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What do you think of when you think of the Diamondbacks?
Now, Mike Hazen is the latest sheriff in town, and he and the contingent of ex-Red Sox front office staffers he brought with him have a big job ahead. Will they cash in the few chips Dave Stewart and company left behind and try to capitalize on Goldschmidt’s closing window as an elite offensive force? Will they blow it all up and go for a multi-year rebuild, Phillies/Braves style? Or will they try to take the middle ground, as their first offseason at the helm suggests?
We don’t know yet for sure, but we do know that 2017 should be the season when the Diamondbacks begin to develop an identity beyond the team that makes bad trades, has leaders who say silly things, and endures more ups and downs than a see-saw.
Before we get to the 2017 team, let’s take a short, painful trip down Memory Lane. Few teams have done less with more organizational talent than the Diamondbacks have since the start of the decade. They’ve gone 539-595 since 2010, good for a .475 winning percentage. But they haven’t been a .475 team very often. In 2011 they won 94 games and earned the NL West crown. In 2014, they finished just shy of the 100-loss mark. Their most stability came in 2012 and 2013. Their record each of those seasons? 81-81.
A.J. Hinch, Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, and Chip Hale have managed the team during this span. Kevin Towers, Tony La Russa, and Stewart have helped to run the show. The only consistency has been inconsistency. Well, that and the bad trades. Oh god, the trades.
That’s the legacy Hazen and company inherited, and the one they’ll look to leave behind. How did they get started in their first offseason? Well, one big trade aside, they didn’t do very much at all, though compared to offseasons past that’s arguably a step in the right direction. To wit, the Diamondbacks:
- Traded SS Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger, and LHP Zac Curtis to the Mariners for RHP Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte
- Signed C Jeff Mathis to a two-year, $4 million deal
- Signed C Chris Iannetta to a one-year, $1.5 million deal
- Signed RHP Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million deal
- Non-tendered C Welington Castillo
We can only say three things for sure: the “new-look” Diamondbacks a) value catcher defense, b) aren’t gonna spend on the bullpen right now, and c) aren’t very new-look at all. You could argue based on the Segura trade that Hazen is trying to acquire players with more years of team control, but who knows if that was just him selling high on Segura or buying low-ish on Walker? We don’t have enough data to even make an educated guess. If there is a defined direction in which Hazen plans to take the Diamondbacks, he hasn’t revealed it yet.
And what a decision Hazen faces, because the Diamondbacks are a roster without a clear present or future. He’d be justified in trying to eek out another playoff run or two with what is an impressive core of star players. He’d be just as in his right to blow it all to hell and rebuild while the big boys in his division battle for NL West supremacy. It’s not an easy call.
The good news for Hazen and new manager Torey Lovullo? The 2017 team should be better than last year’s even if they just stand pat, because there is a lot of talent on the major-league roster. Goldschmidt is still an elite player, and Pollock and Zack Greinke are capable of star-level production. Relative youngsters like Jake Lamb, Taijuan Walker, and *gulp* Shelby Miller have role-6 upside, and
Ender Inciarte, Robbie Ray, Yasmany Tomas, Patrick Corbin, and Chris Owings don’t lag too far behind that. Add in intriguing young guns like Dansby Swanson, Ketel Marte, Archie Bradley, and Brandon Drury, and you can see a scenario where PECOTA’s 78-win projection gets put to shame.
Here comes the other shoe. If injuries or underperformance strike, this team is well and truly cooked, because beyond Anthony Banda and a few bullpen arms, there’s no help coming from the farm that ranked as the third-worst in the majors, per the BP Prospect Team. And while the Diamondbacks will have the lowly Padres to prey on, they’ll also play the Giants and Dodgers a combined 36 times. All of a sudden, that 78-win projection looks optimistic.
So where does Hazen go from here? “Stats vs. scouting” is a tired storyline at this point. Every team employs scouts. Every team makes use of statistics and analytics. Ruben Amaro Jr. and Bill James work for the same organization, for chrissake. Still, one would expect a more measured blend of scouting and analytics from Hazen than what his old scouty type predecessors Towers and Stewart and the recently demoted La Russa brought to the table.
How that approach will manifest remains to be seen, but at this point all Diamondbacks fans can ask for is a cohesive plan. A plan that lasts more than one season, treats the long-term view with less disdain, involves better uniforms, and focuses more on on-field performance than intangibles and grit. It’s not fair to say the Diamondbacks have nowhere to go but up; they’ve got too much talent for that to be true. But under Hazen, they have no choice but to become more … coherent? Defined? Organized?
There’s not really a word for it. They just have no choice but to become less Diamondbacks.
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