As the prospect of a 2012 postseason in Arizona gradually slips away, it is time to plan ahead for the 2013 season.
Eligible for free agency or contract consideration are Joe Saunders, Takashi Saito, Miguel Montero, Lyle Overbay, Stephen Drew, J.J. Putz and Henry Blanco, and while some of these players may prove valuable for Arizona in 2013, the Diamondbacks are just as much in a state of flux as the team is in a desire to return to uncharted territory.
It is time to consider the 10 most important Diamondbacks players for next season.
With recent indications that Arizona will exercise Putz's option and allow the reliever to return in 2013, the Diamondbacks consider Putz's recent performance, which, although his 29 saves in 2012 is certainly a deviation from an NL-third-best 45 saves in 2011, the club by virtue of its 2012 record relative to 2011 has also given Putz less of an opportunity to strut his stuff.
For instance, Putz has blown five saves this season, most recently back-to-back chances to begin September, though his 29-of-34 rate (85.3 percent) is indeed higher than his career average of 82.2 percent.
For Putz and Arizona, if indeed the Diamondbacks renew the closer, the spring will be absolutely vital and will serve as an important preview of the 2013 championship season.
If the future of Arizona closing does not lie with Putz, the D-Backs have indicated they are vetting youngster David Hernandez, Arizona's setup man, who on Sept. 11 was given the honor of closing the door on the Los Angeles Dodgers to claim both his third save of 2012 and Arizona's first 1-0 victory of the season.
In a regular role with the Arizona bullpen this season, Hernandez has improved upon his 2011 line and established several personal records—his 2.47 ERA, .185 batting average against and 1.03 WHIP are all career bests while his 89 strikeouts in just 62.0 innings of work—a 1.44 strikeouts-per-inning ratio—is not just sizzling, it has eclipsed his previous high of 77 strikeouts in 69.1 innings pitched with three weeks left to play in the 2012 regular season.
Come 2013 and whether Putz is around or otherwise, Hernandez will be a key component out of the bullpen, regardless of whether he will be working inning No. 8 or No. 9.
With one win and two losses, a 6.06 ERA and 1.65 WHIP, Bauer certainly did not live up to expectations and a minor league promise that now sits at 13-4 and an ERA of 3.00.
Yet the 21-year-old Bauer is hardly the first pitcher to have debuted too early and like those before him, Bauer will find his way. If Clayton Kershaw is any indication, for instance, a mediocre debut season, after some fine-tuning, could turn into an NL Cy Young Award in a few years.
As 2013 approaches, Bauer may or may not be ready to compete with the big league club, meaning his importance may not be that great, simply because of this uncertainty.
However, if Bauer does find his way to success, this ranking could very well skyrocket as the Diamondbacks prepare to welcome a new hurler to the rotation.
With a 2012 OPS of .857, including a career-high 29 home runs, Kubel is far from the washed-up veteran many fans picture when a team acquires a seasoned athlete to supplement an every-day ballplayer five years his junior (e.g., Gerardo Parra).
Accordingly, Kubel will remain a vital piece of the Arizona puzzle in 2013, when hopefully, dazzling home run-robbing catches such as this game-saving leap will start to receive more national attention than a diving miss in which Bryce Harper breaks his belt.
After coming over from Toronto in 2011, second baseman Aaron Hill has clearly enjoyed his time in the desert: In his two years with Arizona, Hill is batting .035 points higher and slugging .092 better with an OPS+ of 126 with Arizona, compared to just 92 while with the Blue Jays.
In other words, the 2009 Blue Jays MVP, All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner has actually put on a better 2012 season in both batting average and OPS than he did in 2009.
So while Hill may occasionally get lost in the shuffle, the veteran infielder has found himself on several hot streaks during the 2012 season's second half, which ultimately bodes quite well heading into 2013.
With four minor league All-Star nods from the Pioneer to the PCL, center fielder Adam Eaton is perhaps the most intriguing position player prospect to have made the trip to Arizona during this season's September call-ups period.
Through six games and just 28 at-bats, Eaton has compiled 10 hits and a .357 batting average/.829 OPS in his first MLB go-around.
He also has one stolen base in one attempt.
Yet perhaps just as incredible as Eaton's offensive performance at the big league level has been his glove. From turning a masterful double play against San Diego to completing a diving catch that would rival the likes of soon-to-be AL Rookie of the Year and Angels outfielder Mike Trout, Eaton is quickly eating up all five tools and it has only been one week.
If he continues his hectic pace, expect 2013 to be a big season for Eaton and the D-Backs.
Paul Goldschmidt might be coming into his own, posting a .287 batting average and .857 OPS in 2012, but just because the sophomore first baseman continues to improve should not signal complacency.
Goldy was instrumental in helping the 2011 squad reach the postseason and once there, drilling a grand slam during Game 3 of the 2011 NLDS to become just the third rookie to granny in postseason history.
Goldschmidt's 2011 debut solved the Diamondbacks' woes at first base, though with Ryan Wheeler alternating backup duties between first and the hot corner, Goldschmidt cannot afford to lose focus.
In 2013, Goldschmidt may cement his role as the consistent right-side infielder, though such persistence should not overshadow the great importance Goldschmidt bears in the Arizona lineup.
With all the Bauer buzz in mid-2012, southpaw Wade Miley may have flown under the radar in his first full season of MLB action, putting up a 15-9 record and 3.07 ERA to match a 1.15 WHIP and 123 strikeouts in 170.0 innings of work.
Miley has been a quality pitcher for Arizona, putting up several quality starts in the second half, though no month has been successful for Miley as has April, a month in which he boasts a .133 batting average against and 0.81 WHIP. His April ERA is just 1.29.
Miley has been a nice surprise for Arizona in 2012, a surprise whose importance will grow in 2013 as the club rebuilds and prepares to reclaim the NL West crown.
After a career year in 2011, Ian Kennedy found himself slipping slightly in 2012, falling from an NL-co-leading 21 wins to just 13, growing an opposing average of .227 to .266 and experiencing a WHIP increase of .020.
Still, Kennedy—who is arbitration-eligible—is still a fairly young pitcher with promise and one that Arizona will turn to as an ace, hoping Kennedy will return to the form that helped guide the D-Backs to the 2011 postseason.
As Kennedy battled Clayton Kershaw en route to a 1-0 victory Tuesday night, he shut out the Dodgers over 7.1 innings and for at least one evening, reminded Arizona of the fourth-leading Cy Young vote getter Arizona had seen in 2011, the same pitcher who will need to perform in 2013 to bring Arizona back to the postseason.
When the Diamondbacks played into October of 2011, Justin Upton had completed a season in which he recorded career bests in home runs (31), RBI (88), doubles (39), steals (21) and slugging percentage (.529).
As the Diamondbacks came up short in 2012, Upton suffered a power failure, due in part to injury.
The 2012 Diamondbacks are just 11-23 in one-run games, worst in the National League and several players own below-average marks in the "late & close OPS" category.
Leading the charge amongst this 2012 big-player mediocrity is Justin Upton, who at .505 in "late & close OPS" is operating at almost 250 points below his seasonal OPS of .752, which is still far off the pace of his 2011 OPS of .898.
Yes, the Diamondbacks are struggling in close games and it is not because of pitching. If the Diamondbacks wish to improve in such situations in 2013, it must start with two-time All-Star Justin Upton.