This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on Jan. 23 and ending on Feb. 22 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, the offseason changes since then and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day.
We started in the American League East, worked across to the National League, tackled the Central divisions, knocked out the AL West, and now finish with the NL West, going in alphabetical order. Next up, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
2012 finish: 81-81 (3rd place, NL West)
LHP Tony Sipp, RHP Heath Bell, RHP Brandon McCarthy, RHP Randall Delgado, OF Eric Hinske, OF Cody Ross, 3B Eric Chavez, 3B Martin Prado, SS Cliff Pennington, SS Nick Ahmed, SS Didi Gregorius, C Rod Barajas
LHP Mike Zagurski, RHP Matt Lindstrom, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Bryan Shaw, RHP Trevor Bauer, OF Chris Young, OF Justin Upton, 3B Chris Johnson, 3B Josh Bell, C Henry Blanco
Why they will improve this year
Arizona may have lost two-thirds of its starting outfield from last season, but it still managed to upgrade. Upton had to go, and Young had been maddeningly inconsistent with the bat over his career in the desert.
In their places, Ross, Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton and Gerardo Parra will still make up a powerful crew. Replacing Stephen Drew with Gregorius and Pennington may be a downgrade immediately, but it is a play for the future and the long season ahead. Arizona brought in some solid depth around the infield, as well.
But the biggest reason the Diamondbacks are a sneaky, sexy pick to win the NL West this year is their pitching staff. Let this sink in: Battling for the fifth rotation spot will be Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin, Delgado and Daniel Hudson. That's a terrifying thought. The fact that they have four absolutes in the rotation before that group means they could have the best staff in the NL this season.
It's a stretch, considering they had the 12th-best starter ERA in the league in 2012, but when you look at a potential rotation with balance, youth, a good track record and lots of options, it could be a breakout year. The bullpen is a little bit worse, but it was already one of the best six bullpens in the NL last season and didn't downgrade much.
In a best-case scenario, the Diamondbacks are exactly as scary as I think they are. That means Paul Goldschmidt, Prado, Aaron Hill and Miguel Montero have big years to complement the outfielders, and the starting rotation has five or six guys on a roll. If all of that happens, the Diamondbacks might be a shocking title winner in the National League.
Why they will regress this year
Sure, Upton had a rough year in 2012. But he's still a five-tool player who is young and hungry. And a guy who is certainly better than any of the other guys he left behind in Arizona. That's a huge hole in the order that likely can't be replicated, even with a platoon of Parra and Eaton.
Arizona also lost quite a few bullpen arms and brought in guys like Bell. That is not the way to build a solid bullpen, given Bell's recent history. But the bullpen isn't the biggest reason that the D'Backs could regress in 2013.
Instead, it's the potential regression of a few of their bats. Goldschmidt has all the talent in the world but could continue to flounder in just-above-averageness, Hill likely won't produce at the same level as last season, and A's fans will tell you that Pennington is a much less valuable asset at shortstop than the front office might think.
The rotation has McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, and Wade Miley in the middle. That's only problematic because of McCarthy's injury history, Cahill's inconsistency and Miley's inexperience. I'm not sold on Ian Kennedy and expect him to put up numbers somewhere between his incredible 2011 season and mediocre 2012.
All in all, the D'Backs have a strong, young offense and a ridiculously high ceiling in the staff. But in a worst-case scenario, some of those bats struggle to progress, Kennedy continues his backward slide, and one of the other main arms misses time. If we see that happen, 81 wins or fewer is a legitimate possibility this season.
The outlook for 2013
I have a very hard time believing the Diamondbacks, even after losing a few relievers and Upton, will be worse than in 2012. It was a disappointing year in Arizona last season, and this Dodgers fan is very worried about them coming back with a vengeance in 2013.
With the Dodgers adding All-Stars and a hefty number to the payroll, and the defending champion Giants returning most of a squad that should be favorites in the division, many people are forgetting about the Diamondbacks. Like a snake lying in wait for its prey, this team is primed to make a surprise run at a division title this year. Take this as your official warning to not take them lightly.
I'm fully expecting the rotation to be golden this year, though Kennedy will be the fourth-best starter on the team. Most people don't realize what a steal they got in McCarthy, and I think Miley still went under-appreciated last season. The 'pen will be good, not great, but it will be more than enough to back such a strong rotation.
And the offense is still ridiculously powerful. I think that Goldschmidt, Prado and Montero all will have big seasons, though I'm not entirely sold on the outfield as a whole, or the middle of the infield. It's the opinion of this writer that the D'Backs improve by about eight wins and finish a close third in the division this year.
Potential changes before Opening Day
According to GM Kevin Towers, the Diamondbacks are finished with their offseason. It was a busy one for them and they made a lot of good moves, so I think they should be happy with how their roster is set. If anything, they could go out and look at a couple of the free-agent relief pitchers to fortify the bullpen.
The main focus for the Diamondbacks should be developing Gregorius at shortstop, because everyone knows Pennington isn't the answer. If he shows a lot of promise in the spring, he could be starting a lot sooner than most expect and contributing for a potential playoff team.
Biggest surprise: Adam Eaton
Biggest disappointment: Aaron Hill
Bold prediction: McCarthy, Cahill, Miley all win 15 or more games
1. Adam Eaton, CF
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Jason Kubel, LF
5. Aaron Hill, 2B
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Cody Ross, RF
8. Cliff Pennington, SS
1. Ian Kennedy, RHP
2. Brandon McCarthy, RHP
3. Wade Miley, LHP
4. Trevor Cahill, RHP
5. Tyler Skaggs, LHP
Projected finish: 88-74, 3rd place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.
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