When the Diamondbacks went into March, they looked like a potential playoff team. They had just signed Zack Greinke and traded for Shelby Miller. These two would head the rotation that would pitch a team supported by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, and Jake Lamb on the offensive side of things. Gold gloves seem to be all over the diamond as well. Despite some concerns about regression or depth, there were plenty of reasons for this team to be bullish that it would still at least be relevant when playing games in September. Then the baseball gods decided to show the Diamondbacks what dashed hopes and dreams looked like – in spades. Two nights before the first pitch of the season, the Diamondbacks lost star center fielder A.J. Pollock, possibly for the season, certainly for the vast majority of it. This was followed by an Opening Day debacle by Greinke in which he had his worst performance (by game score) since May 26, 2012, when he was a Brewer, facing the Arizona Diamondbacks. Things didn’t get much better the next night when Shelby Miller began his 2016 run for the unsavory distinction of worst starting pitcher in all baseball. By the end of April, even Paul Goldschmidt was looking merely human, and not like one of the five best players in the game.
Now, here we are. It is June 1st. The Diamondbacks are 23-32, fourth place in the woeful NL West, only 2.5 games above the dreadful San Diego Padres, a team that had mostly written off the season by the end of the third game of the year. The team is 10 games out of the division lead and 7.5 games out of the WC. Zack Greinke is still trying to regain his ace form (though he is showing signs of life). Shelby Miller is indeed the worst starter in baseball, having not even been able to compile enough innings to qualify for ERA consideration despite not having missed a start until last night (what would have been his 11th start). Rubby De La Rosa, after a shaky start has emerged as the team’s best pitcher, and this despite not really being much, in any better than last season. The even worse news for the Diamondbacks is, he is now on the DL, and shows the symptoms of a man quite possibly done for the season as a starter.
It would be a gross understatement to say the Diamondbacks have disappointed in 2016. Entering the season with modest expectations of competing, they now reside in the next-to-worst tier of teams, with the open attempts to tank by a few teams saving them from slipping into the worst tier.
That raises the question, what do the Diamondbacks do now? Recent developments would seem to indicate that even the front office is starting to begrudgingly admit they are playing more for 2017 now than 2016. That isn’t to say that they have packed it all in on 2016, but in the balance of things, the ability to be a peak performer in 2017 may now outweigh any chance of returning to contention in 2016.
The team is set to see the return of David Peralta this weekend in Chcago. Zack Greinke is starting to show some signs of being a quality top-of-the-rotation arm again. Paul Goldschmidt seems to be shaking off his early season funk. There is even good news on the A.J. Pollock front in that he might be returning during August of the 21016 season. Does the team look to those positives and continue to hold course, hoping things turn around and that they perhaps catch a few lucky breaks? Does the team take a somewhat balanced approach, moving a few key pieces of the bullpen or maybe one or two position players in the hope that the team will look better by the end of the year and be better-situated to compete once 2017 starts? Or does the team take the hard approach and move what they can, while they can, hoping to reload and reset for 2017?
Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs has already postulated one unlikely but interesting approach the team could take in trading Zack Greinke. While I would call the chances of that lie somewhere south of zero, there are some other, less drastic players that might make sense to move. Brad Ziegler continues to perform well in his role of closer. This season’s numbers are not as spectacular as last season’s, but he is still a quality arm that performs very well under pressure. His contract is eminently reasonable, and he is a free agent at year’s end. Given that next season will see an elevation in both the strike zone and Ziegler’s already high age, this could very well be the season where the fates have decided that Brad Ziegler’s time as a Diamondback has come to an end. Daniel Hudson will also be a free agent at the end of the season. While it is starting to look like Hudson is settling in nicely as a late-inning reliever, he still wants to start. On top of that, even if he remains a reliever, he is almost certain to find a contract similar to what Putz and Ziegler have been getting for the Diamondbacks over the last six seasons. That is almost certainly going to be more that the Diamondbacks are willing to pay, given their salary budget constraints. Offseason acquisition Tyler Clippard might also make sense as a trade candidate. He even brings an extra year of affordable control. Less likely, but no less intriguing candidates to move would be Welington Castillo, Chris Owings, and Jean Segura.
Winning in 2016 would make it much easier to prepare for 2017. The biggest reason would be that more money might actually become available to spend. Another problem with building for 2017 when 2016 is in the tank is identifying what sorts of alterations might better-position the team moving forward. How much of 2016, if any, do the Diamondbacks sacrifice now in order to move forward as a competitive team in 2017? Or, does this team double down and still try to make an unlikely push to the 2016 playoffs?