- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The Giants and Rockies spent millions -- on their own players. The Padres waved goodbye to the face of their franchise. The Diamondbacks blew up their bullpen. And no team filled its shopping cart with more free agents than the Dodgers. So let's conclude handing out our offseason report cards by assessing how the NL West teams made out:
Success is a beautiful thing. No argument there. And there are times in life when you really shouldn't mess with success.
We're just not convinced the Giants' decision to bring back virtually this entire title team (other than the Tejada-for-Uribe/Renteria switcheroo) was one of them.
They had to bump the payroll more than $20 million to keep this roster intact. So they get credit for that. Now it's true that their offense could be a lot better with a full season of Buster Posey, a trimmed-down Pablo Sandoval and a healthy Mark DeRosa. And rookie masher Brandon Belt could turn into this year's Posey.
But this is still a team that's dumping its fate mostly on the rotator cuffs of that great rotation. And if those guys feel any aftereffects of all those high-leverage innings last September and October, it could be big trouble.
Here's another team that has to be evaluated in the context of what it had to do in the real world versus what it would have loved to do in a dream world. The Padres had no choice but to trade Gonzalez this winter. None. And the deal they made ought to look great some day. The trouble is, that day isn't coming anytime soon. So it's hard not to think they're bound for a big step backward in 2011.
The good: Should be much better defensively up the middle, with Hudson, Bartlett and Maybin.
The bad: Substituting Harang (18-38 with a 1.44 WHIP the past three years) for Garland has a chance to get messy, though that magic Petco Pitcher Elixir won't hurt Harang.
Now the ugly: Exit Gonzalez, stage right. Enter the new first-base platoon of Hawpe and Cantu, who combined for five homers, a .222 average, .295 OBP and 331 SLG after the break last year -- and now have to play half their games in Petco.
Not all offseason game plans are designed to focus just on the season to come. So when the Rockies plowed $199 million into long, rich extensions for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez this winter, and committed another $32 million to hang onto Jorge De La Rosa for the next three years, it was clear that 2011 wasn't all that was on their minds.
They now have both of their two centerpiece players under control through at least 2017 and their two best starting pitchers (De La Rosa and Ubaldo Jimenez) under control through at least 2013. And there's a lot to be said for that.
But here at Report Card Central, we have to factor this season into our equation. And when GM Dan O'Dowd was through making five trades, signing Wigginton and adding more than a dozen bargain-binners on minor league deals, it was hard to argue that the 2011 Rockies look substantially better on paper than the disappointing 2010 Rockies.
Wigginton is a useful guy to have around, especially given all the Todd Helton questions. Lindstrom deepens an already-impressive bullpen. And Lopez is a talented insurance policy at several spots. But this is a team that's essentially counting on the same cast of characters that landed nine games out of first place last year. And it's tough to jot an "A" on the report card of a club that fits that description.
So whaddaya know. Thanks to a much-needed advance on their TV money, the Dodgers weren't paralyzed by their ownership debacle after all. So once he was freed from captivity, GM Ned Colletti burned up the old Transactions column all winter -- signing 11 free agents to big league deals and another 15 to minor league deals.
Best thing they did: Moved ultra-aggressively to bring back free agents Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla, while signing Garland for a mere one year, $5 million guarantee. So rotation depth -- a big issue last summer -- is now one of this team's biggest strengths all of a sudden.
Most debatable thing they did: guaranteeing three years and $21 million to Uribe. Lovable and clutch as he may have been for the Giants last year, he's never had an on-base percentage as high as .330 in ANY of his 10 big league seasons. And it's tough to identify his ideal position anymore. But the Giants weren't happy to lose him, if that means anything.
What remains to be seen: How the left-field jumble of Thames, Gabe Kapler and Tony Gwynn Jr. works out -- and, even more importantly, how Mattingly's managerial debut works out. This is a tough clubhouse. And this division leads the league in pitchers' duels, where running the game matters. So as astute and well-liked as Mattingly may be, he's in for the biggest challenge of his lifetime.
When you're coming off a season in which your bullpen just compiled the worst ERA (5.74) in National League history, it's always ingenious to hire a new GM (Kevin Towers) whose specialty is bullpen reconstruction. So it's no shocker that Towers spent the winter building bullpen inventory.
He signed Putz as his closer, traded for Hernandez and Mickolio, took left-hander Joe Patterson in the Rule 5 draft and even re-signed Mike Hampton. That won't turn this crew into the Padres' bullpen overnight. But at least this team shouldn't lose 30 games when it's either leading or tied after six innings again. (It did last year. Seriously.)
As for the rest of this roster renovation? Who the heck knows? The Diamondbacks got 57 home runs out of Reynolds and LaRoche at the infield corners last year. They'll be lucky to get half that many from their replacements -- Mora, Geoff Blum, Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady. And Duke and Galarraga (a combined 12-24, 5.13 ERA last year) don't inspire much confidence as rotation upgrades. But nobody ever pretended this wouldn't be a work in progress.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
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