Los Angeles Dodgers
While a $236-million payroll doesn’t guarantee anything, it certainly gives the Dodgers an excellent chance of winning their first World Series since 1988. Yes, it has been that long for this storied franchise. And they’re all out of excuses this season, starting the year again with a stacked lineup, a deep rotation led by the planet’s best pitcher and even an $80-million closer in Kenley Jansen.
The division shouldn’t be a layup, just because the Giants always find a way to be a thorn in L.A.’s side. That’s how the rivalry works. But on paper, these Dodgers are a complete team, sparked by youthful energy supplied by Corey Seager — who at 22 finished third in the ’16 MVP voting as well as winning Rookie of the Year — and the slugging centerfielder Joc Pederson (24) and lefty starter Julio Arias (20).
Of course, there’s Clayton Kershaw, who’s working on his fourth Cy Young Award at age 30 and is the odds-on favorite to get it. Then it’s Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and maybe Hyun-Jin Ryu. Just getting to October isn’t enough, however, and L.A. may have to dethrone the Cubs to make the Fall Classic. This could be the Dodgers’ best shot in a while.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants’ greatest need at last season’s trade deadline was closer, and with three available, they got zero. As a result, their playoff run was ended by the Cubs, who scored four runs in the ninth inning of NLDS Game 4 — off five relievers — to prevent a do-or-die Game 5 vs. Johnny Cueto. Live and learn. This winter, the Giants spent $62 million for Mark Melancon — the least expensive of the top three closers on the market — to avoid a repeat of last season’s 32 blown saves. Will Melancon be the difference? With a very similar roster otherwise, he could be.
Good thing Ian Desmond spent all that time learning the outfield in Texas. Right after Desmond re-invented himself, the Rockies signed him to a puzzling $70-million contract — then decided to use him at first base, a position he’s never played. On top of that, Desmond needed surgery in mid-March to repair a fractured left hand, the result of being hit by a pitch. Desmond drama aside, the Rockies have plenty of punch, with Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon. Containing other teams at Coors, however, is a problem the Rockies have yet to solve on a consistent basis.
Put it this way: It’s hard for this season to go much worse than 2016 for the D-Backs, who gave $206 million to Zack Greinke and still lost 93 games. Throw in the fact that Arizona also traded top prospect Dansby Swanson for Shelby Miller, who tanked, and it’s easy to see why GM Dave Stewart was fired. Manager Chip Hale just became a casualty to the desire for a clean slate, which is what the D-Backs are getting with the former Red Sox combo of GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo. There’s still talent in the desert, with run-machine Paul Goldschmidt and centerfielder AJ Pollock, who was limited to 12 games last season because of a fractured elbow.
San Diego Padres
What can brown do for you? Other than the Padres’ alternate snazzy uniforms, about 70 wins, if they’re lucky. Wil Myers’ breakout 28-homer season is something to build on in San Diego, and the club’s top position-player prospect, outfielder Manuel Margot, should get a promotion before too long. But just long enough, apparently, as the discussion in Padres’ camp this spring focused on keeping Margot in the minors a few extra weeks to delay his service-time clock. What’s the rush? The Padres pretty much know where they’ll be finishing already.