What a difference 12 months makes. At this time last year, the Diamondbacks were coming off a season as the worst team in baseball. Now, fans are filled with a sense of optimism not seen for a very long time, with a feeling of anticipation for Opening Day that is strangely unfamiliar after four consecutive years without a winning record. There's no doubt the Chief Baseball Office Tony La Russa, General Manager Dave Stewart, manager Chip Hale and the rest of the front-office team have put their stamp on the franchise. Not everyone agrees with how they've done it, but the big question is, will it prove successful where it matters, between the lines?
Let's review the various areas which we've covered this past week: the header links go to the full article in question.
The Diamondbacks shook up their roster in ways that Kevin Towers could only dream of. The changes, in the near future anyway, seem to be more positive than not, but the window seems to be very narrow. However, the window is actually open, where it wasn't the past two seasons. To me, personally, this is the most hyped I've been for a Diamondbacks season for a long time, and the front office's aggressiveness has 95% to do with it. (The other 5% are those sweet-ass new uniforms, don't hate.) It should be a fun team to watch. Unless it isn't.
If not hampered by injury, there's not much reason to think this offense will be any less good than last year: save Inciarte, the most productive members are all back, and there's scope for improvement at several spots. However, there are still some questions remaining. Can Segura and Tomas rebound? Will Castillo sustain his strong 2015? Is Lamb going to see, never mind handle, left-handers? But if this spring is any guide, the team averaging seven runs per game - admittedly, that's a cactus-sized "if" - then Arizona will be a formidable opponent, even on the days when its pitching staff gives up a few runs.
The Diamondbacks have the pieces for one of the best rotations in all of baseball. Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller were both top-25 pitchers in all of baseball last year, by fWAR. Patrick Corbin has top-end stuff on his day. Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray both have a lot of potential, and can be unhittable at times. There is plenty of depth at the 4th or 5th starter level, so they will still be in good shape if either De La Rosa or Ray falter or suffer injury. The biggest concern for the rotation is if one of the top-three starters is injured or ineffective; there doesn't appear to be anyone that can step up and fill that role. Continued health for Greinke and Miller will be one of the biggest factors in whether or not the Diamondbacks contend in 2016. If all goes well, this is a top-five rotation. But if any of the top three starters don't work out, it could be another long season in the desert.
After a 2015 where both of these groups were leaned upon heavily, will the new additions in the starting lineups lighten the load? Spring performances are leaning towards confirming that, but who knows what will happen once the real games get underway. With the experience of a full Chip Hale managed season already, regardless of which players are chosen, we're sure to see heavy use out of the ones he chooses.
The team have a number of prospects who could help, as early as Opening Day. Brandon Drury has already proven that he's ready to play in the big leagues; he is a plus defender at the hot corner and offers an above average bat. The team could trade Ender Inciarte, largely because of the emergence as a prospect of Socrates Brito - he has the ability to be an everyday CF at the big league level with above average or better tools across the board. And Peter O'Brien offers an insane degree of power, even if there are questions about his defense. There is also pitching help on the way, from the likes of Braden Shipley, though disappointingly, Archie Bradley's star continues to wane.
If one were to evaluate how well the FO did in dropping players at their defensive peak, and acquiring them while potentially on the upswing, I'd say all the projections say they're moving in the right direction. But it should also be noted that the team is projected as a whole to significantly under-perform compared to last year. Most of that downgrade can be attributed to Ahmed, Lamb having good years defensively last year, but expected to be closer to average this year. The addition of O'Brien in the outfield, though better numbers than Tomas, could still greatly hurt the team defensively.
The Diamondbacks will win the NL West because they have the best starting pitching and they have far superior position players. The sStarting pitching is best because 1) Diamondbacks added Grienke and Miller, 2) Castillo improved his pitch framing, 3) Dodgers pitching will be much worse than last year, and 4) Giants pitching has significant downside risk. Position players are far superior because 1) the outstanding core from last year is young and remains intact with only a couple changes, 2) quality infield depth (Lamb, Ahmed, Segura, Gosselin, Drury) will eliminate the weak results at second base and third base, and 3) Diamondbacks play the game the right way.
The Diamondbacks' core players will not receive enough help from the supporting cast to win the division. On the offensive side, the middle infield and left field will all hit welllll below league average. If any of the star players falter (Goldy, Pollock, Peralta, Greinke, Miller, Corbin) or get injured, the D-Backs are not balanced enough to make up for that decline in production. In what looks to be a very competitive division, Arizona won't be able to get that 13 game improvement necessary to win the West.
The Diamondbacks have decided that their window of opportunity is now, and have pushed all their chips in to the middle, seeking to take advantage of the prime years of Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. It's a bold move, but a risky one, as the cost to get where they are included their top draft picks from the past three seasons, so if this doesn't work out, some lean years may await the team down the road. That said, Zack Greinke should give the team the best pitcher they've had in quite a few years, and if Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin reach their potential, that's a 1-2-3 to go up against any team in the league.
This spring has shown the team is also capable of scoring an insane number of runs. Of course, spring training stats mean exactly zero when Opening Day rolls around - but they were outscored only by the Rockies last year too. It would certainly be a stretch to call Arizona favorites in the league, and it will probably take a couple of things breaking their way e.g. Yasmany Tomas blossoming and/or a Jean Segura rebound, for them to prevail in a highly competitive division. But after several seasons of unrestrained mediocrity, this is certainly the best we've felt about the team in a long while.
Opening Day can't come soon enough for Diamondbacks fans.