After today's defeat of the Giants, the Diamondbacks are now on course to go 68-94. That doesn't necessarily indicate a Pirates-like streak of futility. Our record was two games below that in 2010, but rebounded nicely the following season, with Arizona going last to first in the NL West, and coming the thickness of a FedEx envelope from making the NLCS. That was the first full year in charge for Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson, but the trend since then, as measured, say, by run differential, has been relentlessly down. We're now projecting at close to being right back where we started.
There are a couple of things which do concern me, in terms of why the circumstances for 2010 and the subsequent rebound were not the same as now, making it harder to expect a repeat. We have a lot of money already committed for 2015, to players who haven't delivered this year. Aaron Hill, Cody Ross and Trevor Cahill are under contract for a total of $33.5 million in 2015, but have combined this year to be worth -2.9 bWAR. We'll also be paying Bronson Arroyo $9.5 million, for half a season if we're lucky. That wasn't so in 2011, where the highest-paid Diamondback, Kelly Johnson, earned $5.85 million, giving us more flexibility and ability to dump non-performers.
With Cahill, you can at least argue he has potential to be useful, given our lack of alternative starters. You can't say the same for the Diamondbacks outfield or middle infield - or even, potentially, Martin Prado at third, where there is an increasingly a sense that Jake Lamb could be a younger, cheaper and potentially as productive replacement. Even if the contracts are so bad we can't trade them for some salary relief (probably not yet the case here), we've seen the team simply eat deals before when their value turns albatross-shaped. One wonders whether something similar may be needed for the team to make forward progress.
But I think my main concern is that starting rotation. Coming into this afternoon, our six most-used starters, who have taken the mound in 86 of 94 games, have been worth a total of 0.8 bWAR, barely over replacement level. When we look at our 2015 rotation, I don't seeing anyone I'm confident in of putting up 4.8 bWAR, like Ian Kennedy in 2011. it seems currently to peak with Wade Miley, who has a career 106 ERA+, probably a solid #3 starter. Hall is aware of this, saying "It's an area that needs to be addressed and it will be through free agency or getting creative through trades." However, we heard the same last winter, and that turned into Arroyo.
I'm less convinced by Hall's assessment of our other problem. "It's pretty clear we still need one offensive tool, we lack a lot of power. You can just see we don't have that kind of power right now... We're hitting the gaps, we're getting base hits, but we do need that power, so we need to address that." I was under the impression that's why we over-paid for Mark Trumbo. Also, any lack of power is just as much a dubious elixir as it was last season. Ask the Cardinals, who have only 59 this year - 15 less than us, and barely half the number of the Rockies (112) - but are tied for the best record in the league. I'd rather we improve our sub-average OBP, less sexy though it may be.
The thing is, I wouldn't actually mind a two- or three-year rebuild. I can tolerate bad results, given a clear plan for the future and a sense things are moving in the right direction. Hearing the front-office admit it, would certainly be preferable to the yearly banquet of stale disappointment, resulting from the mantra that we're going to be contenders. We've been hearing that every year since the last division title, but it's beginning to wear thin on the most devout of fans, after three consecutive seasons of decline. One imagines ownership feel the same way, with this year's roster the most expensive in franchise history. How long will they be willing to fund sub-mediocrity?
There's no doubt the team have a lot of useful pieces in place, with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and Chris Owings; they also have some promising prospects coming up through the farm system. Clearly, we're never going to be able to outspend the Dodgers. even if the new TV deal is as lucrative as the ones signed by other teams. So if we want to compete, we have to spend smarter, not harder - and, equally as important if not more so, trade, draft and develop smarter too. These do not appear to have been skills the current regime has demonstrated; whether they (or their replacements) do going forward, will likely determine when we get back above .500.
I can't say I'm immediately optimistic for 2015. While, as noted, we have had remarkable turnarounds before in franchise history, improving by as many as 31 games, we've also had seasons below .500 which were followed by... another season below .500. Going into this campaign, before any health issues, the current roster felt like it would be little improved on the 2013 version, and that didn't even take into account the falling off in production from Hill and Ross we've seen. It could all change, of course. But pending any moves, I'm more inclined to look to next year as one where we assess, rebuild and consolidate, with anything above .500 as a pleasant surprise.