As I’m sure you’re aware of, the Dodgers won the National League West last year. The second place team in that division finished eight games behind them. The third place team finished thirteen games back.
That second place team went out and spent on high-priced free agents like they had just won the powerball. First, the San Francisco Giants signed Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to fill out their rotation. Both Samardzija and Cueto are top of the rotation talents that had bad contract years and should rebound nicely in pitcher-friendly San Francisco. Then, they signed Denard Span to take over for the ineffective Angel Pagan in center field. Span hit over .300 in the 61 healthy games he played last season for the Washington Nationals. Then there’s the fact that the Giants may have had even worse injury luck than the Dodgers in 2015 and still battled until the final week of the season. If they can stay healthier in 2016, there’s no question they can work some more even year magic and take another shot at a world title.
As for the third place team, they spent all their money on stealing Zack Greinke from the Dodgers, then spent their entire farm system trading for Shelby Miller from the Braves. The result of their lavish spending is a pitching rotation that can finally pull their weight behind what has quietly become one of the league’s best offenses. The Arizona Diamondbacks have two possible MVP candidates in Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, and some talented pieces around them such as Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas. All they needed was some top-end pitching talent, and now they have it in Greinke and Miller.
The Dodgers didn’t improve on paper as much as the Giants and Diamondbacks did, but they didn’t have to. Instead, they’ll rely on much of the same core that won 92 games and a division title. Clayton Kershaw is still on the team for at least three more years and figures to continue being the best pitcher in baseball during that time. Adrian Gonzalez still anchors the lineup. Corey Seager will get a full season of playing time at shortstop, and many are already crowning him 2016 rookie of the year. Justin Turner will be back, and the front office has made it clear that he is the Dodgers’ starting third baseman for the long haul. Dave Roberts, beloved by so many inside and outside the organization, has the confidence that he will lead the Dodgers to the place Don Mattingly never could: a World Series appearance. Will he?
That’s the biggest question of all.