Editor's Note: This is part of a three-day series that assesses each of baseball's 30 teams in a division-by-division format. Teams are listed according to the order in which they finished the regular season in their division in 2012.
The foundation of the Giants World Series-winning squad was built exactly the way you'd draw it up: the core of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner were all drafted (or, in the Panda's case, signed out of Venezuela) by the Giants and developed in their minor-league system.
General manager Brian Sabean added enormously successful trades for pending free agents Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan to bolster his outfield, and grabbed Marco Scutaro to shore up his shaky second base situation in mid-season.
Sabean has his work cut out for him this offseason. With Cabrera and Pagan both hitting free agency and Hunter Pence a nontender candidate due to his eight-figure salary and mediocre 2012, the Giants may have exactly zero starting-quality outfielders signed for next year. Scutaro is also a free agent, which means that second base, a perennial problem position, will need to be filled again, and the back end of the rotation borders on bad, with Tim Lincecum's brilliant postseason relief work only partially redeeming his 5.18 ERA and Barry Zito still being Barry Zito.
Nobody expects Cabrera to return, especially after Posey's not-entirely-supportive comments in the aftermath of the Melkman's PED suspension. By contrast, the Giants would love to re-sign Scutaro and Pagan, but the latter had about the best year heading into free agency that one could hope for and the former is part of a very shallow pool of available middle infielders. Sabean should expect significant competition for their services. There's only so much discount that a World Series ring gets you, especially for a 37-year-old like Scutaro who is likely looking at his last shot at a multi-year contract.
San Francisco should be in on any good outfielder available, including not only Pagan but center fielders Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton as well as cornermen Nick Swisher and Torii Hunter. The second-base market is horrendous behind Scutaro: Jeff Keppinger could be an OBP source and Kelly Johnson is a bounceback candidate, but that's about it. As for rotation depth, perhaps Francisco Liriano can recover his magic with a return to the organization that signed him out of the Dominican Republic 12 years ago.
World Series teams often have a difficult balance between the sentiment of keeping the band together and the hard-headed business decisions necessary to build a sustainable franchise. In this case, however, bringing back the same lineup may be the prudent decision. For instance, there are four good center fielders on the market (Hamilton, Bourn, Upton and Pagan), but only signing Pagan would allow the Giants to keep their first-round pick, as the other three received qualifying offers from their previous employers. Center field is fraught with complications, though, as the team's best prospect, Gary Brown, plays that position and is not someone with the bat to make a move to a corner a value-laden proposition.
On top of this, the Giants' payroll situation is cloudy. Zito and Lincecum come off the books after 2013, but Posey, Sandoval, and Bumgarner will get more expensive. Do the Giants have enough dough in their pockets to compete with better-situated teams for Pagan or other marquee free agents? They likely do not have the prospects necessary to make a splash trade, so it's money or nothing for Sabean and crew.
Most of the Dodgers' lineup and rotation has been imported, a signal of the significant weakness in a once-proud farm system.
Decades of poor drafting and/or developing has left the team needing to flex financial muscle to make waves. It did so in 2012, acquiring Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett by being willing to pay their salaries. However, general manager Ned Colletti may have crossed into recklessness with his newfound dough by signing Brandon League, merely a decent closer, to a three-year deal and inking Cuban emigre Yasiel Puig to an astounding $42 million contract.
Depending on whether Hanley Ramirez is a shortstop or third baseman, the Dodgers need a player at the other position. Luis Cruz had a nice 2012, but he's not a long-term answer. With Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly both coming off of arm injuries and Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang being solid but hardly inspirational, the Dodgers might profit from adding a starting pitcher. On a more minor note, they could use a left-handed reliever, Scott Elbert being their only lefty of note. (Is Scott Elbert "of note"?)
There isn't room for Shane Victorino, as Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier form an outfield that would push the Flyin' Hawaiian to a bench role as soon as Crawford makes his return from elbow surgery. Theoretically, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera could come back as reserves and pinch-hitters, but they're probably through as productive big leaguers. Todd Coffey had Tommy John surgery in July and threw an epic fit on Twitter after the election results on Tuesday. California may not be the best fit for him.
Kevin Youkilis could be reunited with his Red Sox compatriots, though there's concern about the chemistry difficulties he can create. The Dodgers may be unwilling to replicate Boston's clubhouse. While Stephen Drew did not recreate his marvelous 2010 in a stint in Oakland, he flashed the skills to remain an above-average shortstop. On the pitching side, James Shields would be an excellent trade pickup, but the team likely does not have enough on the farm to win the bidding. The underrated Anibal Sanchez could be a free-agent target to fill the rotation.
The Dodgers present more difficulties in predicting offseason activity than many teams. The above list of free-agent targets supposes that there's still money to spend, but with $190 million-plus already committed for 2013, that may be a faulty assumption. The team as it stands could easily be the 2013 squad, and such team has the potential to win the division, be a massive boondoggle, or finish anywhere in between. An additional good starting pitcher would probably do the most to lower the odds of boondoggledom.
To figure out how the offseason will go, following the reports of unnamed sources could, for once, be enlightening: will the Dodgers be linked to the solid second tier of free agents like Sanchez and Drew and Youkilis or will we hear about them fishing around for value, kicking the tires on Maicer Izturis and Placido Polanco, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Marquis? If Ned Colletti actually does have cash in his pocket, not just filling-out-the-roster pocket change, he could still buy an upgrade that pushes the team from "they should be interesting" to "gracious me, watch out."
The Diamondbacks have generally run below-average payrolls and gotten below-average results in spite of some impressive successes in player-development: Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero, Justin Upton and Wade Miley all came up through the system and Trevor Cahill and Ian Kennedy were acquired via trading young pitchers.
Much of that is attributable to former GM Josh Byrnes' regime, however, and it remains to be seen whether current GM Kevin Towers, who was always well-respected in San Diego despite mediocre results on a shoestring budget, can continue Byrnes' good work.
The left side of Arizona's infield could be politely described as "yucky" in 2012, but Towers struck quickly, acquiring Chris Johnson (no glove, some bat, much better than Ryan Roberts) to play third and Cliff Pennington (all glove, no bat, much better than playing nobody at all) for shortstop in July and October. Towers likely overpaid for Pennington, giving up Chris Young, a center fielder with All-Star upside, but a roster hole is a roster hole. Arizona could probably use another starting pitcher in case Trevor Bauer or Tyler Skaggs scuffles and Pat Corbin can't step smoothly into their place.
If a team loses Henry Blanco, have they really lost Henry Blanco? Or has Henry Blanco, the 41-year-old catcher who got 67 plate appearances in 2012, simply shuffled quietly on to his next employer, with no discernible effect on either the team he has left or the one he's joining? Lindstrom has been a quality reliever for two years running now, which by The Law of Reliever Randomess and Regression means that he's just about due for a 5.75 ERA.
Whether Arizona eyes mere depth (Aaron Cook, Tim Stauffer, Randy Wells, assorted ragamuffins) or legit starters in their price range (Scott Baker, perhaps, or a triumphant return for Joe Saunders, Dan Haren, or Edwin Jackson) depends in part on how they view Bauer and Skaggs: Should the pair begin the season in the majors with support available if they falter? Or should one or both (Bauer in particular) start in the minors, only to ascend if he proves ready? Developmental strategies differ, but the Diamondbacks have enough talent to contend, so the future cannot be the only consideration.
Depending on how the Giants deal with the holes free agency will make in their team and whether the Dodgers are as good as they are famous, the Diamondbacks could aim for the playoffs in 2013.
The lineup is solid and the pitching is very deep, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Towers, by virtue of having no pressing holes on the roster, is in a position to make elective moves to upgrade his team, whether that means trading Justin Upton for multiple good young players, using a young pitcher as a chip to upgrade the left side of the infield, or taking advantage of some other opportunity that presents itself. Any aggressiveness likely will come in the form of trades, however, as the payroll situation ($61 million committed to 11 players, though that doesn't count the cash that came over in the Heath Bell trade) likely precludes making a big splash with Josh Hamilton or another top free agent.
The Padres continue to maintain respectability through good player-development and savvy management at the edges of the market.
They do not shop in the heart of the free-agent bazaar. A handful of core players were drafted by the team while others were acquired in trades involving fruits of the farm (e.g. Mat Latos, Adrian Gonzalez). Under-the-radar moves are also a specialty: Everth Cabrera is the rare Rule 5 pick who worked out and Luke Gregerson was the player to be named later in the Khalil Greene deal of 2008.
With Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Padres could look to upgrade their starting pitching, which currently has Eric Stults and Casey Kelly penciled in to the back end. Kelly has talent, but he's young and has more innings in the majors than he does at Triple-A (29 to 12), so he could return to Tucson for more seasoning/marinating/spices. The Padres could also use a full-time right fielder. Chris Denorfia and Will Venable can platoon in the spot, as they did very successfully in 2012, but asking for a repeat would be foolhardy.
• RHP Jason Marquis
Marquis broke his left wrist late in the year, but he could bring his sinkerballing ways back to San Diego, leaving the team with the potential to suffer no free-agent losses.
If the market does not meet Torii Hunter's demands, he could turn affordable and thereby be available to the Padres, but it probably doesn't make sense to sign such an aged player. An out-of-box solution would be for the Padres to jump into the Justin Upton bidding if such bidding occurs. On the mound, San Diego can take chances on players whose batted-ball profiles won't necessarily play well elsewhere such as Joe Blanton, Jeremy Guthrie, or Joe Saunders. They could also offer a home for the perenially underachieving (Francisco Liriano), the oft-injured (Brandon McCarthy), or a rebound candidate (Dan Haren).
As in the recent past, this Padres team is unlikely to embarrass itself, as it has enough young talent to finish ahead of the truly bad teams in the league, but it may not have the ability to make a serious run at the postseason. San Diego will likely have a quiet offseason unless the team decides that the NL West is vulnerable enough that they can actually push their way into October. Even in that case, though, expect a surprising trade over a pursuit of a big-name, big-dollar free agent. Such a trade would require digging into their impressive minor-league depth, but hoarding prospects never got anyone a pennant.
If contending in 2013 is not a realistic goal, San Diego could pick up a scrap-heap starter or two (Daisuke Matsuzaka? Kevin Millwood? Freddy Garcia?) and leave the rest of the team alone, using the year to evaluate youngsters such as Yasmani Grandal, who on Wednesday was suspended 50 games because of a positive test for testosterone, and Yonder Alonso and perhaps find a veteran-for-prospect deal to accomplish in July or August.
The Rockies operate as a mid-market team, able to sign second-tier free agents like Michael Cuddyer, but generally they don't make plays at the top of the market.
They have also been willing to ink their good youngsters, such as Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, to lengthy extensions. The problem, besides a persistent overrating of Gonzalez, is developing pitching. Every current Rockies starter has positive attributes, but they are all either coming off of injury (Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio) or still have not proven that they can pitch in the big leagues (Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Tyler Chatwood).
Given the youth and injury history of the starting pitchers mentioned above, the Rockies should be looking to add depth to the rotation. First base, where Todd Helton is still clinging to his career with the last millimeters of his fingertips, is in desperate need of an upgrade. Josh Rutledge played shortstop in Tulowitzki's absence last year and he could slide into second base, but the team could also look at a more proven second baseman.
Giambi's status is unclear -- he interviewed for the Rockies' managerial position, but he could be back in his pinch-hitter/reserve-first-baseman role now that Colorado has hired Walt Weiss to be their new manager.
It may be easier to look to the trade market than to convince free-agent starting pitchers to join the Rockies. James Shields is the name on everybody's lips, though Colorado would have to believe that they would be competing this year and next to make that type of deal worthwhile. At first base, if Giambi does not return as a player, Kevin Youkilis would make an interesting right-left pair with Helton, though not in a strict platoon. They would also have the gnarliest facial hair of any pair of teammates in baseball.
Colorado has a long way to go to return to contention, which may make it weird to say the following: Nolan Arenado, the team's top prospect, could be an interesting trade chip to bring back the young pitching that the team simply cannot seem to develop on its own.
Pure prospect trades are very infrequent, and the Rockies publicly souring on Arenado's work ethic and energy level may have devalued his stock, but the team has never been afraid to go outside the box. However they decide to go about it, Colorado must find a way to support its good, young, up-the-middle core (Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler and Wilin Rosario) with pitching talent worthy of the word. This is not a project to be completed in a single offseason and one of the virtues of locking in your stars for many years is a lower sense of urgency -- Tulowitzki won't be in his prime forever, but at least he's not leaving as a free agent any time soon. The vision of the next few months should be focused on concrete steps toward near-future contention, not quick fixes for a 2013 team that does not have 95-win upside.