For each team, I'm going to look at this from an NL manager's perspective and evaluate how they are equipped for the major in game substitution duties (defensive switches, pinch hitting from both the right and left sides, pinch running) as well as a look at what happens if each starter were to go down for a significant amount of time.
Arizona - It would be easy to write off the Diamondbacks in this category given their weak farm system, but their current level of depth isn't as bad as it could be. If we're assuming that their Opening Day lineup will look something like:
- C - Snyder
- 1B - Tracy
- 2B - Valdez/Loretta
- 3B - Reynolds
- SS - Drew
- LF Jackson
- CF Young
- RF Upton
Projected Bench: That leaves Eric Byrnes, Miguel Montero, Jeff Salazar and likely one of those 2B's as well as Alex Romero as their primary bench pieces.
Infield Defense? A little troublesome up the middle here, as they aren't targetting legit defenders and Ojeda's not really any better than Drew.
Outfield Defense? Fine. Romero's a plus and Byrnes is a showboat, but not terrible. I don't know what happened to the Jeff Salazar we used to know, but while he was remarkably proficient at getting to the balls he should have caught, his range wasn't what it once was as he only got to four out of zone plays all season.
Catching? Whatever exactly is needed in a backup catcher, Montero's got.
Pinch-hitting for an HR? Here's another dilemma, as they do have one player that qualifies in Montero, but managers hate to use their backup catcher for fear of the 18 inning marathon or an injury emergency. If the Snakes find a roster space once again for Robby Hammock, this problem has one solution, but you could tell how much they missed Tony Clark last season when they snatched him off waivers.
Pinch-hitting just to get a guy on base? Salazar is a pretty patient hitter, and while he's prone to slumps, if he is in a groove with his contact skills, he will be effective, as his .371 second half OBP in 2008 indicates.
Pinch-running: Byrnes is decent despite last season's anomaly. Romero's sharp and the rest so-so, but they don't have any snails.
CATASTROPHE: This is where Arizona really takes a dive as while their bench options are alright for in game substitutions, should something go wrong with one of their starters, there's no real safety net for long term loss. Play with the situations of significant injuries to any one of position players Drew, Reynolds, Young, Upton, Snyder and you'll see what I'm talking about. The lineup's just not producing enough runs to begin with to absorb the loss of any major piece. Those five players as well as the Webb/Haren/Scherzer portion of their rotation must all stay healthy for the D-backs to keep up with the Dodgers, and probably the Rockies as well.
As I mentioned this morning, these are the projected starters:
- C Chris Iannetta
- 1B Todd Helton
- 2B Clint Barmes
- 3B Garrett Atkins
- SS Troy Tulowitzki
- LF Ian Stewart
- CF Ryan Spilborghs
- RF Brad Hawpe
Projected Bench: That leaves a projected bench of Jeff Baker, Seth Smith, Omar Quintanilla, Carlos Gonzalez (assuming we trade Taveras) and Yorvit Torrealba. Let's compare to AZ:
Infield D: Quintanilla is a better defender than Ojeda, advantage Rox
Outfield D: Smith and Gonzalez are better than Byrnes, Salazar and Romero, as is Taveras were we to keep him, advantage Rox.
Backup Catcher: Montero has fellow Venezuelan Torrealba beat, advantage Snakes.
PH for HR: Baker has some power, Smith projects for doubles and a few round trippers and provides a nice left-handed balance, advantage Rox.
PH for OBP: Seth Smith should be the go to guy when we just need to get on base, and while he projects to have a higher OBP than Salazar, Ojeda's on base projections beat any of our second choices. Call it a draw, or maybe a slight edge to the Rockies for Smith's ability to take his show on the road, something none of the other bench players from either team seemed capable of last season.
PR: If we keep Taveras, this is a cinch for us, otherwise I'd give AZ the clear advantage.
CATASTROPHE: There's a steep drop for the Rockies in the event of an injury to Iannetta, but otherwise our emergency fills are a grade or two better than Arizona's. The drop in offense from Hawpe or Stewart to Smith is pretty small. At first base, there's a bit of an issue; projections like Joe Koshansky, but his slow bat hasn't had the best transition to MLB play. Shortstop is somewhat of a problem area too, but a Barmes/Baker middle infield beats the rest of the division's emergency plan at second and short. It's a considerable overall advantage to the Rockies over Arizona in this category.
The Dodgers 2009 team still hasn't begun to take shape, the latest rumors have them focusing on Casey Blake and a trade for a shortstop. It's making me doubt that Manny Ramirez is really an integral part of their offseason plan, instead I expect them to focus on their rotation after working out their infield's left side, so I'm going with a projected lineup that looks like:
- C Martin
- 1B Loney
- 2B DeWitt
- SS J. Wilson or somebody not currently with the team.
- 3B Blake
- LF Kemp
- CF Andruw Jones
- RF Ethier
Projected bench: Delwyn Young, Juan Pierre, Jason Repko, Chin-lung Hu, Tony Abreu and a free agent back-up catcher.
Infield D: Hu's as good as Quintanilla, Abreu's not bad, I think the order in this scenario would be LA, CO, AZ.
Outfield D: The Rockies still look best here. I like Arizona's trio a bit better than LA's as the presence of a declining Pierre drags the Dodgers down.
Backup C: Who knows? The free agent market doesn't have anybody better at this role than Montero, and only a couple better than Torrealba. I haven't been impressed by LA's rumored targets for this position, until they prove otherwise I'll rank it 1. AZ, 2. CO, 3. LA, so far.
PH for HR: Young's LA's only power threat off the bench, but really only against LHP's as a right handed hitter. He pales in comparison to Baker/Smith and Byrnes/Montero, so LA comes in third, here.
PH for OBP: Again, the Dodgers are pretty pathetic in this department, particularly from the left side. Young's solid against LHP's, but otherwise Colorado and Arizona's options both seem superior.
PR: Pierre would give LA the overall advantage unless Colorado keeps Taveras. I like the Dodgers a bit more than the Diamondbacks in this category due to Eric Byrnes' off-year on the basepaths in 2008. If Byrnes is close to his 2007 form, it would be a pretty tight race.
CATASTROPHE: Los Angeles has some major issues if one of their corners gets knocked out as the drop from Ethier or Kemp to Repko or Xavier Paul takes them below replacement level. Depth is definitely going to favor the Rockies over our two primary competitors this season.
Just acknowleging that they're still part of the division.
Signing Edgar Renteria clears up one major question mark for the Giants at short, in addition, let's project they sign one free agent corner bat.
- C Bengie Molina
- 1B Pat Burrell
- 2B Velez
- 3B Sandoval
- SS Renteria
- LF Lewis
- CF Rowand
- RF Winn
Projected Bench: There's a hole at second whether Velez or Kevin Frandsen starts, and the outfield isn't producing at the plate like an outfield should, but this lineup would give the Giants a considerably better offense than they had going itno last season, at any rate, that would leave a bench of Nate Schierholtz, Emmanuel Burriss, Dave Roberts, Frandsen, a backup catcher, and somebody else probably best not thinking about.
Infield D: The Giants fare pretty well here with Burriss being near that Quintanilla/Hu level of play, I'd probably rate them a little lower than the Dodgers and Rockies but ahead of the D-backs.
*-Depending on who bad bat mystery guy at the back of the bench is, they could be ahead (Burriss and Bocock sound like the names of corrupt cops in an action movie, but they'd be a solid defensive pair).
Outfield D: With that lineup, they better be getting their outfield defense from their starters, and they are, as Schierholz and Roberts are a clear step down.
Backup C: The Giants are much like the Snakes in that their backup catcher is so good (and the rest of their options pretty weak) that they've thought about using him in the regular lineup at third. In fact, I project him to be playing third for them, but that shouldn't diminish his spot in the rankings. Call it shiny new toy syndrome, but I'd go so far as ranking Sandoval ahead of Montero right now:
- Dodgers - until a move's made at least.
PH for HR: There's a solid option in Schierholtz, but that's the extent of the list for the Giants. Schierholtz does trump Delwyn Young, however.
PH for OBP: Schierholtz had a great showing in 2008, but he doesn't seem to project that well, but Roberts is a legit OBP threat. I'd rate the Giants ahead of the Dodgers for sure, and they'd be right there with the Rockies and D-backs, or ahead if Nate shows last season was no fluke. I'm going to go with a gut decision that he does just this:
PR: Roberts isn't what he once was, and otherwise the Giants look a little weaker than I expected them to here.
- Rockies (first if they keep Taveras instead of CarGon)
CATASTROPHE: The positive for having a lineup as weak as the Giants is there's not a huge dropoff from starter to sub, so they look okay for maintaining a team for a while here, but only Schierholtz is really the only bat that looks like he could be at or above replacement level. The Rockies outfield trio of Smith, Fowler and Gonzalez as well as Jeff Baker as a possibility at second still looks the best at dealing with the catastrophic scenarios.
Assigning four points for each first place, three for each second, etc.., leaves an overall ranking like this:
- Rockies 22
- D-backs 17
- Giants 17
- Dodgers 14
Am I too much of a homer in seeing the Rockies on top here? Also, I was surprised about how poorly equipped Los Angeles seems to be, am I mistaken or are they really as shallow as they look to me right now? I really doubt that either the Diamondbacks or Dodgers could survive a big injury in their lineup as well as the Rockies this season. The Giants should be okay. It's bad to root for injuries, but the inevitable grind of a 162 game schedule should result in some opportunity as this survey suggests that Colorado may benefit if the three top teams have equal player time lost to injury in 2009.
I should add that I don't see this changing before the beginning of the season. Los Angeles has too many holes to fill with their starters to afford time or resources to shoring up the bench and Arizona doesn't have the resources needed to get much more than replacement level after they fill their second base slot. Both the Dodgers (Angel Berroa) and D-backs (David Eckstein) were able to make some bench additions as the 2008 season went along, and I would expect them to have to resort to similar moves in 2009. What we'd hope for as Rockies fans is that they either have to give up too much of their future in trade or don't get enough of an upgrade in waiver claims to cut into the Rockies advantage.