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Should the Diamondbacks “Sell” and if so, when ?

The fork in the road is fast approaching for Mike Hazen

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When Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen made the decision to trade Paul Goldschmidt during this past offseason, many assumed that a complete selloff was imminent. However that was not the case. As we know, Hazen believed the players he had, and the players he added in that trade were good enough to field a competitive team and put the team in a position to contend. You can read about that , and much more, from This Nick Piecoro article from the pre season. It’s really required reading in fact, to help provide context and a window into Hazen’s thinking, not just then, but where he might be now. Here is a key excerpt:

After moving Goldschmidt, trading away the rest of his veterans would have been the “easy” thing to do this winter, Hazen said. Not that he’s looking to do things the hard way, but he sees enough talent to justify going into the season with the intention of winning. The easy decision, he believes, isn’t always the right one.

“(The front office could be thinking,) ‘We came in here to rebuild (anyway), we gave it a good college try – oh, well, didn’t work, Ken,’ ” he said, referring to the team’s primary owner, Ken Kendrick. “ ‘We’re going to strip it all away.’

“I think we have a lot of really good players. I don’t think taking a shot at making the playoffs is a foolhardy endeavor.”

Hazen was right. Let’s make no mistake about that. Despite losing the series that just concluded with the Los Angeles Dodgers 2 games to 1, the Diamondbacks have been a competitive team, at least most of the time. They have a don’t quit mentality in Torey Lovullo’s club house that we all should admire. But we shouldn’t let the glow of a walk off victory to salvage the last game of the series to obscure the realities this team faces.

They’ve been hit hard by injuries. (That link will show you the list of who’s missed how much time.) While the DBacks rank around middle of the pack in days and dollars lost, they did not have much margin for error or injury in the first place. It’s a testament to how the 40 man roster was constructed that they’ve been able to hang this close this far. Sure, there have been criticisms from this writer and many others on roster construction, namely the three catchers saga, the Blake Swihart pickup, and perhaps the ongoing mystery of the lack of MLB innings for Jimmie Sherfy. But lets be fair. These are periphery issues.

However one need only to look at the standings to see reality rushing up on the DBacks. Sitting in 4th place in the NL West, 12 games back of the Dodgers, the division is out of reach. That said they’re “only” 3.5 games back of the Braves for the 2nd Wild Card Slot, and 4 Games back of the Brewers for the 1st Wild Card Spot.

Unfortunately there are also three more teams ahead of them, the Rockies, Cardinals, and Padres. So with Arizona looking up at five teams, I get the sense the time of reckoning may be closer than we think. The difficulty of this can be expressed by a measure used at Baseball Reference called “Games Back Sum”. Go to THIS LINK and mouse over the column heading GBsum for detailed explanation. The basic idea is you add the number of games back for each team ahead of you, and the higher that number, the more difficult the task. While they are just .5 games back of the Padres for example, the GBsum number is several games worse than the Padres. Simple. The more teams you have to pass, the harder the task.

Another way to express this is the playoff odds, which Jim just ran prior to the Dodgers series. Through today, the range between Fangraphs, 538, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Reference is 10-25%. So they’re not dead yet. But chances are thinning out quickly.

Looking at the schedule, what I see is not that many games against the teams ahead of the DBacks prior to the July 31st trade deadline, meaning it will be difficult to move ahead quickly. Without that many head to head games, they are left depending on a lot of help from other teams and things have to fall just right.

I include the Cubs and Phillies above, as both teams are in nip and tuck battles with the teams directly behind them in the division standings and could easily slip in and out of the Wild Card spot. I also see an important demarcation point approaching quickly

The upcoming 10 game road trip begins in Toronto for three, and then moves on to Philadelphia for three, and Washington for 4. Not only can they not afford to fall any further back, but they need to make up ground. Now. Of particular note, they need to take 2 of 3 vs. the Phillies as they are one of the teams potentially in their way to make the Wild Card game. And don’t forget the Nationals. I didn’t include them in the table above, as at 6 games out, they’re even further back than the DBacks. But they’re on a 4 game win streak and 8-2 in their last 10. Their talent seems like it’s better than a .500 team. Perhaps they will cool off by the time the DBacks get to the Nation’s Capital, but they could also have passed Arizona by then too.

It’s my opinion that the team will make the decision whether to sell or not by the time either the Philadelphia or Washington series is over at the latest. While team officials will never admit it publicly, (nor should they) they have to be talking about it behind closed doors. If they’ve fallen 6 or more games out of the Wild Card by the time the Philly or Nationals series is over, then I think they’ll have reached a point where they’ll at least be fielding offers, if not actively shopping players. Of course if they have a really good road trip and close to gap to just a couple of games, then they’ll stand pat, for at least a while longer.

This may all seem like much too late or slow to make these decisions for some people. There have been a lot of calls to “blow it up” appearing lately. However Mike Hazen has previously mentioned that teams generally are not looking to buy this early in June anyway.

The counterpoint to that is Philly just recently traded for Jay Bruce, and that may already be paying dividends. Also, with the change in rules this year doing, making July 31st a hard deadline, teams may make moves a bit earlier.

Piecoro also wrote in that pre season article:

“Hazen intimated that his threshold for deeming the Diamondbacks a contender at the trade deadline likely will be higher this year than it’s been the past two seasons, in large part because of the dwindling years of control for several core players.”

While not overly likely, it’s not out of the realm of possibility we might see the team make some moves as early as the next 2-3 weeks. At the very least, they are investigating this behind closed doors, and the rumor mills, already getting fired up, will be red hot in short order.

The Candidates are well known. Robbie Ray, as an affordable starting pitcher with 1.5 years of control probably heads the list. Zack Greinke’s name has been thrown out there a lot, but with his contract and age, and no trade clause, there are many complications and obstacles to making a sensible trade. Greg Holland is a free agent next year and pitching well. The DBacks won’t have much use for a closer if they make other sell moves, and teams will definitely be interested in him.

Position players are generally less in demand at the trade deadline, but players such as David Peralta, Nick Ahmed, Adam Jones, and even Alex Avila may all have differing levels of interest from other teams, and the DBacks may look to save money on the contracts of any or all of these players.

Due to injury, Jake Lamb and Wilmer Flores are probably not on other team’s wish lists at this time. (Lamb may have a chance to resurrect some trade value prior to July 31, but I’ll believe it when I see it) Wilmer is unlikely to be back much if at all before the trade deadline.

Next week I will take a deep dive on trade values and potential trade partners. The picture might be a little clearer by then. In the meantime, the Chinese Proverb that comes to mind here is

“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”.