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SnakePit Round Table: Athletic Supporters

Trading Ketel Marte, judging Mike Hazen and culinary no-nos are among this week’s topics

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Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

This week’s questions are (mostly) shamelessly borrowed from Zach Buchanan’s fan survey on The Athletic. Thought it might be interesting to fire some of them at our writers and get their opinions at greater length...

How many games will the Diamondbacks win in 2022? [Presuming a 162-game season, which is looking less likely every day…]

Makakilo: Diamondbacks will win more than 77 games per this AZ Snake Pit article.

How will it be accomplished?

Batting will improve because Joe Mather, the new hitting coach. In my view, due to the changes in the baseball, the Diamondbacks’ batting swings will change to favor line drives instead of home runs, which will contribute to their success.

Defense will improve because most players will stick with one position due to improved discernment of each player’s defensive capabilities and flexibilities. Increased experience by younger players will add to that improvement.

Pitching will improve because:

  • The addition of Mark Melancon. Melacon’s positive impact will increase as the team keeps the score close in more games.
  • Brent Strom, the new pitching coach is likely the best in the Majors at facilitating transformation of good pitchers into great pitchers, such as Zac Gallen.
  • The changes to the coaching system will result in better transitions back and forth between the minors and Majors.

Jack: Right now I have them between 62-72 wins. I know, a ridiculously large range, but the roster is not nearly settled yet. That’s the low side and high side as things stand right now. The pitching looks especially weak again, despite the addition of Mark Melancon. But pitching is notoriously hard to project. The upside for the team would be getting a surprise performance out of one or two of their up and coming pitching prospects and Brent Strom having a positive impact on the holdover guys.

James: I am close to Jack on this one, 62-72 wins. I think the 72 feels unlikely though, as a 90-loss season would be a full 20-game improvement, and that is quite a mountain to climb. So, I will go with a final record of 65-97. That feels reasonable, given both where they are starting from and the severe lack of talent the team currently has.

DBacksEurope: I think we had a similar question some months ago? Anyhow, back then I mentioned that they will probably end somewhere between 65-70 wins. 70 wins would be a terrific improvement for Torey Lovullo and Mike Hazen and it would probably guarantee Lovullo another year. 65 wins would still give them a top 5 pick according to the 2021 standings but will be the end of Torey Lovullo.

When will the Diamondbacks make the playoffs again?

Makakilo: Although 2023 is possible, my answer is 2024 for two reasons:

  • Arrival of talented prospects from the minors.
  • Salary space will be freed for acquisitions/trades with few highly paid players.:

Before trades and acquisitions, in 2024 possibly only four players will be highly paid (Madison Bumgarner, $14 Million, Ketel Marte, $12 Million, Mark Melancon $5 Million, and in Arb-2 Zac Gallen, especially if his pitching improves like I anticipate!

Jack: 2024 at the earliest in my view. Prospects “arriving” typically does not mean Full Time play with average or better major league production right out of the gate for the vast majority of rookies. Just because they are promoted to the majors, it usually takes a few years to settle in as a full time above average player. I wrote about this yesterday in detail.

James: If everything goes right, Jack might be onto something. But, I suspect that 2025 is the earliest. I also think that, with Bumgarner coming off the books at the end of 2024, the team might actually invest a few dollars in supplementing the roster for 2025, a roster that should have better depth across the board than it does now. So, I will go with the team being a legit Wild Card contender in 2025.

DBacksEurope: 2022 is impossible, 2023 unlikely, 2024 might happen but 2025 would be the first time they should have a real chance. I’ll go with 2026.

How would you rate the job Mike Hazen has done in his five years as general manager?

Makakilo: “There are several truths about Mike Hazen. Truth at one extreme is he rebuilt the farm while remaining competitive making him the best GM the Diamondbacks ever had; the COVID shortened season was a one-off anomaly. Truth at the other extreme is several downsides hit the team in the 2020 season; the farm won’t fully impact the team until 2023...” – Makakilo, December 2020.

In 2021, the Diamondbacks did not successfully address roster problems at third base and center field which were known at the start of the season. The value lost due to Injuries was 9% higher than 2019. Relief pitching ranked 29th in the Majors in WAA.

In 2021 he improved the team at low cost. In the next few seasons these approaches will make a positive impact on performance and budget flexibility. The three approaches follow:

  • Rule 5 picks such as Tyler Gilbert.
  • Claimed players off waivers such as Noe Ramirez.
  • Traded veterans like Eduardo Escobar for prospects such as Cooper Hummel and Aberto Ciprian.

At the end of the 2021 season, hiring new pitching and hitting coaches will likely improve player development at the Majors level. Also, the new coaching structure and approach will help players seamlessly transition from the minors to the Majors. Because the Diamondbacks have many talented prospects in the minors, including some top-100 prospects, the impact will likely be huge.

For a wider view of Mike Hazen’s performance, see this AZ Snake Pit article.

Jack: I need to constantly remind myself that when it comes to running baseball operations for a major league franchise, Mike Hazen has forgotten more than I’ll ever know. With that caveat, the simple question is this: Is the MLB roster better now than the one he inherited after 2016 ? The answer to that, so far, is a resounding no. The not so simple question is how long do you give a GM to turn around an organization? Personally I think it takes 6 years which roughly equates to a full and complete draft/sign and development cycle. While he’s had 5 drafts, Mike Hazen has really only had 4 years to develop talent, as there was no minor league season in 2020. And he’s obviously had some bad injury luck to some highly rated position player prospects. (Corbin Carroll, Kristian Robinson, and Jordan Lawler) So it’s reasonable in my view to hold off until the end of 2022, or even into mid 2023 before we come to a conclusion about his tenure. Ken Kendrick may reach a conclusion sooner than that however.

James: I’m of the opinion that Hazen has done a mostly good job with what he has had to work with. My biggest gripe with Hazen has been the allocation of free agent dollars. That gripe goes back to the very beginning of his tenure and has only become a bigger issue for me as he has remained in charge. Ken Kendrick shifting gears on Hazen and telling him after the trade deadline that there was a new, lower expectation for salary certainly did not help matters one bit. For the most part, I like what Hazen has managed through the trade market. I did not want to trade for Starling Marte, but the cost was a fair one that didn’t hurt the organization. Given the circumstances at the time, the fact that Hazen managed to recoup full value in trading Marte away has me mostly ambivalent about the entire affair. The combination of COVID and Kendrick’s bi-polar marching orders made that a no-win scenario as far as I am concerned.

Jack is right in that the team’s MLB roster is not better now than when Hazen took charge. Given that the team was never going to put forth the dollars needed to keep Goldschmidt, Pollock, Ray, and others made a decline in MLB talent a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, five years from now, when the team is looking down the barrel of this new crop of players hitting free agency, putting the team in the same position as the one Hazen mostly inherited, I do believe the team will be better off than the one Hazen began with. Unfortunately, like many others, I do not believe that Kendrick has the stomach or the stones to allow the team that sort of development time.

DBacksEurope: I guess everyone has seen the signature I’ve been sporting for a while now. Mike Hazen started well but has long lost the magic spell we all thought he had and now no longer looks like the fantastic GM he might have been.

Merrill Kelly has done a terrific job for the Diamondbacks, one of the few constant factors we have and has proven to be quite a bargain. He earned MVP on the AZSnakePit this year. Merrill Kelly is an innings eater and a 3.9 WAR pitcher and is 33 years old. He is a back-of-the-rotation pitcher. He is Mike Hazen’s best free agent signing….a back-of-the-rotation starter is the best free agent signing. Mike Hazen wants a winning team, he hates losing, wants a winning culture and reach the play-offs but has not had a better free agent signing than Merrill Kelly. Hazen has given out free agent contracts worth around $200MM since 2016 yet only Kelly’s has proven to be a durable signing. That’s terrible.

Eduardo Escobar is by far the best trade the D-Backs made, so kudos to that. But the trades have gone down ever since the Starling Marte acquisition. The acquisition itself was fine, but it was sick that they dumped him a couple of months later after rumours appeared they weren’t going to lift his option (WTF?). We paid the Cubs to get Chafin, who is now a hot commodity on the market, and we also dumped Ray only to see him get a Cy Young a year later. And the Rays probably fleeced us with Luplow while sending Simon, the kid we actually paid the Cubs for in the Chafin deal.

Talking about Chafin and Ray we can easily start talking about the coaching. Coaches are redundant to me but ever since Matt Herges “wished he had spent more time with Ray trying to understand the reasons behind Ray’s mechanical changes” (as written by Nick Piecoro) I am absolutely done with the crap coaching the D-Backs have had these past seasons. He wished he had spent more time…? I hope Strom is as good as everyone says he is. Maybe he does a Harry Potter and all these pitchers all of a sudden become an average MLB starting rotation and bullpen.

Let’s just hope that the farm is as good as the D-Backs let us believe it is, but I think we should not count on that: MLB Pipeline ranked our farm system 9th in August and said: “those waiting for the D-backs to become a truly elite system have to hold out a little longer”. Teams like the Royals and Tigers are ahead of us according to the same ranking, teams that have also surpassed us on the Major League level. Sorry if I am skeptical here as well.

And then the general strategy. I am sorry, but preaching winning culture while signing mediocrity and picking up waiver flyers just doesn’t cut it for me. The 2021 season was a complete laugh, just like the 2020 season. If you are that bad in 2020, you have to do some reflection and can’t wave off a bad result as “an abnormality”. I predicted a 65 win season before we started. If a noob like me thought that was a possibility…was there really no one in that organization that said: “aren’t we kidding ourselves here?”

I have no clue anymore about what Hazen is doing. A lot of people are criticizing Ken Kendrick here and yes, he probably is a douche because he is a self-made rich man, but he has been very complacent and patient with Hazen’s FO here, you have got to give him credit for that. If I were a rich guy, I would have kicked his ass out already, or demoted him to farm director if that is his best skill.

Who is your favorite current Diamondbacks player?

Makakilo: Josh Rojas. He experienced a batting breakthrough in 2021. His biggest strength was getting on base. His line drives ranked very high in the Majors. (From 17 July to 3 October, his line drives per AB ranked 68th highest in the Majors.)

Another strength is his versatility to play multiple positions. Nevertheless, the team’s defense would be better served by playing him in the corner outfield positions. A player acquisition could change my mind.

He will likely exceed the early ZiPS projection because he uses technology to be in peak condition. This season he was voted the Diamondback’s unsung hero.

For a review of his latest season, see this AZ Snake Pit article.

Jack: Daulton Varsho. I believe he has all star potential.

James: I have three players that I really like and find myself rooting for. For me, that is a lot. Usually, this team only has one player, sometimes two that excite me. SInce Rojas and Varsho

have already been mentioned by others, I will go with Carson Kelly. If the team can just find a way to keep Kelly healthy for a season, I still believe Kelly could go down as the best catcher the team has ever had. In order to do that though, he needs to stay healthy, which I do believe will help him with hitting righties.

DBacksEurope: I hope Nick Ahmed returns to his old self as defensive wizard. I love defensive plays and for a couple of seasons we were able to enjoy baseball with Nick the Gold Glover. Let’s hope he retrieves his miner’s touch again.

Should the Diamondbacks trade Ketel Marte this offseason?

Makakilo: Nooooooo! If you want to build a culture of winning, you don’t trade away Marte, who last season had the highest OPS+ of Diamondbacks players with at least 20 PAs. His trade value is low due to injuries and his poor defense in center field - his value will almost certainly be higher at the trade deadline.

On the other hand, Hazen has consistently executed great trades - so if it happens I will trust the return for Marte was more than adequate.

Jack: If Mike Hazen can extract value for him from a team going “all in”, a trade that will truly help advance the timeline towards a return to competitive sustainability, then he should pull that trigger. But don’t trade him just for the sake of making a trade or getting “market value”.

James: The only way Ketel Marte can help the next competitive Diamondbacks team is if he is traded now for a player that winds up being a contributor to that future team. While I fully agree that the team should build a culture of winning, I do not think that replacing one Ketel Marte with three solid contributors is a downgrade for the team. In fact, it may actually yield better results. The problem I see with trading away Marte is that the fits just don’t seem to be right. Most AZfans are not going to be happy with anything less than an absolute fleecing of the other team that results in a talent landslide that rebuilds the entire organization. That sort of return just isn’t happening. I suspect the Ketel Marte saga ends much the way the Robbie Ray one did. Arizona will hold out for a Godfather offer and never get one, so he will depart via free agency and the team will get nothing at all.

DBacksEurope: I’d not trade him this off-season and play him at 2B this season and see if he plays an entire season without hurting himself. If Crystal Marte plays at least 85% this season while still batting the way he has done the past few seasons, he’ll have much more trade value. Teams don’t trade for guys who are injured a lot, so it is in everybody’s interest (I imagine Marte wants to be on a winning team as well) that he stays healthy an entire season. And he is a 2B, it’s not like we are talking here about a SS, CF or C with pop.

What culinary hill are you willing to die on?

Makakilo: I’ve heard athletes say they need more protein than the average person. In that context, The China Study presented evidence that excessive daily protein from animal sources is unhealthy. My takeaways were to eat plants with protein, and portion sizes of animal protein should be less than a day’s requirement. For me, that’s a culinary hill to stay alive on.

Jack: Great Italian food is better than any other type of great food.

James: Having been a chef for 26+ years, I will have to come back to this one later tonight after I give it some thought. Right now, it is less of a hill than an entire range of mountains.

EDIT: Still torn on how to answer this one, but since I got into it with someone earlier today I will go with this: always mayonnaise, never Miracle Whip. If you really, truly need whatever it is to be a bit sweeter, there is nothing stopping someone from adding a tiny touch of sugar, which is all MW really is, mayo with sugar added. Skip the sugar, taste the damn food.

DBacksEurope: I can understand why people use instant soups or noodles if they are hungry and want a quick bite, I do that too sometimes. But, please, don’t use dry mixes or instant food for your main meal. It is so easy to make a basic “roux” for all of your sauces or to make mashed potatoes by just boiling potatoes and mash them afterwards. Don’t open cans and heat and eat that slimy jell you just dropped into the pan, but just cut vegetables and use a broth and/or some bones with meat to make a delicious soup. I’ve written off all those dry mixes and that is the culinary hill I die on.