Last offseason the Arizona Diamondbacks saw an opportunity to take control of the National League West. They’d finished third in the division just four games below .500 at 79-83 but performed quite well against the rest of the NL West going 39-37.
Both the Dodgers and Giants had underwhelming rotations, with LA’s Zack Greinke becoming a free agent and San Francisco not having much behind ace Madison Bumgarner. Their lineups were ok, but with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and Yasmany Tomas, the Diamondbacks felt they could match it with the two big clubs.
That opportunity led Arizona to bring in Greinke on a six-year, $206.5 million contract, while they also acquired right-handed starter Shelby Miller from Atlanta and shortstop Jean Segura from the Brewers.
The biggest loss was former number one pick Dansby Swanson, a shortstop who made his debut in mid-August with the Braves before going on to hit .302 with 11 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 38 games.
Those three moves would be heavily scrutinized all throughout the 2016 season. It was a year that certainly didn’t go to plan for the D-Backs as they finished with a 69-93 record and were 22 games back of the division crown in the fourth spot.
Manager Chip Hale and general manager Dave Stewart lost their jobs in response to the poor showing, while Chief Baseball Officer Tony LaRussa was demoted to a lesser role within the organisation. Instead, the Diamondbacks will be led into a new era with a host of former Red Sox executives including Mike Hazen, the team’s new Vice President and general manager. Amiel Sawdaye and Jared Porter will join him in the front office, while the new manager is none other than former Boston bench coach Torey Luvollo.
It’s promising to see that so many changes were made to the front office and coaching panel to try to create a new dynamic, but a baseball organization operates with one purpose: to win championships. World Series-type success is by no means going to be the benchmark for this team moving forward, but they certainly have to try and finish at or above .500 for the first time since 2013.
They’ve started to right the ship off the field, but now they’ve got to do it with the players they put on the field. One name that’s continually been thrown up in trade talks is Shelby Miller, who won all of three games last year while pitching to a 6.15 ERA in 20 appearances.
His season was interrupted by a finger injury, but his overall performance was well below what had been hoped considering Arizona gave up a former number one overall pick and a promising young outfielder to get him.
The 26-year-old had career lows in almost every major category, as opposing hitters owned a .310 average and .867 OPS against him. With the free agency market lacking much in the way of appealing starters, Miller could certainly fetch Arizona a reasonable return despite his poor showing last year.
Even if the Diamondbacks decided to ship Miller away, they could easily build their rotation around Zack Greinke and a host of young talent including 24-year-olds Robbie Ray and Braden Shipley, 23-year-old Archie Bradley, 26-year-olds Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley and 27-year-old Rubby De La Rosa.
Arizona allowed 890 runs last year, easily the worst in the National League but also one better than Minnesota who topped the American League with 889. Their rotation was the worst in the NL as they put together an ERA of 5.19, yet the bullpen only fared a little better as they were the fourth-worst in the league.
It would be reasonable to expect some improvement from Greinke, but Arizona needs the rest of their young starters to continue their development and start bringing their ERA’s of about 5.00 down closer to 4.00. De La Rosa is one who is capable of helping the Diamondbacks win more games in 2017.
Just two years ago the right-hander won 14 games though his ERA was still quite high at 4.67 across 32 starts. With numbers like that, you start to get the sense that Arizona’s most recent success has relied heavily on the offense scoring runs. When they failed to do so last year, the team as whole struggles. A little bit of help on the pitching side of things could make a big difference.
The return of A.J. Pollock to hit at the top of the lineup should also help Arizona’s chances quite a bit. The soon to be 29-year-old was an All-Star in 2015 as he slashed .315/.367/.498 with 20 home runs, 39 doubles, 76 RBIs and 39 stolen bases. It was a breakout campaign for Pollock, and there’s no doubt that he would have been gutted not to have the opportunity to back that up. If the right-hander can return to that form and be among the best center fielders in the National League, Arizona’s offense could start to reap the benefits.
Their outfield was horrendous this year after Brandon Drury, and Michael Bourn started the most games in left field and center field respectively. The good news is Pollock will be back while David Peralta should greatly improve on his four home runs and 15 RBIs of 2016.
The Diamondbacks could certainly use some help in the bullpen though they aren’t expected to be in on one of the big-name closers. Instead, guys like Joaquin Benoit, Drew Storen or Koji Uehara could give them some more depth and help keep the game close once the starter exits the game. If Arizona decided that their depth of starters wasn’t too appealing, they could easily add a buy-low option from the free agency market. The likes of Jorge De La Rosa or Ross Detwiler both seem to fit that mold, potentially slotting in as the fourth starter behind Greinke, Miller, and Robbie Ray.
Arizona’s in a really interesting position with an offence that’s ready to contend but a pitching staff that’s still trying to figure things out and establish itself in the big leagues.
If they can start to hit more like they did in 2015 while getting just a little bit more help from their pitchers, the D-Backs may be capable of sneaking into a Wild Card position next year. Continued failures in 2017 may however lead to a complete tear down and rebuild that would see the likes of Goldschmidt, Peralta, Pollock and Segura depart the organisation.