This past weekend I had the opportunity to interview Geoff Young, a writer for Baseball Prospectus (the website) who focuses on the NL and AL Western divisions and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus 2013 (the book), the premier guide to the 2013 MLB season. Geoff is the founder of Duck Snorts, a prominent Padres blog, and he's the writer of the Rockies, Padres, and Reds chapters in the book. In this portion of the interview, we discuss the offseasons and outlooks of the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Jeff Aberle: So we've talked a lot about the Rockies already, but your focus on a macro level at BP is really the Western divisions. Your focus got one team bigger this year with the move of the Astros over to the AL West. The Astros are an interesting experiment in showing what a team that had a complete firesale would look like - trading away veterans for prospects and basically fielding a minimum salaried team. That's what we're looking at with the Astros this year, a replacement salaried team. It will be interesting to watch them lose 110 games.
Geoff Young: Yeah, the quality of play is going to be a little rough, but they've got a really good group in the front office over there, so I have confidence that they'll be able to build something good after blowing it all up. It's always surprising to me how quickly teams can completely turn around - I mean, they were in the World Series in 2005, and now look where they are. It definitely wouldn't shock me to see the reverse happen.
JA: Outside of the Astros, I think the AL West might be the strongest division in baseball, depending on how you feel about the Orioles and Red Sox this year. I'm just glad that the Rockies don't have to play them on a regular basis. But let's shift our focus to the NL West, since that is the division where both of our teams have their home.
We've talked a little about the Padres already, but let's start with them. Their strength is the farm system - which has been ranked as the best in baseball. That's really where the hope in your team lies.
GY: Pretty much. The Padres are in a very similar position to the Rockies in that there's going to be a lot of sending young players out there, seeing who sticks and who doesn't. Some of them, like Jedd Gyorko, will hopefully start the season with the ballclub, and others, like Robbie Erlin in the starting rotation, might get called up later on. It's basically an audition for the future while hoping for something more in the present.
JA: One of our guys at Purple Row (RIRF) wrote in our offseason review of the Padres that San Diego's record over its last 84 games was 48-36 - that's a really nice ending note at the very least.
GY: Yeah, they played really well down the stretch, just as they did in 2009 before the 2010 season that turned out better than expected. Will that happen again? I wouldn't count on it, but anything is possible. My expectations with them are similar to the Rockies (mid 70s wins).
JA: Okay, let's move on to the Diamondbacks. What the heck were they thinking this offseason?
GY: I don't know, that's a very good question. There were a lot of very strange moves being made over there, and I don't know if they've really improved their team short-term or long-term. I can almost defend the (Trevor) Bauer trade- not quite, but almost -I really don't understand signing Cody Ross, and of course (Justin) Upton...
If (Arizona GM Kevin) Towers had been able to convince Upton to waive his no trade clause and move to Seattle (for a package including SS Nick Franklin and a high end SP prospect), that would have been really interesting. The package that they got from Atlanta (headlined by Martin Prado) wasn't horrible, but it probably should have been better. It's been no secret that Arizona has wanted to move him for a while.
Arizona was a team that, coming into last year I thought was going to be a pretty tough customer, and that didn't really work out due to some injuries and other issues...
JA: And their Pythagorean record shows that they probably should have done a little bit better (86 wins instead of 81).
GY: I look at that team and I still think they have a pretty decent core - not as good as they would have been had they not traded Upton...
JA: And gotten a couple of no-hit shortstops, one of whom is injured...
GY: Right, a lot of that just seems like movement for the sake of movement. I don't know everything that Towers and his staff knows, but from an outside perspective I think it's really strange. I don't know what they were trying to accomplish - and even if I did know, I wouldn't be able to judge if they succeeded or not. I just don't know.
JA: I think that Kevin Towers just couldn't help being himself and invested in the bullpen, bringing in Matt Reynolds from the Rockies and acquiring Heath Bell from the Marlins.
GY: It was certainly better when he traded Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins for him (when he was the Padres' GM). I don't really have any explanation for the Diamondbacks.
JA: I was hoping that you'd have a better idea of what Towers is doing since he was your GM, but I guess it's a little confusing for anybody.
GY: I really don't, because he would make a lot of perplexing moves with the Padres, almost always with trades, very rarely with free agent signings, so the Ross signing really caught me off guard - it's not the sort of move he would have made in San Diego. The trades...well historically he's had a very good eye for pitching, so my natural instinct when I see him move a guy like Bauer is that maybe he knows something about him that the rest of us don't.
That's just based on track record - don't know if that's true anymore, but there was a long time in which I would watch every move Towers made, and if there was an arm involved, I would almost always say "I can't believe he gave up that guy to get that other guy" but five years later I would say "wow, he really ripped that other team off". I'm not saying that's going to be the case with Bauer, but I wonder if there isn't something going on there.
JA: I think that until they made some of those trades I really liked what they were doing, especially getting Brandon McCarthy at the price they got him for (2/$15 million). He's going to provide a lot of value for them at that price. I actually wanted the Rockies to look at picking him up, even overpaying him a little bit because I think he's a great fit for Coors.
GY: Yeah, that was a shrewd pickup
JA: So I was really upset that the Diamondbacks snagged him, but then they had this bizarre offseason where they'll be about the same as they were last season but with lower upside. Very confusing to me.