• Josh Talevski

2021 MLB Offseason Grades: NL West Edition


 

After a long but exciting offseason, Spring Training is wrapping up for all 30 Major League Baseball clubs. Although this year’s Spring Training felt slightly different, Opening Day is only a day away where MLB returns to a full 162-game schedule and fan attendance in ballparks across the country.


While many teams had tighter budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the offseason was not without its big contracts, surprising trades and teams looking to make a push for a World Series title in 2021.


While the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams stockpiled star players in hopes of playoff runs, other clubs made solid acquisitions towards rebuilding or rebounding after a tough 2020 season.


We’ve reached the final volume of this series, and hopefully, you guys haven’t disagreed with the grades too much throughout these editions. At long last, we evaluate the NL West, one of the most active divisions this offseason. And in advance, my deepest condolences about the offseason Rockies fans.


NL West


Arizona Diamondbacks: D-

Additions: RP Taylor Guilbeau, C Bryan Holaday, RP Ryan Buchter, RP Chris Devenski, RP Joakim Soria, INF Asdrubal Cabrera, RP Tyler Clippard, RP Anthony Swarzak\


The Diamondbacks were silent this offseason as they made few moves to shake up their roster. Arizona made strides in the prior offseason to compete in the NL West with the signing of Madison Bumgarner to a five-year deal but are already dealing with a potential poor contract as MadBum struggled with injuries and decreased velocity in year one of his tenure in the desert. The Arizona lineup will look much like it did for last season’s 25-35 club. If Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar both return to their 2019 forms, Arizona’s batting numbers should improve this season. Asdrubal Cabrera is the only newcomer on the Diamondbacks offensively after spending the last season and a half with the Washington Nationals. A shortstop in his younger days, Cabrera is now more of a corner infielder with the ability to play second base, as well. Cabrera swatted 8 home runs and drove in 31 in 52 games for the Nats last season and is a likable veteran player who will backup Escobar and Christian Walker at third and first base, respectively. The remaining moves by Arizona put emphasis on its bullpen heading into 2021. Thirty-six-year-old Joakim Soria, who spent last season as a setup man in Oakland, signed with the D-Backs for a year to be the team’s next closer. Though Soria is older, he has 223 career saves and has averaged 66.5 appearances over the past four full seasons. Chris Devenski was an All-Star setup man with the Astros in 2017 and a mainstay in their bullpen since 2016. While the start of Devenski’s career was strong, he regressed to an average reliever in 2018 and 2019. Last year Devenski only made four appearances before he was diagnosed with bone spurs in his elbow which required surgery. Devenski is not the dominating reliever he once was but that doesn’t mean he still can’t be above league-average. Devenski still throws a plus changeup and has always had a great ability to get left-handed batters out as a right-handed reliever. Hopefully, he can regain his form in Arizona this season. Tyler Clippard spent last season with the Twins, recording a 2.77 ERA in 26 appearances. Clippard has played for an assortment of teams and now has the pleasure of adding Arizona to his list. As he has gotten older, Clippard has improved on allowing fewer walks, even with his funky delivery. With a good change-up and splitter at his disposal, Clippard will try to add more stability for the Diamondbacks in the late innings. Ryan Buchter has been an underrated lefty specialist over the last few years with the Padres, Royals, Athletics and Angels. In 64 games with Oakland in 2019, Buchter compiled a 2.98 ERA in 45.1 innings pitched. While the three-batter minimum rule has caused Buchter to see less major league success, his track record proves he deserves a shot in a major league bullpen. Arizona definitely has the opportunity to improve in 2021, but the ceiling is only so high for this Diamondbacks club that is caught in the dominant NL Western division.


Colorado Rockies: F

Additions: SP Dereck Rodriguez, C Jose Briceno, OF Connor Joe, RP Robert Stephenson, SP Chi Chi Gonzalez, INF Chris Owings, SP Austin Gomber, 1B Greg Bird, 1B C.J. Cron


The Rockies' front office embarrassed itself this offseason. Nolan Arenado, a generational talent at third base who was signed to an eight-year $260 million extension in 2019, was traded to the Cardinals for very little. Even more embarrassing is that the Rockies sent St. Louis $51 million to help cover the contract. That’s just bad baseball. Ian Desmond, who the Rockies signed to a five-year deal in 2016, also chose to opt-out of the 2021 season after doing so the season prior. While that may actually benefit Colorado, it’s still tough to see what a poor signing he was. Austin Gomber headlines the acquisitions made by the Rockies this offseason, being the key piece in the Arenado trade. Gomber looks promising after finishing with a 1.86 ERA in 14 games, which included four starts. However, he now faces the toughest challenge for any pitcher in the majors: conquering Coors Field. Gomber is projected to begin the season in the Rockies’ rotation, but Colorado could have even more talent alongside Gomber but somehow didn’t. Robert Stephenson was acquired in a trade with the Reds and could join the Rockies’ bullpen. However, Stephenson’s outlook in Colorado is questionable as he was nothing but inconsistent throughout his Reds tenure. Power-hitting first baseman C.J. Cron joins the Rockies following a season where knee-surgery limited him to 13 games with the Tigers. Cron has hit 28 and 24 home runs in his last two full seasons in the majors and could break the 30 home run threshold for the first time in his career with a healthy season playing in Coors Field. Chris Owings was re-signed by the Rockies after finally bouncing back offensively for the first time since 2017. Thanks to his ability to play all over the diamond and the Rockies' familiarity with him, Owings is primed to start the season on the Rockies’ bench. Connor Joe, who never seemed to get his shot with the Giants, is an interesting bat who could also open the season on the Rockies’ bench as he has the potential to play both corner infield and outfield positions. And for you Greg Bird fans out there, the former Yankee will try to fight his way onto the club with his powerful left-handed bat. The Rockies still have great young pitching in German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Jon Gray, but it doesn’t look like it will be consistent enough to get the Rockies out of the cellar in the NL West.


Los Angeles Dodgers: A+

Additions: RP Corey Knebel, SP Jimmy Nelson, RP Brandon Morrow, C Tim Federowicz, RP Tommy Kahnle, RP Blake Treinen, SP Trevor Bauer, 3B Sheldon Neuse, 3B Matt Davidson, 3B Justin Turner


The defending World Series champions made big splashes and all the right moves to remain the favorites to repeat as World Series champs and counter the up-and-coming San Diego Padres, who made some big splashes of their own. The Dodgers were already a complete team heading into the offseason and the moves they made only strengthened certain positions or were made to retain the services of key players from the season before. The Dodgers made some of the best bullpen acquisitions of any team this offseason, starting with a trade for Corey Knebel of the Brewers. Knebel was an All-Star for the Brewers in 2017 and saved 39 games for Milwaukee before losing his grip on the closer’s role in 2018 with the emergence of Josh Hader. Knebel then underwent Tommy John surgery which cost him his 2019 season and did not come back strong post-surgery. In 15 games last season, Knebel posted a 6.08 ERA. The Dodgers, however, have been known to help relievers rediscover their form and made the trade for the right-hander. So far, Knebel has had a strong spring and is making the Dodgers’ bullpen look even more formidable heading into this season. Blake Treinen spent last season in LA and was one of the aforementioned relievers the Dodgers helped regain form. After Treinen came close to an ERA of 5.00 in 2019, he was non-tendered by Oakland and scooped up by the Dodgers. In 27 games with LA last season, Treinen recorded a 3.86 ERA while only allowing eight walks and one home run. Former Yankee Tommy Kahnle endured a rocky 2018 in the Bronx before rebounding in for the Yanks in 2019. After feeling discomfort in his elbow in 2020, the hard-throwing Kahnle underwent Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers inked Kahnle to a two-year contract in the offseason and although his injury will roll into part of 2021, the Dodgers’ bullpen will get to add an experienced playoff pitcher with an electric fastball to help them in the playoffs. Brandon Morrow might also rejoin the Dodgers’ relief corps at some point this season after injuries plagued his time with the Cubs. Morrow was a key member of the Dodgers during their 2017 postseason run and is another hard-throwing righty with a good slider, as well. As if Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and David Price weren’t enough, the Dodgers signed reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to a three-year $102 million contract. With Bauer now in the fold, the Dodgers boast the major’s best starting staff and add one of the game’s most polarizing players. Although Bauer will likely regress some in 2021, he has found a way to increase his spin rate on the mound and has a funky, yet deceptive delivery that generates lots of swings and misses. While there was speculation he could leave this offseason, the Dodgers brought back fan-favorite third baseman Justin Turner on a two-year $34 million contract. The right-handed hitting Turner is still an elite batter against left-handed pitchers at 36, and Dodgers fans can expect another 20 home run season with a batting average of .285 or better. If you thought the Dodgers were good last season, this year’s team is sure to impress across a 162-game schedule. Don’t be surprised if you see LA become the first team since the 1999 and 2000 Yankees to repeat as World Series champions in back-to-back seasons.


San Diego Padres: A+

Additions: SP Blake Snell, C Victor Caratini, SP Yu Darvish, SS Ha-Seong Kim, SS Pedro Florimon, RP Jacob Rhame, RP Nick Ramirez, SP Joe Musgrove, INF/OF Jurickson Profar, RP Keone Kela, RP Mark Melancon


My grand winner for best offseason, the Padres were the most exciting team in baseball in 2020 and slammed their way into the postseason for the first time since 2006. Though they were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS, the Padres upped the ante this offseason and went all-in to construct a team deep enough to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West. Although the Padres got a breakout season from Dinelson Lamet, their starting rotation was sorely in need of an upgrade. Following the Rays’ decision to pull Blake Snell in Game 6 of the World Series last year, the Padres traded Luis Patino, Cole Wilcox and Francisco Mejia to acquire the 2018 AL Cy Young winner. As the Cubs looked to shed contracts in the offseason, the Friars jumped on the opportunity to acquire Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini and were able to ship off starter Zack Davies in the process. To top it all off, the Padres traded for the Pirates’ Joe Musgrove as well, to form an impressive rotation containing Snell, Darvish, Lamet, Musgrove and Chris Paddack. Darvish was the runner-up in the NL Cy Young voting last season with the Cubs and is tabbed to start on Opening Day for the Padres. The four-time All-Star led the NL in wins with 8, pairing it with a 2.01 ERA and 93 strikeouts. Darvish has felt comfortable in San Diego so far this spring and could wind up with another Cy Young bid in 2021 now that he will be starting at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Snell already has a Cy Young to his name after he won 21 games with a 1.89 ERA in a dominant 2018 in Tampa Bay. Though he dealt with an elbow injury during part of 2019, he was a stabilizing force in the Rays’ rotation in 2020, going 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA. Snell is the lone lefty in San Diego’s rotation and still has three years remaining for the Padres. While Musgrove is yet to post an ERA below 3.86, there are a lot of underlying numbers that point to a potential breakout season for the right-hander. After seeing the success Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton found upon leaving Pittsburgh, it is reasonable to believe that Musgrove will surge up the starting pitching tier. Whether he breaks out or not, Musgrove is an above-average back-end starter who will also benefit from pitching at Petco. Since 2017, Caratini has served as an excellent backup to catcher Willson Contreras of the Cubs. He also became Darvish’s personal catcher in Chicago and broke out offensively in 2019 with 11 home runs in 95 games. With him and Austin Nola splitting time at catcher, San Diego should have one of the most productive catching tandems in baseball this season. It remains to be seen what the Padres will do with middle infielder Ha-Seong Kim, who was signed out of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) to a four-year, $28 million deal. Kim crushed 30 home runs and drove in 109 runs in 2020 and has great speed and versatility in the field. It is never easy to tell how international players will fare in the majors but expect to see Kim get plenty of playing time wherever he can find it. Jurickson Profar, who served as the Padres' utilityman last season, was signed to a three-year deal after batting .278 with seven home runs while playing multiple positions. Though he has been in the majors since 2012, Profar is only 28 years old and given his long road towards finding major league success, hopefully, he experiences more of the same this season. The Padres now boast an even deeper bullpen after the signings of Keone Kela and Mark Melancon. Both were given opportunities to compete for the closer role, but it appears that the job will be split between Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan to start the season. Kela is a hard-throwing righty, who averaged a 2.73 ERA from 2017-19 with the Rangers and Pirates. While forearm inflammation shut him down in 2020, he looks poised to bounce back with a strong 2021. After being acquired by Atlanta at the 2019 Trade Deadline, Mark Melancon spent the next season and a half serving as the Braves' closer. The three-time All-Star recorded 22 saves within that span and was surprisingly effective in 2020 despite a low strikeout rate, Though his closing days seem over, he has 205 career saves to his name and is a great emergency closer and personality in the Padres’ bullpen. And last but not least, the Padres were able to extend shortstop extraordinaire and face of the franchise Fernando Tatis Jr. for 14 years worth $340 million. San Diego now has an elite talent locked in for a huge period of time which should only increase the club’s World Series window. San Diego is determined to give the Dodgers and the rest of the National League much more of a fight in 2021 as the Padres attempt to win their first World Series title in franchise history.


San Francisco Giants: C+

Additions: 3B Jason Vosler, SP Kevin Gausman, RP Matt Wisler, RP Dominic Leone, C Chadwick Tromp, SP Anthony DeSclafani, RP John Brebbia, C Curt Casali, SP Alex Wood, OF LaMonte Wade, 2B Tommy La Stella, RP Jake McGee, SP Aaron Sanchez, SP Scott Kazmir, 1B Justin Bour, RP Jose Alvarez


The Giants get a C+ for effort, but the moves don’t make the most sense for the team. The Giants are already an old team with aging veterans Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Johnny Cueto. Their offseason moves didn’t make the team look like it was making an effort to get any younger. Jason Vosler, a 27-year-old third baseman, has yet to appear in a major league game yet was signed to a major league contract by the Giants after he posted an impressive .291 with 20 home runs and a .523 slugging percentage with the Padres Triple-A club in 2019. While he may not make the Giants’ Opening Day roster, expect to see him with the big league club at some point this season. After finishing the 2020 season with a 3.62 ERA in 10 starts with the Giants, Kevin Gausman accepted the club’s qualifying offer to spend another season by the bay. Gausman has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his playing career but has experienced his fair share of inconsistent play as well. With the Giants’ Oracle Park being the most pitcher-friendly stadium in the National League, Gausman, who will be the Giants’ Opening Day starter, should post another solid season in San Francisco. Left-handed starter Alex Wood should crack the Giants’ rotation despite struggling over the past two seasons with the Reds and Dodgers. Wood has the capability to serve as both a starter and reliever at the major league level and may have found the perfect situation in San Francisco to work on his stuff and decrease the home run ball. Another former Red, Anthony DeSclafani, will join the Giants’ starting five after suffering a poor 2020 campaign. DeSclafani’s best season came in 2019 when he went 9-9 with a 3.89 ERA for the Reds in 31 starts. DeSclafani is nothing more than a three or four-starter in a rotation at this stage of his career but should be comfortable joining a Giants staff mostly made of reclamation projects. Aaron Sanchez, a former All-Star with the Blue Jays in 2016, falls into that category as well as he had what was once considered a promising major league career run off course. If Sanchez can recover from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss all of 2020, he could see time in the Giants rotation at some point this season. San Francisco signed 32-year-old infielder Tommy La Stella to a three-year contract worth $18.75 million. La Stella was an All-Star with the Angels in 2019 but was shipped out of Los Angeles due to the emergence of the criminally underrated David Fletcher. Though the move is puzzling given La Stella will be the backup and third, second and possibly first base, he is more than capable of stepping into a starting role when called upon and has had an OPS above 800 in both of his last two seasons. Backing up Buster Posey at catcher will be Curt Casali, who was in that role with the Reds from 2018-20. Though Oracle Park will take away from Casali's occasional home run power, he is a perfect stopgap catcher who is familiar with the likes of DeSclafani and Wood and gives the Giants more time to develop top prospect Joey Bart. Additionally, lefty Jake McGee and righty Matt Wisler were added to the Giants’ bullpen this offseason. While both moves went mostly unnoticed, both could pay dividends for San Francisco in 2021. McGee recaptured his early career success with the Dodgers en route to a World Series in 2020 and should be able to keep the ball in the spacious Oracle Park. Though Matt Wisler never panned out as a starting pitcher, he broke out for the Twins last season with a 1.07 ERA in 18 games for Minnesota. The Giants can only hope Wisler keeps up the same pace in 2021. San Francisco is yet to commit to an organizational rebuild, though they do have some promising young prospects on the rise. Hopefully, this season will help the Giants determine what future of the club this decade.


Again, this concludes a long series of MLB offseason grades. What are your thoughts on the NL West and other teams heading into 2021? Let us know on Twitter @FTSmlb and stay tuned for much more content as Opening Day begins on April 1!