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Saturday Rockpile: Back to being underrated...

To paraphrase an infamous Dan O'Dowd statement from last season, maybe high expectations weigh down on the Rockies. So this could be a good thing. At any rate, with the Giants signing of Randy Johnson, one of the reactions I've seen (not from our level headed friends at McCovey Chronicles so much, but check out the comments at FanGraphs) is that this puts San Fran into the LA/Arizona range of contention for the NL West. I half agree with this. RJ helps the Giants, he'd help almost any team in the majors, even as a 45 year old because you just aren't going to find that level of pitching in too many other places. The half I don't agree with is who this makes the Giants competitive with. 

Looking at the big picture, the two teams that are hurt most by Johnson going to San Fran are in Phoenix, which already lost his production, but now must deal with the double whammy of it going to a rival, and Los Angeles, which still needs two starting pitchers, one to replace Derek Lowe, and one to insure they don't abuse their young arms, and now has its choices limited. Looking at the best remaining available free agent starters, the picture looks more and more like the Dodgers are going to have to rely on a major breakout season from Clayton Kershaw to remain at the top of the division in this department, and there's a pretty solid chance that they could be sliding back to the Rockies level in rotation contributions for 2009. CHONE projections see the Dodgers current top six starters (Billingsley, Kuroda, Kershaw, Stults, McDonald and Schmidt) at 94 runs over replacement. Those six aren't going to cover all of the Dodgers required innings by starters, and you're looking at sub replacement level starts from the pitchers further down their list. The Rockies current top six starters (Jimenez, Cook, Francis, Smith, JDLR, and Hirsh) meanwhile, project to 111 runs over replacement, project for more innings, and our next pair down the list (Reynolds and Morales) also project to provide over replacement level production in 2009. 

The math, and knowing the preferences of the FA's on the market, still doesn't seem to work for me that the Dodgers will be able to pass the Rockies in rotational contributions for next season and still sign Manny. Arizona's still ahead in the division in starting pitching, but they are shallow and RJ would have helped fix that for them. They still have the worst offensive outlook among the four contenders.

Right now, it's kind of shaping up in an interesting fashion in that the four teams project to be very close and have to hope for different unlikely things to go right to give them the edge.

Arizona: Stay almost perfectly healthy

Colorado: Not be terrible defensively

Los Angeles: Get huge performances from young starters Kershaw and McDonald

San Francisco: Not be terrible offensively