For a while there, West Coast baseball was a thing.
The Giants maintained their odd streak of World Series titles in even-numbered years. The Dodgers carried MLB’s largest payroll while constructing one of baseball’s best farm systems. The A’s went to the postseason three straight years even as Billy Beane kept trading his best players. The Angels saw Mike Trout blossom into a superstar and signed free-agent sluggers to gargantuan contracts. Even the Padres (in 2015, at least) made a flurry of offseason moves that made people sit up and notice.
And today? California’s five entries have either tread water (Dodgers), taken a step back (Giants), tumbled off the cliff (A’s, Angels) or slid back to irrelevance (Padres), while the Axis of Power shifted to the Central (Cubs, Astros, Rangers) and Eastern (Indians, Red Sox, Nationals, Mets) time zones.
Is 2017 the year “our” boys of summer get their mojo back? Read on, seamheads.
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Every April, it’s the same ol’ story. The Dodgers begin Opening Day with one of baseball’s most talented and deepest rosters and considered among a small handful of favorites to win the World Series. And every year, they fall short of that benchmark.
Four straight NL West crowns are nothing to scoff at, certainly. But when they’re each followed by quick playoff exists (two in the NLCS, two in the NLDS), everyone starts to wonder if that’s the pinnacle. Especially now that the Cubs look poised for a dynasty.
28Dodgers players placed on the disabled list last season, an MLB record
Despite a team payroll listed at $241 million ($42 million more than the Yankees and Tigers) management still couldn’t find room to slot a legitimate No. 2 starter behind the incomparable Clayton Kershaw. Rich Hill could be that guy – if he stays healthy – but it’ll more likely end up being 20-year-old Julio Urias, who will be handled with kid gloves early.
The emergence of 22-year-old shortstop Corey Seager gives the Dodgers a second franchise player alongside Kershaw. There’s no telling how good this guy can be. Same goes for center fielder Joc Pederson and catcher Yasmani Grandal as both enter their prime years. Surrounded by veterans Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and new acquisition Logan Forsythe, who plugs a hole at second base, manager Dave Roberts will have an easy time filling out the lineup card.
The Dodgers will be playing October baseball. Can’t see them missing out. The question will be whether they have quality starters besides Kershaw to trouble other NL contenders in a seven-game series.
Because the Giants blew 30 regular-season saves in 2016, before coughing up Game 4 of the NLDS, GM Bobby Evans pushed his free-agent shopping cart into the closer aisle and rolled away with Mark Melancon.
Good signing. With a 1.80 ERA since 2013, Melancon is as reliable and stress-free as they come. Problem is, the $62 million price tag maxed out Evans’ debit card. Every other acquisition the Giants made came from the bargain bin – at the expense of other needs that begged addressing.
28-27 Giants’ record in one-run games last season
There is no question about this team’s strengths. The rotation fronted by Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto is as deep and formidable as they come, and no NL team boasts a better infield. Despite concerns about his declining dingers, Buster Posey remains one of baseball’s top catchers. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt are above-average position players, and Joe Panik is a good bet to bounce back from last year’s concussions.
The Giants’ aging outfield is another matter. Hunter Pence, god love him. No one makes the athletic make completely unathletic quite like him. But he’s 33, coming off two injury-shortened years and looked feeble (.190, no homers) in the spring. Denard Span was a below-average center fielder in his first season by the bay. He’s 33, too. Is it realistic to expect improvement? And we haven’t even started poking holes into the Jarrett Parker/Chris Marrero platoon in left.
The Giants have enough to hang with the Dodgers, keep them in sight. But to finish ahead of their rivals, management will have to loosen the purse strings.
Still shy of 26, Trout already has the markings of an all-time great. His first five full seasons resulted in two MVP awards and three second-place finishes where you could argue he was the deserving winner. The problem continues to be Trout’s marginal supporting cast and crumbling lineup protection, a 37-year-old Albert Pujols playing on feet more brittle than wafer cookies.
Things are even more suspect on the mound, beginning with the small tear in ace Garrett Richards’ right elbow that he chose to treat with stem-cell therapy instead of Tommy John surgery. Journeymen and injury risks fill out the rotation, and the bullpen is nothing special, either. Makes you wonder how much longer Mike Scioscia, embarking on his 18th season as manager, will stick around.
Has Beane found patience, or turned gun shy? Ever since the summer of 2014, when several of his moves backfired, the man who inspired the movie “Moneyball” is no longer as quick to deal top prospects (Addison Russell, whoops) and more willing to plug holes with journeymen (Yonder Alonso, seriously). Cue back-to-back 90-plus loss seasons.
Unless this hodgepodge roster surprises, look for ace Sonny Gray to be unloaded before the trade deadline.
Unless this hodgepodge roster surprises, look for Beane to finally unload Sonny Gray (provided he returns healthy in May) before the trade deadline, plus Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie and Visalia’s own Stephen Vogt, for prospects who could be useful in the future. Because the present looks bleak, and it’s been ages since the farm system showed much fertility. Ah, well. At least the A’s won’t have to put up with yard lines marring their outfield much longer.
Jhoulys Chacin is the Opening Day starter. Jhoulys. Chacin. That’s pretty much all that needs to be written about the Padres. Remember when the Justin Upton-Matt Kemp-Wil Myers outfield (playing 81 games at spacious Petco) seemed like a good idea? Two years ago might as well be forever.