Wait A Minute — Are The Dodgers Still The Best Team In The West?


Have you ever had one of those moments in life where something causes you to question an assumption you’ve carried with you? Where you caught yourself wondering if maybe — just maybe — “the way things are” might not be the way things actually are anymore?

Because James Shields to the San Diego Padres kinda, sorta, turned into one of those moments for me.

Shields. Kemp. Cashner. Myers. Upton. Ross. Norris. Benoit.

These aren’t your 2014 Padres, folks — these guys look different.

As active as the Los Angeles Dodgers have been this offseason, they’ve seemingly remained motionless compared to what the Padres have done — executing trades and signings at such a frenetic pace that a glance at their roster is a reminder of all the moves you’ve forgotten about.

From December 18-30, the Padres executed trades with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, Braves, A’s and Rays. They acquired Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Will Middlebrooks, Shawn Kelley and Brandon Maurer (among others).

Standing alone, those moves aren’t enough to make you question the idea that the Dodgers’ standing as top dog in the West is in question, but that’s because the Padres simply added those names to an up-and-coming roster of young talent. Oh, and that Shields fellow too.

Joining Shields in the rotation are Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Josh Johnson, Ian Kennedy and Brandon Morrow. Cashner and Ross both posted ERAs under 3.00 last season, while Shields and Kennedy weren’t far behind at 3.21 and 3.63 respectively.

Combine that rotation with a lineup that features Kemp, Upton, Myers, Middlebrooks, Norris, and Jed Gyorko, and, well, the Padres are looking scarier and scarier by the minute.

Oh, and don’t forget about the bullpen either — anchored by Joaquin Benoit, the Padres boasted the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors last season at 2.73.

So with a tantalizing rotation, a solid bullpen and a fantasy-esque lineup, have the Padres surpassed the Dodgers?

Well, let’s break it down.

Rotation — Kerhsaw/Greinke/Ryu/McCarthy/Anderson vs. Shields/Cashner/Ross/Kennedy/Morrow

Any rotation with Kershaw at the top is going to look more appealing, but this competition is honestly closer than you’d think. Cashner and Ross are two of the more under-appreciated arms in the league (Cashner would have finished 10th in the league in ERA had he made enough starts to qualify, while Ross finished 16th), while Shields is an excellent running mate.

I think I still give the edge to the Dodgers simply because the difference between Kershaw and honestly anyone is so large. I think Greinke is on par with Cashner and Ross, and I think McCarthy/Kennedy and Anderson/Morrow are probably toss-ups.

Advantage: Dodgers

Lineup — Puig/Pederson/Crawford/Gonzalez/Kendrick/Rollins/Uribe/Grandal vs. Kemp/Myers/Upton/Alonso/Gyorko/Amarista/Solarte/Norris

What’s fascinating about this debate is the fact that it’s essentially a choice between how the Dodgers used to construct rosters (like they were playing fantasy baseball) and how they do now.

If you’re asking me for the four best hitters in this conversation, the Padres probably have three playing in their outfield. What’s fascinating, however, is that the Dodgers probably boast five (at least) of the next six — and that’s without considering how bad the Padres will be defensively.

The question we’re left with is whether we want a top-heavy lineup (that can’t play defense) or a lineup built top-to-bottom without many “stars”. After seeing how things panned out for LA the last two seasons, I think I’ll take the latter.

Advantage: Dodgers

Bullpen — Jansen/Howell/Peralta/League/Hatcher vs. Benoit/Quackenbush/Thayer/Kelley

Well if there’s one category out there we know the Dodgers aren’t going to win, it’s a competition of bullpens.

The Padres had the second-best unit in the league last season and they probably got better with the additions of Kelley, Maurer and Morrow (if he isn’t the No. 5 starter). The Dodgers have improved their pen, but, then again, anything would have been an improvement over what was one of the worst units in the league.

Advantage: Padres


While there’s a lot to be decided about which players make the 25-man rosters for both clubs, I think this category is as clear-cut as the bullpen. The Padres have some nice names (Middlebrooks, Maybin, Quentin, Venable), but I think the bench has become one of the strongest parts of the Dodger roster.

With Justin Turner, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier and AJ Ellis (plus whichever defensive-minded players make the team), I think the Dodgers are in the conversation for having the best bench in baseball.

Advantage: Dodgers

So where does all this leave us? Is it as cut-and-dry as a 3-1 category win for the Dodgers?

Honestly, I think it comes down to a matter of philosophies. As I mentioned earlier, the Padres are built in a way that is eerily familiar to Dodger fans — big name guys in important positions, but lacking some overall depth.

Unfortunately for San Diego, I think they’ll find what Ned Colletti found out the past couple years: real baseball doesn’t work like fantasy baseball. The Dodgers have looked great on paper for a few years now, but that hasn’t translated to postseason success. Friedman and Co. were brought in to change that — and the result was less emphasis on marketable players and more emphasis on roster depth, sabremetrics and clubhouse chemistry. (Note: the Dodgers have won the NL West the past two seasons, so it’s not as if the Padres’ philosophy will leave the them in the cellar, it’s just that when we’re comparing them to the Dodgers, someone has to finish second in this division)

If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the Dodgers to win the west despite everything the Padres have done to improve themselves — but then again, why listen to me when we get to watch 162 games this summer to find out.

Dodgers 2015 Fan Fest

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  1. “Still the best in the West?”
    What galaxy ate you clowns living in?
    The Giants have won 3 of the last 5 World Series!

    1. We all know that..I think this story is more about the moves made by SD vs what the Dodgers have done…

      1. Then the question should be, “Can the Dodgers replace the Giants ad the best in the West, or will it be the Padres?”
        Asking if they can “still be” the best implies that they already were.

  2. Just so you understand the Giants have won 3 World Series and that’s great but over the last two regular seasons, 162 games, the Dodgers have been better..much better matter of fact. The won the division by 16 games over the Giants in 2013 and 6 games in 2014 thus over the last 324 games, the Dodgers have been 22 games better than the Giants. Sure, I would prefer the World Series titles no doubt but over a long season the Dodgers have had a better team than the Giants. As for this piece when he says “name the top 4 hitters and the Padres probably have 3 in their outfield”, I started laughing. Kemp has had 1/2 a season over the last 3, Upton is a swing and miss guy and Myers flat out stunk last year. Puig , Gonzalez and Kendrick are the top 3 hitters between either of these teams.

    1. You forget Emil, that Matt Kemp was injured for the better parts of 2 seasons, which by any stretch of the imagination would make him RUSTY> After he found his stroke after the All Star game he was arguably the best hitter on the team. Gonzo is a great hitter, Puig is inconsistent, and Kendrick is coming into a new league. And isn’t the World Series where you want to be? Well advantage Giants….it is not that easy to get there, and when they have, they won….Upton might be a swing and miss guy, but he hits in the .280’s with power and is a pretty good fielder. Myers, he was injured for a while and it was only his 2nd big league season…..the jury is still out. Regular season wins get you into the playoffs…..winning when you get there is a different story…..Padres are very much improved….we Dodger fans get too cocky and they are going to knock us right out of the race…..

  3. And you forgot one of the most important categories — defense!!! I don’t know enough about the Padres to say which is better, but I do know that the Dodgers got WAY better defensively. Couple that with their rotation, they are going to be tough to beat!!!

    1. Unless the BP is vastly improved, which at this point is not a lock…and Anderson and McCarthy stay healthy…you are assuming way to much. And way better defensively is a little out there….IF Pederson win’s the CF job , Grandal is not as good a defensive C as Ellis…..SS and 2B yes…..

      1. Good points, Michael Norris. Let me offer a rebuttal, however. The BP is expected to be vastly improved. Anderson and McCarthy — you are right, that is the one question mark. Both Pederson and Eithier are very good outfielders. And Ellis is a great defensive catcher, but Grandal might be as good. And then, as you correctly note, we are much better at SS and 2B. And they always say that defense up the middle is the key. In fact, our infield now is very, very solid defensively with Uribe and Gonzalez at the corners, and Rollins and Kendricks up the middle.

        1. Tim, you make a valid point..BUT,,,,,expected to be is not is……And I question brining in a 39 year old on the last go around…Peralta that much better than Baez??? because the way this is looking Baez is going to be odd man out in a 7 man pen as long as League is still there…..Grandal is LOUSY as a pitch in the dirt guy. He couldn’t block a moose. And with as many pitchers as we have who throw low in the zone, that could be a bad thing. Ellis calls a better game….as far as I see….Grandal brings exactly 2 things to this team…..more power than Ellis, and he is a pitch framer……excuse me…..I am not going to games to watch him frame pitches….he is 26, younger and may have a high ceiling…..but a .225 average and PED use….tell me he is not all that,.,,,,Ethier is a GOOD OF…..not great…his bat is now anemic……Pederson is a huge ? He has the tools…..But he is still only 22…..why rush the kid….If he bombs in spring, his confidence is going to be pretty low. Ethier is much better in RF than CF….he does not have a CF range….and if Pederson does not make the team….Puig would have to move to CF….

          1. Hey Michael! Again, good points by you. I just wanted to post what MLB just wrote about the Dodgers this morning:

            It’s not often you see a 94-win team get such a big makeover, but the new regime is rebuilding on the fly. The Dodgers had to clear space in the outfield for rookie center fielder Joc Pederson and they had to get better defensively up the middle. They’ll have a new middle infield — a much better defensive one with Rollins and Kendrick. In fact, all of the Dodgers’ moves were done in part to improve the defense, including catcher, where Grandal is rated as a good framer.

          2. Framer yes…but framing does not block pitches in the dirt…..They could have cleared space without trading Kemp, but then again NOBODY wants Ethier. Dee was a defensive liability, but then again it was his first year at the position…..we all knew Ramirez was not going to be resigned, He would have blocked Seager and that was not going to happen. They might be better defensively, but the power is diminished, there is little to no speed except for Rollins and Crawford. Puig could be that guy, but he has no discipline on the bases. I do not see a natural leadoff man on the team…Rollins 5 years ago maybe, but the last 3 years his production has really dropped off.. His power will be blunted some by Dodger Stadium….so will Grandal’s…all those night games in April and May, when the air is heavy. I expect Kendrick will match or pass his career numbers, but also a learning process with the NL pitchers. I read USA Todays organizational report in the Sports weekly. Interesting read….When you put together all that has to go exactly according to plan……that’s a lot to ask……

          3. I love this conversation, Michael. Yes, the power numbers will be down. But I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. There has never been home run king who played in Dodger stadium. Dodger stadium is known as a pitcher’s park, not a home run park. Thus, the defense is more important than home runs. Yes, I am bummed they are slower, but I hope it will not be a big deal. I think teams are moving away from traditional lead off hitters anyways. So with the heavy air at Dodger stadium, better to have players who hit for averages like Rollins and Kendrick. Ellis is a great defensive catcher. He calls a great game, as evidenced by not one, but two no hitters last year. But I do not think that Grandal is that much of a step down defensively, and he is much better offensively. Puig is going to come around. I predict he will be vying for MVP honors. I am OK with the risks he takes on the bases. I just wish he would learn to hit the cut-off man. But, I think the management is doing the right thing being worried about defense over offense. The one thing I am worried about is the back end of the rotation. We shall see what happens with that….

          4. Butera was behind the dish for Beckett’s no hitter….if you remember AJ was injured when he stepped on Butera’s mask. Last Dodger to lead the league in Homers was Duke Snider in 56. Last batting champion Tommy Davis in 1963, There were players with 40 HR pop….Green Piazza, Sheffield. So yeah, HR’s in Dodger Stadium are rare….but the most exciting teams had some HR power…..Cey Garvey Guererro, Baker Smith, the Piazza Karro’s Mondesi team’s and the fans like the quick strike…..Ethier was adored when he had those years of walk off job’s. My biggest thing is this, and oh yeah..Grandal is not that much a better hitter than AJ….245 lifetime to .242….Grandal has more power, but AJ walks a lot and see’s more pitches than about anybody. And if Grandal had not had such a strong first year .297, his average would be below AJ’s because the last 2 years he has stunk. All that saber metric stuff is for the geeks….He either produces BIG here in LA, or this trade is a bust. Okay, back to my biggest thing….do you realize all that must go right in order for this all to fall into place? 1. Rollins needs to find his A game….he hits .240 again and that is no help. 2. Pederson needs to win the CF job out right. And then be more than just pedestrian….he needs at least .250 with some pop and ribbies. 3. Grandal needs to hit more than .225… 4. Uribe needs to stay healthy and play at least 120 games…5. Gonzo and Puig need to pick up the slack, with Crawford at least approaching last years numbers. 5. The bull pen needs to prove it is improved, because at this point it is all just guessing. 6 Anderson, more than McCarthy needs to be healthy all year…..otherwise there are problems in the rotation. 7. The bench needs to play with the same enthusiasm they had last year, and SVS and Turner need to come close to last years performances. Ethier if not the starting OF, would strengthen the bench, but he has said he does not want that role again. And lastly, if anything goes wrong, the FO has to be willing to give up something to get something…..Mattingly is definitely on the HOT SEAT……they had better jump out the gate and not stumble through the first couple of months

          5. Michael one of your points is a worry that does not get touched on very much and that is Uribe. He only played 106 games and as you stated Turner bailed us out with an amazing performance, The left side of our infield is going to be ancient. Granted they are on the last years of their contracts and we can see that Seager and someone maybe a Cuban will be there next year but the age and fragility of Uribe is a real concern. The Dodgers have to win Now. Having to patch the entire left side of the infield on the fly during a season would be bad. Grandal in an interview said he had trouble blocking balls and getting down quickly because of his knee. He says his knee is healthy now so we can hope. As you said many of our pitchers are strikeout ball in the dirt guys and a catcher that cannot block is not what you can live with.
            I feel confident the BP is improved and that they will now have arms available in AAA in case of need. IF Puig is not better/more consistent we will not win the division. I think Gonzo has another couple of years as a solid producer. Also if Pederson comes out of Spring in the outfield he will help the speed on the bases and he walks a lot so he is on base. If they come out with an OF of Puig, Pederson and Crawford in will be one of the fastest we have had in quite awhile. Spring Training is getting close…

          6. I just read a position by position analysis by yardbarker.com. Pretty interesting. I did not know that Grandal only caught 76 games and only started 67,yet he led the league in passed balls. This is your much better starting C. I admit, he has more power than AJ, but again I reiterate, the way this trade was constructed, the Dodgers got jobbed. Anyway, moot point, what’s done is done. Seager could light up AAA and be up by August. But they really have no options at 3rd. So PRAY very loudly for the health of Juan Uribe, There are to me my friend, way too many IF’s on this team., If the BP is better,,if Pederson is ready, If the back of the rotation is healthy, if Grandal is the better option,If Ethier accepts a backup role again….which as stated before he has said he does not want..they report next Thursday, so answers are on the horizon….I am not as optimistic as most…because in all my years watching this team, there has never been an off season turnover like this one,.,,,,change for the sake of change is not always a good thing….but we will see… If I am wrong, I will be the first one to say so…

          7. I agree the Dodgers got jobbed on the Kemp deal. I think time will tell us how the Gordon deal panned out. But you are right a lot of if’s. I was not happy to see Kemp go. Handley was a given with Seager in the wings plus he needs to DH, the man cannot field his position. I am a big AJ Ellis fan. I think we saw the true AJ in the Playoffs. The man was all dinged up last year but hung in there because he was the only real alternative. Again with the IF’s ! IF McCarthy and Anderson have good seasons and if Grandal can block a pitch and hit 20 HR and have a decent OBP then the team will probably win the West. They had to either find a way to trade Pederson or play him. The kid tore up AAA. Either Pederson is a very solid possibly great player or a bust it is time to find out. As you have guessed in other posts there must have been no good options on Ethier or Crawford. I would imagine they tried everything they could to trade them.

          8. They had a deal for Ethier on the table with the D Backs. But that fell through. Crawford was shopped….but he has the larger contract of the 2, so no real takers. There was a chance to trade Ethier to the O’s which I think would have been the best option for him…short RF porch, small RF, easy to patrol. As you may have read by now, Hanley is Boston’s new LF. I saw some video of him shagging flies down in Florida, so he is already working out. As I have said many times, tearing up AAA means nothing. Pederson has to prove he belongs. He will obviously get his shot, but if he fails in spring, You can bet he will go back to AAA and not get traded…..Okie City will be more of a real gauge of his actual skills. PCL is a hitters league, but he won’t be at altitude like Albuquerque. Locks in the BP are Jansen, Howell, Nicasio, and League unless they trade or release him which is possible since his salary is only 7 mil. I would also classify Hatcher as a lock since he was the centerpiece of the Gordon trade. so that leaves 2 spots if they carry 12, which is pretty much a lock. And how many guys fighting for those 2 jobs? One needs to be a lefty…….so all those righty’s fighting for 1 or 2 jobs,…….we shall see,,,,,

          9. One other thing….the arms they will have at AAA….judging from what I see on the non roster guys and their own players, are not really that impressive…..they have quantity, but the quality is very iffy…..and there are no REAL starter options unless Lee and Reed break out and become MLB ready

          10. I like who we have as back-up in AAA and possibly AA in pitching. To pick up a faltering 4 or 5 is how you groom your pitchers for the Majors. Lee has to settle down this year or he will be done but he is a competitive guy and I think will make a come-back if that is the right word for a minor league prospect. Holmes and Reed have a chance or someone may come out of the wood work you never know. Sometimes pitching is like that. They finally figure it out and become very good starters. My example is Shoemaker last year for the Angels. There are guys that will probably be in the Minors like Baez that have a real chance at making a contribution and I believe they will. We will see…. I tend to be optimistic about these things.

        2. One other thing….Uribe played 106 games last year………the only thing that saved the team was Turners outstanding season off the bench……can they expect another .344 7 dinger year from Turner if Uribe goes to the DL again, which he most likely will……I doubt it….

  4. Giants are strictly a post season team, when they make the post season, it’s by very little, and i don’t see the giants in the post season for at least the next 3 years

  5. The Padres are greatly improved, but their offense may set a record for striking out! Their pitching was good and is now better. I think McCarthy and Anderson signings were risky and too expensive. Wish the Dodgers had signed Shields and obtained Hamels. Pederson plus Lee and a couple of others may have gotten it done. I would not have included Seager or Urias. I also did not like trading Gordon, or Kemp. I understand all the rationale, but just don’t agree with much of it. With all the moves, I’m not sure they really improved the bullpen by much.

    1. Phillies wanted Pederson and at least Urias or Seager…..That was the only way they would have gotten Hamels. I have seen teams with big strikeout guys win pennants. The Dodgers were not going to give Shields 100 million like he was originally asking.

  6. Who is better at this point is a moot argument. Until they both play games no one has any idea how the pieces will fit. A major injury and all the winter moves will mean nothing….Figure it this way…..Last season, Juan Uribe hit .311 and was great at 3B. BUT….he only played 106 games…..that means that hos replacements played in 56 games. Luckily Turner, who played the most there, Hit .344 with 7 dingers. Can you expect that kind of production again> ? Nobody knows. No one has a clue how Pederson will play. Will Kendrick adjust to the NL pitchers quickly? Is Grandal that big an upgrade? No one knows…..

  7. Michael, the Dodgers did exactly what I would have done with Matt Kemp, trade a bad defensive player, off a great 2nd half when he turns 30 and his value will never be any higher. Over the last 5 years, Kemp is graded out as one of the 3 worst defensive outfielders in baseball and that covers seasons 2010 thru 2014 which means his almost (should have been) MVP season. You don’t sell low and buy high, this group did it right. They got $75m off the books along with a major defensive liability. You said Puig is inconsistent, he also just turned 24 which means he isn’t even in his prime years so you can expect that and even with his “inconsistency” and Kemp’s great 2nd half, Puig had a high OPS at age 23 than Kemp in his prime. Kemp’s injury issues aren’t going away, his shoulders are bad, his knees aren’t good, his ankle was almost destroyed. Listen, I like Matt Kemp and while I don’t like Hanley, Dodger fans are sweating their leaving way too much. For all the hype about Hanley, he was awful and I mean awful SS and he his .280 with 13 HRs, really we can’t afford to lose that? Come on man…this team had make up issues which is why they lost in the playoffs, not enough grinders and too many guys trying to hit 5 run HRs.

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