It’s the first week of spring training, which means optimism is in full bloom throughout baseball. Here’s a quick checkup of California’s five MLB teams, plus the Fresno Grizzlies.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants addressed their biggest weakness by signing free-agent starters Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and can expect healthier campaigns from Hunter Pence, Joe Panik, Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt. Those factors alone raise hope in San Francisco that 2016 will follow the “every even year” trend of World Series titles.
If there are any cracks in this foundation, the bullpen is where they’ll start to show. Closer Santiago Casilla is 35, Javier Lopez is 38, Sergio Romo turns 33 in March and Jeremy Affeldt retired. None of the remaining three are getting any younger – or better. That means more high-leverage situations for the somewhat erratic Hunter Strickland and unproven Josh Osich. Of course, manager Bruce Bochy remains the undisputed master of when to use whom.
Wild card – Matt Cain: If the 31-year-old right-hander can regain his 2009-12 form, the form that netted his current $21 million salary, the Giants would have the National League’s best and deepest rotation. But that was three years ago, and Cain’s latest setback (a cyst surgically removed from his pitching arm) isn’t exactly encouraging.
Los Angeles Dodgers
For all the flak the Dodgers caught for not using their seemingly bottomless budget to keep Zack Greinke or replacing him with an equally big name, it’s easy to overlook all the talent still spread throughout this roster. How many clubs have two starting-quality catchers?
“I think we have probably the deepest team in baseball,” first baseman Adrian Gonzalez told reporters in Glendale, Arizona.
Besides losing Greinke, replaced by the combination of Scott Kazmir and Japanese import Kenta Maeda, the biggest change comes in the dugout. The challenge for first-time manager Dave Roberts will be to find the right lineups and make the correct in-game moves, two things that often vexed predecessor Don Mattingly.
Wild card – Yasiel Puig: Is there a wilder wild card in all of baseball? The other-wordly talent posted some very ordinary numbers last season (.255 and 11 homers) while being benched and fined for being late. Puig is reportedly buying a helicopter to escape the L.A. traffic. Now his numbers need similar lift off.
No team in the American League last season suffered more one-run losses than the A’s (35), which prompted management to remake the bullpen around closer Sean Doolittle. The additions of Ryan Madsen, John Axford and Liam Hendricks, among others, should help turn that weakness into a strength.
Now if Oakland can just keep ace Sonny Gray and the rest of their starters healthy, stop booting the ball around so much (MLB-leading 126 errors) and get a little punch from their lackluster lineup. Yes, that’s a lot of ifs. But in that ballpark, a little pitching and defense go a long way.
Wild card – Stephen Vogt: The Visalia native had a monster first half of last season, posting an .872 OPS and garnering his first All-Star Game selection, before fading to a .630 OPS after the break. A little more consistency (and health) would do wonders.
Los Angeles Angels
Years of reckless, stupid spending have finally caught up to Arte Moreno. After handing lavish contracts to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Angels owner went into skinflint mode this offseason. That’s why they signed Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava to play left field instead of Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton. That’s why Yunel Escobar is starting at third base.
Manager Mike Scioscia still gets to write Mike Trout’s name in the lineup every day, thank goodness. But with question marks in the rotation (especially Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson) and Trout’s only lineup protection (Pujols) sidelined following foot surgery, this team’s weaknesses are hard to mask.
Wild card – Kole Calhoun: One of baseball’s biggest bargains last season, the outfielder reached career highs in homers (26) and RBIs (83) at a $537,000 salary. Now making $3.4 million, he must continue getting on base for Trout.
San Diego Padres
Last year some numbskull, mesmerized by GM A.J. Preller’s roster remake, picked San Diego to win the NL West. This year the Padres (along with the Braves, Brewers, Phillies, Reds and Rockies) are barely bothering. So he won’t bother with them.
Can’t omit the Triple-A National Champions (yes, that really happened), even though we won’t know the final roster until April.
The parent-club Houston Astros have a wide-open competition at first base, where the candidates include names already familiar to Grizzlies fans (Jon Singleton, Tyler White, Matt Duffy, Preston Tucker, Marwin Gonzalez) and one that will be soon (top prospect A.J. Reed). Reed, who hit .340 with 27 home runs and 127 RBIs last season at Class-A and Double-A, is the best bet to wind up on Fresno’s opening day roster.
Meanwhile, it’s all about promotions. The Grizzlies recently announced they’ll assume their Tacos alter ego for every Tuesday home game. They’ll also pay tribute to the 30th anniversary of the cult-classic “¡Three Amigos!” on July 22 with themed jerseys and caps. Those jerseys are sure to be infamous, which means more than famous. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Wild card – Chris Devenski: Since the Astros’ rotation appears set, the hero of last year’s Triple-A National Championship game likely begins 2016 as the Grizzlies’ ace.