D-backs, Dodgers and Giants have reshuffled rosters
By AJ Cassavell
No division has seen more turnover this offseason than the National League West. Denard Span became the latest upgrade out West when he signed with San Francisco earlier this week. And that move came well after after the Dodgers, D-backs and Giants had each already completely revamped their starting rotations.
The slew of changes has made the NL West one of the toughest divisions to predict entering the 2016 season. With all due respect to the Padres and Rockies -- a pair of clubs in re-building mode -- there are serious cases to be made for the Giants, Dodgers and D-backs to be considered "the favorite."
Given that it's still early January, none of those cases can be considered wrong at this point. But who holds the early statistical edge? Let's break it down, using 2016's Steamer projections -- a system for projecting future performance based on trends and historical comparisons -- and a bit of additional analysis.
San Francisco holds the clear edge here, with stability at just about every position. Shortstop Brandon Crawford projects to post the lowest WAR of the bunch (2.4), and he's been one of the most reliable glove men in baseball over the past couple years -- not to mention his improvement at the plate. (Note: This category includes catchers -- where San Francisco has an obvious advantage with Buster Posey.)
The outfields in the NL West are almost too close to call. The Dodgers get a serious boost from high projections for Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson, who check in with Steamer as being worth an expected 7.3 wins -- three full wins higher than last year.
The D-backs could easily end up with the best outfield in the West, if David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas continue their development. A.J. Pollock has already established himself as one of the best center fielders in the game. The Giants, meanwhile, have some injury concerns. And even if Span, Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan can remain healthy (they averaged just 82 games apiece last season), San Francisco's outfield probably has the lowest ceiling.
Here's where the argument gets really heated. The D-backs plucked Zack Greinke from the Dodgers, which supposedly delivered a crippling blow to the L.A. rotation. Plus, Arizona also added Shelby Miller via trade and gets a healthy Patrick Corbin entering the season. Clearly the Snakes have the edge, right? Well, actually, their staff projects for the lowest WAR of the three in 2016 (partially a result of the question marks after the top three).
The Dodgers still have Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, and they clearly have the division's deepest rotation with at least six capable starters. Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda may not have been the flashiest of additions, but they should make a significant impact.
Then, there's San Francisco, which boasts the division's best 1-2 punch on paper in Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. Plus, Jeff Samardzija -- who figures to be a much better fit in San Francisco than on the South Side of Chicago -- practically negates the loss of Mike Leake to St. Louis.
There are simply too many moving pieces here -- too many new faces in new places that need to get accustomed to their surroundings -- to determine which club has the best rotation right now.
Advantage: Too close (and too early) to call
Although one of the Dodgers' biggest weaknesses last season was their 'pen, they have the division's most established shut-down closer in Kenley Jansen. Chris Hatcher also emerged as a reliable setup option, but not until very late in the season, and it's worth wondering whether he'll keep his end-of-season form.
The back end of the D-backs' bullpen proved to be very reliable last year, with Daniel Hudson and Brad Ziegler locking down games. But San Francisco's relief corps is without question the deepest, as five pitchers who posted sub-3.00 ERAs return. The Giants get the slight edge here, if only because they have manager Bruce Bochy pulling the strings -- and that has to count for something.
Slight advantage: Giants
The verdict ...
Too much of the data here is based on projections, meaning we can't really call any one of the three a prohibitive favorite, head-and-shoulders above the other two.
But for all the question marks surrounding the Dodgers, they appear to be the most complete team on paper -- and the deepest, too. San Francisco's outfield -- even with the addition of Span -- is lacking. And the rotation may be too reliant on Samardzija, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, who were worth a total of 3.4 WAR between them last season and are projected for just a 4.4 WAR this year.
The D-backs, meanwhile, are undoubtedly an improved squad. But aside from Goldschmidt, their infield offers little in terms of offense. Plus, Ziegler and the rest of the bullpen are probably due for some regression.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, didn't have as flashy of an offseason as their NL West counterparts. But their roster is the deepest of the three, and they did win the division by eight games last season. After three straight division crowns, it's hard to argue with the Dodgers being slight favorites entering the 2016 season -- on paper, at least.
AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.