With two big trades breaking in the division in the last 24 hours, it's as good a time as any to take our first of what will likely be many looks at how the National League West will shake out in 2006. Normally I approach these previews with three questions in mind. What is the team's plan for the offseason, how well are they executing it, and is it the right plan? The NL West was near-historically bad last season, and accordingly this winter is going kind of strangely. So rather than examine how well each of the division's teams are applying their plans to improve, we're going to rate them based on whether they seem to have any coherent plan whatsoever. If this appears a ploy to list the Rockies first, that's only because it is.
Colorado (67-95). The plan: improve the bullpen enough to avoid the early-season ugliness of '05, get a catcher on the cheap, don't spend any money. To this end, they've signed Jose Mesa, traded Larry Bigbie and Aaron Miles for Ray King, and traded Marcos Carvajal and the Rule 5 Luis Gonzalez for Yorvit Torrealba. In order for the Rockies to threaten .500, a great deal of second- and third-year players are going to have to make huge leaps forward. But, they haven't spent any money. If they end up resigning Byung-Hyun Kim, they'll have a better team than last year while cutting their payroll by nearly a third.
San Francisco (75-87). The plan: as for the last several years, acquire whatever veteran talent is necessary to keep the team approximately competitive while Barry Bonds is still playing. They've had a textbook Brian Sabean offseason, signing Matt Morris, Mark Sweeney, Tim Worrell, and potentially Bill Mueller. They also swapped shaky relievers with Baltimore, getting Steve Kline for LaTroy Hawkins. They finally let J.T. Snow go, a move strangely mourned by many Giants fans. Then again, Sweeney, Lance Niekro, and Pedro Feliz are the other options at first. If nobody gets hurt and the likes of Mike Matheny, Ray Durham, and Omar Vizquel don't crater, they have as good a chance as anybody. The chances of that are not high.
San Diego (82-80). The plan: keep the division champs intact! They didn't overpay to retain Ramon Hernandez, but other than that all their major moves were resignings: Trevor Hoffman, Brian Giles, Eric Young. They were big winners in the lopsided Mike Cameron-for-Xavier Nady deal and big losers in the lopsided Mark Loretta-for-Doug Mirabelli deal. They brought Vinny Castilla on board for Brian Lawrence, which not only gives that weird subsection of Rockies fans who still love the guy multiple chances to cheer for him, but also (somewhat amazingly) improves the Padres at third base, where they were almost unspeakably bad last season. There also seems to be a bring-back-David Wells campaign mounting. They're still not very good, and I don't get why they got rid of two of their best hitters in Loretta and Sweeney. Then there's the all-bad feelings trade, Sean Burroughs for Dewon Brazelton. They had a head start in seizing control of a bad division by being slightly less bad than everyone else, but they've squandered it.
Los Angeles (71-91). The plan: salt the earth. The changes in management are probably more important than the changes in player personnel, ironically because the last two Dodger regimes have left them with an absurdly rich farm system. The weird Milton Bradley deal (when was the last time you remember two major league-established guys being swapped for one prospect?) is symbolic of their overall offseason goal, which seems to be to sweep away all of the bad feelings associated with the '05 season. But then they sign Rafael Furcal, no Boy Scout. They can't trade the owner. If the goal was to avoid controversy in the clubhouse and boneheaded behavior on the field by guys wearing the uniform, was Grady Little really the most natural choice for manager? As strange as a lot of their short-term moves have been, the overall health of the organization is pretty good, and absent further meddling from Frank McCourt I trust Ned Colletti not to foul it up. Best case scenario, they become the new Braves; worst case, the new Orioles.
Arizona (77-85). The plan: ??? Honestly, I have no idea. They trade Javier Vasquez for El Duque? Having signed Troy Glaus to an utterly pointless contract last year, they now want to trade him and pay part of his salary somewhere else? Damion Easley? Johnny Estrada? The suits have new names, but this still seems like the organization that traded Milwaukee their entire bench for 90 Richie Sexson at-bats. They seem to have a lot of difficulty resolving the age difference between their current core and the next generation; whenever they do trade an old guy it seems whatever they get back is either too far away or too close to free agency. It's as if they're trying to be the Giants and the Rockies at the same time. Well, Chris Young's supposed to be good.
As we get closer to the season, I'm sure I will dedicate full posts to each of these teams. Depth charts are for February; right now it's time to ask if your team has a plan.