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Mike Hazen: “We’ll be evaluated by our ability to make the playoffs”

The Diamondbacks GM addresses core issues head on

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Mike Hazen didn’t mince words when asked how much the evaluation of this deal, whereby he gave up two good prospects for Starling Marte will hinge on whether the DBacks make the playoffs over the next two years:

“I think we should be, will be evaluated on our ability to participate and move through the playoffs.

We’ve talked about the value of a good farm system is to allow you to make deals like this, the value of having a good farm system is not to be awarded a trophy at the end of the year for having the best farm system”

He went on to say that he was committed to developing their young core players who are going to come up and help sustain the MLB team. But that risks will need to be taken to make it happen at this level.

And that is the crux of the matter. The way in which Hazen navigates the need to balance player development and the need to perform and win now is truly admirable. Of course it will come down to, as he says, whether the team can unseat the Dodgers for the NL West division and advance in the playoffs. He is indeed taking some risk. But far less than myself and most other pundits imagined it would take to land Starling Marte.

When pressed on whether he has done enough this off season to catch the Dodgers, Hazen was careful not to be pigeon holed or provide locker room bulletin board fodder for Dave Roberts to fire up his troops.

“That is a team that has earned it’s historical place in the last 5 years atop the division........I don’t think any one player was going to tip the scales by themselves given the gap that existed at the end of the season. That team is still incredibly strong, I would imagine on paper, regardless of what we did, they are going to still look incredibly strong. We feel like we are stronGER” (....meaning DBacks are stronger than they were before).

Hazen talked about how the team was stronger and deeper top to bottom compared to last year, and I agree with that. While my current projections have them at about 85 wins, it’s a SOLID 85 wins, with plenty of depth in the rotation, bullpen, lineup and bench. I see this as a high floor but not especially high ceiling team. Here are some more preliminary projections that more or less reflect that. (I’ll be updating these throughout spring training and post a final projection before regular season starts)

Hazen was also asked if he was done for this off season and he indicated that the heavy lifting is finished, but if opportunity presents itself they may still make some moves around the edges. With that, I can also update the payroll situation. Per John Gambadoro’s twitter feed, the DBacks receive 1.5M from Pittsburgh in the deal. I still don’t know how that’s structured, but I’m just applying all of it to 2020 salary, which was originally 11.5M. This puts the DBacks right about 120M in payroll, or 122M if you account for in season callups and injury replacements. Last year payroll was 123.5 M. So still room for another reliever or bench player if they want.

Some other key highlights from the conference call in the bullet points below. A special hat tip to Michael McDermott who saved my phone recording crapped out after 5 minutes. But Michael had the full audio and shared with me. Suggest also checking out Mike’s twitter feed.

  • The deal had been discussed earlier in the off season, and at winter meetings, but then died down. In the last 10 days talks resumed and gained momentum until consummation. Hazen mentioned Ben Cherington by name, and I personally believe the Boston connection was a big factor here. They obviously trust each other. Hazen paid a fair price, but didn’t overpay, or if he did, it was by a marginal amount. While many Pirates fans think they got hosed, they got two good prospects here.
  • From time to time vs. Left Hand Starters don’t be surprised to see Ketel Marte back in CF and Starling Marte on a corner spot. It won’t be part of the regular rotation, but they have the flexibility.
  • A big part of the Madison Bumgarner contract negotiations, and especially his deferring of salary and taking so little, (just 6M in 2020) was based on a commitment by Hazen to use that flexibility to improve the 2020 roster now.
  • The primary motivator to get Marte back to 2b was because he felt the athleticism he shows and the way he pairs with Nick Ahmed is the best alignment. Workload, and less running in the outfield for Ketel was a factor, but not primary motivation.
  • They are aware of the defensive metrics on Starling Marte but Hazen pointed to the on year noise often associated with the defense metrics, and emphasized the Dave McKay factor. They believe they can help Starling forestall some of his defensive decline obviously, much the way they did with Adam Jones.

My Take:

Good trade. They didn’t have to deplete any of the top tier of their near major league ready prospects, and didn’t have to touch any of their highly touted outfield prospects in the lower minors. I never thought they could do this, and I was clearly wrong. They improved the major league club by at least a couple of wins, even if Marte’s defensive decline is for real. It was not without risk of course. Peguero and Malone are both very good prospects and both have the potential to make you look back with regret. However winning a division title or the Wild Card in the next year or two will make that easier to swallow even if it does happen.

Bring on the Dodgers. Time to do battle. They may not quite stack up on paper, but there is a fighting chance here. Can’t ask for more than that.