Dex of Gaslamp Ball and I recently got together for a little pre-season jaw session, moderated by Blez of Athletics Nation. Here's a transcript - beer and nachos sold separately. ;-)
Blez: Obviously, the Bonds injury reshapes the outlook for the NL West. Who do you think becomes the clear favorite? Let's start with Jim.
AZSnakePit: I still don't think there's a clear favorite. The key issue is how long Bonds is out for.
Gaslampballer: I'll agree with Jim in saying there's no clear favorite. However, if Bonds is out for a good amount of time (say over 2 months), then I'd have to say the Padres and the Dodgers will be fighting it out for first.
AZSnakePit: If the Giants can stay in touch till Bonds returns, they can still win it. Otherwise, it's between LA and SD. Being honest, I think Bonds is dogging it, and he'll back sooner than we think.
Blez: I agree and think Bonds will be back earlier than expected, but who knows if he'll remain healthy.
Blez: Jim, what do you think of what the D'Backs did to reshape their roster?
AZSnakePit: A lot of movement, but likely to not much effect come the end of the season - our aim this year should be the .500 mark, if we can reach that, I'll be deliriously happy. For every credible signing (Glaus, Vazquez), there was a questionable one (Clayton, Estes) - Rockies castoffs are always doubtful at best.
Blez: Estes did have a pretty good season considering he was pitching at Coors though.
AZSnakePit: True, but his ERA was still above 5.00 in 2002 + 2003, when he wasn't at Coors. I don't think he's got what he takes.
Blez: Dex, is this the year that the Padres rotation puts it all together?
Gaslampballer: I'd like to think so. What's really comforting this season is having a veteran in Woody who can actually be a good influence on the young pitchers, who are starting to come of age. Also, our bullpen is so good, there should be no reason for our starters to feel a lot of pressure in keeping their pitch counts down.
Blez: Who do you both think has the best starting rotation in the NL West?
AZSnakePit: I like the Padres: Peavy might be a Cy Young dark horse.
Gaslampballer: I do like Peavy to get some Cy Young votes this season, but I might have to say the Giants have a better rotation.
AZSnakePit: I'm less convinced: there's a big dropoff after Schmidt, that almost reminds me of the 2004 D'backs. And we know how well THAT worked out... :-)
Blez: Dex, are you just trying to take the pressure off your guys? I don't see much behind Schmidt when it comes to the Giants.
Gaslampballer: I'd like to think that the Giants have gotten old, but I have to believe Rueter slipped just a little last year. Schmidt is always solid, and Tomko is no slouch. If Eaton does decide to pull it together though... I just don't want to jinx our boys. :-)
Blez: I'm not sold on Tomko yet. Turning to offense, who do you think has the best offense in the division?
AZSnakePit: Well, for once it might not be Colorado!
Gaslampballer: With Bonds... the Giants. Without is a good question.
Blez: Let's consider without Bonds for right now. He's off jumping off some bridge or something...
Gaslampballer: The Diamondbacks look really good to me on paper.
AZSnakePit: We have health issues with Glaus and Gonzo; if they stay healthy though... And we have two black holes offensively in Counsell and Clayton.
Blez: I actually think San Diego's offense can mash with anyone in the division, and I don't just say that because you have our "walk-off bunt hero." Even considering Petco Park.
AZSnakePit: Yes, the spacious confines of Petco will dampen things - how much, I'm less sure.
Gaslampballer: I think they have the potential. With park factors taken into consideration, our guys were right up there a lot of guys. But then again... We can't exactly ignore our park.
AZSnakePit: I liked Bonds' whine: "I just found out at PETCO stadium that they tried to make it Bonds-proof, but I think they made it baseball-proof." And didn't Klesko say something similar?
Gaslampballer: Klesko and Nevin have been pretty vocal about it. It got frustrating at times, because Sexson hit some monster shots there, as did Shawn Green.
Blez: So, Jim likes San Diego's starting pitching, Dex likes the Giants, Dex likes the D'Backs offense, Jim who has the best offense without Bonds? And then who has the best pen in the division?
AZSnakePit: I do think we have run-scoring potential, but allowing for parks, I think San Diego will be the best. And that bullpen is VERY solid with Hoffman anchoring it. It's hard to see a real weakness in San Diego, which is why I think they'll win. You can look at all the other teams and point to flaws.
Gaslampballer: I will be less humble about our bullpen and say they're far and away the best in the division. Otsuka has closer type stuff and if Linebrink puts together another year like last year, Towers will have plenty of teams knocking on the door about turning Linebrink into a closer as well. Not to mention, like Jim says, Hoffman in the ninth.
AZSnakePit: I notice we've said very little about the Dodgers at all so far...
Blez: What do you both think of the Dodgers offseason moves? I personally think DePodesta is getting a bad rap.
Gaslampballer: With DePodesta at the helm, I'm not even sure we've seen their opening day lineup yet.
AZSnakePit: Their rotation should be its usual reliable self - secnd only to the Padres, IMHO, and they do have Gagne. It's their offense that's less impressive.
Gaslampballer: DePodesta's also interesting in that he's a Moneyball type with no qualms about moving guys around. I wonder how many players on his team are continually watching their backs.
Blez: I actually like the Dodgers rotation. With the addition of a sinkerballer in Lowe and IF Penny can get healthy, that looks pretty good to me. Although they are likely going to have Scott Erickson as part of that rotation.
AZSnakePit: The signing of Derek Lowe was a bit of a surprise, personally.
Blez: Lowe could win a lot of games at Dodger Stadium. Granted, he's being overpaid.
AZSnakePit: He's not alone there...paging Russ Ortiz!
Blez: I'd take Lowe over Ortiz any day. But that's just me.
Gaslampballer: It must be nice to have a budget like that.
AZSnakePit: What's the Padres salary bill this year?
Gaslampballer: I think the Padres are right around 60 million this season
AZSnakePit: AZ is about $67m, I think - Dodgers near $83m.
Gaslampballer: What's funny... most of our core guys are close to the league minimum. That's as of last year. I believe there have been some contracts done since.
Blez: Is Sean Burroughs ever going to reach his potential?
Gaslampballer: I guess if you think his potential is hitting homeruns, then it might be doubtful. He's still really young, and the Padres haven't really got him in a regular spot in the lineup yet.
Blez: He's been injured quite a bit too, right?
Gaslampballer: He's had his bumps. Nobody will mistake him for ironman. Now, if you think his potential is winning a batting title, then he very well could do that.
Blez: So, let's here some fearless predictions...division order and win total. Factor Bonds' injury and when you think he's gonna be back too.
AZSnakePit: 1. Padres (91 wins). 2. Giants (87), 3. Dodgers (85). 4. D'backs (75). 5. Rockies (70). I don't think Bonds will be gone lone, but it'll be for long enough to derail the Giants.
Gaslampballer: 1. Padres - 90 wins; 2. Dodgers - 88 wins; 3. Giants - 85 4. D'backs 75; 5. Rockies - 58. I think it'll be hard fought. Bonds will be back by late May. Diamondbacks could be a dark horse, but it'll take a year for the team to mesh.
AZSnakePit: I think 2006 could see the D'backs up there, but we lost a lot this off-season too: not least Randy Johnson, of course. Ouch. No love for the Rockies there, Dex!
Blez: Ouch...poor Rockies. LOL!
Gaslampballer: I just look at the Rockies. It doesn't seem pretty sometimes. :-)
Blez: But they have Kim now.
AZSnakePit: Kim's great. I hope he has a happy ending somewhere!
Gaslampballer: I've been careful not to jinx myself, but now that I laugh at Kim, he'll contend for the Cy Young and the Rockies will win 88.
Blez: I pretty much agree with Dex. Although I think the Rockies will squeeze out a few more than 58 wins. And I think the Dodgers will push the Padres a little bit.
AZSnakePit: The Dodgers are really the forgotten team of the NL West in many ways.
Blez: How weird is it to go from Schilling and Johnson to Ortiz, Vazquez and Estes in just a few short years, Jim?
AZSnakePit: [Nostalgic sigh]
Gaslampballer: I would think that you had to see it coming after 2001.
AZSnakePit: It was inevitable. although I don't like the fact we still owe Matt Williams $11m! But the rebuild is under way, and I think in a more sustainable way this time. We have some great prospects coming up (Carlos Quentin being the best), so I'm optimistic we'll be back in the World Series before, oh, 86 years have passed. Any Padres prospects you're excited about, Dex?
Gaslampballer: I think most of our prospects are with us now. I'm rooting for Tim Stauffer to settle into the number 5 spot.
Blez: Last question and multi-pronged...who from the NL West can be considered favorites for any of the awards...ROY, Cy Young, MVP?
Gaslampballer: If Bonds comes back, I'm sure he'll prove how valuable he is to that team, so he's right there.
AZSnakePit: Vazquez and Schmidt might be Cy Young candidates, with Johnson gone.
Gaslampballer: Jason Schmidt and Eric Gagne will be up there once again... Peavy will also get some notice this year, but probably not a favorite.
AZSnakePit: Yeah, I'd bet a beer Peavy will win one before the decade is out.
Gaslampballer: I'd have to take odds on a bet like that. Peavy looks really good.
AZSnakePit: Do you think SD will be able to hold onto Peavy, or will he end up in the Evil Empire?
Gaslampballer: Man, that's a tough one. From what I've seen of Peavy, he's a really good guy, and he seems like he'd be loyal enough to take a San Diego Discount.
Blez: No MVPs outside of Bonds? Nevin, Gonzo?
AZSnakePit: Gonzo is past his best. MVP for AZ will likely be Glaus, if he stays healthy.
Gaslampballer: I was about to say Glaus over Gonzo as well. As for the rookies, I honestly haven't read enough about who we have in the west.
Blez: I'm thinking Kim. That thin air should do wonders for him. jk, of course.
Gaslampballer: I heard Kim hardly even spoke to his team before he was traded because he was so ashamed.
AZSnakePit: Sad. :-( Mind you, the Red Sox describing his contract as "a mistake" can't have helped.
Gaslampballer: He's gotta work on losing that short term memory. No great ballplayer ever got by dwelling on failure.
AZSnakePit: He came back fine after the 2001 World Series, but after he went to Boston, just seemed to fall apart.
AZSnakePit: Do you reckon the NL West champ will go far into the playoffs?
Blez: I don't think any team in the NL West will go very far. The other divisions have much better teams. The only one that I think could make noise in the playoffs would be the Giants with a healthy and productive Bonds./
Gaslampballer: The central looks tough as usual.
AZSnakePit: A pleasure chatting. All the best for the season. Especially against the Giants. :-)
Gaslampballer: Thanks a lot. I look forward to chatting again. Yes, make sure to beat the Giants when you head to San Francisco. :-)