SAN FRANCISCO — The first goal always is to win the division. Even for the champion Giants clubs of the past decade, the first benchmark they always talked about was taking the NL West and getting into the tournament.
No matter how dire it might look, the Giants again will go into this season with that goal. They believe they can surprise people, and they have one big thing going for them: Compared to the rest of the NL, the West simply isn’t very deep.
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The Dodgers have taken advantage of that, winning six consecutive NL West titles.
Here’s a look at how 2019 shapes up for the teams the Giants will try to beat:
The Favorite: Dodgers
Newcomers: A.J. Pollock, Russell Martin, Joe Kelly
What they lost: Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Manny Machado, Alex Wood, Brian Dozier, Chase Utley
It was a somewhat disappointing offseason for their fans, many of whom wanted a Bryce Harper-sized splash. But this player development machine will keep churning. They traded Kemp and Puig and plugged in Alex Verdugo, one of the game's top outfield prospects. Clayton Kershaw will miss Opening Day but they still have a pitcher in their rotation, Walker Buehler, who might be the best in the division. They missed on Harper, but there's a very real possibility that Cody Bellinger outpaces him in just about every category.
The Dodgers are the best team in the division, probably the best in the National League, and if they stay healthy they should be popping bottles in mid-September.
That's the bad news for Giants fans. The good news? The man who helped build all this is now working at Oracle Park.
The Contender: Rockies
Newcomers: Daniel Murphy
What they lost: DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottovino, Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gonzalez.
They've made back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time and the band is back together. You could argue that they should have gone all-in given their situation, but that's never been their style. Instead, the money was spent on Arenado, the league's best player and exactly the type you want leading your franchise long-term.
There are some key losses here, but Murphy should provide a boost to a lineup that isn't what you'd expect at Coors Field. The real story here is the starting staff, led by Kyle Freeland. You probably haven't heard of most these guys, but it's a very talented group and should have the Rockies in position to make another run for a postseason spot.
Stock Rising: Padres
Newcomers: Manny Machado, Ian Kinsler
What they lost: Freddy Galvis, Christian Villanueva
For years, talent evaluators have talked about the potential of the 2020 Padres. By making the biggest move of any NL West team -- the $300 million Machado deal -- the Padres potentially bumped that timeline up a year.
The real intrigue here, though, isn't with Machado.
The Padres have the best farm system in baseball, and Fernando Tatis Jr. could give them another infield superstar as early as this season. Maybe a Franmil Reyes or Manny Margot or Francisco Mejia breaks through and becomes an All-Star?
They have plenty of pitching on the way, led by Chris Paddack, but it might not arrive in time to allow the Padres to compete this year. They always find a way to put a good bullpen together at Petco Park, but this is a roster that's at least a couple of starting pitchers short.
They're probably the team in the division that could have used a cheap duo like Holland and Pomeranz, but they're relying on youth, which means they could either win 20 more games than they did a year ago and take the leap as the Braves did last year, or we could continue to look towards 2020.
Stock Falling: Diamondbacks
The newcomers: Greg Holland, Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, Wilmer Flores, Adam Jones
What they lost: Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock, Daniel Descalso, Clay Buchholz
They traded Goldschmidt, the face of the franchise, because they thought they couldn’t reach an extension. They lost Corbin, a Cy Young candidate, and Pollock, their second-best player when healthy, to free agency. That’s nearly 13 Wins Above Replacement lost from a team that went 86-76 last year, and a couple other remaining standouts could be sent off before the deadline.
Throw in a couple other vets they’ve lost and there’s a chance they drop to the bottom of the division. There’s still pitching depth, but it’s hard to see how they’re going to have a competitive lineup.