Diamondbacks: Wait until next year? Or maybe year after?
I look at the Arizona Diamondbacks and see a team with only two starting pitchers set, only three positions decided, questions bubbling all over the roster.
Manager Chip Hale doesn’t seem worried, saying everything will sort itself out. General manager Dave Stewart definitely isn’t worried, saying the team’s choices are good.
This early in spring training, I’ll give almost anyone the benefit of the doubt — the weather is terrific, the mood is relaxed and every team is brimming with optimism, misplaced though some of it might be.
For now, let’s just say that the D-backs will be, um, fascinating? I can’t go so far as to say they will be good, not when righties Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson are miscast as the team’s Nos. 1 and 2 starters.
In fact, the D-backs might be quite bad, at least until their injured pitchers return, their pitching prospects develop and management figures out how to purge some of the inflated contracts clogging the team’s roster.
Good luck, gang!
The D-backs face perhaps more decisions than any other club, and the decision-makers include a first-time manager, a first-time GM and a chief baseball officer, Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, entering his first full season.
We’re not talking conventional thinkers, either — the D-backs stand virtually alone in the industry in their beliefs that Yasmany Tomas can handle third base and that slugging prospect Pete O’Brien will develop into a quality catcher.
Frankly, a lot of people are waiting (wishing?) for the D-backs to fail. La Russa and Stewart often come off as closed-minded to analytics, at least when compared to most other executives. Their occasionally ill-informed remarks serve as red meat for the sabermetrically inclined, and to survive in 21st-century baseball, they will need to get up to speed.
Even if you take analytics out of the equation, it’s practically a given that La Russa, Stewart and Hale will stumble, the way all novices in all jobs stumble. Still, this organization is not without talent; the new regime inherited some bad contracts from previous GM Kevin Towers, but also a good number of prospects. At some point, though probably not soon, the Diamondbacks could end up fairly competitive.
Keep in mind: Baseball America ranked the D-backs’ farm system sixth in the majors even before the team signed Cuban right-hander Yoan Lopez for an $8.27 million bonus. Come June, when the D-backs make the first selection of the 2015 draft, that system only will get better.
It’s April and May that I’m worried about.
Tell me which players will be in the lineup with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, center fielder A.J. Pollock and right fielder Mark Trumbo. Tell me what the rest of the rotation will look like after Collmenter and Hellickson.
The D-backs want Tomas to play third in part because they’ve already got five outfielders, including Cody Ross, who is owed $9.5 million, including a $1 million buyout. Yes, Ender Inciarte and David Peralta have minor-league options remaining, so there is no risk that the D-backs would lose either of them. But both deserve to be on the team.
The middle infield also is overcrowded, in part because second baseman Aaron Hill is owed $24 million over the next two years. Chris Owings, coming off surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder, made his first start in an "A" game on Saturday night. If healthy, he figures to start at short — "we think he’ll be an All-Star at some point," Stewart said — with Hill remaining at second.
Most likely, then, the D-backs will demote three appealing youngsters — third baseman Jake Lamb, shortstop Nick Ahmed and second baseman Brandon Drury. Which is fine, except that Lamb is impressing both teammates and opponents this spring and might be a better short- and long-term option at third than Tomas, the $68.5 million man.
At the other extreme for the D-backs is catcher, where they do not appear to have nearly enough talent; Tuffy Gosewisch, the likely starter, is 31, yet has only 179 major-league plate appearances. O’Brien, acquired from the Yankees last July for infielder Martin Prado, possesses monster power, but as Baseball America put it, "Scouts aren’t sold on his ability to handle quality pitches, either at the plate or behind it."
One rival executive, noting the availability of established catchers such as the Blue Jays’ Dioner Navarro and Cubs’ Wellington Castillo, says of the D-backs, "I can’t believe they are going with that group." To which Stewart counters: "We’re not going to trade for a catcher. Some people think we are. We’re not."
In fact, Stewart says he is not involved in trade discussions of any kind. The D-backs also are bursting with options in their rotation, though not necessarily options that will prove immediately helpful.
There are encouraging signs: Right-hander Trevor Cahill is throwing better than he did last season, and Hale acknowledged to reporters on Sunday that Daniel Hudson, coming off his second Tommy John surgery, will be on the team either as a starter or reliever.
Younger pitchers such as righty Rubby De La Rosa also are candidates for the rotation, and the D-backs’ upper-level pitching prospects are among the best in the game. What’s more, the team expects lefty Patrick Corbin and righty Bronson Arroyo to return from their respective Tommy John surgeries in June.
The bullpen is in a similar state — more settled (though closer Addison Reed is dealing with a shoulder issue and setup man Brad Ziegler is coming off micro-fracture surgery on his left knee) and likely to benefit from a pair of Tommy John returnees (first lefty Matt Reynolds, then righty David Hernandez).
Put it all together, and what do the D-backs have?
The potential for a powerful lineup, though one that is awfully right-handed. The potential for a dominant rotation, though perhaps not until 2017. Lots of decisions. New decision-makers. And a skeptical industry watching closely.