Honestly, nobody outside of the state of Arizona expected the Diamondbacks to win more games than they lost in 2011, much less compete for a division title.
In the end, however, they wound up with 94 victories, a spot in the playoffs and most importantly, renewed confidence that they can compete on an annual basis for the foreseeable future.
With Trevor Cahill, whose addition is more ironic than you'd think, joining the starting five, the D-Backs now have one of the top rotations not only in the National League West, but in all of baseball.
Don't forget, too, just how young this unit is. Cahill will turn 24 on March 1, while Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88 ERA), Dan Hudson (16-12, 3.49) and Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38), the crux of the 2011 staff, are all 27 years old or younger.
Think of the Diamondbacks pitching staff as a slightly older, much more seasoned version of the rotation being assembled across the nation in Tampa Bay.
Cahill is the perfect addition for Arizona. In Oakland he was often forced, due to the poor health of Brett Anderson (who coincidentally was drafted the same year as Cahill, but by Arizona) into the role of staff ace, and while he may yet have that potential, for the time being, he seems to pitch much better in a less pressure-packed role. Having three experienced starters ahead of him in Arizona should allow him to blossom and maybe even to ascend to No. 1 status.
Getting a pitcher of Cahill's stature isn't the only sensational thing the Diamondbacks did here, though. They also expertly played the prospect game.
Once upon a time, right-hander Jarrod Parker was the darling of a thin Arizona farm system. He was essentially the whole enchilada when it came to front-line starting pitching.
In the four years since they made him their first-round selection, however, they've added a handful or high-upside starting pitchers, including: Trevor Bauer (20), Archie Bradley (19), Pat Corbin (21), David Holmberg (20), Anthony Meo (21) and Tyler Skaggs (20).
Three of those pitchers (Bauer, Bradley and Skaggs) have top-of-the-rotation stuff. Two of them, Bauer and Skaggs, are nearly big-league ready.
Combine those additions with a serious injury to Parker's throwing arm, one that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season, and a pitcher who once ranked as the 29th best prospect in all of baseball now seems expendable.
Parker showed some promise in 2011, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, posting a 3.79 ERA while gutting out a career-high 130.2 innings, but he also showed some rust. The 55 walks he issued, and the 11 batters he plunked were also career highs.
Don't get me wrong, Parker still has immense potential. When he was healthy back in 2008 and 2009, he looked as good as any pitching prospect in the game.
His control and his stuff were excellent and he had the poise of a 10-year veteran on the mound, despite being plucked straight from high school. No doubt, the A's also won in this deal, assuming he can return to his pre-Tommy John form.
For the Diamondbacks as an organization, though, they have improved their depth to the point where they didn't need Parker to pan out for them as they once did. They have plenty of talented arms and they're bound to hit with one or more of them.
Back to the point. The D-Backs should get high marks for the deal because they used Parker the way a team with loaded pitching depth should.
They made what will likely come out to be an even swap, dealing a top prospect who's not yet ready for a seasoned, albeit still young, pitcher who can help their team now.
Come next September, assuming a good chunk of their starting five makes it through the season healthy, the D-Backs could be thinking much higher than just a division crown. With Cahill leading the charge, they could be a legitimate contender for the National League pennant.
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