The simple act of getting healthy, marking the returns of Hudson, Reynolds, Hernandez, Goldschmidt, Pollock, Owings, and Corbin should improve this team. Even with managed expectations, there is a good chance that healthy returns of those members of the team bring in 3-4 wins. Being that this is the first season of a new regime also makes everything seems a bit rosier. After all, while the new regime may eventually make the same mistakes as the old, they at least represent an attempt to do something different, rather than betting again on what was clearly a losing combination. Unfortunately, these tidbits that increase the feel-good vibes resulting from the off-season do not entirely protect the organization from some criticisms. So, here is my final report card:
Additions: Allen Webster
Despite all the vitriol cast in the direction of Arizona pitching in 2014, the bullpen was actually not terrible. In fact, contributors like Ziegler (pre-injury), Perez, and Marshall were quite good out of the bullpen. Delgado was entirely serviceable as a long reliever, so much so that he earned some starts at the end of the year. Even Addison Reed was an upgrade on the Heath Bell Experience, if only marginally. If there was a clear knock on the bullpen to be made at the end of the season, it would probably be performance in high leverage situations. Part of this issue was health driven though, so even that is suspect.
There was plenty of speculation that this off-season could have spelled the end of Ziegler, Perez, and Reed in the bullpen. The new regime scoffed at that, tendering Addsion Reed and then paying him above the projected arbitration floor. Additionally, the team is poised for the healthy return of Brad Ziegler and David Hernandez. Matt Reynolds has also returned from Tommy John surgery. If anything, this bullpen is situated to be a marked improvement over last season's already decent bullpen. The final roster has not yet been announced, but it does appear that the one possible concern for this bullpen moving forward may be the lack of left-handedness to protect the all righty rotation.
While I may have done things differently in the off-season, especially in regards to Reed, it is not hard to find merit in the approach the Diamondbacks took to the bullpen in the off-season.
Final Grade: B+
Departures: Wade Miley
Additions: Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa, Robbie Ray, Yoan Lopez
There is little denying that the Diamondback rotation in 2014 was abysmal. As such, the new regime aggressively addressed the rotation, looking to add as many arms with potentially high upside as possible. Thus, two highly regarded prospects were traded for Jeremy Hellickson. Wade Miley was traded for potential #2 starter Rubby De La Rosa and others. DIdi Gregorius was traded for power lefty Robbie Ray. Then, in what was one of two major international signings, the Diamondbacks also broke the international bonus limit to acquire Yoan Lopez.
There is no doubt that Arizona's front office is attempting to aggressively attack the rotation situation. Questions still abound as to whether or not even one of the acquisitions will pan out though. Jeremey Hellickson, after abusing his FIP early in his career has battled a combination of injury and ineffectiveness for the last 2+ seasons. While the sample size of spring games is a small one, Hellickson has yet to show why the Diamondbacks gave up two promising position talents and made him the second highest paid pitcher on the team. Rubby De La Rosa has been hit and miss his entire career. There is no denying he has electric stuff, but he has a terrible time controlling it. His results are very Edwin Jackson-esque. He'll blow the opposition away looking great one day, then walk the lineup the next. The Diamondbacks are hoping he can harness a bit more control. Spring results are not promising on that front. Another one with control issues is Robbie Ray. Once the centerpiece of a trade for Doug Fister, Ray is now straddling the line between back of the bullpen arm or member of the rotation. Only 23 years old, he still has time to develop though, and it looks like he will be doing just that in Mobile this year.
All of those arms were known to be reclamation projects with high upside. Yoan Lopez, on the other hand, was selected as a developing prospect with advanced stuff. When Lopez was first acquired, he was touted as having three big league pitches, led by a fastball that could touch the upper-90s and sat in the mid-90s. His biggest concern was tied to his control, though he was known for attacking the zone. That has not quite been the case since he started pitching for the team as a non-roster invitee for Spring Training. While he has struck out 9 in 12.1 innings of work and walked 6, matching up with the reports of some wildness, he has had trouble with his curveball to the point that it is nowhere near major league ready yet. Furthermore, his fastball velocity has been 90-92, not mid-90s touching the upper 90s. This could be a point of concern, as the team chose this talent to go all-in on when deciding which international talent to break the limit on. The team will now be on the outside looking in for the next two seasons as international players become available. I am not wholly concerned yet though. The young man is only 22 years old, and is ready to pitch at least in Mobile. He also has a wiry frame that is still bulking up somewhat. As he develops more muscle, his velocity may still take a small uptick. When he was signed, there were more than a few pundits saying he might be able to reach the majors by late 2015. This seems highly unlikely. Late 2016 is probably a better timeline, and even that might be pushing it by six months.
Largely, the rotation going into 2015 is uninspiring. With Collmenter announced as the Opening Day starter, followed in some order by De La Rosa, Hellickson, Anderson, and Cahill, the potential for disaster is high. The rotation lacks a single left-handed option, and has no pitcher other than Collmenter who has posted 160+ innings since 2013. All of the acquisitions are lottery ticket tpes, further increasing the possibility that the bullpen could be in for a long season. At this point, the trading away of Wade Miley and the trading for Jeremy Hellickson both seem rather out of place, neither fitting with the rest of the off-season moves nor stated goals.
For now, it looks like the rotation is no better off than it was last season. The positive though, is that there are three new arms in the rotation, all with at least some demonstrated potential to be much better than last season. Still, it would seem that any meaningful improvement to the rotation is still at least a few months away.
Final Grade: C
Departures: Miguel Montero
Additions: Yasmany Tomás, Gerald Laird
Injuries took a big toll on the Diamondbacks in 2014. Arguably four of the team's top six or seven young players were lost for significant portions of the season due to the injury bug. Among them were Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and Chris Owings. For good reason, the team believed getting these three dynamic starters healthy and back in the lineup would make a very big difference in the look of the offense. As such, the positional part of the roster seemed destined more for tweaks than it did for any sort of major overhaul. More or less, tweaks are what happened. Yet somehow, those tweaks have actually increased the number of questions about the team moving forward.
Easily the biggest news of note in the off-season for Arizona was the team-record contract handed out to Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomás. Known for his prodigious power, Arizona brought in the right handed bat with a plan in mind that he would convert from being a left fielder to being a third baseman, despite the presence of Jake Lamb on the roster and the rapid rise of Brandon Drury right behind him. While Tomás has worked diligently at making the conversion since arriving in Scottsdale in January, the general consensus for throughout baseball is that the conversion is unlikely to ever be a success, as Tomás' short-comings as a fielder became a bit more apparent once the games actually began. As a right-handed slugger with a high rate of swing-and-miss in his game, and a lack of patience to draw walks, Tomás profiles as a slower version of Mark Trumbo, but with a better throwing arm. This has caused, at least in the short-term, something of a conundrum.
One of the biggest goals going into the off-season was to scale back on the salaries being paid out. To that end, the Diamondbacks traded Miguel Montero to the Chicago Cubs for a pair of minor leaguers. What they did not do at the same time was sign one of the many available backup level catchers that were free agents. Nor did the team trade for an established catcher. Instead, the team went all-in on last season's Martin Prado return, Peter O'Brien. They also chose Oscar Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft, despite the fact that he had never played above A-ball, where he struggled at the plate. Some might start to see a pattern here. Peter O'Brien profiles as a right-handed bat with light tower power, a good deal of swing-and-miss, and a lack of ability to draw walks, that is defensively handicapped away from first base. Like Tomás at third base, O'Brien has been working hard on his defense since the Diamondbacks acquired him. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, somewhere along the way, O'Brien develop extreme difficulties making even easy throws in between plays, having difficulty returning the ball to the pitcher or throwing around the diamond. This, combined with limited range due to his size has made O'Brien sticking behind the plate a very big concern. Additionally, O'Brien focused so much on his glove work, that his bat began to struggle in March. He has since been sent back to the minors, where he will start getting some work in the field to rehabilitate his bat before the team attempts to put him behind the plate again. A broken hamate bone for the defensively talented Hernandez has left the Diamondbacks with Tuffy Gosewisch and Gerald Laird as the two primary options to catch for the team in 2015. As a Rule 5 pick, Hernandez may still join the team when he heals, and as a XX(B) free agent, Laird has publicly voiced his disapproval with having not been named et to the 25-man roster. Needless to say, the catching situation in Arizona is a hot mess, as they prepare to enter 2015 with one of the worst performing catchers in baseball in 2014 as the primary catcher for 2015, leaving them ranked last at the position by basically every system out there.
While third base has yet to be settled on, and the catching situation remains a wreck, the outfield for the Diamondbacks remains a crowded one. With Pollock, Trumbo, and Cody Ross all healthy, the team now has five outfielders all trying to share time. Dave Stewart has made it abundantly clear that Trumbo will get the lion's share of time in right field, and A.J. Pollock remains one of the best center fielders in the league. That leaves David Peralta, Ender Inciarte, and Cody Ross all vying for time in left field. It does the team no favours that Peralta and Inciarte join Jake Lamb as the only left-handed bats with the potential to make the 25-man roster. Should Tomás be unable to make the transition to third base stick, the outfield becomes even more convoluted, requiring that someone be traded or cut. Given Stewart's comments that Trumbo will not be traded, it is difficult to see what moves could be made to put Tomás in left field, as his limited ability there, combined with Trumbo's lack of range in right is not ideal.
Though the team needed to cut salary, and there were reasons to believe that a return to health would, by itself, improve the lineup, the moves made by the team really seem to have been made more in isolation than as part of a larger overall plan. Other clear opportunities existed for cutting salary. Far better options to replace Miguel Montero were available early to be had on the cheap. Lastly, the Diamondbacks seem to be taking a similar approach to the lineup that they did with the rotation, trying out projects with high upside, worrying about how and where to play them later. The continued rise of Brandon Drury and Nick Ahmed, combined with the struggles of Aaron Hill and the injury concerns associated with Chris Owings have also served to only make a further mess of things.
Final Grade: D+
Given that the team has yet to make final decisions regarding left field, Tomás, or backup catcher, it is still difficult to give a grade for the bench. Other than the presence of Cliff Pennington as the utility infielder and Cody Ross as one of the left fielders, it is still impossible to say for certain what the team's grade is. It would appear that the bench will likely be made up of gloves more than bats though, and if any of Peralta, Inciarte, or Lamb are sent back down to the minors, the bench will be woefully light in terms of left-handed bats.
Tomás represents the sort of high-upside risk a team like Arizona needs to invest in. Given that he came with no strings, costing only the free agent contract, should he perform anywhere close to expectation at some position in the field, the Diamondbacks did well to land him. Even should he fall flat, the excitement he generates should help the team image and ticket sales, as well as help make Arizona a destination for other international players.
Yoan Lopez has so far not appeared to be quite the pitcher the Diamondbacks went into the penalty to sign. However, Lopez is still young, and has already showed signs of dominance in short stretches. If the Diamondbacks truly believe that he is the best talent located in the international pipeline (and within signability for Arizona) for the next two seasons, then once again, kudos to them for making the splash to get him. He still needs to show the talent that makes him the equivalent of a #1 pick though, or else the team has hamstrung themselves based on a miscalculated evaluation. This substantially increases the risk associated with Lopez.
While the Diamondbacks may not have been in on big ticket catchers, the glaring hole behind the plate begs one to question why the team did not pursue any of the affordable options early in the off-season. Worst-case scenario those players could have been moved easily enough had longshots O'Brien or Hernandez panned out.
Final Grade: B
This off-season has been an odd one for Arizona. The team had a stated need to cut salary, but then increased salary by acquiring Hellickson, while also choosing to retain both Trumbo and Reed, despite escalating salaries. The team did move Wade Miley, though his salary was less than the one given to Hellickson. Montero represented the only real salary savings, and well over half of that went towards arbitration raises. Despite all the trade activity for Arizona, none of the returns came with anything close to MLB-caliber certainty. It is not outside the realm of real possibility that every trade acquisition finds themselves no longer part of the plan by mid-season 2016. The potential for upside exists all over, but there does exist a concern that the trades made could all be busts, amounting to a very mediocre savings in salary and no new MLB-caliber talent in the system to show for the departures of Gregorius, Montero, Miley, and two highly-touted prospects.
Adding it all up and assuming the team doesn't blow up the roster making its bench choices, the team seems to have, in the end, exercised in a great deal of deck chair rearranging, without much tangible, up-front improvement. Furthermore, for a team looking to cut back on salary, it seems that the moves made this off-season largely worked counter to that goal. To the team's credit though, the future, perhaps as soon as June of this season, is looking much brighter.
Overall Grade: C