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Thursday AM: Entering the Holiday Lull

With Rod Barajas seemingly on his way to Philadelphia, it appears any major moves for the Rockies are done for right now. A couple more minor moves like yesterday's addition of Danny Graves will probably take place, but nothing that will in any way seem substantial in relation to the team's chances for next season. It looks like player movement in general for all teams over the coming couple of weeks will wait until a resolution of the pitching market comes about. Namely, Barry Zito picking a team to sign with and the Phillies and Dodgers picking teams to deal Jon Lieber and/or Brad Penny to. For the sake of evaluating our competition, we should watch the Penny story unfold carefully, but also pay attention to David Wells, Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan, all of whom could wind up playing within the division next season.

Beyond the Box Score's Marc Normandin held a chat at Baseball Prospectus yesterday, and he touched quite a bit on the state of affairs within the division, pegging the D-backs and Padres as favorites, with the Rockies and Dodgers the chasers. I think it's an interesting take, one I disagree with, as I see the Dodgers and Padres as still the favorites with the two younger teams coming up behind. The things we know about how teams have shifted thus far this offseason as far as I can tell are the following:

  1. San Diego upgraded the bottom of their rotation with Maddux. Hensley and Young outperformed expectations last season, but Peavy underperformed, so they're still going to be solid. Their lineup got an upgrade at third with Kouzamoff, but I'm not as convinced as Normandin that M. Giles is an upgrade over Barfield at second. B. Giles, meanwhile, slipped last season and could be fading and there was some out of sorts production from Bard and Gonzalez that makes me suspicious that their lineup beyond Cameron is that good. I suspect that losing Dave Roberts and Ben Johnson will hurt more than their braintrust seems to think, but their history will tell you to trust them more than me.
  2. Los Angeles I've gone over. Normandin thinks they've taken a significant step back, and offensively there's a lot of evidence to suggest that with their pencilled in everyday lineup, but there's so much talent backing up those mistake signings that it's pretty clear to me they're in better shape than the Padres given the solidity of their pitching staff.
  3. People like Normandin see trading Jennings for Hirsh as the Rockies getting equal value for less money and more years. Hirsh can possibly match JJ as soon as 2007. That's fine, but I think the more significant parts of this deal for this upcoming season will actually be felt with the other two parts we got from Houston. Jennings had an outstanding 2006 and it's hard for me to picture Hirsh putting up anything close to that until 2009. Taveras, on the other hand -although he's scrutinized by stat savvy guys like Normandin and Baseball Think Factory's Dan Szymborski- will benefit more from Coors than they expect thanks to two factors:
A) The field increases BB totals, it still does even to this day, even with the humidor. Taveras has a better eye than Juan Pierre ever did and this aspect of the Coors factor shouldn't be underplayed when considering what sort of OBP he'll put up. Computer forecasts seem to see it, giving Willy T an OBP near or above .350 next season.
B) Infield singles. The Rockies allow the grass to grow long on the infield to benefit their sinkerball pitchers like Aaron Cook, but it also can play right into a speedster's game. I'm getting increasingly optimistic on Taveras being a more significant upgrade than I originally thought he'd be.
As important is the quiet competition that O'Dowd has brought in to the fourth and fifth starters' slots. Taylor Buchholz and Oscar Rivera will make this more of a battle to watch than Byung Hyun Kim and Josh Fogg were probably hoping for. Certainly more of a competition than Zach Day and Sunny Kim brought last year. If it comes from a more driven Kim and Fogg or from the two newcomers, I expect the bottom of the rotation to perform significantly better this season.

  1. Arizona has made two significant upgrades this offseason, getting Doug Davis into the rotation and moving Eric Byrnes to left field to replace Luis Gonzalez. The problem that I see is there are also a couple of downgrades. Chris Young in 2007 will not put up a line remotely close to what Byrnes did in his flukishly strong 2006. Likewise, Miguel Montero won't match Johnny Estrada's output from behind the plate. These are two fine talents to be sure, Young is going to be a fantastic player, but he's not Junior Griffey and won't come out with the line D-backs fans seem to be expecting. Montero seems to be getting too much buzz from a monster half season in the PCL last year. This isn't like Chris Iannetta where he put up stellar numbers in less hitter friendly leagues beforehand, his only other spectacular performance was at the Cal League launching pad in Lancaster. I'm thinking Montero's a bit overrated at this point.
  2. The Giants got older, but they got a lot of draft picks in the process. If they use all of their early picks to get Tim Lincecum types, we could be in serious trouble in a few years, but we can write them off for now.