1 | Los Angeles Dodgers
2006: 1st place (tie) 88-74
Manager: Grady Little.
Key free agents: OF Juan Pierre (5 years, $45 million), SP Jason Schmidt (3 years, $47 million), SP Randy Wolf (1 year, $8 million), OF Luis Gonzalez (1 year, $7.35 million), C Mike Lieberthal (1 year, $1.25 million), RP Chin-Hui Tsao (1 year, $400,000).
Going, going, gone: OF J.D. Drew (signed by Boston), SP Greg Maddux (signed by San Diego), OF Kenny Lofton (signed by Texas), RP Eric Gagne (signed by Texas), SS Julio Lugo (signed by Boston).
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On the hot seat: The Dodgers gave Jason Schmidt ace money, but he’s 34 years old. Is he worth the money the Dodgers spent, and can they expect to get three good years from him?
Written in Stone: The Dodgers should be demonstrably better than the team that tied San Diego for the NL West title. Schmidt and Wolf were nice additions to the rotation, and the Dodgers breathed easier when Brad Penny’s mid-spring shoulder soreness didn’t appear to hinder him. Like Arizona, the Dodgers are teeming with talented prospects. First baseman James Loney, who led the PCL last year with a ridiculous .380 average at Las Vegas, can’t find a job. Nor can Andy LaRoche, their third baseman of the future. If highly rated but underperforming Wilson Betemit doesn’t get it going early, LaRoche could be back.
2 | San Diego Padres
2006: 1st place (tie) 88-74
Manager: Bud Black.
Key free agents: SP Greg Maddux (2 years, $16.5 million), 2B Marcus Giles (1 year, $3.75 million).
Acquired in trade: 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (from Cleveland).
Going, going, gone: 2B Josh Barfield (traded to Cleveland), 1B Ryan Klesko (signed by San Francisco), SP Woody Williams (signed by Houston), OF Dave Roberts (signed by San Francisco), C Mike Piazza (signed by Oakland).
On the hot seat: Jake Peavy led the National League in ERA in 2004 and in strikeouts in 2005. But his ERA was above 5 last year on Aug. 1, before he rallied. The Padres need Peavy all season, not just two months.
Written in Stone: New manager Bud Black will have to fight the stereotype that pitching coaches make lousy managers; on first blush, he’s got the personality and know-how to succeed. Black has also got two elderly pitchers, Maddux and David Wells, from whom he’ll be trying to coax one last gasp. GM Kevin Towers took a tremendous gamble in trading Barfield for Kouzmanoff, who tore up the minor leagues but struggled in the majors with Cleveland (after hitting the first pitch he saw in The Show for a grand slam). Kouzmanoff has a chance to be an impact bat. So does ex-Mariner Terrmel Sledge, who has 40-homer power — which isn’t to say he’s going to hit 40 homers.
3 | Arizona Diamondbacks
2006: 4th place (tie) 76-86
Manager: Bob Melvin.
Acquired in trade: SP Randy Johnson (from Yankees), SP Doug Davis (from Milwaukee).
Going, going, gone: OF Luis Gonzalez (signed by Dodgers), SP Miguel Batista (signed by Seattle), C Johnny Estrada (traded to Milwaukee), INF Craig Counsell (signed by Milwaukee), RP Jorge Julio (traded to Florida).
On the hot seat: Johnson won four Cy Young awards in his first tour with the Diamondbacks, but he’s not the same pitcher now, and he’s coming off offseason back surgery. At 43, how much does the Big Unit have left?
Written in Stone: Everyone who studies prospects and farm systems predicts the Diamondbacks are on the verge of greatness, with more potential stars than just about any team in baseball. The question is whether the ascent will happen this year. With a few good breaks, and breakouts, Arizona could be the surprise team in baseball. Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin and Chris Young all have huge upsides, and their most talented prospect of all, outfielder Justin Upton, won’t be in the minor leagues for long. But the D-backs will surely have growing pains, and the supporting cast isn’t nearly as inspiring as the youth. Brandon Webb, the Cy Young winner, is a great staff anchor, but the rest of the rotation is either too young, too old, or too mediocre.
|*Minor-league stats; **will start on DL|
4 | San Francisco Giants
2006: 3rd place 76-85
Manager: Bruce Bochy.
Key free agents: SP Barry Zito (7 years, $126 million), OF Dave Roberts (3 years, $18 million), 1B Rich Aurilia (2 years, $8 million), C Bengie Molina (3 years, $16 million), 1B Ryan Klesko (1 year, $1.75 million), SP Russ Ortiz (1 year, $380,000).
Going, going, gone: SP Jason Schmidt (signed by Dodgers), OF Moises Alou (signed by Mets), 1B Shea Hillenbrand (signed by Angels), C Mike Matheny (retired), RP Mike Stanton (signed by Cincinnati), RP Tim Worrell (retired).
On the hot seat: Zito went to the only team where a $126 million contract doesn’t make you the center of attention. He’s not even the most-scrutinized Barry. That’s Barry Bonds, just 21 homers short of Hank Aaron.
Written in Stone: The Giants’ goal this winter was to get younger, and they’ve done that. Instead of being ancient, they’re merely very old. And very mediocre. After a great eight-year run in Bonds’ heyday, the Giants have stagnated while their front-office has been preoccupied with Barrypalooza. Bonds still is an offensive force, even on his gimpy knees, and the Aaron chase should motivate him early. The main hope for the Giants is that the rotation jells behind Zito. It has some definite upside potential. The word on the street is that Ortiz looks like a new man. That’s good, because the old Ortiz couldn’t get out high-school hitters.
5 | Colorado Rockies
2006: 4th place (tie) 76-86
Manager: Clint Hurdle.
Key free agent: RP LaTroy Hawkins (1 year, $3.5 million).
Acquired in trade: OF Willy Taveras (from Houston), SP Jason Hirsh (from Houston), SP Rodrigo Lopez (from Baltimore).
Going, going, gone: SP Jason Jennings (traded to Houston), 3B Vinny Castilla (retired).
On the hot seat: Todd Helton hit better than .300 for the ninth straight year in 2006, but his power numbers continued to decline. Will the Rockies regret not trading Helton to Boston when they had the chance?
Written in Stone: The Rockies under GM Dan O’Dowd always seem to be moving toward a target they never quite reach. But they might be closer to contention than at any time since the Blake Street Bomber days. These days, The Big Cat is Garrett Atkins, the best hitter few have heard of. In fact, the Atkins-Helton-Matt Holliday-Brad Hawpe foursome is as tough a middle of the order to navigate as you’ll find almost anywhere. And if rookie SS Troy Tulowitzki is as good as the Rockies think he is, their lineup really rocks. Meanwhile, the infamous humidor has brought back some semblance of normalcy to Colorado’s pitching. Trading stalwart Jennings over money issues didn’t help, however; the Rockies still appear a few arms short.
Capsules by Bill Reader, section editor; Written in Stone and division rankings by Larry Stone, Seattle Times baseball reporter.Stats from 2006 season unless noted.