Have Busy Diamondbacks Done Enough to Compete in NL West with Rival Dodgers?

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Have Busy Diamondbacks Done Enough to Compete in NL West with Rival Dodgers?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Assessing Kevin Towers' offseason so far...

After spending 2013 tussling with them both on and off the field, the Arizona Diamondbacks have spent the winter plotting to prevent the Los Angeles Dodgers from repeating as NL West champs in 2014.

As busy as they've been, however, the Diamondbacks haven't done quite enough just yet.

We'll get to why that is—or why I think that issoon enough. But first, I want to be fair to Arizona general manager Kevin Towers. It's fair to accuse him of wasting some assets, but at least he's done so in a way that's improved his club's chances of winning in 2014.

The D-Backs orchestrated one of the biggest headlines of the winter meetings, acquiring the slugging Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels in a three-team trade. He'll be their everyday left fielder.

Towers struck again on Monday, sending third baseman Matt Davidson to the Chicago White Sox for young closer Addison Reed. In him, the Diamondbacks are adding, in Towers' words to MLB.com, a "young, controllable back-end-of-the-bullpen arm." 

With Reed added to Towers' collection of offseason moves, the D-Backs have now seen more 2013 WAR come in than they've seen go out. Using FanGraphs' WAR, here's a look at what the D-Backs have added and what they've subtracted:

Diamondbacks 2013 WAR Added and Lost
Player POS 2013 WAR Added 2013 WAR Lost
Mark Trumbo LF 2.5
Addison Reed RHP 1.7
Blake Lalli 1B -0.5
Willie Bloomquist UTIL 0.5
Matt Davidson 3B 0.2
Josh Wilson SS 0.1
Tyler Skaggs LHP 0.1
Heath Bell RHP 0
David Holmberg LHP 0
Wil Nieves C -0.1
Adam Eaton CF -0.5
Total 3.7 0.3

FanGraphs

One can point to the exits of Davidson, Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton as a poor handling of assets on Towers' part and have a legitimate gripe. All three are talented young players, and none got a fair shot at showing the D-Backs their true potential. Towers sold low on them.

But hey, at least these three were parts the 2014 Diamondbacks didn't need. There was no role for Davidson to play with Martin Prado at third base. Eaton was behind A.J. Pollock on the center field depth chart. Skaggs looked like mere rotation depth.

And with these non-essential players, Towers filled essential needs.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Per FanGraphs, Arizona got -0.6 WAR out of left field in 2013, not to mention a .115 Isolated Power. Trumbo will certainly boost the power production. And even if his poor on-base skills and poor defense limit him to average overall production, that would be better than what the D-Backs got in 2013.

As for Reed, not a single Arizona reliever posted a WAR over 1.0 in 2013. Heath Bell, the team leader in saves with 15, posted exactly zero WAR. Reed is a clear upgrade.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti hasn't made his team clearly better than it was before.

The Dodgers haven't been quiet this winter, as they've retained both Brian Wilson and Juan Uribe and added Dan Haren and Alex Guerrero. But if we look past 2013 WAR retained and focus strictly on 2013 WAR added and subtracted, we get: 

Dodgers 2013 WAR Added and Lost
Player POS 2013 WAR Added 2013 WAR Lost
Dan Haren RHP 1.5
J.C. Boscan C 0
Brendan Harris INF -0.6
Nick Punto UTIL 1.9
Mark Ellis 2B 1.8
Ricky Nolasco RHP 1.5*
Edinson Volquez RHP 0.4
Skip Schumaker UTIL -1.0
Peter Moylan RHP -0.4
Total 0.9 4.2

FanGraphs

*That's only the WAR that Ricky Nolasco gave the Dodgers in 2013.

There's obviously no way to fit Guerrero into the equation, but he would have had to be worth 3.3 WAR to make up the difference between what the Dodgers have added and lost. Basically, he would have had to be the seventh-best second baseman in the league last year.

Point being: It's more accurate to say that the Dodgers have stayed good rather than gotten better.

That's a point in Arizona's favor. The Diamondbacks needed to close the gap this winter, and they've done so by making improvements, while the Dodgers have merely kept their ship afloat.

But while the gap has been closed, whether it's been closed enough is where things start to tip in favor of the Dodgers.

Let's consider how both teams look on paper, starting with each club's projected starters and what Steamer sees in line for their performances. Put the two clubs side-by-side, and it looks like:

Steamer Projections for D-Backs and Dodgers Regulars
POS D-Backs Player 2014 WAR Dodgers Player 2014 WAR
C Miguel Montero 3.7 A.J. Ellis 3.4
1B Paul Goldschmidt 4.7 Adrian Gonzalez 3.7
2B Aaron Hill 2.9 Alex Guerrero 1.5*
3B Martin Prado 3.6 Juan Uribe 2.9
SS Didi Gregorius 1.5 Hanley Ramirez 4.2
LF Mark Trumbo 2.1 Carl Crawford 2.2
CF A.J. Pollock 2.6 Matt Kemp 2.5
RF Gerardo Parra 1.8 Yasiel Puig 4.6
Total 22.9 25.0

FanGraphs

That asterisk is there for Guerrero because Steamer has nothing for the Cuban defector's 2014 performance. I'm improvising with that 1.5-WAR projection, which is equal to the projection for the weak link in Arizona's lineup (Didi Gregorius) and roughly equivalent to "average" for Steamer's typically conservative projections.

But then it doesn't really matter. Even if I had set Guerrero's WAR at zero, the Dodgers' regulars would still be projected to have a slight edge.

And I'd call that a fair assessment of the overall picture. The D-Backs do have the best player on either side in Paul Goldschmidt and should benefit from better performances from Martin Prado and Miguel Montero, but collectively there's more talent on the Dodgers' side of the fence.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Now, injuries being the grand equalizer is a real possibility with Matt Kemp's and Hanley Ramirez's recent track records and the getting-up-there-ness of Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe and Carl Crawford. And while Andre Ethier is a nice bit of depth to have, the Dodgers could find themselves missing Mark Ellis and Nick Punto.

The Dodgers' lineup being decimated by injuries didn't kill them last year, however. It could be the same story all over again in 2014.

This is thanks to their pitching, which was outstanding in 2013 and looks better than what the Diamondbacks have on paper as things stand now.

If we keep it simple and focus on the key roles—the five starting spots and the closer role—we see the following for both clubs:

Steamer Projections for D-Backs and Dodgers Pitchers
POS D-Backs Player 2014 WAR Dodgers Player 2014 WAR
SP1 Patrick Corbin 2.9 Clayton Kershaw 3.7
SP2 Trevor Cahill 2.1 Zack Greinke 3.1
SP3 Wade Miley 2.2 Hyun-Jin Ryu 2.7
SP4 Brandon McCarthy 1.7 Josh Beckett 0.7
SP5 Randall Delgado 1.9 Dan Haren 2.2
CL Addison Reed 0.5 Kenley Jansen 0.8
Total 11.3 13.2

FanGraphs

Clayton Kershaw is easily the best of both rotations, the top three of the Dodgers' rotation looks better than what the Diamondbacks have and Kenley Jansen is looking better than Reed. The Dodgers' only real weak link is Josh Beckett. 

And for Arizona, there's not much gap-closing going on in either rotation depth or bullpen depth.

Archie Bradley could emerge as a difference maker, but so could a healthy Chad Billingsley. Josh Collmenter, Brad Ziegler, J.J. Putz and Joe Thatcher make for a solid collection of setup men, but so do Brian Wilson, Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow. According to MLB.com's Ken Gurnick, J.P. Howell will soon be back with the Dodgers as well.

The Diamondbacks have done well to close the sizable gap that existed between them and the Dodgers, but it's on the mound where they still have work to do. And if this tweet from Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com is any indication, they understand that:

For now, this is just talk. And as long as it's just talk, the edge the Dodgers have on the mound looks like a difference-making advantage as far as the 2014 NL West race goes.

But if Towers does go out and gets somebody like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or, if he can, the big one in Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, the D-Backs are going to be in business.

While Kershaw will still make everyone else look puny, the Diamondbacks would at least have a pitching staff capable of challenging the Dodgers. Factor in how Arizona's offense is due for improvement while the Los Angeles offense could fall apart just as easily as it could dominate, and what you get is a recipe for an NL West race that could be a mighty interesting two-horse race.

The Diamondbacks don't look like the Dodgers' equals just yet. But to their credit, they're getting there.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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