Coming in, I was hoping for an improvement of more than ten games, that being the average gain posted by teams who have had win totals in the mid-sixties. Right now, the team is looking likely to beat that, being on pace for 80 wins, which would be an improvement of sixteen games, and in excess of most expectations. In our pre-season poll, 63% of voters had us at 77 wins or fewer. The offense, in particular, has outperformed what we thought, having currently scored more runs than any other team in the National League, despite having the youngest team.
I think it's safe to say, there is still room for improvement. However, I'm not sure I'm in agreement with GM Dave Stewart and his team as to what those specific areas might be, According to Jon Heyman, the team's three needs are "a closer, a top starting pitcher (someone below David Price and Johnny Cueto in the free agent pecking order), and/or a hitter to bat behind under-heralded superstar Paul Goldschmidt." My position on spending big for closers- whether as free-agents or in trades - should already be well known, but if not: it's a bad idea. And as the above paragraph notes, the offense seems to be doing just fine without the mythical Armor of Goldschmidt Protection.
That said, consider the following a scratch-pad of sorts, where I evaluate the state of the team and try to figure out what positions look fine, and where about on the diamond we need help.
Let's start by writing Goldschmidt's name in the line-up. though he will become significantly more expensive next season, getting a 90% pay increase... To $5.875 million. Yeah. I think that'll be okay. Not far behind at this point, in terms of ordering line-up cards with pre-printed names on them, is Welington Castillo, who has single-handedly turned the position of catcher from a weakness into a strength. For catcher fWAR, we are currently ranked tenth in the majors, at 2.0, of which Castillo has been worth... 2,0. Yes. All of it. In barely two months. Now, while we can't expect him to hit 35 HR a season, his current pace, I no longer have any concerns.
At third-base, I'm perfectly fine with Jake Lamb. Still a bit of a work in progress offensively, and I wish he'd get more starts against left-handed pitching - he's going to need to face them some day - but a rookie with an OPS+ of 107, who also plays plus defense, is nice to have. Speaking of rookies who play plus defense, albeit with an OPS+ of 65, there's Nick Ahmed. I keep blowing hot and cold on Ahmed: the defense is great, obviously, but there are weeks, indeed months, where his bat is so bad as to negate entirely the value of his glove. Still, he's young, and I think the rest of the offense is now good enough, we can afford to carry him through those extended slumps.
The only question here is second-base. It seems only a matter of time before the team decided to eat the remainder of Aaron Hill's contract; they may well have done so already, if they hadn't eaten their contractual fill on the hearty two-course meal which was Cody Ross and Trevor Cahill. The problem is, Chris Owings has been worse still (-0.7 vs -0.1 fWAR, in about half as much playing time again). The remaining one-third of the season perhaps represents Owings' last chance to show some improvement, otherwise the team may end up going the Brandon Drury route, with Owings being relegated to the spot left open by Cliff Pennington's departure.
- C. Welington Castillo
- 1B. Paul Goldschmidt
- 2B. Brandon Drury
- SS. Nick Ahmed
- 3B. Jake Lamb
This section will be short, and is likely the area with fewest concerns or need for modification. The current four-pack of rotating outfielders seem, more or less, perfectly fine to me. A.J. Pollock and David Peralta have both been excellent, Ender Inciarte solid, and Yasmany Tomas, after giving it the old college try at third-base, seems to be settling in to the outfield nicely. I like the two lefty/two righty mix here, and the good defense all four are capable of providing. It's possible we could end up moving one (Inciarte?) to free up a slot for Peter O'Brien, but I'm a believer in not fixing what currently appears to be working fine.
- LF David Peralta
- CF A.J. Pollock
- RF Yasmany Tomas
A couple of the spots have already been discussed, with Owings and Inciarte present. We'll obviously need a back-up catcher; could well be that Tuffy Gosewisch will not be ready for Opening Day 2016, in which case, perhaps Oscar Hernandez will be useful. Or, failing that, we can go with some veterany goodness behind the plate, in the shape of someone like, I dunno, Chris Iannetta? The other couple of spots are kinda trivial, and not worth worrying too much about, but I've picked a couple of nicely versatile names to fill them in, so as to give Chip Hale the maximum flexibility with regard to late game needs.
- OF Ender Inciarte
- IF Chris Owings
- C Oscar Hernandez
- C/IF Jordan Pacheco
- IF Phil Gosselin
I'm going to be spending much of the off-season, particularly around the winter meetings, walking on eggshells, concerned Stewart is going to trade away the farm for a proven closer, goddammit. Yes, Aroldis Chapman would make our bullpen better, sure. But I'm equally certain the resources, in both prospects and salary, would be better spent elsewhere. There's no point getting a lock-down closer if the rest of your pitching staff is so wobbly, there's rarely a ninth-inning lead to be saved.
I think we have plenty of credible candidates who are already in-house, and would thus be significantly cheaper than the likes of Chapman. I presume we will exercise our option on Brad Ziegler, but I'd rather he be moved back to a more "roaming" role, getting the big outs whenever we need them, whether in the ninth or earlier. I'd like to see Daniel Hudson given a shot at the closer's job, but we have a number of young prospects who might do well: we've seen Enrique Burgos be utterly dominant, yet he needs better control. If we want to go really young, Silvino Bracho just turned 23, and has struck out 13 batters per nine innings, while walking only two.
- Closer: Daniel Hudson
- Set-up: David Hernandez
- Fireman: Brad Ziegler
- Long-relief 1: Josh Collmenter
- Long-relief 2: Randall Delgado
- LOOGY: Oliver Perez
- Lefty: Andrew Chafin
Yeah, I think we may well re-sign Perez this winter. He seems to have liked it here, still lives in Phoenix, and he has been highly-effective for us. Not included. Addison Reed. The problem is, even with only three saves this year, he's still going to get a bump in arbitration and will likely cost north of $5 million next season. For someone with an ERA+ of 87 over his three seasons in Arizona, I don't think he's worth it. Trade him if possible, but I think a non-tender from Arizona may be in his future.
This, to me, is the crux of the matter, and it's putting together a solid rotation for 2016 which will be the biggest factor in determining whether the team is a contender or not. It was going to be a work in progress coming in, but of the five guys who started the season in the rotation, two (Collmenter and Archie Bradley) are no longer in it, and the other three (Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa and Chase Anderson) all have ERAs of 4.31 or higher, well above even park-adjusted league average. I'm not sure any of them are "locks" for the 2016 rotation. Right now, Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin appear the only certs there.
There are no shortage of other candidates. In addition to Bradley, Hellickson, De La Rosa and Anderson, perhaps we may see Hudson get a shot back in the rotation. I wouldn't mind seeing Chafin, who has been quite excellent out of the bullpen, perhaps given a chance, considering his 2014 stint lasted all of three games (with a reasonable 3.86 ERA and 3.63 FIP). Zack Godley was impressive in his three-game audition too. And then there are the prospects, surely headed by, but not limited to, Aaron Blair, who seems to be increasingly running out of things left to prove in Triple-A.
Then there's the possibility of external candidates. No doubt the team can afford to splash out. B-R.com currently estimates our 2016 payroll, including the options on Collmenter and Ziegler, as well as arbitration for those eligible, to be just $70.5 million. That alone is about $21 million below this year's Opening Day figure. Even if we end up spending some on the likes of Perez, the new TV contract also will kick in, leading to a massive bump in team income. I'd expect us to be striking fast and striking hard, early in the off-season, to ensure we aren't beaten to the good name and end up getting Arroyo'd again.
As for who that might be? Damned if I know. This is already over 1,500 words, so I'll save my thoughts on that for another article. Please, however, feel free to speculate in the comments!
- Free-agent signing
- Patrick Corbin
- Robbie Ray
- Aaron Blair
- I'll say Archie Bradley, but pick one of about six!