What a difference five days makes. Five days – that’s all it took to go from being a team with a faint, but still reasonable glimmer of hope, to being a team mocked by the baseball gods for daring to suggest that the odds could ever be defied. Sure, the math says the Diamondbacks still have plenty of season to play before their season is over, and Aaron Boone still seems to think the Diamondbacks have a chance to make a late-season run, but if and when the Diamondbacks fail to make the postseason for the fifth consecutive year, the postmortem can determine time of death as 29 June 2016 at 4:34 p.m.
Returning to Chase Field to face the Phillies was supposed to be just the tonic the Diamondbacks needed to make conversations about Diamondbacks baseball that were not focused on 2017 and beyond relevant again. Instead, the series turned out to be a bitter poison. Peter O’Brien continued to embarrass in his audition. The Diamondbacks struck out 31 times in three days, while relying on Zack Greinke to be one of the lone offensive highlights from the first two games. The “A-bullpen” faltered, surrendering the first two losses of the season when winning after seven innings of play. To top it all off, the Diamondbacks may have lost Greinke to the DL, a reward for his efforts to help his own cause at the plate. Instead of going into today’s off-day only three games shy of break-even, riding a productive three-game winning streak and having gone 10-3 in their last 13, the Diamondbacks are nine games under .500 and have now lost five in a row.
Hopefully, the team itself is not looking at the season in this bleak light. This is a team of professional athletes and as a fan I don’t want to see an ounce of quit in them. However, at some point, the front office needs to accept an almost inevitable reality, that this season is lost, and that even matching last year’s moderate success may now be difficult. Currently, the Diamondbacks are on pace to finish seven games worse than 2015. As things stand right now, if the season ended today, Arizona would have a protected pick in the 2017 draft. With that being the case, it is time for the Diamondbacks to switch gears. 2015 was supposed to be an evaluation year, a season during which the fans could take solace in the fact that the team was getting a clear idea of what talent it did and did not have and identifying precisely what areas of concern to address. The team spent so long hovering around Mt. 500 though, that September rolled around and the team had learned far less than probably should have in a lost season. With the money to make adjustments now already spent on Zack Greinke and Tyler Clippard, and the major trade already made in order to bring in Shelby Miller, the Diamondbacks need to get as many answers as they can, as fast as they can. The reasonable window for contention was 2016-2018. They have now lost one of those seasons.
In order to put themselves into the best possible position for 2017, the Diamondbacks still have questions about their roster that need answering. Now is the time to start making changes to address areas of concern, some of which are already blatantly apparent.
Good-bye Peter O’Brien: We hardly got to know thee. I would say we will miss your tape-measure home runs, but the reality is, we won’t. It’s time for the Peter O’Brien experiment to come to an end. When a player is all bat and no glove, they should be hitting like David Ortiz. Peter O’Brien is currently being out-hit by Nick Ahmed by 101 points in batting average while striking out over 40% of his at-bats. Nor is this a case of an unfair tag of “no glove” like some sluggers have been saddled with, as Peter O’Brien continues to find new and painfully amusing ways to turn outs into singles and singles into doubles. Unfortunately, there is little to indicate this is fixable, as O’Brien looks quite literally lost playing in left field at Chase, and quality MLB pitchers can all throw an off-speed pitch. Short of being called on as an emergency DH, it is time for O’Brien to return to Reno until the NPB comes calling.
Good-bye Brad Ziegler, Daniel Hudson: Late inning relievers always bring extra value at the trade deadline. Both Hudson and Ziegler are free agents next season. Not only may Hudson, despite a rough week, be worth more, but the team may very well be strapped for cash to bring him back. All Hudson needs to do is finish the season relatively strong to command a 2 year/$10 million contract, likely pushing him up and out of the Diamondbacks’ comfort zone. Meanwhile, Ziegler has become a “closer” and those bring hefty returns. Additionally, Ziegler will be 37 next season and will also be subject to a new strike zone that is counter to his strengths. It’s time to turn these two assets into something for the future, possibly even a controllable, difference-making bullpen arm that could contribute in 201 and 2018.
Keep a bag packed, Tyler Clippard: The Diamondbacks are unlikely to trade all three arms from their “A-bullpen”. However, depending on the reliever market at the deadline, and the team’s financial situation, Tyler Clippard could still be an attractive candidate in trade talks. If the Diamondbacks can swing a deal for his potential replacement on the 2017 or 2018 roster, they should give moving him serious consideration in order to free up $6 million in salary for next season to help offset arbitration increases.
Put your feet up, Zack Greinke: Don’t mess around here, put Zack Greinke on the DL. The team has nothing to gain by sending Greinke back out to the mound on Monday. Greinke’s future health and ability to dominate the league is far more important that what he might be able to do against the lowly San Diego Padres on Monday. Save those bullets for later and get the ace of the staff healthy. There is just too much that can go wrong as opposed to anything that might possibly go right. Greinke missing a handful of starts out of an abundance of caution now costs the team nothing, but does protect the team moving forward, and also provides the team with a chance to look at another arm.
Take your time, Rubby De La Rosa: As with Greinke, there is no reason to take any risks with Rubby De La Rosa. If it takes until September for that elbow of his to feel proper again, so be it. When he does come back, he needs to pitch exclusively out of the bullpen to keep the strain on that elbow down. Spring Training will be around again soon enough, and De La Rosa can go into camp secure in the fact that he is on the 25-man roster, and from there attempt to pitch his way back into the rotation.
This is your chance, Zack Godley: It’s time for the team to decide what sort of pitcher Zack Godley is going to be. With Greinke on the DL, Godley can slot into the rotation. Essentially, Godley needs to do the reverse of De La Rosa. He needs to pitch as much and as well as he can to show he belongs in the rotation. Otherwise, once next season rolls around, Godley should look at being the new long man out of the bullpen, replacing Josh Collmenter.
Show us what you really have, Shelby Miller: Shelby Miller has two more starts coming on the 2nd and the 7th of July before the All-Star break comes rolling around. If he is unable to significantly improve upon his performance form Coors by that time, the team needs to consider sending him back to Reno. Such a demotion in no way rules him out as a key member of the 2017 rotation, but it allows an even longer look at someone like Godley, while allowing Miller to stay focused on development instead of wins. Also, it removes Miller from the position of becoming a detriment to fan attendance and attitude in the vein of Trevor Cahill. Let him get right and then wow the fans with his fixed mechanics in March, April, and May. If the Diamondbacks are going to compete moving forward, they are going to need the good version of Shelby Miller, and they are going to need fans willing to attend games he pitches.
Hurry back, David Peralta: The Diamondbacks need real outfielders playing the outfield. David Peralta’s offensive numbers are down versus last season, but the team needs to figure out if that is injury driven or part of a trend.
Prove you belong, Yasmany Tomás: Tomás’ bat has really come around this season compared to where he ended up by the end of the 2015 campaign. Unfortunately, that bat is still only a bit over the league average and is still not off-setting his poor defense. On the plus side, his defense, while still quite bad, is improving. On the minus side, Tomás’ improvement at the plate is coming despite him developing some pretty drastic platoon splits. Tomás still needs to show he can hold up over a full season, something he clearly was not prepared for in 2015. Hopefully he can. If he does, then perhaps the team can maximize his value by making him a platoon OF/DH, sheltering him from as many deficiencies (tough RHP and fielding) as possible in 2017. Unlike O’Brien, Tomás has enough bat to stick at the big league level, it’s up to the team to maximize the value of that bat though, something they are not doing right now.
Hurry back, A.J. Pollock: Just don’t rush. Pollock showed no ill effects returning from his broken hand, so there is reason to be bullish that he could return strong from his most recent ordeal. That said, he’s been out of commission since the end of last season. That is a long time away from the game. Ideally, the team will be able to get 4-6 weeks of play out of Pollock, just enough to let him knock the rust off. It will also give the team a chance to make sure that there is not some reason to be concerned with Pollock’s ability to be a top-tier performer in 2017. Better to learn that sort of news as soon as possible.
Good-bye Rickie Weeks: There is no reason to give further at-bats to someone likely done in baseball after this season. Maybe he catches on someplace else for another season (maybe even two), but it will be in an even more reduced role than what he has done for Arizona this year. Weeks is a defensive liability with sub-par base running skills and mediocre plate discipline. It’s time to stop giving away at-bats to aged veterans that could instead be going to young player development.
Say hello to lefties, Jake Lamb: Unless the pitcher on the mound is a dominating lefty, like Clayton Kershaw, there is simply no reason anymore to sit Jake Lamb versus left-handed pitching. Lamb may not be a heart of the order producer against lefties, but that is a matter of moving up or down in the order, not in and out of the lineup.
There are other moves that could be entertained as well. Some might advocate for removing Robbie Ray from the rotation. I am of the opinion to leave him in the rotation to finish the season and then see what happens. He has put up far more good outings than poor ones, and is still young enough that improvement can reasonably be expected. If he fails to improve, then he is bullpen or trade fodder, but the team needs to make sure before giving up on him so early. Brandon Drury needs more at-bats. His defense is always going to hold him back, but if his bat recovers, then he still holds value as a utility player or DH. The team needs to figure out which is the real Patrick Corbin. With Corbin and Miller both entering the second year of arbitration, it is time to decide if Corbin is part of the future, or if he can be replaced by someone else in the organization and moved to address other weaknesses (like catching). The list goes on. It’s time for the team to get to work on whittling that list down some. Once the offseason rolls around the team can jettison Chip Hale, Mike Butcher, and others. Doing so right now, while possibly mollifying some fans, doesn’t really fix much of anything, since anyone that would replace them at this point in the season would be no more than an interim replacement.
There are still 81 games left in this season, and there is still a lot of work to be done. I for one look forward to how the organization goes about that work.