Trade-happy West teams make big offseason moves to improve
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Bud Black practically skipped off to practice despite the gray skies, eager to take the field for another day of spring training drills in the desert with his rebuilt San Diego roster.
Who could blame the skipper for being a little more lively? He has the highest expectations for San Diego in years and an entirely new starting outfield, one that both Black and newcomer Matt Kemp rank right up there with the best in baseball.
Clubs traded up and down the California coast in recent months. They dealt players to division rivals.
Forgive yourself for mixing up just who went where in a wild winter of change - especially in California.
Looking around the West, and the NL West in particular, dozens of familiar faces began playing Cactus League games this week in new uniforms.
Even Chip Hale, Arizona's first-year manager, left his job as Oakland bench coach to lead the Diamondbacks. Barry Zito, last in the majors pitching with the Giants in 2013, is trying for a comeback with his original Athletics team.
The trade-happy A's made an unprecedented - yes, even for them - nine swaps involving 27 players this action-packed offseason. The Dodgers and Padres struck major deals within the division.
Black's organization was so busy he now might offer, ''No trades, no transactions,'' during his daily spring updates.
''I was excited,'' Black said of watching the overhaul by general manager A.J. Preller. ''We've still got to catch two teams, the World Series champions and the Dodgers, who won 94 games.''
Los Angeles sent Kemp farther south in Southern California to the Padres, who were in need of a power bat. The Dodgers picked up shortstop Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies.
''It's like the power's shifting out West, where it was East for sooo long,'' Rollins said. ''And even if it wasn't East, the perception was it was the East, doesn't matter if it was true.''
Oakland shipped off a trio of All-Stars in third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, outfielder Brandon Moss to Cleveland and catcher Derek Norris to San Diego. That was just the start of it for general manager Billy Beane.
A's assistant GM David Forst can chuckle now about the constant dealing of players that topped even some of Oakland's busiest winters in the past.
''We had a lot of fun, for sure,'' Forst said. ''We worked a lot this offseason, both on and off the field. This was as busy as we've been, for a reason. We felt at the end of last year that we had a team that probably wasn't going to go in the right direction in 2015.''
Manager Bob Melvin had to check the backs of jerseys to learn all the names of his new players at FanFest last month.
''You notice it because you hear about it,'' Angels slugger Albert Pujols said of the switcheroos. ''Obviously, the National League and the American League West have done some huge moves. I think it's going to be two good divisions to watch. It seems like over the last four years that's how it's been.''
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez will put the NL West up against any other division in baseball. The Giants have won three of the past five World Series, while Los Angeles is defending division champ.
''The West has always been one of the better divisions in baseball,'' he said. ''Nothing new, nothing unexpected. Every year is a well-fought battle.''
And nobody expects either Western division to be decided until the late September stretch run. Not with the balance of talent and upgraded lineups and pitching staffs all around.
Kemp and the remade Padres, 77-game winners in 2014, plan to chase their first playoff berth since 2006.
''It's interesting to see what happens,'' Kemp said. ''Here in California we have some really good teams. Everybody's making moves, everybody's getting better. I think our front office has expressed how much they want to win and what they'll do to win. They're putting all the right guys on the field to be successful.''
New Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi joined Los Angeles from the A's, so he had interest in watching Oakland's moves - even speaking with Beane - while working on his own.
''It's great for baseball that there's this much interest and intrigue with these teams out here,'' Zaidi said. ''The teams in our division all evaluate players differently and have different philosophies on how to build a team. That diversity should be celebrated. It's going to be a fun season for fans of the NL West how this thing unfolds. The baseball fan in me finds it really interesting and fascinating.''