Entering the 2015-17 offseason, the Diamondbacks were in a tough, but enviable position. Despite a disaster 2014 and only winning 79 games in 2015, the team was in a strong position moving forward. They had just selected Dansby Swanson with the first overall pick of the 2016 draft. They had new television revenue kicking in, and they had a ton of freed up money (comparatively speaking) to spend on the free agent market. Added to this was the emergence of A.J. Pollock as a true star-caliber player, the promising debut of Jake Lamb, the continued rise of David Peralta, and promising 2015 results from backstop Welington Castillo. The team had all of that, and one of the game’s very best players, Paul Goldschmidt.
As a borderline .500 team in 2015, the key to success moving into the 2016 season was going to be addressing the areas of need and aggressively attacking them. While it is easy to make some blanket statements about the offense, defense, and pitching, since the goal of the 2015-16 offseason was to create a competitor, it helps to get specific about each player.
Every team works with a 25-man roster. However, injuries, poor performance, trades, players becoming fathers, and numerous other factors contribute to most contending teams needing to go 30-40 players deep, with the first three to five players not on the 25-man roster being hard to justify not finding MLB service time for. Starting with the Diamondbacks 25-man roster, we can further break it down into eight position “starters”, five starting pitchers, a minimum of one backup catcher, and then another eleven slots split between bench and bullpen, the balance being determined by performance and scheduling needs. Before the big moves of the winter were made, this is where the Diamondbacks stood:
The Eight Position Players:
1. Paul Goldschmidt (1B): This is the easiest call one can possibly make. Paul Goldschmidt is among the game’s elite players. He should be expected to start 150 games or more per year. His defense is just as award-worthy as his bat, so there is no reason to be looking for any sort of position platooning. The biggest case for a “day off” would be if he needs some DH time in order to recharge his batteries doing a day game after a night game, or if he is just looking tired in general.
2. A.J. Pollock (CF): The biggest difference between Pollock and Goldschmidt is the length of time they have enjoyed such a high level of success. While Goldschmidt was a hit from the time he came up in late 2011, Pollock’s success only dates back to his pre-injury days of 2014. On the other hand, Pollock plays a much more demanding position in center field as opposed to first base. IN center field, Pollock ranks among the very best defenders in the game. He too should be looking at 140-150 games, with off days coming only when his legs need freshening up.
3. David Peralta (RF): Peralta continued his emergence in 2015 and even proved that, given the opportunity, he is not entirely helpless against left-handed pitching. With average defense and a solid middle-of-the-order bat, Peralta was another name for the list of starters. Despite improvements against left-handed pitching though, tough lefties and fatigue combined made Peralta more of a 120-130 game starter.
4. Ender Inciarte (LF): Defensively gifted and blessed with good speed, Inciarte was a sparkplug for the offense and a blessing for the pitching. Like Peralta, he was able to hang in versus left-handed pitching, but his batting average-driven OBP and pronounced splits still indicated that some left-handed pitchers would simply indicate a day off. Given the level which Inciarte’s game is dependent on his legs, keeping them fresh also would lead to days off, leaving him at about 120-130 games.
5. Jake Lamb (3B): Showing enough plate discipline to not be victimized versus average left-handed pitching, having enough pop to feast on right-handed pitching, and showing signs of defensive superiority made Jake Lamb an easy pick for starting at third base.
6. Welington Castillo (C): As a receiver and pitch-framer, Castillo left much to be desired. Defensively, blocking pitches and throwing out runners, Castillo was at least average, though not terribly mobile. Offensively, Castillo was a breath of fresh air in 2015, breaking out in a big way after being traded from Seattle for Mark Trumbo. Those believing his bat was around to stay had a strong argument that his bat outweighed his glove. Those expecting his bat to slip back to his career levels had some reason to be concerned that catching might be a weak spot.
7. Chris Owings (2B): Which Chris Owings is the real deal? Ever since his injury, Owings’ offense was a drastic liability. At second base, his glove was a strong plus.
8. Nick Ahmed (SS): The epitome of all-glove and no-bat, Ahmed was one of the few whose glove was so special he was able to generate decent positive value despite his bat, which showed repeated flashes of being able to sustain him as a starter.
WAR Baseline: 20 WAR
The eight players listed above should, through their contributions, have been expected to provide a minimum of 20 WAR for the 2016 club. Since we are shooting for 40 in order to cement the team as a playoff contender, and not a playoff hopeful, that’s not a bad start since the team still has starting pitching, the bullpen, and the bench left. Possibly the biggest advantage that group had going into the 2016 season was that only Castillo looked poised for any sort of real decline in performance, while all the others looked primed to maintain or improve. In the case of Owings and second base, the value could really only go up.
The Starting Five:
1. Patrick Corbin (LHP): Coming off a rehab shortened season, Patrick Corbin stood ready to return to 160-180 innings of dominant baseball. The early returns in 2015 when he was slotted back into the rotation showed that Corbin was suffering no ill effects from his Tommy John surgery, and still had the nasty stuff to make big league hitters look bad.
2. Rubby De La Rosa (RHP): Possibly the biggest frustration of the 2015 season in terms of player performance was Rubby De La Rosa. From time-to-time De La Rosa would flash the makings of a dominant arm. Then, without explanation, he would give the team two or three games of performances that would lead one to believe he might never stick in the big leagues. Then still in the other games in between, he would have mediocre stuff, but stuff good enough that he could be considered rotation filler for the back end of a rotation. After a full season of looks, it was fair to say that the report card on him was still incomplete.
3. Chase Anderson (RHP): Anderson struggled once the league began to adapt to him. Anderson’s room for error as a starter makes it difficult for him to find continued success.
4. Robbie Ray (LHP): Arguably the team’s best pitcher in 2015, and already decidedly above league average, Robbie Ray still had youth and obvious development still in that talented, hard-throwing left arm.
5. Archie Bradley (RHP): Bradley lost his spot in the rotation after struggling post injury. However, Jeremy Hellickson turned out to be one of the worst starters in all of baseball in 2015, opening the door to pencil Bradly back into the rotation once he spent the offseason refining his game some more.
WAR Baseline: 10 WAR
Consistency and continued development stood out as the only things that could help that rotation. Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin looked to be the only reliable arms of the bunch, with Archie Bradley still being a strong candidate to be at least a 2 WAR pitcher if he could just stick. This is significantly less than one would hope for, but a stellar bullpen could help mitigate things.
1. Brad Ziegler (RHP): The most reliable and consistent bullpen arm in the history of the organization and one of the best in the league.
2. Daniel Hudson (RHP): With the repertoire of a starter and the ability to possibly touch triple digits on the gun, Hudson was poised to remake himself into a dominant bullpen arm.
3. Randal Delgado (RHP): Reliable but unspectacular relief pitcher.
4. Josh Collmenter (RHP): The long-man with the rubber arm.
5. Andrew Chafin (LHP): As a reliever, Chafin developed into one of the better left-handed options coming out of a bullpen. Also, Chafin represented the Diamondbacks lone solid candidate for the job of left-handed reliever
WAR Baseline: 3 WAR
Things could be worse, but this is not enough to offset the rotation’s baseline. On the plus side, this left 2-3 bullpen slots open to help increase the performance.
1. Yasmany Tomás (OF/RHB): Defensive liability and a late-season swoon led to Tomás eventually losing the starting position to the combination of Peralta and Inciarte. Offseason conditioning and working more on defense would be key to Tomás’ future, which was still bright. With his potential, his power, and his contract, Tomás was at least the team’s fourth outfielder.
2. Tuffy Gosewisch (C): Every team has to have a backup catcher. Gosewisch fills that role by bringing a much more polished catching game than Castillo, but not enough bat to get 100 starts.
3. Phil Gosselin (Util/RHB): Able to fill in at LF, RF, first, second, and third, Gosselin represented the sort of depth to make sure guys got days off to stay fresh.
4. Aaron Hill (IF/RHB): Aging veteran Hill represented a big contract providing little value. Other than late-inning PH duties, Hill represented a burden on the roster.
WAR Baseline: 1 WAR
Sheltered from tough right-handed pitching or having to play the field too often, Tomás might not be as big a detriment in 2016 as he was in 2015. Gosewisch and Gosselin both provide slight value, and Aaron Hill could be kept from sinking things simply by not playing too much. As with the bullpen, this also leaves a few slots open, including one to find a left-handed bat off the bench.
On the Farm:
Peter O’Brien (OF/RHB)
Socrates Brito (OF/LHB)
Brandon Drury (Util/RHB)
Aaron Blair (RHSP)
Braden Shipley (RHSP)
Despite performing somewhere between decent and stellar in 2015, none of the five listed above were no-doubters, though Brito’s defensive skills and left-handed bat made him a strong candidate to fill out part of the 25-man bench, assuming a willingness to limit his developmental at-bats.
Sitting in the chair making a decision about how to improve the team listed above, moving from 79 wins to 90+ wins, it is easy to see where the biggest increase in value needed to come from – the pitching. Of developing talent, only Blair stood out as a possibility to contribute from opening day. Shipley was still a mid-season arrival at best. The bullpen had some intriguing arms, but none that would turn the already established relief corps into one similar to the bullpen in Kansas City.
In order to improve to 90+ wins, the team needed to address pitching in a big way, and it needed to do so through the starting pitching, making the likes of Archie Bradley the team’s number five pitcher, with Corbin and Ray slotting in at three and four. Furthermore, beyond the simple need to improve pitching, the team needed to improve the overall expected win value of the team by about six games. Finding all six games in one player is a tall order. David Price, the best player on the market only reached that lofty goal once, back in 2012. Randy Johnson, Hall of Fame pitcher extraordinaire, only reached that lofty goal eight times in his 22 years of playing ball. But the Diamondbacks didn’t need to find all six wins in one player. In fact, the team really did need to find two more pitchers to strengthen the rotation, and thereby the bullpen as well. Splitting that six wins up between two players, now that’s a very obtainable goal. Doing it with pitching, that’s tougher, but not impossible.
Continued in Part 2: The Options