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The Bard’s Take: Hope Springs Eternal

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February is here, and if there is any point during the year where it seems appropriate to have hope for the upcoming season, it seems that now would be that time.

February is finally here. After the horrible season the Arizona Diamondbacks had in 2016, it feels like it took the month of Cupid, Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and the Super Bowl forever to get here. But, it is here now. The Super Bowl will be played on Sunday and we can finally all turn our undivided attention to the wondrous sport of baseball. Yeah, I know, who am I kidding? Even after the Super Bowl, American Rules Hand-Egg will still dominate most sports-related conversations. The damn shield has just become far too capable of a marketing juggernaut to deny anymore.

Still, the incessant droning on about which talented college senior the Arizona Cardinals are going to take with their 10th pick and whether or not the Patriots are a bunch of low-down cheating cheaters of the ugly cheating variety will not detract from my enjoyment of the fact that pitchers and catcher report in only 12 more days. That’s less than two weeks! Huzzah, I say! Huzzah! Heck, it’s only three weeks from today that the Diamondbacks play their first game against the Grand Canyon Antelopes to open their Spring Training season. I truly feel for some of those ‘lopes if Greinke or Ray pitch in that game.

This is the time of year where postseason hopes for every team in baseball spring (semi) eternal. For Arizona, gone are Dave Stewart and Chip Hale, along with many of the coaches from last year. The team has brought Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo in and fully embraced the era of analytics in baseball. The team has also added the once-dynamic closer Fernando Rodney to their beleaguered bullpen. Not to be outdone, the rotation was given an infusion of talent as well, with developing ace Taijuan Walker being acquired from the Seattle Mariners. A.J. Pollock is fully healed and rested, as is David Peralta. Gone is the glove of Welington Castillo, replaced by defensively gifted Jeff Mathis, who will use his past experiences with Zack Greinke to get the very most out of the Arizona ace. With all of these great changes to the team, how could they not be a strong postseason contender? Right?

Armed with the optimism that only February can bring, I logged into my favorite “go-to” site for baseball odds, Top Bet to have a look at how the professional odds-makers view this franchise in the middle of a possible change in identity. So what did Top Bet have to say? I think the grounds-keepers in the classic baseball film Major League probably summed it up best.

Yeah, with only five teams in the National League (two in unapologetinc full-on rebuild) having longer odds to win the NL Pennant, maybe there is some call for me to temper my excitement. I’m not even going to get into the Diamondbacks winning the World Series, where they have been given the same odds as Israel has been given of winning the final World Baseball Classic. Of course, the odds to win the NL Pennant improved by roughly half since New Year’s, so maybe things really are improving for Arizona. (No, I don’t believe it either, but it’s fun to be hopeful sometimes.) The rest of the National League looks somewhat as expected, with the NL West once again making the postseason picture interesting. The Cubs are expected to run away with the NL, with the Nationals, Dodgers, and Giants all in tight competition for the rest of the playoff slots. The Mets are still close behind, followed by some distance by the Cardinals. Then there is a big drop-off to the rest of the league. The American League looks to be much more wide open after getting beyond Boston and Cleveland at the top.

Maybe all of this is just the odd-maker’s way of saying I should get with the programme and more readily embrace the idea of a complete tear-down and rebuild here in the desert, something advocated by at least one other vocal fan here in the Pit. However, while I still do believe that a complete rebuild is in the cards, I just cannot yet bring myself to embrace rebuilding from scratch starting right now. In order for the Diamondbacks to have success, they need to find a way to catch lightning in a bottle. With this team having Greinke, Ray, Walker, Miller, Corbin, Bradley, Rodney, Goldschmidt, Pollock, Lamb, and Peralta all healthy and looking to put a terrible 2016 campaign firmly in the rear-view, I just don’t see much likelihood of a better mix to create that lightning-in-a-bottle opportunity. While Mike Hazen is new enough to the job as to lack sufficient data to evaluate his chances of successfully rebuilding the franchise, so long as Ken Kendrick owns the team, I’m not sure that even the likes of Andrew Friedman, Brian Sabean, or Theo Epstein could do enough to turn this team around enough in five years that one could count on the team being any better then than it is now. With that sort of depressing uncertainty, I prefer to roll the dice at least up to the point of this season’s trade deadline. Maybe, just maybe, that $20 bet I will be placing here shortly will buy me a nice, spiffy new 4K television to watch the 2018 season on.