You’d be hard pushed to look at the 2017 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks and consider it other than a roaring success. A team expected by most to fall short of a .500 record, instead won the fourth-most game in the twenty year history of the franchise. The D-backs made the playoffs for the first time since 2011, taking the top National League wild-card spot, before defeating the Colorado Rockies in an enthralling battle at Chase Field. Although they then succumbed to the Dodgers in the Division Series, it was still a remarkable achievement for GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo, both in their first seasons on the job.
Of course, we’ve been here before. The unexpected successes for Arizona in both 2007 and 2011 proved to be fleeting. On both occasions, the team then went “all-in”, but were unable to sustain the early success enjoyed by Josh Byrnes and Kevin Towers respectively. I expect Hazen to take a more cautious approach this winter: he may not have been around for the previous aborted windows of opportunity, but others with the team were. Speaking at the end of this season, Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall specifically referenced the lessons learned:
I think the goal hasn’t changed at all from when we hired (Hazen and his assistants) and their desire to make this thing sustainable. But we have to do what makes sense now and hopefully improve but make sure it addresses the need for sustainability. Can we repeat 93 wins? I don’t know. I think in the past we’ve made the mistake of almost chasing it... We just have to be careful. These guys are fully aware of that. They’re disciplined.
It does help that most of the core players from 2017 are already under contract for the 2018 campaign. That includes the five hitters with 400+ plate-appearances with Arizona this season, and also all ten of the pitchers who made starts for the Diamondbacks on the mound. However, the team does have a number of key men eligible for free-agency: in terms of playing time this year, they are led by Chris Iannetta (317 PA), ahead of J.D. Martinez (257) and Gregor Blanco (256), with closer Fernando Rodney and bullpen colleague Jorge De La Rosa the most active on the pitching side.
There may be financial issues too, with a significant number of Arizona players due increases, either due to arbitration or previously signed contracts. Yasmany Tomas, Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, Patrick Corbin, Jake Lamb, Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray, are among those who will likely see significant bumps in their salaries, of anywhere between two and five million. Some positions will also have to be decided, and if the team needs to find better alternatives, those need to be located. Here’s a quick overview of the eight positions and two pitching areas, and what the team might be looking at in each this winter.
- Catcher. While Jeff Mathis is under contract for 2018, his partner Iannetta is a free-agent. If he isn’t re-signed, the team will need to sign another catcher, as Mathis has not started more than even 70 games in a season since 2011.
- First base. Should we buy line-up cards with Paul Goldschmidt’s name pre-printed, to save time? But with his current contract up after the team option year in 2019, is it time to think about a contract extension? If not, how would Arizona replace him?
- Second base. Does the team continue with the Brandon Drury experiment? It was okay, I guess: 1.6 bWAR, 1.2 fWAR, and Drury is only 25. But we may have options, depending on what the team does at...
- Shortstop. Is Ketel Marte the everyday shortstop of the team’s future? Only one D-back has started even 100 games there since 2010 (Nick Ahmed in 2015); Marte made a strong impression over the second-half, perhaps displacing Chris Owings.
- Third base. For each of the past two seasons, a pair of issues have bedeviled Jake Lamb. A second-half slump and his struggles against left-handed pitching. Can these be corrected? If not, what should the team do?
- Left field. Yasmany Tomas is owed $46 million over the next three seasons, but has not even played at replacement level so far. Were his struggles this season due to poor health? Or must he now be considered a sunk cost?
- Center field. A.J. Pollock enters his final year of arbitration. He won’t be cheap in 2018, but was serviceable (2.1 bWAR, 2.9 fWAR) and there’s no obvious alternative in our farm system. Do we sign, trade or extend him?
- Right field. Re-signing J.D. Martinez looks, given the current roster, almost impossible. But if the Diamondbacks are not able to bring him back, how can they possibly go about replacing his remarkable second-half production?
- Starting pitching. As noted, all 162 starts will be available in 2018. But might Zack Greinke’s cost be better used elsewhere? His trade value might never be higher after an excellent 2017. Would you rather have him or Martinez?
- Relief pitching. Who will be the D-backs’ closer? Fernando Rodney will likely get a nice payday as a free-agent. But the team has internal options, like Archie Bradley and Jimmie Sherfy. How will our bullpen roles shake down?
Below, you’ll find a form to rate the above ten areas, with your level of concern as to how much they are an issue this winter. We’ll then use this to rank them, as we cover each position in more detail.