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Monday, January 2, 2012

A Look At How the NL West Is Shaping Up

Prince Fielder is still looking for a home and the calendar just flipped to 2012. In other words, there's still roughly 6 weeks of the offseason. However, it looks as if the NL West clubs have made most of their big time offseason moves. We're still waiting on that Matt Cain extension and that Timmy signing but aside from that it's not too early to start assessing what should be a competitive Western division this upcoming season. I thought I'd look at a position by position analysis of the 5 NL West clubs to see who is strongest at each position. The 49ers may be in the playoffs but it's never too soon to start talking Giants baseball.

CATCHER: Miguel Montero (AZ), Ramon Hernandez (COL), AJ Ellis/Matt Treanor (LA), Nick Hundley (SD), Buster Posey (SF)

If Buster Posey comes back as expected, he's one of the games best young players. He also is an above average defensive catcher and game caller. While Montero offers solid offense and Ramon Hernandez could do some damage in Colorado, Posey by far has the highest ceiling and is the all around best catcher. (San Francisco)

FIRST BASE: Paul Goldschmidt (AZ), Todd Helton (COL), James Loney (LA), Yonder Alonso/Jesus Guzman (SD), Aubrey Huff (SF)

The closest the NL West has to a prototypical 30 homer slugging first baseman may very well be Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt. It also sucks that he seems to own Tim Lincecum and isn't intimidated by SF's pitchers (or ballpark). Helton has been Mr. Steady for years and he's coming off another good year but you never know if his power numbers are going to be there. Alonso is very intriguing but how will he perform at Petco? Loney flies under the radar but doesn't seem to have a high ceiling anymore. And then there's our own Rally Thong Huff who has sworn he's taking the offseason serious this time. Huff gave us great production in 2010 and awful production in 2011. His 2012 should be somewhere in between. In the end, Goldschmidt seems to be the best bet to be the NL West's most productive first baseman. (Arizona)

SECOND BASE: Aaron Hill (AZ), Eric Young/Chris Nelson (COL), Mark Ellis (LA), Orlando Hudson (SD), Freddy Sanchez (SF)

A lot of mediocrity here. Freddy Sanchez could be the best of the bunch if he comes back 100% from shoulder surgery. But Freddy has been sort of like Mr. Glass since being in SF so it's hard to assume he'll play 140 games. Orlando Hudson is usually pretty consistent and can steal a bag, which gives him a leg up over Sanchez. Ellis was unremarkable in his first NL West stint in Colorado so it's hard seeing him being much better in LA. His replacements in Denver are basically unknowns. I think Hudson gets the nod over Sanchez as he's just an all around solid pro. (San Diego)

SHORTSTOP: Stephen Drew (AZ), Troy Tulowitzki (COL), Dee Gordon (LA), Jason Bartlett (SD), Brandon Crawford (SF)

Another no-brainer. Tulowitzki is arguably the best offensive shortstop in the game and he plays Gold Glove defense. The rest of the field is far behind. Gordon could provide a spark at the top of the Dodger line-up and Stephen Drew consistently underachieves but still puts up respectable numbers for a shortstop but even if Drew fulfilled his potential he'd be hard pressed to match Tulo's production. Bartlett had an awful first year in a Friar jersey and Brandon Crawford will be lucky to hit .250. (Colorado)

THIRD BASE: Ryan Roberts (AZ), Jonathan Herrera (COL), Juan Uribe (LA), Chase Headley (SD), Pablo Sandoval (SF)

If the Kung Fu Panda hits like he did in 2009 and 2011 then the Giants easily have the best third baseman in the NL West, if not one of the best third sackers in the league. He was a first time All-Star in 2011 and had he not missed a month of time due to his wrist injury, he would likely have hit 30 bombs all while playing Gold Glove level defense. Chase Headley is the only other 3B in the division that can rival Panda's offensive contributions but Panda is the better, more consistent, overall player. (San Francisco)

LEFT FIELD: Jason Kubel (AZ), Michael Cuddyer (COL), Juan Rivera (LA), Carlos Quentin (SD), Melky Cabrera (SF)

Two former Twins are making their NL West debuts in 2012. Cuddyer has been relatively steady in Minnesota and he could represent the best all around player. However, recently acquired Carlos Quentin could put up monster numbers as well, even in the vast expanses of Petco Park. Melky Cabrera is, to me, a complete question mark. If he really had a career awakening last year, then he should be a solid outfield contributor but I can't see him having a better season than Quentin. I give the nod to Carlos Quentin as he has the highest upside of the 5. (San Diego)

CENTER FIELD: Chris Young (AZ), Dexter Fowler (COL), Matt Kemp (LA), Cameron Maybin (SD), Angel Pagan (SF)

The third no-brainer. Matt Kemp arguably was the MVP last year. He was a homer shy of going 40/40 last season. If he keeps his game up after his monster extension, he should have another great 2012. Matt Kemp is one of the best players in baseball when he wants to be. The other 4 centerfielders will be hard pressed to make the All Star Team as a reserve unless Chris Young puts it all together. It's Kemp in a landslide. (Los Angeles)

RIGHT FIELD: Justin Upton (AZ), Carlos Gonzalez (COL), Andre Ethier (LA), Will Venable (SD), Nate Schierholtz (SF)

Right field has some real nice players in the NL West. For this analysis, I'm assuming Brandon Belt, Brett Pill, and Huff will form some sort of triumvirate at first base while Nate gets one more shot to prove he's an everyday starting right fielder. Justin Upton was an MVP candidate in 2011 and Carlos Gonzalez was an MVP candidate in 2010. Ethier has turned himself into a very good right fielder as evidenced by his Gold Glove award this offseason and he always puts up pretty decent stats. Carlos Gonzalez could go 30/30 while Upton could become a perennial 20/20 guy. Which guy would you rather have? Both are awesome but I have to go with Carlos Gonzalez's track record by a smidge. (Colorado)

STARTING ROTATION: Ian Kennedy/Daniel Hudson/Trevor Cahill/Josh Collmenter/Wade Miley (AZ), Jhoulys Chacin/Jorge De la Rosa/Kevin Slowey/Drew Pomeranz/Tyler Chatwood (COL), Clayton Kershaw/Chad Billingsley/Ted Lilly/Aaron Harang/Chris Capuano (LA), Edinson Volquez/Clayton Richard/Tim Stauffer/Cory Luebke/Dustin Moseley (SD), Tim Lincecum/Matt Cain/Madison Bumgarner/Ryan Vogelsong/Barry Zito (SF)

The Rockies and Padres have question marks all over their rotations entering 2012. They're without clear cut #1 starters and they're putting a lot of hope into some young arms. The Dodgers and Giants have legit aces fronting their rotations while the Dbacks have done a great job of adding depth to their starting 5 with the addition of Cahill. Ian Kennedy pitched his way into the Cy Young discussion and would have been a deserving winner had Clayton Kershaw not had an incredible year. The NL West is known for pitching and rightfully so. The Dbacks and Giants should have the best starting 5 in the division while LA has 2011's Cy Young award winner. Overall you have to give the nod to San Francisco who has 3 guys that could legitimately front a team's rotation and a 4th who had the best year out of all of them. But Arizona has done a good job in closing the gap. (San Francisco)

CLOSER & SET UP: JJ Putz/David Hernandez (AZ), Rafael Betancourt/Matt Lindstrom (COL), Javy Guerro/Kenley Jansen (LA), Huston Street/Luke Gregerson (SD), Brian Wilson/Sergio Romo (SF)

If Brian Wilson comes back 100% healthy, he and Romo make up the best 8th/9th inning combination in the division. However, Putz/Hernandez is right there with them and if Brian Wilson has any lingering shoulder or arm troubles, they become the best shutdown arms in the back of the bullpen in the NL West. Bud Black always seems to manage to cobble together a solid pen and Huston Street shouldn't be a major downgrade over Heath Bell while the Rockies and Dodgers seem to be going with the guys that were in house replacements during 2011. Sergio Romo had one of the best reliever seasons ever and he'll have a hard time replicating it but even if he reverts to his career norms he'll be an elite set up guy. (San Francisco)

So which team has the biggest positional advantage?

Arizona (1)
Colorado (2)
Los Angeles (1)
San Diego (2)
San Francisco (4)

Maybe it's bias but with a lockdown pitching staff and the division's best guys at the hot corner and behind the plate the Giants actually have the positional advantage in the division. Will that translate on the field? We'll see in 3 months...