It’s safe to call this season a disappointment. The team promised us a team that could compete for a playoff spot if they could acquire better starting pitching. They certainly made the effort to try to improve the rotation with the acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. Greinke has worked out and Miller has been a dumpster fire this year. Perhaps the most painful part of the Miller trade is not how he’s performed, but rather what they gave up to get him. The rotation as a unit has regressed in 2016, which is a big reason why the team sits at a 36-45 record at the midway point.
For the Diamondbacks, the 2016 season is a lost cause because of their inability to play at home. It’s now reached the stages of comically-bad, as anyone that’s talked to me recently can confirm. Chip Hale is now likely a lame duck for the season because that type of performance at home gets managers fired, even if the team’s problems are above his pay grade. The absolute worst-case scenario has happened, with key players on the team suffering injuries and players that have avoided the injury bug regressing from their previous seasons.
There are some positives to note for the 2016 season. Jean Segura and Jake Lamb are in the midst of their best season of their short careers to date, both of whom are strong candidates for the All-Star Game. Paul Goldschmidt is posting his usual numbers, although his slugging percent and ISO are a bit down from his career rates. The A-bullpen of Tyler Clippard, Daniel Hudson, and Brad Ziegler have been a strength on the team, although all 3 have experienced rough patches of late. Chris Herrmann has emerged as an unlikely contributor off the bench. For the Diamondbacks, it’s no longer about 2016 but rather what you have that’s working and what you need to improve on. As for expectations for 2017, they aren’t very high barring drastic changes.
Now we’re on to the adjustments the team has to make in the 2nd half of the 2016 season in order to put the team in better shape moving forward:
- End the Peter O’Brien Experiment: It’s safe to say that O’Brien cannot hit MLB caliber pitching with a GPS. Pitchers that can command off-speed pitches over the plate, but not necessarily in the strike zone continually make him look bad. It’s gotten to the point, where just making contact feels like a moral victory with him reaching base or not being irrelevant. The Diamondbacks have better OF options in Reno than O’Brien with Zach Borenstein and Mitch Haniger itching for a shot at the majors. Those two put up better numbers than O’Brien at the AA level and better process-level results in their short stint in Reno this year. Haniger should also be an improvement defensively over the players that line up in LF that have no business playing the outfield in the majors with Rickie Weeks and Brandon Drury.
- Sell the A-Bullpen Pieces: Brad Ziegler and Daniel Hudson are free agents after the season and the Diamondbacks should absolutely try to get whatever prospect value they can from those two. Neither guy likely fetches more than a C prospect, but prospects are lottery tickets and perhaps they land a Diamond in the Rough. Clippard has a 2nd year on his contract, which makes him likely a more coveted commodity since teams in contention this year would like to have a piece that isn’t purely a rental. Clippard is probably the most superfluous piece of the three and could get the best return since teams know exactly how he can help them.
- Give the Young Players a Chance to Prove Themselves: The Diamondbacks do have a nice group of players that are a phone call away from the majors. Braden Shipley, Mitch Haniger, Zach Borenstein, and Jack Reinheimer are players who have done well in AA Mobile and AAA Reno in the last two years. None of them are on the 40-man roster, although there are some DFA candidates once the team realizes that the season is basically over. Most of the players I listed are September call-up players, although given the current state of the Diamondbacks outfield, Haniger’s status for a promotion bears monitoring.
- Jake Lamb Extension: The Diamondbacks lucked out 3 years ago when they signed Goldschmidt to a 5-year extension covering 2014-2018 at a ridiculously cheap rate. Since then, all he’s done is perform at the highest level and that put the Diamondbacks in a financial position to add a guy like Zack Greinke. They have another guy that they can try the same process with in Jake Lamb. Lamb is 25, so he’s going to be looking for some financial security even though he’s arguably in the Top 50 players in the game today. Lamb isn’t going to come as cheap as Goldschmidt (5/$32.5M that’s now looking like a 6/$47M with a $14.5M club option that’s a no-brainer to pick up), but he’s not a Scott Boras client either so there is hope for a deal. Lamb is in the midst of a breakout season in his 2nd full season (.288/.366/.592 with 18 2B, 5 3B, 17 HR, and 55 RBI), like Goldschmidt, and is the team’s arguably most dangerous hitter at the plate right now. If they don’t do a deal soon, Lamb will cost the team well north of $40M in his 3 arbitration seasons alone. Lamb is currently under control through 2020 (Age 29 season).
- Focus on the Process of Getting Better, Regardless of Results: It would take a miracle to propel the Diamondbacks back into the playoff race, so now the task at hand is focusing on getting better in the 2nd half. For the pitchers, that means executing pitches better and for the hitters, being able to work tough ABs and make better contact. Based on the team’s current record, the results are not there. At this point, the players are now playing for roles on the 2017 roster. The team has 3 main building blocks with Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, and Zack Greinke right now. The rest of the team will have to earn their place on next year’s team. For the players that are injured, it’s a chance to shake off some rust going into next year.
For my 86-76 prediction, the Diamondbacks would have to go 50-31 in the 2nd half of the season but I will still hold that prediction line for as long as I can. For the Diamondbacks, the name of the game is not necessarily winning, but getting better in the pie in the sky chance that 2017 goes well.