A great deal of digital ink has been spilt over the plight of the Diamondbacks and their hopes for the future. There are those that feel the Diamondbacks shot themselves in the foot last winter, spending the entire payroll budget and depleting the farm of any talent, leaving them ill-prepared to improve without a complete tear down and rebuild from the ground up. This would include jettisoning Zack Greinke, A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and essentially anyone not nailed to the roster by an unmovable contract or piss-poor performance. Others look at the youth of this team and the number of games missed by players like A.J. Pollock, Rubby De La Rosa, David Peralta, Zack Greinke, Chris Owings, Shelby Miller, and Jean Segura and see a team that, with health on its side and just the slightest hint of good fortune, should be a playoff contender.
Tony La Russa seems to be mostly in the second camp, at least that’s where he is publicly. Obviously, he needs to keep a positive spin on things. That’s part of being in the front office of any sports franchise. However, his actions away from the cameras and microphones would seem to indicate that there is not a disconnect. He does point out that there needs to be some serious reflection and some harsh self-appraisals done if this young team is to take a step forward. However, he also points out that looking forward at the upcoming crop of free agents, that teams would be hard-pressed to find anyone the caliber of Shelby Miller. This would seem to indicate that he clearly feels the talent is already there, it is simply a matter of the Diamondbacks figuring out how best to maximize the potential of the team.
Certainly, better health moving forward will be a primary key for any sort of success by the Diamondbacks. In only nine starts since returning from the DL, A.J. Pollock has reminded fans and other teams alike just what the Diamondbacks have been missing. Sporting a .350 OBP, four stolen bases, playing elite defense, and flashing some pop by hitting two home runs, Pollock has already managed to accrue 0.6 bWAR on the season. Health from just Pollock and Peralta alone does change the dynamic. Not only would the team be able to add their positive contributions, but the negative contributions made from others trying to fill in would be eliminated.
While it is aggressive to suggest that with perfect health on the season the Diamondbacks would be 10 games better than they are now, it is not an entirely unreasonable one. Furthermore, it helps to demonstrate another point regarding this team as assembled. Already playing two games above their Pythagorean win total, adding another 10 wins would leave the Diamondbacks two games below .500. All sorts of things change if the team is only two games below even. For one thing, Brad Ziegler and Tyler Clippard are probably still with the team, though Ziegler would still be gone at the end of the season. Another bullpen arm might have been added at the deadline to try and shore things up somewhat. Obviously, the season would still be disappointing, but the fan base would not be all-out revolt. Still, the key takeaway is that the team, with 10 more wins due to ideal health, is a team below .500.
With the exceptions of the departed Ziegler and Clippard, this season’s team is mostly likely the same team that will be taking the field in 2017. Sure, there will be a few tweaks. Rickie Weeks is gone. Daniel Hudson is probably gone as well, though the team might still attempt to retain him this winter. The starting position players looks to be relatively unchanged though, save that Owings and Ahmed may once again be competing for the privilege of being the starting shortstop. The rotation is likely to be some combination of Greinke, Ray, Bradley, Miller, Shipley, De La Rosa and Corbin, with Anthony Banda waiting in the wings. The bullpen is the one place we are most likely to see the greatest amount of change, with Randall Delgado and Zack Godley being the two mainstay returnees.
If the team that is assembled now is marginally a .500 team on the high end, what does that say about the team in place to take the field in 2017?
The one thing about success is that it can be very contagious, just as losing can be. First and foremost, the Diamondbacks need health on their side next season. Beyond that though, they need to foster a culture of winning a culture of expected excellence. In short, they need team leaders to step up and hold accountable those that are failing to pull their weight. This is where I think the need for a coaching change comes into play. Chip Hale, Mike Butcher, and others have become too intimately connected to a losing culture. When things have gone south for the Diamondbacks this season, the coaches have not responded well, and Chip Hale has looked and behaved like an unprepared and defeated man. Anyone who has paid attention to Hale’s work over the years knows he is one of the most prepared men out there. His ability to organize is one of the things that set him apart as a great bench coach. So it should be speaking volumes that he has, more than once this season, simply looked lost in the dugout.
If Jimmie Sherfy turns out to be as good as advertised, Steve Hathaway turns out to not be a flash in the pan, and Rubby De La Rosa joins the bullpen, the bullpen could in fact become something of a strength for the Diamondbacks next season. If Shelby Miller can return to even 70% of the form he once showed in St. Louis and Atlanta, the rotation could actually be above average instead of the worst in baseball (along with the bullpen).
That’s an awful lot of ifs. Health, positive regression, prospects panning out, lack of an aging curve regression, these are all things the Diamondbacks need to break their way. If in fact they do though, even just most of them, the Diamondbacks really may have the talent to be a serious playoff contender, but that is going to take a winning atmosphere and the best possible mental and physical preparation. In short, while it is unlikely the Diamondbacks are strong contenders with the talent they already have, the team is going to need a significant culture change if it hopes to have any shot of competing at all.