NL rosters refreshed after lively offseason
Cardinals address needs early, Dodgers acquire depth, Mets add some star power
With pitchers and catchers reporting and early workouts underway in many camps this weekend, we're bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season by assessing the big picture of each club's offseason: What were the greatest needs? And were they adequately addressed?
We began with the American League on Thursday and continue now with the National League.
Teams are listed in order of regular-season finish from 2013.
Cardinals: Turns out, if you draft well and develop well, you can put yourself in position for a remarkably efficient offseason. Who knew? Many teams might be devastated by the loss of a middle-order presence like Carlos Beltran, but the Cards can feel reasonably comfortable replacing him in the field with a healthy Allen Craig and in the lineup with Matt Adams. And the salary relief allowed the Cards to address their infield deficiencies by signing Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis and moving Matt Carpenter to third, in place of David Freese. The Freese trade added Peter Bourjos, who can replace or platoon with Jon Jay to address another problematic spot. All of this, by the way, was accomplished before Christmas.
Braves: Losing the two longest-tenured players -- Tim Hudson and Brian McCann -- is a blow, and the Braves will have a lot riding on bounce-back seasons from the likes of B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. In fact, their lack of insurance behind Uggla is a point of concern that went unaddressed this winter. The Braves were instead focused on the spate of expensive in-house arbitration issues that cropped up, and the extension of Freddie Freeman (potentially the first of several such moves) was a significant step toward long-term contractual stability. The arbitration issues created the need for restraint elsewhere in the offseason picture.
Pirates: The epilogue to the biggest feel-good story of 2013 has been mostly blank pages, as the Pirates' only acquisition of significance this offseason was Edinson Volquez, a reclamation project who hasn't pitched better than the league average since his All-Star effort of 2008. The Buccos' biggest questions are in a rotation that lost A.J. Burnett (who abused their patience all offseason), a first-base spot currently occupied by Gaby Sanchez and a right-field spot occupied by Jose Tabata. None of those questions have been addressed, which means the Pirates could have a lot riding this summer on young outfielder Gregory Polanco and right-hander Jameson Taillon, each of whom has barely sniffed the Triple-A level.
Dodgers: If you can afford a $10 million setup man (Brian Wilson) and a $10 million back-of-the-rotation starter (Dan Haren), chances are you're going to have no trouble addressing your purported needs. The Dodgers bought themselves a good deal of pitching depth this winter with Wilson, Haren, Paul Maholm, Chris Perez and Jamey Wright, and that depth will serve them well in a season with serious World Series aspirations. Oh, they also found a few bucks (well, OK, $215 million) left over to extend Clayton Kershaw. The biggest question facing the Dodgers is at a position they addressed: second base. Spring Training will help reveal if $28 million Cuban prospect Alexander Guerrero is ready or if a reinforcement (Brandon Phillips, perhaps?) is in order.
Reds: Aside from signing utility man Skip Schumaker and backup catcher Brayan Pena (who will replace the underrated Ryan Hanigan, dealt to the Rays) and punting Dusty Baker to replace him with pitching coach Bryan Price, the Reds essentially stood pat this winter. They are content to let rookie Billy Hamilton take over for Shin-Soo Choo in center and sophomore Tony Cingrani and a healthy Johnny Cueto account for the loss of Bronson Arroyo. That's a worthwhile gamble in the rotation, where Cingrani has significant upside in the back end of a strong starting five. But the Hamilton experiment is uncomfortably important to the Reds' offensive success, as a guy with just 22 big-league plate appearances and a .308 Triple-A on-base percentage will likely be entrusted with the leadoff role.
Nationals: The Nats fell flat in 2013. There's no denying that. But rather than panic, they embraced the positives of a late-season surge and found upgrades in both the rotation (replacing Haren with Doug Fister, who was acquired in exchange for utility man Steve Lombardozzi and left-handers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray) and the bench (adding Nate McLouth). The Fister trade was probably more cost-effective than the McLouth signing, as McLouth will cost $10.75 million over two years as a part-timer. But the Nats' two most significant additions augment a club that, on measure, should fare better than it did in the first half of 2013.
D-backs: On the heels of consecutive .500 seasons, Arizona will set a new franchise record for player payroll, eclipsing the $100 million mark. The biggest splurge went toward Bronson Arroyo (two years, $23.5 million), a steady supplier of 200-inning efforts of a quality resembling the league average. He is not the front-of-the-rotation type the D-backs sought in their bidding for Masahiro Tanaka or their attempts to pry Jeff Samardzija out of Chicago, and it will be interesting to see how or if Arroyo impacts the timetable of prospect Archie Bradley in a crowded rotation mix. The D-backs also addressed their greatest need -- power (they finished 11th in home runs in the NL last season, despite the hitter-friendly confines of their home park) by trading for Mark Trumbo, but they had to sell low on two well-regarded talents in Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs to do so.
Padres: The Friars lost so many key players to injury or suspension for so many sustained stretches last season that it's hard to know what to make of their outlook for 2014. But they clearly have faith in the core, because they've aggressively augmented it with investments in Joaquin Benoit and Josh Johnson, the latter of which could prove to be the steal of the offseason if his body cooperates and the transition to Petco Park is as beneficial as advertised. The acquisition of Seth Smith adds some insurance to the outfield that might prove necessary, given the injury history there, and a seven-player swap with the Rays netted much-needed lefty relief in Alex Torres and a nice prospect piece in right-hander Jesse Hahn.
Giants: For the first time in a long time, the Giants needed to repair their rotation. As is often the case with this club, stability was sought with the Tim Lincecum extension and a low-budget, one-year deal with Ryan Vogelsong. But the Giants also went outside for assistance in hauling in veteran Tim Hudson, who would seem to benefit from AT&T Park and who has been a model of consistency when healthy. Michael Morse will bring more thump to left field, a position that provided the Giants with just five homers last season (Cubs pitchers, for the sake of comparison, had six). The Giants did not do anything flashy, but if they see improvements from Lincecum and Matt Cain, they should be in good shape.
Mets: After back-to-back seasons of 74 wins, the Mets needed to do something to ensure their fans they are not stuck in neutral. This winter appears to have done the trick. Curtis Granderson and Chris Young are necessary upgrades to an outfield that was among the least productive in baseball last season. And even though Matt Harvey will be out of the picture in 2014, the Mets had the seeds of a solid rotation with Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee, and they added a steady strike-thrower in Bartolo Colon to, hopefully, eat up a good chunk of innings and set a tone. The downsides to the Mets' winter work is that they haven't found a taker for either Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, so they have an unnecessary logjam at first base, and they still have Ruben Tejada penciled in at short, despite his past struggles.
Brewers: One of the more stupefying stats from 2013 is that Yuniesky Betancourt played 55 games at first base for the Brewers. Simply stunning. When efforts to bring back a healthier Corey Hart at first fell short, the Brewers brought in Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay in the hope that one of them might platoon with Juan Francisco. Certainly, that's an upgrade over Yuni, who had a .220 on-base percentage at the position. More importantly, the Brew Crew fetched a decent price on Matt Garza to improve the rotation, and they brought back Francisco Rodriguez to beef up a bullpen that showed a lot of improvement last season.
Rockies: The end of Todd Helton's 17-year run with the Rox meant the 2014 roster was going to be quite a bit different by default. Rather than shifting Michael Cuddyer to first and pursuing a big bat elsewhere, the Rockies opted to leave Cuddyer alone and sign Justin Morneau to a two-year, $12.5 million contract. Because of Morneau's struggles with post-concussion syndrome and other injuries in recent seasons, it was a curious decision -- as was the trade of Dexter Fowler for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles. But if any place is going to bring back a semblance of the bat that once made Morneau an MVP, Coors Field is it. Shifting Carlos Gonzalez to center field opens up a question in left, where Drew Stubbs was acquired to vie for time with Corey Dickerson. And of course, the Rockies are always looking to piece together an effective rotation. They'll need Lyles to reach his long-touted potential and Brett Anderson to stay healthy.
Phillies: You can make a pretty strong argument that the Phils' primary need, on the heels of their worst record in 16 years, was to get younger. But in re-signing Carlos Ruiz (on the heels of extending Chase Utley last summer), bringing in Marlon Byrd and, just this week, adding A.J. Burnett to the rotation, means they're going to hold out hope that their aging roster can stay healthy and guys can play up to their career norms. Already, the news of Cole Hamels missing the start of the season with shoulder trouble is worrisome, but Burnett joins Hamels and Cliff Lee to form a fearsome threesome. Still, $16 million for the veteran right-hander was an awfully steep price to pay at this late stage of the spring, when there are bargains to be had. In general, the Phils will just have to hope time is on their side.
Cubs: The Cubbies clearly don't have an earnest eye on contention this season, and their offseason activity (or lack thereof) reflects this. The only move of true, long-term significance was the hire of the respected, bilingual and perpetually upbeat Rick Renteria, whose primary responsibility will be to get through to wayward shortstop Starlin Castro.
Marlins: The Fish had the Majors' worst production at both catcher (primarily, Jeff Mathis and Rob Brantly) and third base (Placido Polanco) last season, and their catchers and infielders had a combined OPS of -- are you ready for this? -- .590. Something had to give, and the signing of Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the first step toward a greater level of respectability, as Salty is a known provider of power at the position. Adding Rafael Furcal, coming off elbow surgery, to play out of position at second base is quite a bit riskier, and there's really no telling what they'll get from Casey McGehee at third base, fresh back from Japan. But the new platoon of Garrett Jones and Jeff Baker at first base could to be an effective one.