The Red Reporter season preview bureau thought it time to peer into the happenings of the National League West, and there's a solid bit to like out there on the Weezst Coast. There are piles of talent, bigger piles of money, and a few rosters that can stack up with the best in the game. Once again, we look at the major storylines, the comings and goings, and which European Union country each best represents. Or so.
Without further adieu, here is the National League West, listed by my predicted order of finish (first to worst):
Who's New: 2B Alexander Guerrero, SS Erisbel Arruebarrena, RHP Dan Haren, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Jamey Wright, IF/OF Chone Figgins; re-signed RHP Brian Wilson, 3B Juan Uribe, LHP J.P. Howell
Who's Gone: IF Michael Young, LHP Chris Capuano, 2B Mark Ellis, IF/OF Cherry Hudson, Jr., IF/OF Cherry Hudson, Jr.'s base-ball bat, RHP Ricky Nolasco, IF Nick Punto, IF/OF Skip Schumaker, RHP Edinson Volquez
Storylines: How do they fit 4 star-caliber OFs into three OF spots? Which 5 of their 27 eligible SP will make the rotation? Can Alex Guerrero be their 2B? On whom do they spend their next billion dollars?
What's the Gist? It's easy to focus on the few flaws of the Dodgers since they have billions of dollars and a roster as talented as any in recent memory, but that's a bit nit-picky. Yes, they let Mark Ellis walk and didn't really replace him with anyone proven, and that seems odd given their lack of budget constraints, but they've also got no other clear weaknesses. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke form a dominant 1-2 at the top of the rotation, keeping each of Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford now seems prescient given the injury struggles of both Kemp and Crawford, and a healthy Wilson paired at the back of the bullpen with Kenley Jansen will be furry and bonkers-good. They've tied a ton of money to SPs with iffy health situations (Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Dan Haren), but odds are that they'll get enough combined to round out their rotation. A bench featuring Figgins, Dee Gordon, and Scott Van Slyke won't scare anyone on the mound, but that's something they'll likely fix as the season progresses. Adrian Gonzalez is the fourth or fifth best hitter on this team, and that's just a scary damn thing to think about.
Which EU Country is this? They trade with EU countries, and they border them, too. They print their own money, don't abide by luxury tax rules, and absord others' mistakes regardless of cost. Their business model is "your business model plus one," and while they're technically in the same league as the rest, they're not really in the same league as the rest. They don't want to join the EU, they want to swallow the EU. RUSSIA.
Who's New: RHP Tim Hudson, OF Michael Morse, LHP David Huff, OF Tyler Colvin; re-signed LHP Javier Lopez, OF Hunter Pence, IF Joaquin Arias, RHP Tim Lincecum
Who's Gone: LHP Barry Zito, RHP Chad Gaudin, IF/OF Brett Pill, OF Andres Torres
Storylines: Will Marco Scutaro be healthy enough to be a regular? Will the Tim Lincecum of old reemerge, or will he throw 89 mph for $35 million over 2 years? Will Hunter Pence's eyes finally pop all the way out of his cranium? When will they trade Pablo Sandoval for Homer Bailey?
What's the Gist? The Giants went 76-86 and finished 4th in the West in 2013 with nearly the exact same roster that went 94-68and won the World Series in 2012. Same core, same manager, same top of the rotation, same everything - except they performed at a fraction of their previous best. Each of Sandoval, Angel Pagan, Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain, and Buster Posey will hope that 2013 was the outlier, not 2012, and if they return to form, this team has a chance to be really, really good. If Hudson's ankle is fully healed, their rotation is complete and a perfect fit for the spacious NL West ballparks, and their lineup projects to be downright scary at its healthy-best. There's a reason the core was kept together: They've won two World Series titles since 2010, and nobody's really too old to do it again.
Which EU Country is this? They've got fat guys, skinny guys, lanky guys, and goofy guys, but they're a pretty damn smart group. They have a bankroll that will back what they need, and they've got a history of conquering their neighbors. You can count on them to help you out if your enemy needs a good beat down, but you're also pretty sure you could beat them if you needed to. Bad teeth. UNITED KINGDOM.
Who's New: RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Josh Johnson, OF Xavier Nady, OF Seth Smith, LHP Alex Torres, IF Ryan Jackson, OF Alex Castellanos
Who's Gone: IF Logan Forsythe, RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Luke Gregerson, IF/OF Jesus Guzman, OF Jaff Decker, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Jason Marquis, IF Mark Kotsay
Storylines: How will BALCO buddies Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal rebound? Can Carlos Quentin finally stay healthy? Who the hell will get anyone out for them?
What's the Gist? The Padres are now two seasons removed from having what was pretty universally considered the top farm system in baseball (which coincided with them getting plenty from the Reds in exchange for Mat Latos). Now, they're all in the big leagues, and they'll be asked to put it all together as one, something that they've struggled with so far. They've purged much of the pitching they depended upon for the last few seasons and have acquired a lottery ticket arm in Josh Johnson, but their lack of financial power means they'll need everything to go right to be a serious playoff contender. They'll need Quentin healthy for a full season, Cameron Maybin back and effective sooner than later, Johnson healthy and his old dominant self, Ian Kennedy to rebound, and Andrew Cashner to take the next step and be their ace. There's a lot of talent there, but there's not a lot of predictability.
Which EU Country is this? They've got their golden generation primed for a bout of success, but there's no guarantee it'll actually materialize. Their location means they straddle two countries, and while at times it seems they've been overrun by both, they still maintain their own laid-back culture. Also, they brew the hell out of some great beer. BELGIUM.
Who's New: LHP Brett Anderson, OF Drew Stubbs, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Boone Logan, 1B Justin Morneau, RHP Jordan Lyles, LHP Franklin Morales
Who's Gone: RHP Rafael Betancourt, SS Reid Brignac, OF Tyler Colvin, CF Dexter Fowler, LHP Jeff Francis, 1B Todd Helton, RHP Roy Oswalt, LHP Drew Pomeranz, C Yorvit Torrealba, LHP Josh Outman
Storylines: Will Brett Anderson actually pitch more than 50 innings? Can Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy at the same time for once? Why the heck did they trade Dexter Fowler for basically nothing?
What's the Gist? There may not be a more talented, dynamic offensive pairing in baseball than Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, and that alone should give their offense some powerful thump. Michael Cuddyer won't have a BABIP of a million this season, but he should still be a decent complimentary hitter, and if Justin Morneau can reap the benefits of playing in Coors, there's the potential for a pretty potent offense in Denver. The question will be, of course, who will lead off now that Fowler's gone? With Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and a healthy Anderson in place, they've got the makings of a solid rotation, though there are question marks all over their bullpen, but there's reason to believe this may be one of the best pitching staffs this franchise has ever assembled (not that that's saying much). Nolan Arenado is about to be a star at 3B, too, and if that materializes this season, it could make for a pretty damn fun Summer in the mountains.
Which EU Country is this? You can smoke weed there, and there's always the chance that you may end up getting flooded. Top-end talent but not a lot to show for it over history. Beautiful country. NETHERLANDS.
Who's New: RHP Bronson Arroyo, RHP Justin Choate, IF/OF Mark Trumbo, RHP Addison Reed; re-signed 3B Eric Chavez, re-signed RHP Daniel Hudson
Who's Gone: 3B Matt Davidson, LHP Tyler Skaggs, OF Adam Eaton, LHP David Holmberg, RHP Heath Bell, IF Willie Bloomquist
Storylines: Why? Why the hell have they traded away (given away) two of the top five pitching prospects in the game in recent years (Skaggs and Trevor Bauer)? Why did they give up on Justin Upton? Why, oh why, did they unload a ton of talent for Mark Trumbo? Why flip a top hitting prospect for a closer?
What's the Gist? You can tell already that I haven't liked a single move that Kevin Towers has made over the last few offseasons. Even though I miss Bronson Arroyo, I even think he's a terrible fit for the dry air and that ballpark, too. Martin Prado is good, Gerardo Parra is good yet overrated, and Paul Goldschmidt is an absolute animal at the plate, but that's about where my love for this team ends. Patrick Corbin was supposed to anchor the rotation, but he's now set for Tommy John surgery, which is a devastating blow to a pitching staff that was already way, way short on strikeout pitchers. Bad moves, bad luck, and a tough division makes it hard to expect a lot from them this season.
Which EU Country is this? They're easy to forget when speaking about their peer group, and they have a history of an overly punitive and invasive government. Constantly overshadowed by their neighbors one country away despite having a transcendent superstar that, in theory, should carry them far enough to meet expectations. Has two cities and not much else. PORTUGAL.