As the arbitration deadline and winter meetings have come and gone, MLB looks forward to what is shaping up to be an exceptionally exciting 2012 season.
Though the National League West has remained fairly under the radar in the face of several huge deals being completed in other divisions, all five NL West teams have completed their fair share of moves and transactions in an attempt to jockey for position in the 2012 division race.
With the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants all moving forward in their own individual ways this 2011-12 offseason, there may very well be a shakeup of sorts in 2012.
Read on for the division's preseason rankings as it stands right now on this 13th day of December.
Team: San Diego Padres
2011 Record: 71-91 (Fifth Place in the NL West)
Though the Padres won their 2011 season finale against the Chicago Cubs by the lopsided sum of 9-2, San Diego has been hurting in the NL West for a long time.
The Padres' strong suit in 2011 was their pitching. The Padres ranked third in the National League last season with a team ERA of 3.42, thanks in part to starter Aaron Harang and closer Heath Bell.
Unfortunately for San Diego, Harang is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Bell, with his 43 saves in 2011, recently signed with the Miami Marlins.
San Diego replaced Bell with Huston Street and will try to fill Harang's spot with Dustin Mosely or another pitcher from within the organization.
At least Mat Latos is still on the team.
When it comes to hitting, the Padres need serious help. They were dead-last in the National League last season in batting average, home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. The Padres were second from the bottom in runs scored.
Though the Padres picked up catcher John Baker in a trade with Miami, his above-average offense—for a catcher—will not be enough to lift San Diego out of the NL West cellar.
Team: Colorado Rockies
2011 Record: 73-89 (Fourth Place in the NL West)
The Rockies have had more movement than San Diego so far this offseason, but they currently remain in the No. 4 slot simply because the teams ahead of them have matched pace.
They might have lost second baseman Mark Ellis, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and catcher Chris Iannetta, but Colorado picked up catcher Ramon Hernandez, former Angels pitching prospect Tyler Chatwood, second baseman D.J. LeMahieu and left fielder Tyler Colvin.
Playing in a stadium well known for its offensive opportunities, the Rockies have added a cast of characters ready to explode with triples, hustle doubles and all sorts of scoring.
Joining a core of Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, the newcomers will feel right at home in a stadium that allows the development of youth and the refinement of veterans.
The Coors Field effect will be a well-timed shot in the arm for LeMahieu and Colvin, two former Cubs who are looking for a new team with greater offensive chances.
Combined with the unique chance to develop Chatwood in a fairly pitcher-adverse environment, the Rockies look to be on the upswing headed into 2012.
Team: San Francisco Giants
2011 Record: 86-76 (Second Place in the NL West)
While the San Diego Padres had the worst offense in the NL last season, the San Francisco Giants were only slightly better.
The Giants finished in second-to-last place in the categories of batting average and OPS. San Francisco also finished dead last in runs scored, RBI and on-base percentage.
In an attempt to rectify the situation, San Francisco acquired Angel Pagan from the New York Mets in exchange for pitcher Ramon Ramirez and center fielder Andres Torres. Prior to that, the Giants traded pitcher Jonathan Sanchez to the Kansas City Royals for CF Melky Cabrera.
Though the Giants undoubtedly have taken a hit to their pitching staff, the impending return of young catcher Buster Posey and 2B Freddy Sanchez combined with Pagan and Cabrera's arrival signal the Giants' desire to improve from 2011, when they still were in position to make the postseason until elimination day in mid-September.
As it stands right now, however, the Giants are not yet a preseason top choice in the NL West. Because a great part of their success hinges on the successful return of injured personnel, the Giants must be placed at the No. 3 spot.
If Posey and Sanchez are able to return to and improve on pre-injury form, the Giants will easily regain their top-two spot.
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
2011 Record: 82-79 (3rd Place in the NL West)
The Los Angeles Dodgers leapfrogging their rival Giants is perhaps the most crazy preseason prophecy thus far.
On paper, the 2011 Dodgers were an above-average team—finishing between sixth and eighth in the NL over most offensive categories while finishing fifth in the league in team ERA, fourth in strikeouts and fourth in opposing batting average.
With a returning NL Triple Crown and Cy Young Award winner in Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have a terrific No. 1 starter going into 2012. While they lost Hiroki Kuroda, he was a sub-.500 pitcher in 2011.
With Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly set to join newcomers Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, the Dodgers maintain—if not improve—their pitching staff heading into 2012.
Los Angeles also returns MVP runner-up* Matt Kemp, having expressed their desire to transform the All-Star center fielder into a franchise player with a huge contract last month.
The Dodgers also return Andre Ethier in right field, who, after experiencing a renewed sense of pride in playing for LA, has again began to produce.
With youngster Kenley Jansen in the bullpen ready to fill the shoes of the departing Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers round out their pitching staff and put themselves in position to contend in 2012.
With the stats demonstrating the Dodgers' fine numbers and nearly a postseason award sweep, there was one intangible variable that prevented the Dodgers from performing better in 2011.
In the midst of negative headlines surrounding the Dodgers' ownership situation, LA had struggled, at one point falling 14 games below .500 in July.
The Dodgers finished the 2011 season on a tear, winning 10 of their final 12 games. This and the announcement that the Dodgers will be sold in the coming months give Los Angeles great momentum heading into 2012.
*Assuming the BBWAA does not move for a re-vote in the wake of the allegations and potential sanctions facing 2011 NL MVP winner Ryan Braun.
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 Record: 94-68 (First Place in the NL West)
When the Diamondbacks recently dealt top prospect Jarrod Parker for Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, some critics might have concluded that the D-Backs were signing away their future.
Instead, Arizona has turned themselves into an even stronger contender by adding a strong, young veteran arm in Cahill to accompany 2011's NL wins co-leader, ace Ian Kennedy, and No. 2 hurler Daniel Hudson.
The Diamondbacks additionally bolstered their bullpen with the addition of veterans Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito.
For an NL team that ranked ninth in the league in ERA and fourth in OPS, the Arizona Diamondbacks are in prime position to repeat as NL West frontrunners.
One of the weaker points of the Diamondbacks squad has been pitcher Joe Saunders, who never quite matched the work of former starter Dan Haren when he came to Arizona in 2010. The D-Backs addressed the issue on Monday by non-tendering Saunders.
Meanwhile, Arizona should be excited with their decisions to re-sign SS Willie Bloomquist, 3B Cody Ransom and 2B Aaron Hill.
2011 rookie sensation Paul Goldschmidt also received some help at first base with the one-year signing of Lyle Overbay.
The Diamondbacks are a fairly young team and will carry their excitement and momentum of the 2011 season into 2012 with the return of Goldschmidt, Ryan Roberts, Justin Upton and Gerardo Parra.
For these reasons, the Arizona Diamondbacks will maintain their position as the No. 1 team in the NL West in early 2012.
Several factors, such as the extent of success experienced by Giants catcher Buster Posey in his return from injury, ares expected to be determined during 2012 spring training,
*These preseason rankings are as of Dec. 13, 2011 and are subject to change with further transactions, injury news and other NL West-related developments.