Monday, January 07, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: NL West

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Arizona Diamondbacks (B+)
The NL West champs fell to Colorado in the NLCS last year. Despite playing in the most competitive division in baseball the Dbacks should be favored to repeat.
1B Connor Jackson, SS Stephen Drew, OF Chris Young and OF Justin Upton form a young and talent-laden nucleus. Last season OF Eric Byrnes quickly established himself as a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Strangely the Dbacks gave away NL saves leader Jose Valverde in the offseason. GM Josh Byrnes also traded six youngsters to Oakland for RHP Dan Haren, who joins Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson (when healthy) in the rotation. While the transaction gutted Arizona's farm system the ballclub now has the most formidable trio of arms in the National League. The 1-2-3 tandem should go a long way in the regular season -- and perhaps even further in the playoffs.

Colorado Rockies (B-)
Was the September surge culminating in the franchise's only World Series appearance a lucky streak or a sign of things to come? Looking over this organization it certainly seems like the former. LF Matt Holliday and SS Troy Tulowitzki, runner-ups in the MVP and ROTY voting respectively in 2007, are a tremendous duo to build around. 1B Todd Helton's production has declined for several years but he's still a valuable player. Offense won't be a problem for a team that plays its home games at Coors Field. On the other hand one wonders how this average group of arms ever advanced to the Fall Classic. Any rotation that slots RHP Aaron Cook as the second starter is in serious disarray. The bullpen is in slightly better shape but LHP Brian Fuentes, who lost his closer's role, struggles with consistency. LHP Franklin Morales is considered by some experts as a top-25 prospect. Don't expect the Rockies to replicate last year's success. Still, fan support and awareness are as high as they were during the Blake Street Bomber days in the mid 90's.

Los Angeles Dodgers (B)
Joe Torre at the helm certainly brightens the outlook of this organization, as does the signing of CF Andruw Jones. At the end of last year a rift between overpaid veterans (Jeff Kent chief among them) and young players (Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier) developed as LA fell short of the NL West crown. This divide still threatens the ballclub and needs to be addressed. On the bright side, the Dodgers have a wealth of promising in the minors such as LHP Clayton Kershaw, SS Chin-Lung Hu and 3B Andy LaRouche. With LA playing in a highly competitive division this may finally be the season GM Ned Colletti decides to parlay young commodities for a much-needed star pitcher to complement Brad Penny and Derek Lowe. RHP Hiroki Kuroda, the prize arm coming from Japan, may or may not be that person. Regardless of whether the Dodgers decide to keep the nucleus together for future runs for the pennant or go for broke, this proud and historic team is in good shape.

San Diego Padres (B)
San Diego appeared to have the NL West wrapped up until a disastrous series at Milwaukee. The Padres were subsequently swept by the Brewers and lost in a one-game playoff to the Rockies. 2008 will be another opportunity to contend for a division title thanks to pitching. Unlike most teams San Diego possesses a sterling starting rotation. Leading the pack is 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. The 20-game winner is followed by Chris Young, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, Randy Wolf and Mark Prior. Of course Padre mainstay Trevor Hoffman is there to close the door in the ninth. Taking low-risk chances on Prior, 2B Tadahito Iguchi and CF Jim Edmonds epitomize the type of shrewdness GM Kevin Towers has demonstrated time and time again. 3B Chase Headley and 2B Matt Antonelli are good prospects but San Diego is not known for its farm system.

San Francisco Giants (D)
GM Brian Sabean finally parted ways with Barry Bonds. All it took was a federal indictment. With Bonds' departure not only will a gigantic distraction be lifted but the Giants can finally focus on rebuilding. However one way not to rebuild is to sign pricey free agents. CF Aaron Rowand certainly will improve a stagnant offense and atrocious defense, but someone like him should complement talent. Instead he headlines a roster that includes regulars like 2B Rich Aurilia, SS Omar Vizquel and LF Dave Roberts. Hardly worldbeaters. The pitching situation is slightly less abhorrent.
Workhorses Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are preceded by what will be Year Two of the ridiculously expensive Barry Zito experiment. This franchise will likely not improve upon last year's 71-win campaign and help isn't coming soon: teenager prospect 3B Angel Villalona is years away from The Show.

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