For ushering the future, it seems there is no time like the present. Just a week ago, I was predicting that Archie Bradley would be joining Arizona's rotation early in 2015, sometime after a starter faltered, but after April 18th. I figured the Diamondbacks would continue hoping for the best out of Trevor Cahill, making it at least possible to trade him at the deadline. I also expected Nick Ahmed to spend some time in Reno, but to force his way onto the roster as the Diamondbacks' starting short stop sometime around the break. I thought the team would be rotating Ender Inciarte through a crowded outfield in order to find him some at-bats, while looking for someone to take Cody Ross off their hands, probably waiting until July to make a trade. I thought Aaron Hill was going to be making it tough on Arizona to move Owings to second, and that he too would be starting until Ahmed forced the issue.
Then the Diamondbacks, under the direction of Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart, decided to do something rather dramatic. They decided that the future should be now. Trevor Cahill has been moved already, sent to the Atlanta Braves in a clear salary dump that included a draft pick just to clear his spot in the rotation. As a result, Archie Bradley opened the season on the 25-man roster as the fifth starter. Cody Ross was given his outright release, and Aaron Hill was relegated to the bench to make immediate room for Ender Inciarte and Nick Ahmed to both look forward to 450 at-bats this season. What looked just three weeks ago like a firm, clear plan to build for 2017 now looks like an aggressive approach at preparing for 2016. Some might even see this team as trying to make a run at a winning record and wild card contention this season.
So, how close is the future then? Let's take a look at the roster, the present and the future and see what picture develops.
Current Player: Paul Goldschmidt
Future Player: Paul Goldschmidt (signed through 2019)
This is the easiest prediction for the future. Goldschmidt currently ranks as the best first baseman in baseball, is young, and is incredibly affordable. There's no reason to be looking for any changes here.
Current Player: Chris Owings/Aaron Hill
Future Player: Brandon Drury/ Chris Owings (controlled through 2020/2019)
Unlike first base, this one is tougher. Currently the team has a substantial financial commitment to Aaron Hill, who is on the wrong side of both the performance and aging curves. On the other hand, Chris Owings has yet to rediscover the swing that had him on ROY pace before injury struck in 2014. Meanwhile, Brandon Drury made a strong case to break camp with the team this year. The team has made it quite clear that they wish to be rid of Aaron Hill, preferably sooner rather than later. With that in mind, and the fact that Chip Hale is getting Hill enough playing time to stay fresh, chances are he is gone by the end of August. Brandon Drury has gotten off to a very slow start in Mobile this season, but once Hill is moved, it is hard to imagine that Drury would be left in the minors. The big concern becomes, will Owings or Drury hit enough to stick. Both have track records to indicate they should be able to.
Current Player: Nick Ahmed
Future Player: Nick Ahmed (under control through 2020)
All Nick Ahmed has to do in order to hold down the job of being the team's starting short stop is to hit even a little bit. With his defense, a very modest, uninspiring batting line of .230/.300/.310 should be enough to make Nick Ahmed a 3.5+ WAR player. Will he reach that level of production at the plate though? That's the big question. The only other option the team has would be to move Owings back to short, as the next prospect for the position (Domingo Leyba) is still two years away. If Owings gets pushed off of second by Drury, look for him to push Ahmed to become better, but still likely wind up the infield utility player until he is traded.
Current Player: Jake Lamb
Future Player: Jake Lamb (under control through 2020)
Last season it appeared that Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury were in something of a competition to establish themselves as the third baseman of the future for Arizona Diamondbacks. Possessing an above average glove, batting from the left side, and providing enough power to stick at the corner, Jake Lamb has forced the issue, causing the team to adjust, having Drury move over to second base. If Lamb were to fall off precipitously, Drury would still be available to move back, but Lamb's track record of success at every level indicates he likely has enough talent to stick and perform at least to league average if not better.
Current Player: David Peralta
Future Player: Ender Inciarte (under control through 2020)
David Peralta came out of nowhere in 2014, using his bat to quickly become a fan favourite. Able to play all three outfield positions and batting from the left side, it is his age and career splits that are working against him, likely resulting in his eventual fate as a fourth outfielder with 450 at-bats in order to facilitate more playing time for Ender Inciarte, who is establishing himself as a leadoff threat with better defense and better splits.
Current Player: A.J. Pollock
Future Player: A.J. Pollock (under control through 2018)
During the 2013-14 offseason, the Diamondbacks front office decided a choice needed to be made between Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock, a decision that has been met with great skepticism since then. The emergence of Ender Inciarte has put the team in a similar position again. This is a new front office though, and one that seems less likely to repeat past mistakes. There is no reason the team needs to choose Pollock or Inciarte. This team can find success using both. Pollock's elite center field defense, great speed, and fluid swing make him one of the best center fielders in the National League. A threat to hit .300, Pollock remains a high value player at low cost that, along with Goldschmidt, has become the foundation for this team.
Current Player: Mark Trumbo
Future Player: Yasmany Tomás (under control through 2018)
Despite Dave Stewart's insistence that the team will not be moving Mark Trumbo, there are too many realities to overlook. First, Mark Trumbo will be a free agent in 2017, the year that marked the initial window for success. Second, Trumbo's cost is escalating rapidly due to arbitration and its love of the home run. Third, Trumbo's ability to hit the ball a very long way simply is not enough to erase all the negatives brought about by his abysmal defense in right field (with two gross misplays in the first week again in 2015) and his equally poor on-base percentage. On the flip-side, Yasmany Tomás seems to be an eerily similar player, but provides cost certainty and is under control through 2018. The Diamondbacks' outfield cannot support the presence of both Tomás and Trumbo for any extended period of time, so it would seem that Trumbo's days are numbered. I would expect that he is traded before the season is out, bring the future of right field onto this season's roster.
Current Player: Tuffy Gosewisch/Oscar Hernandez
Future Player: Unknown
The future at catcher looks much the same now as it did when the Diamondbacks began shopping Miguel Montero back in December. While this season almost certainly sees the young, developing, Oscar Hernandez supplant Tuffy Gosewisch behind the plate, it remains to be seen if either truly belongs on a big league roster, much less in the position of being a team's primary starter behind the plate. The organization continues to hold out hope that Peter O'Brien will develop enough behind the plate to become the team's catcher of the future. It still remains to be seen if that can in fact happen though. Observers from outside the organization are not at all confident that O'Brien possess the ability to stick at catcher. If this is the case, the team will need to look at other options come November. Expect the catching position to be the primary focus of in-season trade talks and also expect to see the Diamondbacks attached to free agent catcher rumors as November approaches.
The Bard's Take:
This is more than just some young core from which the team can build towards the future. This team should have above average talent at seven of eight positions, with a big unknown in the final slot (catcher). Joining Goldschmidt, are at least four other players with a better than average chance at being 4.5-5 WAR players. Assuming an even zero WAR from the catcher, this young group of players, all of which should be in place by September of this season, should be able to put up 28 WAR by themselves. This is all coming from a group of players that is collectively under control at pre-free agency cost through at least 2018. Additionally, the Diamondbacks have only $32 million in salary commitments before arbitration for 2016. Even after arbitration raises, this number is unlikely to eclipse $40 million. Meanwhile, the new television revenue will be kicking in just in time for the next free agent signing period.
Next, we will look at the pitching staff and see why, when looking at everything above, the future looks awfully close to present.