With the Dodgers acquisition of Randy Wolf this week, the teams in the NL West have seemingly decided on the rotation parts they will be relying on for at least the beginning of the year. I'm going to look at the state of the rotations be cataloging starters into four categories. Starters who have pitched at least one full season in the majors and don't have current injury concerns will primarily be put in either the top middle or bottom. The fourth category will be wildcards, these will include young starters with the ability to overshoot their projections, prospects and veterans with injury or other question marks.
I hope to make it clear that this exercise doesn't predict anything, just illustrates where each team is placing their bets. Any team could lose the division by having one or more of their so-called stable pitchers go down, or win it by having their wildcards perform better than expected. If Clayton Kershaw becomes another ace and James McDonald performs like a mid-rotation starter, the Dodgers likely win the division. If Brandon Webb goes Tim Hudson for the Diamondbacks this year, Arizona can pretty much kiss their chances goodbye. Anybody could build a scenario to fit their personal NL West projection. Once again, San Diego's ignored for irrelevance in 2009 (if you're dying for a Rockies fan perspective of the Padres, you could read Travis Lay's projection at Colorado Rockies Examiner)
Stable top: Brandon Webb, Dan Haren
Stable bottom: Doug Davis, Yusmeiro Petit, Jon Garland
Wildcards: Max Scherzer, Travis Blackley, Jarrod Parker
Ability to pick up significant help midseason via trade: Lacking
The Diamondbacks remain pretty shallow relative to the other three teams in the rotation, but they're deadly as long as they remain healthy. Scherzer has as potent an arm as any young right hander in the division, including Lincecum, Billingsley and Jimenez. Blackley's performance in Mexico drew many raves, and the D-backs are hoping they found a gem with him, but right now it's looking like he might be slotted for the bullpen/swing duty. Picking up Garland was a big help to insure against some let down by either of those two.
Without a lot of minor league depth, the Snakes will have to rely on development by Parker if their big league rotation has gone south. Catcher Miguel Montero is the piece they've been using as bait for pitching over the winter, he should help them get some arm, but don't expect Arizona to acquire another frontline starter this summer.
Stable Top: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain
Stable middle: Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito
Wildcards: Randy Johnson, Noah Lowry, Kevin Pucetas, Henry Sosa, Tim Alderson, Madison Bumgarner
Ability to pick up help midseason via trade: Good, but they shouldn't need it in the rotation.
It's becoming clear that the Giants will have the division's rotation to fear in the early part of next decade. I'm hoping that a few of these arms go Jerome Williams or Jesse Foppert on them before that happens. For 2009, the rotation's solid, but the lineup is still deficient.
I would expect the Giants to use some of their minor league depth to acquire a young bat if they are serious contenders Midsummer, but not another ace pitcher.
Stable top: Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda
Stable middle: Randy Wolf (semi-stable, I still wonder about the IP)
Stable bottom: Eric Stults
Wildcards: Clayton Kershaw, James McDonald, Jason Schmidt, Ramon Troncoso,
Ability to pick up help midseason via trade: Not great right now
Wolf was as good a pickup as the Dodgers could have made via free-agency at this point in the offseason, and unfortunately he came at a bargain. In relying so heavily on Billingsley and Kershaw for 2009, the Dodgers are rolling the dice on a couple of talented young starters. This could either pay off in a big way (think about the 2003 Marlins or the mid-80's Mets and Royals teams) or bring disappointment.
The Dodgers could have the potential to put a significant trade package together by midseason if prospects like Andrew Lambo, Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Ethan Martin take off in early 2009. Right now, however, it's hard to see a package that draws frontline rotation talent.
Stable top: Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook
Stable middle: Jeff Francis
Stable bottom: Greg Smith, Jason Marquis
Wildcards: Jorge De La Rosa, Franklin Morales, Francis, Greg Reynolds, Jason Hirsh, Jhoulys Chacin
Ability to pick up help midseason via trade: Decent
Francis' potential loss significantly raises the unknown quotient in the Rockies rotation, and focuses attention on the need for two of the trio of other LHP starters (JDLR, Smith or Morales) to prove themselves reliable in 2009. The Rockies could win the division if they get two mid-rotation caliber performances to back Jimenez and Cook, but the Francis loss definitely impacts their likelihood of doing so.
The Rockies are sort of a hybrid between the Dodgers and Giants when it comes to trade-worthy talent. They have more upper level prospects than Los Angeles, but at the same time they are needing some solid early season performances to really make a trade package work. If you look at the Sabathia and Harden trades of last summer, you can see where the Rockies will need a positional talent like Hector Gomez or Chris Nelson to impress early to add a near ready bat to the pot.