Rest of NL West retools to derail Giants in 2011
San Francisco the champs, but it should again be a tight race
Not only did the National League West Division provide one of baseball's best pennant chases in 2010, it also produced a World Series winner in the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants, a team that trailed the San Diego Padres for nearly the entire regular season, leaped past the Padres in October and simply kept rolling through November, on their way to their first World Series crown since 1954.
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Based on the early moves this winter done by the Dodgers, Rockies, Padres and D-backs, the rest of the division has not only taken notice, but made enough roster changes to possibly derail the Giants in 2011.
To be sure, this has been a winter of change, with an influx of new players who will be a part of the NL West in 2011.
Following the Giants' and Padres' pitching-comes-first model, the Dodgers beefed up their starting rotation. They also managed to score in the one-upmanship department, signing infielder Juan Uribe to a deal, even though the Giants had interest in bringing him back.
The Rockies re-signed left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa and also extended talented shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a mega-contract that will keep him at Coors Field through the 2020 season.
The Padres, the darlings of baseball in 2010 when they won 90 games, will again adhere to a pitching-and-defense model, as evidenced by the trade that landed Cameron Maybin to play center field while also adding a new middle infield duo in Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett.
Former Padres general manager Kevin Towers is now the GM in Arizona, and true to his 'Gunslinger' nickname, he's been busy making deals, trading Mark Reynolds for relief help and signing closer J.J. Putz to anchor what was a horrible bullpen in 2010.
The Giants haven't tinkered too much with their roster, and return nearly all of the key members from the team that topped the Rangers in the World Series.
There will be a new face at shortstop in Miguel Tejada, who was energized by a mid-season trade to the Padres.
"We all know the Giants had a great year last year. They did it with pitching, really, and their defense was very good. They're going to be good. We all know that. They're the world champions," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
With plenty of others, apparently, in hot pursuit in 2011.
What they've done: Towers was certainly active at the Winter Meetings, adding much-needed relief help in Putz (two years, $10 million) and two young arms the team acquired in the deal that sent Reynolds to Baltimore. Towers also added a left-handed pitcher, Joe Paterson, in the Rule 5 Draft. The D-backs shed not only payroll in the Reynolds deal, but also his strikeouts.
The D-backs will use Melvin Mora (two years, $4 million) at third base. Towers also addressed the bench, signing Geoff Blum for two years to give Gibson some options. Last week, the D-backs signed backup catcher Henry Blanco, who played well for Towers in 2009 when both were with the Padres. Towers also tabbed another former Padre, Xavier Nady, to play first base and left field.
Left to do: Make no mistake, Towers isn't finished with his roster overall. Even with the reliever additions, don't be surprised if Towers keeps trolling for arms. Also, he could add a piece or two for the bench.
Towers, who had a reputation during his days as general manager in San Diego of finding bullpen gems on the cheap, has overhauled a bad bullpen, adding Putz and what he thinks are two quality young arms in David Hernandez and Kameron Mickolio in the Reynolds deal. If this team looks a lot different than the one that finished 26 games out of first place in the NL West in 2009, well, it's supposed to.
"I don't see us being at the bottom of the division next year if we had to field the club as it is right now," Towers said. "I don't."
What they've done: For starters, the Dodgers have locked up a lot of pitching so far this winter: Ted Lilly (three years, $33 million), Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $12 million), Jon Garland (one year, $5 million) and Vicente Padilla (one year, $2 million, could earn $10 with incentives). The rotation is set.
The Dodgers addressed a big need in the infield by signing Uribe to a three-year deal worth $21 million. They also addressed their catching needs with Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro. Los Angeles believes it got a plus-defender with speed in outfielder Tony Gwynn, who could emerge as a fourth outfielder. The team also signed reliever Matt Guerrier to a three-year deal worth $12 million.
Left to do: The Dodgers would still like to add a right-handed-hitting left fielder. General manager Ned Colletti looks smart for jumping on pitching early, especially since, after Cliff Lee, this was considered to be a weak class of starting pitchers on the free-agent market.
Credit Colletti for being proactive this winter, bringing back Lilly, Kuroda and adding Garland before the Winter Meetings started. Colletti said the current roster is "better than when we ended" last season, thanks in part to a deeper rotation and expected run production in the middle of the infield with the addition of Uribe. Colletti insists he's not done with the roster.
"Would you like to have your team in place to start Spring Training? Absolutely. But look at the history. Few teams do," he said.
What they've done: The small cost of winning the World Series? That would be letting the competition get the jump on you during the offseason. After Uribe bolted for the Dodgers, the Giants acted fast in signing Tejada (one year, $6.5 million) as his replacement. The Giants also re-signed first baseman Aubrey Huff to a two-year deal worth $22 million. Finally, San Francisco got a bargain deal done with outfielder Pat Burrell (one year, $1 million), who came up big for them in the second half of last season.
Left to do: The Giants would still like to make upgrades to an offense that was ninth in the NL in scoring in 2010. Ideally, they would like to find a left-handed hitter to help balance the batting order. The team needs to find a backup shortstop because Tejada, at this point in his career, can't be expected to play 140-150 games at the position. Much like Buster Posey last season, an addition in 2011 could come from their Minor League system, where prospect Brandon Belt might just play his way onto the roster in time for Opening Day, either at first base or left field.
Other than losing Uribe to the Dodgers, the Giants will largely resemble the 2010 team that beat the Rangers for the World Series crown. And what's wrong with that? Regardless of the pieces still in place from a year ago, general manager Brian Sabean insisted that he won't simply stand pat between now and the start of the regular season.
"We wouldn't shy away from trying to do something that would upgrade us," Sabean said.
What they've done: The Padres addressed a big need in November, when they traded two relievers to the Marlins for Maybin. The Padres think he could be their everyday center fielder for a long time. After losing Garland, a 14-game winner in 2010, to free agency, the Padres signed Aaron Harang, a San Diego native, to a one-year deal worth $4 million for a spot in the rotation, and inked Dustin Moseley to a one-year deal to compete for the fifth starter job.
The trade of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox landed four players, though none figure to make a mark with the big league club in 2011. The Padres signed Hudson to play second base and traded for Bartlett to play shortstop.
Left to do: In terms of replacing Gonzalez, the Padres might look to sign a free agent to a one-year deal until Anthony Rizzo, one of the players obtained from the Red Sox, is ready to take over the job. General manager Jed Hoyer is also looking for a backup catcher and help for the bench. The team has interest in re-signing Jerry Hairston in a utility role but won't overpay for him.
Hoyer struck early this winter with the deal for Maybin, dealing from a strength (bullpen) to land a former first-round pick who could benefit from a change of scenery and the knowledge that the center field job is his. A year ago, Hoyer landed Garland, Yorvit Torrealba and Hairston in mid-January on inexpensive deals. He didn't wait quite so long this year, signing Hudson and trading for Bartlett. These appear to be smart moves for a team with a projected payroll of around $40 million.
What they've done: The Rockies signed Ty Wigginton to a two-year deal for $8 million to bounce around the infield and help absorb the loss of Mora. He'll also spell Todd Helton at first base. The Rockies added to their pitching staff with the acquisition of Felipe Paulino from the Astros for infielder Clint Barmes. Paulino will be a candidate for the rotation or could pitch in long relief. The Rockies acquired infielder Jose Lopez in a trade with the Mariners. He can play second base but is considered to be a much better defender at third.
Left to do: Acquiring relief help and finding another catcher remain atop the Rockies' wish list for the offseason. The Rockies don't want to be caught short-handed as they were in 2010, when closer Huston Street missed the first 69 games of the season because of injury. The team will need to find a backup catcher to spell Chris Iannetta.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the offseason for the Rockies was taking care of their own, as Colorado re-signed De La Rosa to a three-year deal worth $32 million. They also signed Tulowitzki to a six-year, $119 million contract extension. The team parted ways with lefty Jeff Francis, though there's decent depth among rotation candidates.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. Thomas Harding, Chris Haft, Ken Gurnick and Steve Gilbert contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.