The 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants are the class of Major League Baseball until enough games are played in 2011 to argue otherwise. That is the reality created by winning the Fall Classic—everyone else is a paper tiger while San Francisco is the real McCoy.
Everyone else must speak in conditionals; the Giants get to use the present tense while wearing a winner's smile.
Of course, don't try to convince Philadelphia, Boston or New York of this fact.
The Phillies and Red Sox will tell you the grin is irrelevant since '10 is in the books and their respective offseasons push both clubs ahead of the Bay Area's favorite sons. Meanwhile, there is always shrill insistence coming from the New York Yankees on the subject, but their tortured logic will have to lean heavily on perennial arrogance—the Bronx Bombers weren't the best in 2010 and have had one of the more underwhelming pinstriped winters in recent memory.
Thankfully, I can ignore that fracas and turn to a much more settled point—SF is definitely the class of the NL West.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been busy in the offseason, but it's been much ado about nothing to date. Their most substantial additions have been paying through the nose to take Juan Uribe from the Gents and signing dynamite set-up man, Matt Guerrier.
Neither maneuver seems that profound nor does all the Dodger activity taken as a whole.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have shown a similar flurry of transactions and they've brought in a more impressive stable of players—Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, JJ Putz and Geoff Blum so far. But the Snakes had far more ground to make up on the division than the Bums. The imminent (or official) departures of Adam LaRoche and Brandon Webb further mitigate the net impact of the newbies.
The Colorado Rockies' big splash was bringing Ty Wigginton aboard and re-signing Jorge De La Rosa.
And then there are those poor, poor San Diego Padres.
The Friars lost one of the best players in the Show to Beantown (first baseman Adrian Gonzalez) and got prospects in return.
In other words, San Francisco's closest competition from last season was basically eviscerated and that void largely remains.
The Rox could be close if everything breaks right and the Giants hit some speed bumps, but even Colorado could use another plus-arm in the rotation. The Bums, D-Backs and Fathers all need more help than that, but almost all of these also-rans could tilt the scales with one big trade.
With that in mind, here are six trades that would tilt the balance of power in the National League West (in no particular order).
That photo right there means the San Diego Padres are dead in the 2011 water—this isn't a case where a team will rally around an empty locker created by the exodus of a superstar. There will be no us-against-the-world inspiration to prove the Friars were more than one man.
The first baseman was a force of nature with bat, glove, in the clubhouse and in the community. It's hard to exaggerate or predict precisely how devastating his loss will be to the Pads.
The absence of his production will be bad enough, but his leadership could arguably be his most irreplaceable asset. Whatever the ultimate toll, the trade will hurt and the sting will almost certainly last until 2012.
This is the tiniest of small-market clubs that needed a magical season in 2010 with Gonzalez just to stay in contention until Game 162. Now they've got to keep pace with the rising tide in the NL West and plug the hole created by the deal with Boston?
Especially not when the plan seems to be a mix of Brad Hawpe, Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett.
The nuclear winter that descended on San Diego this offseason means the Pads are done before they start in '11 and I'm ignoring 'em.
(Full disclosure: I write the Fathers off almost every year and they have a habit of making me look profoundly foolish, but I like to stay consistent.)
The Cleveland Indians' ace is arguably one of the top three players as far as talent goes on the entire list.
However, he falls all the way down to No. 10 because the Tribe would exact a heavy price for his services. He won't be a free agent until 2013 and he's only got one crack at arbitration before then thanks to his current four-year deal worth $15 million (runs through 2011).
Combine that with his age (27) and two very promising years in the not-so-distant past (2007 and 2010), and you've got the picture of a valuable commodity at a reasonable price.
Nevertheless, Cleveland doesn't have the horses to contend until some of its young talent fills out and that probably won't happen this season. Additionally, that run at arbitration could be quite expensive if Fausto puts up a similar body of work as he did in '10.
The Colorado Rockies make the most sense as a trade partner for Carmona.
Not only do the Rox have the most to gain from adding another top-tier arm to the rotation, but they also have the most major-league ready talent to swap. Additionally, the dynamic duo of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez suggests the franchise has some wiggle room in the batting lineup.
Consequently, the Blake Street Bombers could get creative if they were so inclined.
Fleet-footed center fielder Dexter Fowler would be a nice centerpiece for any club and with Grady Sizemore's expensive derriere wearing out its welcome by the Cuyahoga, he would make a lot of sense in Cleveland. The speed is already Show-appropriate and his leather is getting better; only his offense lags and that's not entirely surprising given the kid is only 24.
To pair with Fowler, Colorado could use any combination of second baseman Eric Young Jr., utility man Ian Stewart and/or catcher Chris Iannetta.
EYJ is another young burner (25) with a plus-glove whose lumber is sluggish to date, but has shown promise. Steward (25) has established himself as a legitimate power threat and has made strides to improve his approach to make contact at the dish, but his defense needs work.
With Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton on the roster, the Rockies would have personnel already in place to pick up any slack created by the departures.
Iannetta is more of a stretch at 27 and with the Tribe already titillated by the prospects of Carlos Santana behind the plate, but the American League has that horrible blight otherwise known as the designated hitter. Travis Hafner had a mini-renaissance in '10, but he wasn't resurgent enough to have the job on lockdown.
Plus, Santana can't possibly catch every game.
And maybe all Chris needs is a change of scenery to unlock all that potential we've heard so much about over the years.
The Boston Red Sox are not a team that's prone to panicking. Nor are they a team that seems likely to move one of their signature offseason acquisitions from 2009. With the addition of the aforementioned Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks in 2010, the Sawks look to be prepping for a push deep into October and November.
And one would have to imagine John Lackey figures prominently in those best laid plans
In other words, nothing on the surface would indicate an interest or even willingness to move him.
But the former Los Angeles Angels' 2010 season doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
Although he was healthy for the first time in several years, those fine feelings didn't last too long once the 32-year-old right-hander took the bump. Perhaps it was age catching up to John, but it seems more likely that he's one of those finesse-ish hurlers who is a bad stylistic fit for the offensively rugged AL East.
If he gets off to another slow start and with the timeless Tim Wakefield around to stop any massive hemorrhaging, don't be surprised if general manager Theo Epstein tries to cut bait on his five-year, $82.5 million investment.
The fact that it's the Boston Red Sox at issue—a franchise that boasts a metaphoric larder flush with resources—means they'd be calling the shots.
The Beantown powers-that-be could either (A) move Lackey and his salary in return for a subsequently discounted package; or (B) move the pitcher and eat some/all of his salary in return for true-blue prospects.
My guess is they'd go for the latter.
If Epstein and company didn't turn Lackey into something useful, they'd be admitting abject failure. With Boston's financial situation being what it is, the Sox can argue any expenditure is helpful as long as it produces the barest of minimums so it's unlikely they'd invite defeat in the media.
Consequently, you have to eliminate the Arizona Diamondbacks as a potential suitor—the Snakes have basically four attractive trade chips in Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Brandon Allen. The first three are far too good to sacrifice for Lackey and Allen ain't good enough (not to mention he's a first baseman/outfielder).
Ditto the Los Angeles Dodgers—James Loney is the Bums' trump card and Boston's got no room for him with David Ortiz and Gonzalez.
So it boils back down to the Rockies and their assortment of Dexter Fowler, Eric Young Jr., Ian Stewart and Chris Iannetta (who becomes more intriguing considering the current mess behind the Boston dish).
The Oakland Athletics have had one of the most confusing offseasons I can remember in a looong time.
The organization that gave us Moneyball went out and spent about $7 million on Hideki Matsui, Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy. The A's also traded for David DeJesus ($6 million) and Josh Willingham ($4.6 million in 2010, heading to arbitration).
In Oaktown's relative world, that's a whola lotta cheddar to be tossing at some underwhelming names. It looks suspiciously like Billy Beane and friends are laying a Giant-esque foundation—just enough offense to back a superlative pitching staff.
The obvious problem is that Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden will all have to take significant steps forward to replicate what Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez did last season.
Or the offense will have to be more than the sum of its parts.
The former isn't totally crazy (seriously, look at the stats from '10), but if it doesn't happen, then the Elephants might push the plunger on the whole thing. In that case, Anderson (22) and Cahill (22) would be untouchable, but the others could be priced to move.
Here's where it gets messy—Braden's not enough of an upgrade at this point and that means Gonzalez is the guy.
He's younger, has a nastier arsenal and has the mentality to be an ace in the Big Leagues. He's coming off a career-year in which his only bugaboo was an occasional loss of the strikezone, however, so he wouldn't come cheap.
LA's out of the picture because the A's are all set at first base with Daric Barton, so James Loney wouldn't be enough to get Gonzalez. Then there's Arizona, but the Diamondbacks need a bona fide ace to tilt the scales and Gio's not there yet.
So we're back in Colorado, which is problematic because (A) the southpaw's most devastating pitch—a brutal 12-6 curve—would be somewhat wasted in the thin, Denver air; and (B) after gift-wrapping Carlos Gonzalez for the Rox, I doubt Beane would be thrilled with the idea of doing further business.
Nevertheless, Coco Crisp and Mark Ellis are in the final years of their contracts. Both are still productive, but they're on the wrong side of 30 and come with unseemly price tags.
Meanwhile, Dexter Fowler would fit nicely into the Oakland Coliseum's spacious center field and either Eric Young Jr. or Ian Stewart could handle the keystone. All three represent potential or actual upgrades at young ages for a fraction of the cost of the player he'd replace.
Who does Erik Bedard even play for these days?
It's been so long since the Seattle Mariner took the mound that you can't really blame anyone who would be stumped by that question. The one-time AL Cy Young-contender has started a total of 30 games for the Emerald City since being acquired prior to the 2008 season and a big goose egg in 2010.
He's a free agent after the season so, if he's healthy and effective, Bedard could be a nice little weapon for a would-be contender. Once upon a time, this dude terrified the AL East so it wouldn't be unprecedented (it would be unexpected, though).
Seattle's grand experiment didn't work out last season as they went all defense and pitching, and I see no real reason for 2011 to yield markedly improved results. It would be hard for the M's to be worse, but Felix Hernandez still doesn't have much in the way of reinforcements so anything but a marginal bump in the standings would be a surprise.
And that means management should be looking to flip assets for prospects again.
Remember that in this scenario, Bedard is some version of his former self. Even the best-case dreamers aren't naive enough he'd be the same, but the southpaw doesn't have to get all the way back to be a significant contributor.
Chances are he won't be good enough to be the man in Arizona and Seattle seems intent on giving Justin Smoak more leash at first base so the Dodgers couldn't dangle Loney.
But Colorado could use the usual suspects to pry him away, though the former Baltimore Oriole would have to be pretty strong to include Dexter Fowler.
A Rockie rotation of Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, an effective Bedard, Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook/Jhoulys Chacin would be a much tougher nut to crack.
Mark Buehrle gets kind of a bad rap because he doesn't dazzle in the sexy numbers—he doesn't light up the strikeout totals and he won't be winning any ERA or WHIP titles. But the lefty is a virtual lock for at least 200 innings pitched, has a no-hitter and a perfect game to his credit, has a World Series ring and owns multiple Gold Gloves.
In other words, he can crank it up when need be to the point of being unhittable and he's a proven winner who's athletic enough to contribute in the various facets of the game.
At 31, Buehrle should still have plenty of good seasons left in the tank, but the Chicago White Sox have an aging roster tinged with the beginnings of a youth movement. If the plan is for Jake Peavy to take over as the elder statesman of the rotation while young guns like John Danks or Gavin Floyd wear the ace's mantle, Mark could be in a new city before too long.
Especially if the White Sox sputter in 2011.
Buehrle is the kind of pitcher who would suddenly make the Arizona Diamondbacks very interesting (and I've beaten the Rockies to death by now) so let's look at the Snakes.
With the lefty in the ace's chair, the rotation looks a lot more respectable—the development of Joe Saunders, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson could continue in more forgiving environs while Zach Duke and Barry Enright could spar for the fifth spot.
Granted, Arizona will still need big years from Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Kelly Johnson and contribution from their cohorts to compete, but that eventuality isn't so far-fetched. If these youngsters come out of the gates hot and the D-Backs can hang around through the first half, you might see them make a move for a key arm.
Maybe even sooner.
Of course, Young would probably be the cost of doing business since Arizona's other intriguing talent (Brandon Allen) came from the White Sox in 2009.
For whatever reason, I was stunned to see that Brett Myers is only 30 years old. Perhaps it was the flip-flopping between being a starter and closer that put some psychological age on the right-hander, but I expected him to be in his mid-30s.
Regardless, the former Philadelphia Phillie had a quietly brilliant year in 2010—he posted a 3.14 ERA in 223.2 IP with 180 strikeouts against only 66 walks for the Houston Astros. Unfortunately, the 'Stros are mired in the muck of a tortuously staggered rebuilding process.
Lance Berkman is gone, but Carlos Lee is still plodding around in the outfield. Meanwhile, Roy Oswalt was shipped out for prospects and the rotation was justifiably handed over to Wandy Rodriguez, but Myers is still in Houston.
That makes no sense unless you suffer from the delusion that the Astros could be competitive in 2011.
They can't be—with or without Bretty Myers so they might as well move him for prospects while the moving's good.
This is a one-size-fits-all situation.
You can make a very strong argument that says Brett Myers is a front-of-the-rotation kind of talent. It's not as if he was pitching under ideal circumstances in Houston with a tiny ballpark and an underwhelming defensive squad behind him. Additionally, he played the role of ace to some acclaim for the Phils.
In other words, the Arizona Diamondbacks could package Brandon Allen, Barry Enright (who's still only 24 despite a name that makes him sound like he was born in the 1950s) and maybe a tertiary prospect to land the right-hander. That would give the Snakes their legitimate ace (if not a dominant one) and slide all the other pieces into more natural spots.
On the other hand, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been trawling for bites using James Loney as bait. Although Houston has Brett Wallace penciled in at first base, the 24-year-old hasn't exactly set the world afire yet (in very limited action, but still).
Loney is two years older and he may've used up his reservoir of patience in Tinseltown, but a change of scenery to a band box might be just what the doctor ordered to spark a leap to the next level.
For their part, the Bums get to chuck Myers into a mix that already includes Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly. Not too shabby even for the Antichrist's team.
And there's always Colorado.
Put Fowler into the Houston outfield with Michael Bourn plus Hunter Pence and not too many balls are finding the lawn. Or a package of EY Jr. and Stewart could give the 'Stros a couple of Swiss Army knives capable of covering holes in the outfield, third base or second base.
You know, should the impossible happen and the Bill Hall plan doesn't work out for the Astros.
With Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa and Myers atop the Rockie rotation, the balance of power in the NL West would indeed be tipped.