presence at first base, even if he hasn’t put up the kind of power production associated with the position. Expect Posey to log 30 or so starts at first base as the Giants seek to save the legs of their most gifted hitter.
Angel Pagan’s career year included a MLB-leading 15 triples, which broke the Giants’ San Francisco-era franchise record previously held by Willie Mays. The club responded by signing him to a four-year, $40 million contract — a bit of a reach for a 31-year-old who’d only played in 125 games twice in his career. But the Giants didn’t have another in-house candidate to replace Pagan’s leadoff presence, since top prospect Gary Brown isn’t ready yet. Right fielder Hunter Pence reached 100 RBIs for the first time in his career, and even managed to knock in 45 runs in 59 games as a Giant despite hitting .219. The Giants’ toughest task in the outfield will be replacing the production of Melky Cabrera, who was leading the majors in hits and runs on Aug. 15 when he was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test. Gregor Blanco, a non-roster invitee last spring, will get the bulk of time in left field. But a former 2010 World Series hero, Andres Torres, was re-signed to a one-year contract and will compete for at-bats. The switch-hitting Torres is likely to start against lefthanders.
What a difference Posey makes. In 2011, when a vicious home plate collision destroyed his ankle and ended his season in May, the Giants coughed away the division in the final eight weeks. Posey didn’t take long to reestablish his offensive presence and poise behind the plate. He’s the cleanup centerpiece the Giants had lacked ever since Barry Bonds retired. Posey became the first Giant since Bonds in 2004 to drive in 100 runs; more notably, he became the first NL catcher to win a batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942. Not bad, considering it was his first full season in the bigs.
Joaquin Arias is a better right-handed hitter than the numbers indicate, and he can fill in at three infield positions. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez developed a good rapport with Lincecum and Zito, and the switch-hitter is far from an easy out. Aubrey Huff and Xavier Nady are gone, so the Giants could look within the system for depth, with outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Francisco Peguero knocking on the door.
In three seasons, Bruce Bochy went from being viewed as a slow-talking retread to a certifiable genius with a Hall of Fame résumé. He brilliantly shuffled a tired rotation in the postseason and turned Lincecum from an inconsistent starter into a radioactive weapon in long relief. Brian Sabean returns for his 17th season — the longest consecutive tenure of any current GM in the game. It’s hard to find a manager and GM who are more on the same page than Bochy and Sabean.
Not only did the Giants get the band back together by re-signing Pagan, Scutaro and Affeldt, but they also brought back a 2010 World Series hero in Torres. They can’t count on smooth sailing to another division title, though, given their rivals’ free spending.
Lineup CF Angel Pagan (S)
Rare hitter whose game thrives at AT&T Park, which is made for triples. 2B Marco Scutaro (R)
Veteran knocked in 44 runs in 243 at-bats after joining the Giants last summer. 3B Pablo Sandoval (S)
Judged Miss Universe pageant over the winter, now hoping for an all-world season. C Buster Posey (R)
Patient, disciplined, confident and calculating; Posey is a pure hitter. RF Hunter Pence (R)
Plate discipline is lacking, and he doesn’t look pretty, but he still finds a way to drive in runs. 1B Brandon Belt (L)
The “Baby Giraffe” hit .254 before the break, .293 after it; only hit seven home runs in 411 at-bats. LF Gregor Blanco (L)
Superb defender is a solid OBP guy but wears down when he plays every day. SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Wasn’t even a finalist for the Gold Glove last season, which was a crock.
Bench OF Andres Torres (S)
A year after trading him to Mets for Angel Pagan, Giants scooped him up again as a free agent. INF Joaquin Arias (R)
Former top prospect hit .303 vs. left-handed pitching in his first season with the Giants. C Hector Sanchez (S)
Caught 25 of Barry Zito’s 32 starts and 16 of Tim Lincecum’s 33, allowing Buster Posey’s legs to stay fresh. 1B Brett Pill (R)
Beat Clayton Kershaw with a two-run homer, but had arthroscopic knee surgery in March and will miss the start of the season. OF Francisco Peguero (S)
Tooled-up and with a cannon arm, Peguero needs to get on base more to become an everyday player.
Rotation RH Matt Cain
His 14 strikeouts in a perfect game matched Sandy Koufax for the most all-time. LH Madison Bumgarner
His 16 wins were most by a Giants lefty since Kirk Rueter in 1998. RH Tim Lincecum
Delivery was a mess as he led NL in losses, runs allowed, earned runs, wild pitches; second in walks. LH Barry Zito
Pivotal win in Game 5 of NLCS at St. Louis was his first in postseason since 2003 with A’s. RH Ryan Vogelsong
Postseason ace (3–0, 1.09 ERA in ’12) has thrown 41 quality starts over last two regular seasons.
Bullpen RH Sergio Romo (Closer)
Only Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Eric O’Flaherty posted a lower ERA among NL relievers. LH Javier Lopez
Sidearm specialist held lefties to a .191 average and did not allow a hit in 3.0 postseason innings. RH Santiago Casilla
Had a 1.82 ERA after Aug. 1 but didn’t regain closer role; saved 25 games total. LH Jeremy Affeldt
Filthy curveball artist has thrown 42.2 consecutive innings without allowing a home run. RH George Kontos
Made huge improvement stranding inherited runners, especially in playoffs. RH Chad Gaudin
Is now pitching for his eighth franchise in last six seasons. LH Jose Mijares
He had seven holds and a win after joining the Giants in early August.
Year 2 of the Theo Epstein era on the North Side should feature a more competitive Cubs team
Back in December, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney introduced Jim Deshaies as the team’s new television analyst and said he would be “the guy who will call the next World Series team for the Cubs.” The last guy to call a World Series team for the Cubs was…well…no one. The Cubs’ first televised game was in 1946, and the team was last in the World Series in 1945. The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series in more than 65 years, haven’t won a World Series in more than a century, lost 101 games in 2012 and made offseason moves that were patchwork for another season of rebuilding. So fans might be forgiven for saying the usual “Wait ’til next year’’ before the season even begins. The second year of the Theo Epstein Era could be similar to the first, with promising players taking their lumps and marginally talented veterans filling up roster spots. Epstein promised the turnaround process would take time and asked fans to show patience. But the resolve of even the most patient Cubs fans was tested last year as the franchise lost 100 games for only the third time ever.
Last year the Cubs opened the season with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm in the rotation. They ended the season with Justin Germano, Chris Rusin, Jason Berken, Volstad, and Travis Wood. Samardzija threw the most innings (174.2) and was shut down in early September. He could become the ace of the staff. Garza, who was supposed to be traded last offseason and again during the season, suffered an elbow injury a few weeks before the trading deadline and is back to give the rotation some stability. The healthier he gets, the hotter the trade rumors will get. Shortly before Christmas, the Cubs agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with Edwin Jackson and a two-year, $10 million pact with Carlos Villanueva. Jackson went 10–11 with a 4.03 ERA with the Nationals in 2012. Travis Wood and Scott Feldman seem to have locked up spots in the rotation. Villanueva will have a place at least until Garza returns. It will be interesting to see how Scott Baker, coming off Tommy John surgery last summer, will figure in as the season progresses. He won 38 games for Minnesota from 2008-10.
The Cubs nearly traded closer Carlos Marmol in the offseason. He can either be unhittable or wild. His 11.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio is impressive, but his 7.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio is alarming. Marmol was demoted for a few weeks last May. If that happens again, expect Kyuji Fujikawa, a Japanese import signed to a two-year deal in December, to slide into the closer’s role. Fujikawa posted dominant numbers in the last six seasons as the closer for Hanshin. He had 202 saves with a 1.36 ERA and a 0.855 WHIP. Southpaw James Russell and righthander Michael Bowden could become valuable setup men.
While many people in baseball believe shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney will occupy the Cubs’ middle infield for years to come, there are others who believe that minor leaguer Javier Baez is the team’s shortstop of the future because of his superior defense. Castro is erratic, but he and Barney, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, will team together for another year at least. Castro is a gifted offensive player who led the Cubs in hits for the second year in a row. Barney, the Cubs’ fourth-round pick in 2007, needs to improve his .254 average. He hit .303 in Wrigley Field but only .206 on the road.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Ian Stewart are on the opposite ends of the offensive spectrum. Rizzo is an up-and-coming player who many in the organization believe has All-Star potential. Epstein and his lieutenants drafted Rizzo when they were with the Red Sox. Current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer dealt for Rizzo while he was an executive with San Diego. Then Hoyer joined the Cubs and acquired Rizzo once again. The left-handed hitter showed some power (15 home runs in 337 at-bats) and hit for average (.285) in a half season with the Cubs. Can he keep it up during a full season? This is the year to find out. Between stints on the DL, Stewart hit .201 in 179 at-bats in his first year with the club after hitting .156 in an injury-filled season with Colorado in 2011. Stewart signed a one-year deal in December to remain with the Cubs. But the injury bug has struck once again as Stewart is dealing with a strained quad. Luis Valbuena and Brent Lillibridge will share the position until Stewart is proven healthy and productive.
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano had one of his best seasons as a Cub, hitting .262 with team highs in homers (32), RBIs (108), doubles (33) and total bases (280). He has two more years remaining on his contract, and current management would love to move him and dump his large salary. But as long as there are no takers, Soriano will return and should provide a solid bat, improved defense and veteran leadership. Steady David DeJesus will likely man center field again after moving over to right when rookie Brett Jackson was promoted. Jackson struggled in the big leagues, and it’s doubtful he’ll open the season as a starting outfielder. DeJesus led off and had a team-high 61 walks. His seven stolen bases were third on the team. The Opening Day right fielder could be left-handed hitting newcomer Nate Schierholtz, who has a career average of .270 in six seasons with San Francisco and Philadelphia. He, like Soriano, has a cannon for an arm, and the two should make baserunners think twice about taking that extra base.
With just 63 games under his belt, Welington Castillo will be given the nod as the Cubs’ starting catcher. Last year, in his first significant action in the majors, Castillo hit .265 in 170 at-bats with 51 strikeouts. He is regarded as an outstanding defensive player. If he can just hit a little, he will be a more-than-adequate replacement for Geovany Soto, who was traded last season.
Outfielder Dave Sappelt showed some hitting and speed in a brief stint with the Cubs and could make a case to stick around. Backup catcher Steve Clevenger, a left-handed hitter, has hit .309 in 548 games in the minors but just .202 in his first 71 big-league games and could share backup duties behind the plate with Dioner Navarro. Clevenger can play first and maybe even some third if his bat comes to life. Valbuena filled in when Stewart was hurt last year. He didn’t impress with the bat but was a good fielder. Scott Hairston and Brent Lillibridge bring experience and versatility to the bench.
Epstein cleaned house in his first year with the Cubs. With all of the changes comes an adjustment period — which will require patience from the long-suffering fans. Epstein didn’t get it done with the Red Sox overnight, but he eventually delivered two World Series crowns to the city. His plan is to stock the minor league system with valuable assets. It figures to pay off in the long run, but the struggles in the short term will continue.
The offseason moves were underwhelming. It’s pretty clear there will not be a quick fix. But there is hope that the Cubs will be an improved team in 2013. The starting pitching should be better, and the lineup has some potential if Rizzo develops into a consistent producer and Soriano continues to deliver. There have been times in the not-so-distant past — 1998, 2003 and 2007 — when the Cubs have stunned the baseball world by making the playoffs the season after winning fewer than 70 games. There aren’t, however, many signs pointing in that direction for 2013.
Lineup CF David DeJesus (L)
Will become a more effective leadoff man if he can improve against lefties (.149 last year). SS Starlin Castro (R)
Proven hitter for average — .297 in three full seasons — but is probably a better fit for a No.2 hitter than No.3. 1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
Hit .338 with runners in scoring position in his first run with the Cubs last year. LF Alfonso Soriano (R)
Slugged .499, hit 32 homers and drove in 108 runs in ’12. Will continue to be shopped. RF Nate Schierholtz (L)
Was known as “Nate the Great” with Giants. Ready to rebound after a toe injury hampered him last August. 3B Ian Stewart (L)
Hoping back-to-back nightmare seasons at the plate — and in the health department — are behind him. But a strained quad has sent him to the DL. C Welington Castillo (R)
Solid defensive tools for a player who could be around awhile if his offense develops. 2B Darwin Barney (R)
Already has a Gold Glove under his belt. Has the tools to be a solid No. 2 hitter eventually.
Bench IF Luis Valbuena (L)
He’s an ideal candidate as a late-inning replacement; good glove but light bat (.219 in 2012), but will fill in at third until Stewart gets healthy. C-1B Steve Clevenger (L)
Will be challenged by Dioner Navarro for the backup backstop position in spring training. C Dioner Navarro (S)
Has just 369 at-bats over last three seasons total. OF Dave Sappelt (R)
Could grab the final spot on the roster if prospect Brett Jackson is shipped back to Class AAA. OF Scott Hairston (R)
Utility player will get lots of at-bats, especially against left-handed pitching. UT Brent Lillibridge (R)
If he shows he can offer anything offensively, the valuable defender can keep a job.
Rotation RH Jeff Samardzija
Impressed in his first extended time as a big-league starter and led the club with 180 strikeouts. RH Matt Garza
Could be dealt if he bounces back from elbow injury; has a 15–17 record in two seasons with the Cubs. Strained lat will keep him out for at least the first few weeks. RH Edwin Jackson
Has been on eight teams since 2003 but picked up the long-term contract he’s been seeking with the Cubs. RH Scott Feldman
Had a 5.00-plus ERA in 2010 and 2012 for Texas and is now looking for success in the National League. LH Travis Wood
Second on the team with 14 quality starts last year, but will have to fight to win the final rotation spot.
Bullpen RH Carlos Marmol (Closer)
Will enter the season as the Cubs closer, but don’t be surprised if the team shops him aggressively. RH Kyuji Fujikawa
Will open the season as a setup man, but has the tools to close. Put up dominant numbers in Japan. RH Shawn Camp
Had six losses but led the squad with 18 holds last year; tied for the NL lead with 80 appearances. RH Carlos Villanueva
Has valuable experience as both a starter and reliever; a strong spring could vault him into the rotation. Should fill in for Garza in the rotation. LH James Russell
Seven wins and a 3.25 ERA in 2012 gives him an edge as the top left-handed setup man in 2013. RH Michael Bowden
Had a 2.95 ERA with the Cubs in 30 appearances after a long stint with Class AAA Iowa. RH Hector Rondon
Rule 5 pick should spend the summer eating lots of innings in Chicago.