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Arizona Diamondbacks 2017 Preview: How did we get here?

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Remember when we were going to be good? What a difference 12 months makes...

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Diamondbacks fandom has a very different set of expectations as we head toward Opening Day 2017, compared to the same situation last year. Then, we had "won the off-season" with our signing of Zack Greinke and a good number of pundits (7 of 31 in this ESPN survey, for instance) predicted Arizona would win the NL West. It didn’t quite work out. Our new pitchers failed to deliver, most of the existing ones fell apart, and it took a final series sweep of the Padres for the D-backs to escape the division’s cellar, as they finished 22 games back of the Dodgers.

Change was not only needed, it was required, and it didn’t take long: General Manager Dave Stewart and manager Chip Hale were fired in early October. Ownership went in a different direction, bringing in Mike Hazen as GM from Boston, a man with a forward-thinking reputation unlike the severely traditionalist Stewart. Hazen turned Chase into "Fenway West", using Red Sox personnel to fill positions, including as his assistant GM (Amiel Sawdaye) and manager (Torey Lovullo). The new front-office had a busy winter, as they began the job of retooling a team not only with a record well below .500, but also with a farm system regarded as among the worst in baseball.

With less than a week until Opening Day, the results look likely to involve a relatively drastic overhaul of the roster. A best guess suggests 11 of the 25-man Diamondbacks roster on Opening Day 2017 were not there at the same point in 2016, and only two of those eleven were in the organization then (A.J. Pollock, who was on the DL, and Archie Bradley, who started 2016 in the minors). The table below compares the rosters from a year ago to the one we’ll likely see on Sunday. The left side shows the 2016 roster, and where the departing players went. The right shows the 2017 roster, with the new arrivals in capitals, along with their source.

D-backs Opening Day rosters, 2016 vs. 2017

2016 Disposal 2017 Acquisition
2016 Disposal 2017 Acquisition
Rotation Rotation
Zack Greinke Zack Greinke
Shelby Miller Shelby Miller
Patrick Corbin Patrick Corbin
Robbie Ray Robbie Ray
Rubby De La Rosa To DL TAIJUAN WALKER Acquired from Seattle, 11/23
Relievers Relievers
Jake Barrett To DL ARCHIE BRADLEY 1st round pick, 2011
Silvino Bracho Silvino Bracho
Andrew Chafin Andrew Chafin
Tyler Clippard Traded to Yankees, 7/31 J.J. HOOVER Free agent
Randall Delgado Randall Delgado
Daniel Hudson Became free-agent FERNANDO RODNEY Free agent
Brad Ziegler Traded to Boston 7/9 TOM WILHELMSEN Free agent
Starting eight Starting eight
Welington Castillo Became free-agent JEFF MATHIS Free agent
Paul Goldschmidt Paul Goldschmidt
Jean Segura Traded to Seattle, 11/23 Brandon Drury
Nick Ahmed Chris Owings
Jake Lamb Jake Lamb
David Peralta David Peralta
Chris Owings A.J. POLLOCK From DL
Yasmany Tomas To DL GREGOR BLANCO Free agent
Bench Bench
Phil Gosselin Traded to Pirates 2/10 DANIEL DESCALSO Free agent
Chris Herrmann Chris Herrmann
Brandon Drury CHRIS IANNETTA Free agent
Socrates Brito To DL JEREMY HAZELBAKER Off waivers from Cardinals, 11/16
Rickie Weeks Jr. Became free-agent Nick Ahmed

Looking at the above, a Martian baseball fan might be forgiven for thinking Hazen and company went on a spending spree. After all, seven of the eleven new players were signed as free agents, with just one arriving in a trade and another off the waiver-wire, plus Pollock and Bradley as mentioned above. However, while the quantity of free agents is notable, most of them were cheap. Fernando Rodney’s one-year contract, guaranteeing him only $2.75 million, was about the peak. Though it’s worth noting that, like a few of his colleagues, there are incentives available which could bump up the value to Rodney by as much as an extra $4 million.

Due to the non-fixed cost contracts, as well as Greinke’s deferred contract money ($10 million of his $34m salary), it’s hard to come up with a precise figure for team payroll in 2017 and see how it compares to 2016. Last year, one estimate had Arizona at $98.7 million on Opening Day. Team president Derrick Hall said last month the team will be around $102m this year in available payroll, though may not have spent it all by Opening Day: "We’re at a place where we have flexibility to add if needed." [On the plus side, this is the final year we have to pay Bernard Gilkey., the last of Jerry Colangelo’s deferred-salary darlings. Gilkey turns 51 this season...]

If the team is to contend - even get above .500, which I think most would take as success, not having seen that since 2011 - most of the improvement is going to need to come from existing personnel, playing better. This is particularly true of the starting rotation, where just about everyone failed to reach their potential in 2016. Shelby Miller’s implosion was the most obvious symptom, but Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray all had their issues. On offense, a healthy A.J. Pollock should help offset the loss of 2016 team MVP Jean Segura, but Arizona could also use Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas translating good half-seasons into a full year of form.

While fans are hoping for the best, naturally, there generally seems to be an acceptance that rebuilding won’t happen overnight. We’re settling in for the long haul here, prepared to enjoy what we can (such as watching gems like Paul Goldschmidt), while severely moderating expectations for this season. Personally, I would settle for any kind of meaningful baseball in the second half of the season, given that in 2016, we were double-digits back while the calendar was still in May. But if the team struggles again early - and we open with 14 straight games against opponents who made at least the Division Series last year - things could get fire sale ugly in Arizona.

Over the week ahead, we’ll drill down and look in more detail at various parts of the 2017 Diamondbacks. Here’s the schedule:

  • Monday: Starting pitching
  • Tuesday: Catchers and outfield
  • Wednesday: Infield
  • Thursday: Relief pitching
  • Friday: Prospect preview
  • Saturday: SnakePit win predictions