The Diamondbacks started the 2016 roster with two big moves in the acquisition of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. In addition, they made the move to acquire Jean Segura and move him from shortstop to second base. While the Diamondbacks looked good in January, the reality was the roster was top-heavy and needed everything to go right for the team to contend. Evidenced by the team’s poor record, that obviously hasn’t happened. In fact, just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong and the team is in the same situation they faced in 2014, perhaps even worse than back then.
The starting pitching has been worse in 2016, with injuries to Zack Greinke and Rubby De La Rosa in addition to ineffectiveness from both Patrick Corbin and Shelby Miller, who the team were heavily counting on to carry the load. There has been inconsistency from both Archie Bradley and Robbie Ray, although both show promise with solid strikeout rates. For both pitchers, walks and falling behind have been issues but they have at least one reliable out pitch (Ray’s 95-97 MPH fastball, Bradley’s knuckle-curve), which explains the high strikeout rate. In addition, the Diamondbacks have decided to give their top pitching prospect, Braden Shipley, a shot at the majors after posting solid numbers for AAA Reno. Like with Bradley and Ray, Shipley struggled but had a lot of solid moments in his debut to look forward to.
Help is on the way, as Greinke allowed 1 unearned run in 3 innings in a rehab start for the team’s Arizona League affiliate before the monsoon rolled in. He’s probably at least two weeks away from returning, but he should get 7-8 starts before the season concludes in October. De La Rosa is not far behind in his rehab, although the team should take his rehab more seriously since it involves the UCL and he’s already been a Tommy John patient. As the rotation currently is, Godley is currently a placeholder for Greinke and by the time De La Rosa is back it may be time to shut down Corbin for the season anyway. When the rosters expand to 40 in September, the team should employ a 6-man rotation in order to keep giving Shipley opportunities to succeed and get film for the next coaching staff.
Relievers are a volatile bunch, so the idea is to sell high and buy low is even more crucial here. The Diamondbacks signed Tyler Clippard to join up with Brad Ziegler and Daniel Hudson to form a shutdown trio and take pressure off the starters to pitch deeper than the 6th inning. It worked out for the first half of the season, but hasn’t been good since the end of June. The Diamondbacks sold Ziegler for two A-ball prospects that don’t really factor much in their top 20 organizational prospect rankings across the industry. Hudson has struggled since June 23rd, almost to the point where he was close to crying in Friday’s loss to the Dodgers. I feel especially bad for him, considering he’s a fan favorite and was arguably my 2nd favorite player after Goldschmidt in the team’s 2011 pennant race.
The Diamondbacks should consider moving both Hudson and Clippard at the deadline, considering bullpens can be easily built if you get enough of the right guys. The Diamondbacks have 4 prospects that should get a look in big situations in Enrique Burgos, Jake Barrett, Jimmie Sherfy, and Silvino Bracho. Bracho is not eligible to return until August 5th and Sherfy requires a 40-man move to get on the roster. Dominic Leone is a candidate to be outrighted to the minors since he always seems to give up runs when he appears. The team also should give Daniel Gibson an opportunity although they just recently demoted him back to AA Mobile after pitching to a 6.23 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in Reno. Another key piece that needs a return to health is lefty Andrew Chafin because the team lacks a consistent left-handed reliever, although Chafin has been ineffective and/or injured.
Catchers and Infield
The Diamondbacks should absolutely consider shopping Welington Castillo and Jean Segura, at least as a mean to gauge their value across the industry. That does not necessarily mean trading them, although if the team looks hopeless for 2017, it makes sense to try to sell high on them. If the Diamondbacks find a team willing to play exorbitant prices for those two players, they should go ahead with the deal. The move hurts the team in the short-term, but if they can get a MLB-ready piece and a top pitching and position player prospect (unless their #2 is a good catching prospect that may be a 12-18 months away) they should at least consider it.
The Diamondbacks need to figure out if Nick Ahmed is their shortstop of the future or if his bat is too much a liability for him to be an everyday player. Ahmed has a career BABIP of .254 and a career OPS+ of 59 that’s buoyed mostly from a 2015 mark of 70 and the rest of his career being under 50. It doesn’t matter if he can glove everything between 2nd and 3rd base, if he can’t even break even with his bat value then the team needs to look somewhere else at the position. They do have options with Segura and Chris Owings, who are clearly more gifted with the bat and don’t subtract too much defensive value.
Jake Lamb has been the biggest surprise of the season, as he’s experienced a power surge that no one saw coming. At one point, Jake Lamb was murdering everything in sight and was looking like the most dangerous hitter in the National League. He has cooled off a bit since with a bad stretch that may have been the result of a minor hand injury. Lamb will be expensive if they go year-to-year in arbitration, so they should absolutely explore a contract extension of 5+ years to buy out a FA year. I don’t think he’ll sustain the pace he set at the end of June through the All-Star break, but it’s safe to assume he’ll be a 5.0 WAR player moving forward. Assuming no deals are made, the infield of the future should be Paul Goldschmidt at first, Jean Segura and Chris Owings up the middle (positions don’t matter), and Jake Lamb at 3rd.
The Diamondbacks lost AJ Pollock a few days before the season started to an elbow injury that was really a ticking time bomb. Any amount of games Pollock can get this year will be a bonus as he will some film to work with in the offseason. I would assume the starting outfield once Pollock is back is Yasmany Tomas in left field, Pollock in center field, and David Peralta in right field. The outfield situation the Dbacks put themselves through in 2016 was the result of injuries combined with a lack of depth. They had to sign Michael Bourn for Christ’s sake.
Another returning player to monitor is Socrates Brito, who is returning from a broken toe injury on a foul ball that 9/10 times would cause nothing more than a bruise. When Brito returns, they should give him everyday opportunities in CF over Bourn because Bourn is gone after the season regardless and his ABs don’t improve the cause of the team. Same situation with Rickie Weeks Jr., although the team should definitely consider signing a veteran OF in the offseason, preferably a right-handed hitting option in case Haniger is not ready in 2017.
For preparations for 2017, the team should consider giving Mitch Haniger a look. Haniger is hitting .390/.456/.802 in 205 plate appearances since getting promoted to AAA Reno. That backs up a .294/.407/.462 slash in 236 plate appearances in Mobile, so this isn’t a Peter O’Brien situation although Haniger does have a troubling jump in strikeout rate in Reno of almost 10%. That is offset by a 11.2% walk rate in Reno, so there is more hope for him than O’Brien. If Haniger succeeds, he would make the perfect right-handed complement for David Peralta in right field and give Tomas a few off days in left field.
The team is going nowhere fast and changes are inevitable in the offseason. Right now, the team has a lot of self-evaluation that needs to be done and that starts from the top (looking at you, Tony). It starts with Chief Baseball Officer Tony LaRussa, whose recent interview on the Burns and Gambo show was very eye-opening and disturbing to listen to, depending on your viewpoint. He needs to make sure that he has the right guys in place, and that starts with the manager and the coaching staff, which has underwhelmed as a unit in 2016.
The offseason will likely include another managerial search, which could mean wholesale changes with the entire coaching staff. With Chip Hale at best being a lame duck through the season, the team might as well eat the money on Hale’s contract and give AAA manager Phil Nevin an opportunity to manage the team for a couple months. Pitching coach Mike Butcher is another guy that is likely gone at the end of the season, assuming the potential new manager wants his own guy at the position. While Butcher has been a part of the Diamondbacks struggles, firing him during the season doesn’t really solve much anyway because then they have to find a new pitching coach in the process during the season and that alone is a major distraction that accomplishes almost nothing other than changing the figurehead.
The team has drastically under-performed in 2016 relative to expectations of at least being in the race with an above .500 record, with yours truly putting up 86-76 as my official prediction. The team lacks readily available blue chip talent with a farm system that mostly features players with utility bats or bottom of the rotation pitchers and the more talented players in the system being too far away to make a difference in the next 3 seasons. Trading away what minuscule amount of talent is left would be doubling down on a mistake and put the team in a position where they have to blow up the entire operation for 5 years instead of maybe 1-2 years to stockpile talent like they did in 2010.