Welcome to the cluster-you-know-what of the 2013 MLB season thus far. What was initially projected as a two-team race between the rival Dodgers and Giants has turned into a five-team free-for-all that could go any way. But that could make the NL West the most interesting division when it comes to trade rumors and which clubs are looking to buy at the deadline. There may be no sellers here.
Arizona Diamondbacks, 42-41. First place in division.
In any other year, the D-Backs might be considered a surprise contender. Not when their division is full of them, however. Besides, it's not like Kirk Gibson's team has been playing great baseball. In both April and May, they had a 15-12 record. So give them points for consistency. If the Giants and Dodgers were playing up to their preseason expectations, would the D-Backs be in contention right now?
But they are in contention. And because of that, general manager Kevin Towers will likely be seeking some reinforcements before the July 31 trade deadline. Starting pitching appears to be the priority for the D-Backs. But Towers doesn't want a three-month rental. He's hoping to add a pitcher under contract for multiple seasons at a controlled cost. That could make a trade more difficult. Nonetheless, the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo and Cubs' Jeff Samardzija are at the top of Arizona's shopping list, according to reports.
The D-Backs are also in the market for an outfielder, despite an apparent surplus. Cody Ross (batting .255) and A.J. Pollock (.254 average) aren't providing much production, so the team is looking to upgrade. ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine reports that Arizona is among at least three clubs showing interest in Alex Rios. But the D-Backs are on Rios' no-trade list. Could someone like the Cubs' Nate Schierholtz be on Arizona's radar instead? What about the Mariners' Michael Morse, once he returns from the disabled list?
Colorado Rockies, 41-43. Second in division, seven games behind second wild card.
If the D-Backs are a surprise in the NL West, the Rockies might be the shocker. After last year's disastrous 64-98 season, Colorado is in the mix, thanks largely to an offense that's scored the second-most runs in the National League. But only the Brewers have allowed more runs in the league than the Rockies, so bolstering the pitching staff will be the focus for general manager Dan O'Dowd.
Colorado has been one of the teams linked in trade rumors with the Marlins' Ricky Nolasco. From most accounts, Nolasco was supposed to be traded last week, with the Dodgers mentioned as the most likely suitor. But the Marlins haven't been able to make a deal because they want top minor league talent and are unwilling to pay the remaining $6 million left on Nolasco's contract. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Rockies offered two of their better prospects for Nolasco, but the deal fell apart when the Marlins wouldn't include any cash in the exchange.
The Denver Post reports that the Rockies are also checking out Yovani Gallardo and Matt Garza. But if their teams aren't willing to eat some of the money on those pitchers' contracts, would Colorado follow through on a trade? O'Dowd may ultimately look at upgrading his bullpen instead. Colorado has been scouting Cubs reliever Kevin Gregg. Maybe the Marlins would be willing to make another trade involving Steve Cishek or Ryan Webb.
Los Angeles Dodgers, 39-43. Tied for third in division, eight games behind second wild card.
Despite contending for the biggest disappointment in MLB, rather than first place in the NL West, the Dodgers would likely have been considered a buyer at the trade deadline because this isn't a team interested in selling. Unless you're interested in Andre Ethier, that is.
But the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership group seems convinced that it can throw money at any hole on the roster, providing GM Ned Colletti with plenty of opportunities to upgrade the team. Now that the Dodgers are only 2.5 games back of first place in the NL West — and ahead of the defending World Series champion Giants — that philosophy certainly isn't going to change.
The Dodgers were considered the front-runner for Ricky Nolasco a week ago, but the heat on that potential trade seems to have cooled. Yet there are several other pitchers — and better ones — that Colletti could pursue. We've already mentioned Yovani Gallardo and Matt Garza. The Houston Astros' Bud Norris could be a possibility. Would the Dodgers even consider taking another shot at Cliff Lee, whom they tried to acquire at last year's waiver (Aug. 31) trade deadline?
Teams looking to trade starting pitching are almost certainly looking for top prospects in return. But could Ethier help get a pitcher? He has four years and $70 million remaining on his contract (in addition to the remainder of his $13.5 million salary for this season), a cinderblock of a deal that will surely scare off most teams. However, if the Dodgers are willing to eat some of that deal, perhaps they can unload Ethier and make room for Yasiel Puig, who is clearly the future in Chavez Ravine.
One more area the Dodgers might want to improve is second base, which has led to rumors that the team is interested in Chase Utley. But are the Phillies willing to trade him? Could they offer Michael Young instead? Someone like the White Sox's Jeff Keppinger might also be a possibility for middle infield help.
San Diego Padres, 40-44. Tied for third in division, eight games behind second wild card.
Those who didn't pick the Rockies to finish last in the NL West probably thought the Padres would end up there instead. That could obviously still happen in a division where any one of its five teams could finish last — or in first. But with their starting pitching, it's difficult to imagine the Padres hanging in contention much longer.
General manager Josh Byrnes is seemingly in a tough position. Should he try to upgrade that starting pitching in an attempt to keep San Diego in the race? Or should he concede that this team has probably played above expectations and look to sell off some pieces for future help?
Right now, Byrnes appears to be going for the pitching. The Padres have been one of the teams attached to Ricky Nolasco in trade rumors. And apparently, they were also very interested in Jake Arrieta before he was dealt to the Cubs. Does this mean the Padres will take a shot at Matt Garza or Yovani Gallardo? It doesn't seem likely, but anything currently looks possible in this division.
If and when the Padres decide to become sellers, relievers Huston Street and Luke Gregerson will surely draw heavy interest from playoff contenders. Maybe the Detroit Tigers have already been in touch. Gregerson will be more attractive, since he's cheaper and has one more season of arbitration eligibility remaining. Street is due to be paid $7 million next year.
Another player that could get some trade offers is outfielder Chris Denorfia. Any team looking for corner outfield help — such as the Pirates, Rangers or Yankees — might be intrigued by someone batting .268 with a .708 OPS while playing most of his games at Petco Park. What could Denorfia do in a more hitter-friendly environment?
San Francisco Giants, 39-44. Fifth in division, 8.5 games behind second wild card.
Starting pitching has been a strength for the Giants during their run of success over the past three seasons, resulting in two World Series championships. But San Francisco's rotation has been a major problem this year, and will likely be the area GM Brian Sabean concentrates on improving over the next few weeks.
Virtually every team in the NL West has shown interest in Ricky Nolasco. The Giants not only would love to add the right-hander to their starting staff, but doing so would also keep him away from the division rival Dodgers. If San Francisco isn't the team that finally nabs Nolasco, Sabean will likely also get in line along with those pursuing Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo.
The Giants are also looking to upgrade their bullpen, however. They've been attached to Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain in recent trade rumors. A change of scenery and pitching in AT&T Park might be just what Chamberlain needs to revitalize his career. Other relievers that will likely be available include the White Sox's Jesse Crain and Twins' Glen Perkins. Sabean could also call up the Brewers and see what it takes to get John Axford or Francisco Rodriguez.
A right-handed outfield bat is also on the Giants' shopping list, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. One who could play center field, such as Alex Rios, might be a good fit in San Francisco. Josh Willingham of the Twins would also look good in the Giants lineup when he returns from the DL, though Minnesota has been reluctant to trade him. One more possiblility could be the Cubs' Scott Hairston, who would probably be a less expensive acquisition.