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Dbacks Regime Faces Biggest Challenge Yet

With the honeymoon period over and the Diamondbacks coming off a 93-win season and a trip to the National League Division Series, the work has just begun for Mike Hazen to build the Diamondbacks into a championship contender.

MLB: NL Wildcard Practice The Arizona Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

With the 2017 season officially over, and congratulations to the Houston Astros, the Diamondbacks now can now look forward towards building their 2018 roster. The team was able to overachieve in 2017 based on a strong starting rotation, a solid enough back-end of the bullpen, an MVP caliber season from Paul Goldschmidt, and the best two months of J.D. Martinez’s career. It’s still quite possible for the Diamondbacks to be able to compete for the playoffs once again in 2018, but it’s going to require excellent roster management and a bit of luck to be in the same position next September.

Important Decisions:

  1. J.D. Martinez Free Agency: In order for the Diamondbacks to build a competitive roster, I think they have to make the tough decision to let J.D. Martinez walk away for nothing. The reality was he was only going to be around for 2-3 months and help just the 2017 team. Martinez will likely command a $25M+ per year contract and possibly at least 4 years on the open market, something the Dbacks cannot afford to have with a small payroll and a lot of players on the roster about to hit their first arbitration year.
  2. Robbie Ray Extension: Ray has finally arrived as one of the game’s premier left-handed starters, so it’s prudent for the Dbacks to try to hammer out a long term deal instead of go year-to-year. At the minimum they need to hammer out a deal that provides cost certainty for Ray’s 3 arbitration years. At the tail-end they can try to add a club option or even try to buy out some free agent years. There’s no telling to how long Paul Goldschmidt will be around with only 2 years of team control, and Ray is shaping up to be the next face of the franchise. Ray is controllable through 2020, but the longer the Dbacks wait, the more likely Ray ends up walking to another club on a major pay day.
  3. Daniel Descalso Option: I lean towards picking it up due to his intangible skill set. Descalso is the poster child for NL bench players with the ability to handle multiple positions and the ability to perform in big situations even if his overall hitting abilities aren’t special.

Areas of Strengths:

  1. Starting Rotation: The Diamondbacks have a formidable starting five in Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke, Taijuan Walker, Zack Godley, and Patrick Corbin. All five pitchers accumulated 3.0+ bWAR, which is a huge reason why the Dbacks won 93 games. Ray has established himself as the best pitcher on the team moving forward while Godley and Walker showed signs of improvement over 2016. I do think the rotation is due for regression, especially with Walker and Godley going into 2018, but they’ve also shown room for improvement in their overall game.
  2. Paul Goldschmidt: Goldy bounced back to get another MVP caliber season, even though I don’t think he’ll win the award this year due to many deserving candidates. Goldy will be starting his Age 30 season in 2018, which is a big year for him and the organization for deciding his long term future. Not only is he the team’s best player, but also their best trade chip if things go south and they start rebuilding.

Areas of Weakness:

  1. Depth: The Diamondbacks were able to perform well in 2017 because they didn’t get decimated by injuries like they did in 2016. A.J. Pollock had his yearly DL trip, although the team was able to ham and egg it in CF with Gregor Blanco and Rey Fuentes. Shelby Miller went down with a torn UCL and subsequently opted for Tommy John Surgery. Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed suffered season-ending injuries after getting hit in the hand by Cardinals pitchers. Those two injuries created the opportunity for Zack Godley and Ketel Marte to show they were capable of contributing in a big way. The Diamondbacks were able to survive injuries in 2017, but I still think their season is as vulnerable to injuries as was 2016 if the luck swings the other way. The team needs to be able to add depth to pretty much every position the best way they can. In 2017, someone was always there to step up when an injury occurred. Hazen needs to find those “next man up” type players to fill the organization with because there’s a high probability that at least one starting position player, one starting pitcher, and one reliever will suffer serious injuries over the course of the season
  2. Bullpen: Pretty much the only reliever you can pencil in the bullpen is Archie Bradley, unless he wins a starting rotation job in camp. It’s unlikely Bradley will beat out any of the five pitchers the team ended the season with if all five of them are healthy though. The team has Jake Barrett, Jimmie Sherfy, J.J. Hoover, Andrew Chafin on the roster, although Hoover could be a non-tender candidate. That means the team needs to find a closer or promote Archie Bradley to the role, which is what I think they’ll go for. Building bullpens can be tricky, although the team has a very promising lefty in Jared Miller that should be in camp this Spring once again to compete for a job. In addition to closer, the team needs to find the bridge guys. Is Randall Delgado going to be healthy enough to be a middle inning bridge from starter to back-end of the bullpen? The bullpen has a lot of questions going into 2018 and it’s up to Hazen to find answers.
  3. Corner Outfield: Once again, Yasmany Tomás appears slated for a starting job in the outfield. Unfortunately, that’s not good for the Diamondbacks given Tomás’ very limited skill set on the field that is not favorable for a National League team, let alone one that plays with a big outfield. Peralta had a solid 2017 season and should be starting at one of the corner outfield spots as well. The Diamondbacks should look to acquire help at the position, if not a player who can man left field for the Diamondbacks.
  4. Hitting LHP: The Diamondbacks struggled in the first half of the year against LHP, which didn’t turn around until the team acquired Martinez back in July. Teams were avoiding Goldschmidt because at the time the team’s 2nd best run producer has mightily struggled against LHP all season and getting him out after pitching around Goldy. When Martinez was batting behind Goldy it was pick your poison. With Martinez likely headed for another team, that makes the team weaker against left-handed pitching. It will be interesting to see how they address the issue.

Last offseason with no pressure at all, Hazen was able to construct a roster that won 93 games and the Wild Card Game. With that success in mind, the pressure becomes building a roster that can compete for the playoffs again. He finds himself in the same chair as Kevin Towers did after 2011. He inherited a talented, yet flawed roster that was able to get a few breaks here or there and vaulted themselves into the playoffs out of nowhere. Towers ultimately was unable to handle that challenge and wound up gutting the team’s core and future for moves that didn’t pan out. Those are mistakes that Hazen needs to avoid.