Around the Horn: State of the Division

With the San Diego Padres at the bottom of the NL West in 2003, they have several rungs to climb to get back into the mix. Scouting the direct competition and finding ways to beat the teams they play the most, specifically the Giants, is a must. While the Friars try to upgrade their team, the rest of the division will be doing the same…

San Francisco Giants:

Left fielder Barry Bonds is awaiting the National League MVP announcement. He's favored to win the award, which would be his record sixth.

He's also waiting to testify before a grand jury. That'll happen Dec. 4 as part of an investigation of a Bay Area nutritional supplement lab. Bonds was a client of Victor Conte, who ran the lab, which has been under federal scrutiny for months. In September, BALCO was raided by the IRS, the Food and Drug Administration and the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force.

"From our perspective, the key issue is whether there is, in fact, a designer steroid," said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations and human resources. "Our understanding is, there is. And if that all turns out to be the case, we'll use the provisions in our existing agreement to seek to add the substance among the panel of substances we already test for."

RHP Jason Schmidt is expected to be ready in April after undergoing 40-minute elbow surgery to repair a tendon tear in his right elbow and remove scar tissue. He'll start throwing as early as December, but he might not throw off a mound until spring training.

"If he's not ready by Opening Day, I suspect it will be shortly thereafter," trainer Stan Conte said. "I do not see this lingering into the season."

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Dodgers GM Dan Evans has no information on the team's payroll for 2004. He doesn't even know if he'll be employed in three weeks.

"We've got decisions to make regardless of the ownership situation," said Evans.

So with a new ownership group poised to take control of the team, Evans and manager Jim Tracy met with other members of the front office to evaluate players and chart a course for the offseason.

Evans and Tracy both have contracts for next season, but neither is guaranteed a job once McCourt takes charge. Speculation continues to hover around Oakland GM Billy Beane. Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti could draw interest, as could current Dodgers farm director Bill Bavasi.

Evans has not made offers to any of the team's free agents, though the ownership situation may prevent him from doing so. LHP Wilson Alvarez and LHP Tom Martin were expected to be offered contracts. The team also might be interested in bringing back 1B/3B Robin Ventura in a reserve role.

Colorado Rockies:

With RHPs Jose Jimenez and Steve Reed allowed free agency, the next decision deals with RHP Justin Speier, and that most likely won't come until Dec. 20.

GM Dan O'Dowd has said he would like to re-sign Jimenez and Reed, but it would have to be at a major salary adjustment from what they might anticipate. Speier made $850,000 last year and is arbitration eligible, which means the Rockies have until Dec. 20 to tender him a contract. They will use that time to see if they can work out a deal.

They are looking into converting young starters Aaron Cook and Adam Bernero into middle-relief roles last permanently. Cook had opened the season in the Rockies rotation, and Bernero was a starter in Detroit before being dealt to the Rockies. The sleeper is Scott Dohmann, who was moved into the bullpen at Double-A Tulsa last year after making four starts for Tulsa. He's pitching in the Arizona Fall League right now. The team will have no closer and don't figure to explore that option until spring.

Arizona Diamondbacks:

With $65 million already committed to 10 players, financial considerations will dominate the Diamondbacks' free-agent and trade plan started this week.

GM Joe Garagiola Jr. spent last week in Florida trying to gauge the degree of trade interest at the World Series. "You always keep your ears open for everything," Garagiola said.

The team is considering dealing Curt Schilling and they have two weeks left of exclusive negotiating rights with RHP Miguel Batista and INF Carlos Baerga. They also must decide by the middle of this week whether to pick up the 2005 option for $3.75 million on INF Craig Counsell, who will earn $3.15 million in 2004.

Baerga led the team with a franchise-record 19 pinch hits last season and has been a steady influence on fellow Puerto Rico native Alex Cintron, who took over the shortstop duties and batted .317. Baerga has made it clear he would love to stay.

Batista tied for the team lead with 10 wins and hurled a personal-best 193 1/3 innings, but he could be expendable with RHPs John Patterson and Edgar Gonzalez ready to step in the rotation.

The Diamondbacks also will examine the list of first basemen available through free agency. Although they don't figure to be big spenders because of a payroll ceiling around $80 million, they could find a bargain. They are looking at deals to land Richie Sexson or Derek Lee, but finances are a consideration.

2B Junior Spivey, who will earn $2.365 next season, could be expendable with Counsell or Matt Kata capable of taking over his position.

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