There are few teams that have been as active as the Arizona Diamondbacks on the trade market the last two years. Despite a lot of moves, there are doubts about how much better these deals have made the team.
The Diamondbacks finished last season at the break-even mark (81-81) and didn't do much to make themselves much better on paper this year.
"Interesting" is a word that can have positive or negative connotations when describing a team, but it feels appropriate for Arizona. This is a team that identified a weakness with the lineup—in this case, lack of power—and tried to fix it by acquiring Mark Trumbo.
Playing in the National League West is a disadvantage for a team like Arizona, when the Los Angeles Dodgers have an unlimited wallet and superstar talent all over the field.
The Diamondbacks do have the arms to match anyone in the division, including the Dodgers. A lot of things will have to go right for them to make the playoffs, but there is exciting talent to watch.
To showcase what Arizona will be looking at heading into the season, here's a look at where the team stands as pitchers and catchers report.
3B/OF Mark Trumbo (traded from Los Angeles Angels), RHP Addison Reed (traded from Chicago White Sox), C Henry Blanco (free agent), RHP Bronson Arroyo (free agent), RHP A.J. Schugel (traded from Los Angeles Angels), OF Brandon Jacobs (traded from Chicago White Sox)
LHP Tyler Skaggs (traded to Los Angeles Angels), 3B Matt Davidson (traded to Chicago White Sox), CF Adam Eaton (traded to Chicago White Sox), 3B Willie Bloomquist (free agent), C Wil Nieves (free agent)
The Diamondbacks gave up a lot of young, cost-controlled talent in Tyler Skaggs, Matt Davidson and Adam Eaton for players who are going to get expensive in the next year or two (Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed).
It's a risky strategy, but general manager Kevin Towers told Steve Gilbert of MLB.com that pairing a player like Trumbo with last year's breakout star Paul Goldschmidt was too much to pass up.
Two of the probably better right-handed power bats in the National League. Excited for spring training. Excited to see how it all works. Had to give up a lot to get it, but I think we're all pretty happy with how things worked out.
The interesting thing is Trumbo doesn't seem to fit the mold of what Towers wanted the Diamondbacks to be. He's an all-or-nothing hitter, striking out or hitting a homer in 35 percent of his at-bats last season, but boasting a .299 career on-base percentage.
Addison Reed brings his escalating fly-ball rate (45.4 percent in 2013) from U.S. Cellular Field to Chase Field. He's also one year away from getting a big raise in arbitration thanks to 69 saves the last two years, meaning he has to hit big for the Diamondbacks this year to be worth it.
Like Reed, Bronson Arroyo is an extreme flyball pitcher taking a spot in Arizona's rotation. He gave up a league-leading 32 homers last season, which doesn't bode well for his future with the Diamondbacks.
Daniel Hudson, RHP
One reason the Diamondbacks needed to sign Bronson Arroyo for the starting rotation is because Daniel Hudson, who had a breakout 2011 season with a 3.49 ERA in 222 innings, had two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow in less than one year.
The second operation was performed last June, leaving huge question marks about when Hudson will be able to pitch again and how effective he will be if he does return.
Having one elbow reconstruction surgery is dangerous, but two in less than one year doesn't seem like something you just return from.
Steve Gilbert of MLB.com wrote after Hudson re-signed a minor league deal with Arizona that the right-hander "is likely to miss most, if not all, of 2014." That makes sense considering how much Hudson has at stake with his next comeback attempt.
Being conservative to ensure he's 100 percent healthy with a real chance to make it back to the big leagues is Hudson's best path to success.
Matt Reynolds, LHP
Matt Reynolds was in the midst of his best year as an MLB pitcher in 2013, with a 1.98 ERA in 27.1 innings, when he had to be shut down in early June with elbow problems.
After trying to rehab the injury, Reynolds underwent Tommy John surgery in late September and, using the typical 12-month recovery time, isn't likely to pitch in the big leagues this season.
Arizona Diamondbacks Coaching Staff (Seasons with team)
|Manager: Kirk Gibson (fourth season)|
|Hitting Coach: Turner Ward (second season)|
|Pitching Coach: Mike Harkey (first season)|
|First Base Coach: Dave McKay (first season)|
|Third Base Coach: Glenn Sherlock (17th season)|
|Bench Coach: Alan Trammell (fourth season)|
|Bullpen Coach: Mel Stottlemyre (third season)|
If you had asked me to discuss the Diamondbacks relationship with both manager Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers, I would have said they had to make the playoffs, or at least come close, in order to save their jobs.
Instead, with both entering the final year of their previous contracts in 2014, ownership rewarded both Gibson and Towers with extensions (via MLB.com) before this season began. It's a bold strategy for a team that's gone 162-162 in the last two years, after winning 94 games in 2011.
Team president Derrick Hall was quoted in the MLB.com piece as saying that the track record of Towers and Gibson made their respective extensions a no-brainer.
If you look at the track record, these are two guys that have not had a losing season. And I think that these guys are as loyal as it gets. They're very hard workers, well prepared. I think it was time to do it before going into spring training. In fact, I probably would have preferred to do it sooner.
Ownership feels strongly about the direction of the team under the Gibson-Towers regime, which is a surprise given how unfavorable a lot of the moves Towers has made in recent years have been viewed and the mediocre performance of the big league club.
Arizona Diamondbacks Projected 2014 Lineup
|1. Gerardo Parra, RF|
|2. Aaron Hill, 2B
|3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B|
|4. Miguel Montero, C|
|5. Mark Trumbo, LF|
|6. Martin Prado, 3B|
|7. A.J. Pollock, CF|
|8. Didi Gregorius, SS|
|Henry Blanco, C|
|Eric Chavez, 1B/3B|
|Cliff Pennington, SS|
|Cody Ross, OF|
|Matt Tuiasosopo, OF|
Between Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo, the Diamondbacks could have a duo that blasts 70 home runs, which would be more than half of the team's 2013 total (130).
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections doesn't like a lot of the roster after Goldschmidt. No one else projects to have an on-base percentage over .350 or, excluding Trumbo, a slugging percentage over .440.
This is a strong defensive team. Goldschmidt was the only Arizona regular who played more than 100 games last season with a negative defensive rating. Gerardo Parra was the fourth-most valuable defender in baseball last year, trailing defensive wizards Manny Machado, Andrelton Simmons and Carlos Gomez.
A.J. Pollock saved 15 runs with his glove in 137 games last season, which was enough to convince the team that Adam Eaton was expendable. Didi Gregorius wasn't dazzling with the glove, but has always been lauded for his play at shortstop coming through the minors.
The bench isn't particularly deep. Henry Blanco is a 42-year-old mentor, basically playing the Jake Taylor role from Major League. Cliff Pennington is a utility infielder who can play all over the field.
Cody Ross is a good platoon bat to have on a bench (.938 career OPS vs. left-handed pitching). Matt Tuiasosopo had an underrated 2013 season, posting a .765 OPS with seven homers in 81 games.
Arizona Diamondbacks Projected 2014 Rotation
|No. 1 Patrick Corbin, LHP|
|No. 2 Trevor Cahill, RHP|
|No. 3 Wade Miley, LHP|
|No. 4 Brandon McCarthy, RHP|
|No. 5 Bronson Arroyo, RHP|
It's difficult to find more quality young pitching talent than what Arizona has in the big leagues and, with Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley, coming through the minors.
Brandon McCarthy was the elder statesman of the group, turning 30 last July, before Bronson Arroyo signed. Everyone else projected to be in the Opening Day rotation is 27 or younger.
Patrick Corbin was the breakout pitcher for Arizona in 2013, throwing 208.1 innings with a 3.41 ERA, 3.43 fielding independent ERA and 3.7 FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement. His average fastball velocity went from 90.9 mph in 2012 to 92.1 mph last season.
Wade Miley isn't as dominant as Corbin but did break the 200-inning barrier and increased his ground-ball rate from 43.3 percent in 2012 to 52 percent last year (fourth in the NL).
Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy have similar traits. Neither one misses a lot of bats but have figured out the art of manipulating a ball to generate ground balls. Both pitchers missed significant time last season, only making 47 combined starts.
Arroyo is going to fill out the back of the rotation and do what he does best: eat innings. He has thrown at least 199 innings every year since 2005 with decent ERA totals, though that could change, pitching in the dry Arizona heat where balls jump off bats.
Arizona Diamondbacks Projected 2014 Bullpen
|Closer: Addison Reed, RHP|
|Setup: Brad Ziegler, RHP|
|Setup: J.J. Putz, RHP|
|Reliever: Randall Delgado, RHP|
|Reliever: Josh Collmenter, RHP|
|Reliever: Will Harris, RHP|
|Reliever: Joe Thatcher, LHP|
Most bullpens have a high boom-or-bust ratio, but given the arms Arizona will be using in critical spots, this particular 'pen in Arizona is going to be one of the best or worst units in baseball, with no middle ground.
The two biggest question marks are Addison Reed and J.J. Putz. Reed did save 40 games last season for a bad Chicago White Sox team but also had the highest fly-ball rate of his career (45.4 percent).
Putz has reinvented his career in Arizona, posting an ERA under 3.00 in each of the last three years and striking 10.1 hitters per nine innings but also missed more than two months because of injuries and will turn 37 on February 22. His fastball velocity has also dipped from 93 mph in 2011 to 91.7 mph in 2013.
Brad Ziegler's submarine style makes him an extreme ground-ball pitcher. He's also the rare submarine pitcher who can get out both righties and lefties.
Josh Collmenter has thrived since being moved exclusively to the bullpen in 2012. He had a career-low 3.13 ERA in 2013 and had the highest strikeout rate of his career (8.3).
Joe Thatcher was acquired from San Diego last July to replace Matt Reynolds, who had Tommy John surgery in September, as the one left-handed reliever in the 'pen. Thatcher struggled after the deal, posting a 6.75 ERA and 7-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 9.1 innings.
Randall Delgado will likely go from the rotation to the bullpen thanks to the Arroyo signing, according to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com. That's where the young right-hander belongs as erratic command and a high homer rate (24 in 116.1 innings last year) don't profile in the rotation.
Archie Bradley, RHP
Bradley is the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball, showing much better command of the fastball and still throwing two 70-grade pitches (fastball, curveball) with a solid-average looking changeup to back it up.
Because of the depth in Arizona's rotation right now, not to mention delaying arbitration years, Bradley faces long odds to make the big leagues out of spring training. He will be up some time this year, especially if the Diamondbacks are in contention heading into September.
Andrew Chafin, LHP
It's easy to get lost in the shuffle when you pitch in the same rotation as Archie Bradley, especially when you're getting uneven results, but Andrew Chafin is a former first-round pick, taken the same year as Bradley (2011), and has a good arsenal, including an above-average fastball and slider that would look good in relief.
The Diamondbacks aren't exactly brimming with left-handed relievers. Chafin has never thrown enough strikes or missed enough bats to profile as more than a back-end starter, but does have the kind of stuff that plays well in short bursts.
Chris Owings, SS
Owings is in a precarious position with the Diamondbacks. He's a better hitter than Didi Gregorius, bringing above-average raw power and good bat-to-ball skills with a limited OBP ceiling due to an aggressive approach, but is only an average defender at shortstop.
It also doesn't help Owings' cause that the Diamondbacks acquired one free swinger to hit in the middle of the order (Trumbo) and may not want to put another in the No. 7 or 8 spot for fear of giving away too many outs.
He's ready for a shot in the big leagues and should hit for enough power to be an average regular at shortstop, where the offensive bar is so low that a .250/.290/.400 line with quality defense makes you a two-WAR player.
Randall Delgado, RHP
Delgado came onto the scene in 2013, throwing 116.1 innings, but it wasn't particularly memorable (4.26 ERA, 79-23 K-BB, 24 homers allowed).
It's because of that inability to miss bats as a starter, as well as a knack for giving up long balls, that he should be pitching in relief. Although that is a demotion for the 23-year-old, it should make him a more effective weapon.
His fastball, which averaged 91.7 mph as a starter, could play faster in short bursts. He can also ditch the curveball, which opponents teed off on with a .579 slugging percentage last season (per BrooksBaseball.net), and go to the fastball-changeup combination.
Chris Owings, SS
Owings has long been a player that I admired coming up through the minors. He's got more power than a typical shortstop and enough glove to be a valuable piece for a playoff team.
His ability to hit is a serious question mark, specifically an inability to take pitches and work counts, but as long as he makes enough contact to tap into the power, Owings will be a significant upgrade over Didi Gregorius.
Starting Shortstop: Didi Gregorius vs. Chris Owings
In the pantheon of comparisons, Kevin Towers referring to Didi Gregorius as a "young Derek Jeter" after acquiring the shortstop last season is one of the most inexplicable.
Jeter has been one of the most lauded hitters at his position for years, while routinely being the butt of jokes for his inability to make routine plays look routine due to limited range.
Gregorius is an all-glove, no-hit shortstop who could be in the mix for a Gold Glove one day if Andrelton Simmons wasn't around.
Chris Owings isn't as good a hitter as Jeter either, nor does he have the defensive upside of Gregorius, but he's a solid-average defensive shortstop with good range and plus arm strength. He's also got more offensive upside than Gregorius, thanks to above-average raw power.
Neither Owings nor Gregorius has much of an approach at the plate, but Gregorius is slightly better. He just lacks the strength in his swing to drive the ball into the gaps, which makes for a lot of weak contact and easy outs.
Owings will make his share of easy outs because of a hacky approach, which will also limit his ability to show off that above-average power.
Towers told Barry Bloom of MLB.com that he expects an open competition for the starting shortstop gig in spring training.
Let them fight it out. We like both of them a lot. I love the competition in spring training. Patrick Corbin emerged last year. We didn't say anyone was the front-runner. He took the bull by the horns. I want C.O. and Didi to be in the same situation. Just because Didi was there all year, I don't want him to think he's the everyday shortstop.
Owings is the better, more complete player. All things being equal, he should end up winning the starting job. But I keep going back to that Towers quote, which makes me think he's got an unhealthy love affair with Gregorius and wants him to win the starting job.
Prediction: Didi Gregorius
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