Around the Horn: The NL West

The San Diego Padres have their work cut out for them. Trevor Hoffman was just the first piece of that puzzle. Now the Padres must align the rest of the roster to compete in the NL West. Here is a look at what the other team's in the division are up to:

Arizona Diamondbacks:

The Diamondbacks kept an eye on the future as they declined to pick up the $3.75 million option for 2005 on INF Craig Counsell.

The move wipes out a 2006 option. Under a uniquely structured contract, Counsell will earn $4.25 million in 2005 should the Diamondbacks elect to pick up his option after the 2004 season. Counsell, who has missed two months in each of the past two seasons because of neck and thumb injuries, will earn $3.15 million in 2004.

"2005 is a long ways away as far as our budget, the makeup of the team and the roles," GM Joe Garagiola Jr. said.

The team apparently is in no rush to re-sign RHP Miguel Batista, its top free agent. Martin Arburua, Batista's agent, indicated his client wants to re-sign with the Diamondbacks but stressed that the two sides haven't exchanged offers. The team gave Batista a $300,000 buyout instead of a $5 million option.

Agent Alan Meersand has suggested that the Diamondbacks trade catcher Chad Moeller, who hardly played in the second half after handling the Opening Day duties.

"When they sat Chad down (in early August), he was batting .284," Meersand said. "At the very worst, he can handle the duties on a 50-50 basis, with the potential to become a 120-130-game catcher.

"His heart was broken by the decision. I don't want the Diamondbacks to bring him back as a second or third catcher. He's too young (28) to be sitting around."

Colorado Rockies:

J.D. Closser is the Rockies' catcher of the future, and the switch-hitting Closser would like to make the future sooner rather than later. After spending the last two offseasons in the Arizona Fall League and the last two regular seasons at Double-A, Closser is playing for Estrellas in the Dominican Republic this winter.

"Going to that environment and facing that pitching is a good test for him," said Bill Geivett, director of player personnel and development, "not only for catching, but for swinging the bat as well."

"It's another avenue we need to use to help our players develop," said Geivett.

--LHP Darren Oliver, who led the Rockies with 13 wins last year and had a 5.04 ERA, filed for free agency. He's believed to be looking for a two-year deal after resurrecting his career with the Rockies last season at the bargain price of $350,000. Other Rockies who filed for free agency were RHP Steve Reed, the team's all-time leader in appearances and saves, 3Bs Chris Stynes and Greg Norton, C Greg Zaun and OF Mark Sweeney. Stynes and Norton, at least, figure to return, and the Rockies are expected to try to keep Zaun. The Rockies declined the option on Stynes' contract for 2004 but remain hopeful that they will be able to re-sign him. The two sides have discussed the situation. Stynes will receive a $200,000 buyout instead of a $1.2 million salary.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

OF Brian Jordan and RHP Paul Quantrill became free agents for different reasons last week.

The Dodgers paid Jordan a $2.5 million buyout instead of picking up a $10.5 million option for next season. Quantrill used his own option to void the final year of his contract, walking away from a guaranteed $3.1 million.

The departure of both players would seem to put some money in the Dodgers' own free-agent fund. Also, RHP Andy Ashby did not pitch enough innings to guarantee an $8.5 million option.

Jordan's departure was expected. He has struggled with health problems in two seasons with the Dodgers after he was acquired from Atlanta in the Gary Sheffield trade. Jordan had season-ending knee surgery in July.

Quantrill wanted to negotiate an extension, but Evans was either unable or unwilling to open talks. Evans said he needed to focus on improving the offense, which scored the fewest runs in the major leagues last season. Quantrill already was among the highest-paid setup relievers in the game, but he should have value on the open market. He led the major leagues with 89 appearances and finished with a 1.75 ERA.

"If there's any area we can afford a departure, it's the bullpen." -- GM Dan Evans, after Paul Quantrill voided his $3.1 million salary for next season and filed for free agency.

RF Shawn Green said his right shoulder was ahead of schedule following arthroscopic surgery Oct. 13. Green, who appeared at a shelter for wildfire evacuees in San Bernardino, said he has begun his rehab program and was looking forward to a full recovery.

San Francisco Giants:

Dusty Baker's Cubs went a long way this year, much farther than most anyone, including Baker, anticipated. Baker still says his final team in San Francisco was better than his first team in Chicago.

"That team went to the World Series," Baker said of the '02 Giants, "and this team was about to go to the World Series. Last year, we had a better team than I had this year. We (the Giants) didn't lose 95 games the year before. We were coming up on the World Series four or five years in a row.

"My guys this year performed admirably, but it took us awhile to build that Giant team to go to the World Series. We had more hitting. We had more power. We were No. 1 in defense. Think about it: We did this really quickly this year. Next year is a test of how good you really are. You've got to do it in consecutive years.

"I'm not taking anything away from my Cub team. We were good. But that Giants team was very good."

Benito Santiago, JT Snow and Rich Aurilia are free agents, and the Giants don't appear convinced they'll sign any of them. It's not exactly the '97 Marlins revisited. That team went in the tank in '98, one year after its World Series championship, while the Giants won 100 games after appearing in the World Series.

Nevertheless, last spring, when the Giants reported to training camp, their post-World Series roster wasn't completely recognizable, and expect more of the same next spring.

With so many changes planned for the offseason -- the Giants could lose four players from their everyday lineup -- the team has lots of options.

Pedro Feliz, who showed power potential in 2003 (16 homers, 235 at-bats) despite a .247 average, might be in the middle of any reshaping. Feliz could replace J.T. Snow, a free agent, at first base. Or he could play third, which would prompt a domino effect.

Third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo would move to second, second baseman Ray Durham would move to center and center fielder Marquis Grissom would move to right.

Feliz played left field for the first time. Right field is open now that Jose Cruz Jr.'s option wasn't exercised.

RHP Jason Schmidt is expected to start throwing as early as December after undergoing right elbow surgery. But the Giants won't promise that their ace will be ready by Opening Day.


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