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NL West's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig

The National League West very well could wind up being the defending World Series champion Giants and Dodgers duking it out at the top of the mountain — and then everyone else planning for 2016. Let’s face it, the best thing that could happen to the Diamondbacks this year might have already occurred when Will Ferrell hilariously played left field for them in a spring training game last week against the Reds. But that doesn't mean that the NL West won’t be one of the more intriguing divisions in baseball to watch in 2015.

We are now in the heart of spring training, as mid-March signals that Opening Day is just a few more weeks away. To get you ready for the upcoming MLB season, here are a couple of storylines to keep an eye on in the NL West in 2015.

Are Tulo and CarGo Colorado trade bait?

The time is now for the Rockies. No, not time to win, that time passed last season. It is now time for new general manager Jeff Bridich to put his two best players and biggest liabilities officially on the trade block. It is time for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to be traded.

Let’s be blunt here. For the Rockies to be competitive at all in 2015 every single chip would have to fall in the most perfect of places, and I’m not one to really believe in a team whose pitching rotation is put together with duct tape and unproven arms, and as one fellow Athlon writer wrote, “retreads.” For the Rockies to be a contender would also require Tulo and CarGo to play as close to a full season as humanly possible — a tall order for those two.

In Tulowitzki’s eight big-league seasons he has played in 150 games or more just twice. Last season Tulo played in just 91 games after undergoing surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip. When he is healthy, Tulo is well worth the price of admission, whether you’re a fan of those who swing the bat or flash the leather. In a little more than half a season, Tulowitzki was putting together an MVP-caliber 2014 campaign, hitting .340/.432/.603 with a ridiculous OPS of 1.035 (OPS+ of 171), to go along with 21 homers, 18 doubles and 52 RBIs.

Tulowitzki is entering his age 30 season and is owed at minimum $114 million until 2020, with a $15 million club option for ’21. That is a lot of dough to keep in limbo for a franchise player on a club desperate for wins.

The Rockies are in the same boat with Gonzalez. When he is healthy enough, CarGo is one of the game’s best five-tool players. Problem is, he is rarely healthy, as he has played in more than 135 games just once in seven seasons. That one time was in 2010 when he slashed .336/.376/.598, led the NL in total bases, batting average and hits, finished third in the NL MVP voting and was award a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove. In 2014, Cargo appeared in just 70 games and was sidelined after having a benign tumor removed from his left index finger and also having surgery to repair the patella tendon in his left knee.

How much longer can the Rockies keep their fingers crossed on the health of their franchise players? Hard to say. What needs to be said is that it is time for Colorado to cut ties with Tulo and CarGo and start rebuilding for the long-term future.

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MV-Puig?

On a good day, Yasiel Puig can set the baseball world on fire, hitting bombs into Dodgertown, stealing bases, making impossible throws from the warning track, stretching doubles into triples. On a bad day, Puig can make the SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10” list, showing up late to the ballpark, arguing with manager Don Mattingly, overthrowing cutoff men, striking out on three straight pitches. Both his flaws and his talents are the reasons that legendary Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully has dubbed Puig “The Wild Horse.”

Now is the time for Puig to put it all together and be the MVP for one of the National League’s top contenders. There isn’t a single player in the NL that has all of the tools that Puig does, except for maybe Andrew McCutchen — maybe.

Puig dazzled us when he arrived to The Show in 2013. He instantly became a household name with his play and his antics, and we all welcomed it. But when the antics spilled over into his second season, baseball shook its collective head. While Puig still had an All-Star 2014 (.296/.382/.480, 37 doubles)  it didn’t quite live up to the promise we all saw in ‘13. Puig hit just five home runs in his final 100 games last season after hitting 11 in the first 48. He hit 14 round-trippers in 2013, even though he played in 44 fewer games (104) than he did in ’14 (148) and finished with the same number of stolen bases (11) too.

With the loss of the resurgent Matt Kemp to San Diego, the presence of an aging Carl Crawford in left field, and the insertion of rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson, it is now Puig’s time to be the leading man in Hollywood’s outfield. If the Dodgers have hopes of making it to the World Series in 2015, they will only go as far The Wild Horse takes them.

Are the new-look Padres for real?

I hope you didn’t hibernate this winter, because if you did you won’t recognize the San Diego Padres. New general manager A.J. Preller turned the heat up on the hot stove by making several trades to improve one of baseball’s weakest offenses in an attempt to halt a postseason drought that has lasted almost a decade. Preller made moves that brought in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. Kemp, Upton and Norris have been All-Stars, while Myers and Middlebrooks were once considered among the top prospects in the game.

While a lot has been about those moves, much depends on the health of those players acquired. Upton is the closest to a sure thing out of the new guys after he hit .270/.342/.491 in 2014 with 29 homers, 34 doubles and 102 RBIs. Kemp had a great bounce back in the second half last season after what seemed like an eternity jumping on and off the disabled list. While Kemp may never reach the his near-MVP numbers from 2011, he has proven that he can still be very productive on a daily lineup card.

Middlebrooks and Myers both took turns for the worse in 2014. Middlebrooks hit just .191 in 63 games with the Red Sox, a far cry from the .288 average and 15 homers he posted in his rookie campaign in 2012. Myers missed most of his sophomore season thanks to a broken wrist. When Myers was healthy, he wasn’t the same player that won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, hitting just .222/.294/.320 in half a season’s work.

Norris was one of seven A’s All-Stars in 2014, hitting .270/.361/.403 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs as a catcher. Norris is only 26 and has improved noticeably in each of his three seasons. 

With a rotation that features free-agent acquisition James Shields, a promising Andrew Cashner and first-time All-Star Tyson Ross, along with a bullpen that compiled the second-best ERA in 2014, the Padres have a very realistic chance at making some noise on the West Coast this summer. 

- By Jake Rose