MLB 2012: NL wide open after turbulent offseason

By Jay Cohen

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 24 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

That type of bad luck seems to be the norm in Pittsburgh, which did make a couple of positive moves in the offseason. All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen signed a new contract, and former fan favorite Nate McLouth is back after a tough couple of years in Atlanta. Also, look for Casey McGehee to push promising slugger Pedro Alvarez at third.

CHICAGO CUBS

Theomania took over Chicago when Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein agreed to become Cubs president in October. By the time the offseason was over, there was a whole new crew in charge of the baseball team at Wrigley Field. Jed Hoyer left San Diego to become the general manager, and Dale Sveum was hired as manager.

Even with Pujols and Fielder on the market, Epstein and company stayed quiet during free agency and talked openly about building through scouting and player development. That means it could be another difficult season on the North Side.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Houston's last year in the National League likely will be a forgettable one. The Astros, who lost 106 games last season, begin the season with Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation and Carlos Lee at first base, but both veterans could be moved if new general manager Jeff Luhnow sees an opportunity to upgrade the farm system.

The Astros used 21 rookies in 2011, including prospects Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez, and could have the youngest team in the NL this season. They will move to the AL West in 2013.

WEST

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

All the components for a championship team are here. There's the solid rotation, fronted by Kennedy and boosted by the acquisition of Cahill. The offense is dynamic, led by All-Stars Justin Upton and Miguel Montero. There is depth in the bullpen and on the bench, and reigning NL Manager of the Year Gibson in the dugout.

The Diamondbacks even have stud pitching prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler waiting in the minors in case of injuries or poor performance.

The biggest variable for the defending West champions is shortstop Stephen Drew, who is working his way back from an ugly right ankle injury. Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald should be able to fill in adequately while Drew is out.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

The Giants used two different avenues to bolster their lineup over the winter. They traded for outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, and they just got healthy.

Posey, the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, is back after tearing three ligaments in his left ankle and fracturing a bone in his lower leg in that ugly collision in May. Posey was batting .284 at the time of the season-ending injuries, and the Giants sorely missed his presence behind the plate and in the lineup. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez had right shoulder surgery in August and is expected to be at full strength again.

The return of Posey, plus the continued brilliance of ace right-hander Tim Lincecum, makes San Francisco a strong contender to reach the playoffs once again. It just doesn't look like enough to catch Arizona in the division.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

All Matt Kemp did last year was hit .324 with a career-high 39 homers, 126 RBIs and 40 steals. It was good enough for second in the MVP voting behind Braun, and the Dodgers rewarded the Gold Glove center fielder with a $160 million, eight-year contract — even with the ownership situation in flux.

Now all they have to do is get him some help.

Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young Award last season, and the Dodgers signed veteran pitchers Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang to round out the rotation. But right fielder Andre Ethier is coming off right knee surgery and first baseman James Loney had an up-and-down season in 2011. Increased production from the pair of key veterans could move Los Angeles to the top of the division.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki form one of the majors' best 1-2 offensive combinations. Michael Cuddyer left the Minnesota Twins to sign a free-agent deal with Colorado over the winter, adding more punch to the Rockies' lineup.

Colorado has a group of promising candidates for the rotation, but they're mostly young and unproven. The notable exception is 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, who is attempting a comeback from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow that sidelined him all of last season.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

The Padres are rebuilding once again, but there is some promise in San Diego. First baseman Yonder Alonso, acquired from Cincinnati in the Latos deal, has the perfect line-drive swing for Petco Park, and right-hander Edinson Volquez could rebound under the tutelage of manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley. Carlos Quentin, who came over in a trade with the Chicago White Sox, was having a nice spring before he was sidelined by arthroscopic right knee surgery.

San Diego should be better than its 71-91 record from a year ago. But the improvement probably won't be enough to move out of the basement of the division.

AP Sports Writers Rob Maaddi, Joe Kay and R.B. Fallstrom, and AP freelance writer Bob Huhn contributed to this report.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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