I have always considered myself to be an amateur at many things: an amateur pet detective, an amateur cowboy space opera playwright, and, most relevant to our subject, an amateur fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Red Sox are my favorite team, the Mariners my hometown one, and the A’s, Brewers, and Rockies have my second-tier support thanks to an array of factors. But if a meteorite hit the Earth tomorrow, and somehow killed exclusively the players on those five teams, there’s a good chance I’d find myself rooting for Arizona in 2019. I’ll admit, I never have particularly cared about how the team performed, and I could probably only name you about half of their roster off of the top of my head, but I was one of only eight living people in the entire world who had no issue with their all charcoal jerseys – I would actually go as far as to say that I moderately liked them. Not even the people who play on the team can say that much. So yeah, my Diamondbacks street cred is the real deal.
Recently, though, I’ve been pressed into fandom for the Diamondbacks like never before. Two things prompted my newfound allegiance to the snakes: first off, I decided to go to Arizona State to keep pursuing this baseball writing stuff, so I’ll be moving to Phoenix in August, and by this time next year, I’ll most likely be able to tell people I was considered for an internship with the team (meaning I sent them my resume, but never got a response). Second, I applied to be the Diamondbacks correspondent for this website. Some might say that I’ve put the cart before the horse by actively trying to write about a baseball team I previously hardly cared about, but here I am, riding a horse with a cart in front of it
,. I’m doing my best though, frantically studying Diamondbacks players in effort to make myself sound savvy. For example, I now know that Arizona has a player named Silvino Bracho, a fact that no other organization in the Majors can boast. As a writer for this team, I can give you important insight like that. This is all very well researched.
I’m also assuming that the Diamondbacks don’t have any other writers that cover them. Honestly, why would they? Who would want to live in a hollowed out cactus in Arizona where it’s a thousand degrees during the day and like Antarctica at night just to write about a pretty unremarkable baseball team? Nobody. Nobody would do that. I am the lone voice for this team, the Chosen One. That makes every article I write of the utmost importance. All Diamondbacks news is breaking news. I emailed Torey Lovullo letting him know I was taking up this important torch. He didn’t respond, but that’s okay; I am Harry Potter, off on a quest to destroy horcruxes (write about the Diamondbacks), and Lovullo is my Dumbledore, wise, grandfatherly, but aware that I must walk this dangerous path on my own. It may be treacherous, winding me through giant-infested rockies, and pitting me up against fearsome fathers and, uh, dodgers, but I will emerge victorious. With a little bit of gumption and a gem-studded sword that used to belong to Luis Gonzalez that I will pull out of my Red Sox cap (which I will crudely draw a snake on to change it to a D-Backs one) in my greatest moment of need, there isn’t anything I can’t do.
So without further adieu, I answer my call, and I take up my pen to write about the Arizona Diamondbacks. The offseason is well underway, and there is much to discuss. They’ve already been involved one blockbuster, but appear primed to make some more changes to a roster that finished a disappointing 82-80 in 2018. Regardless of what Torey Lovullo wants to tell you on MLB Network, the Diamondbacks are entering a tumultuous period that will be filled with roster overturn; here are the three moves in particular they need to make before Spring Training to shape the foundation for the post-Goldschmidt era.
Move #1: Trade Zack Greinke
The Diamondbacks have found themselves in a bit of an unfortunate situation with Zack Greinke. While still one of the top starters in the game, and the ace of their staff, Greinke is 35 years old, and has a robust $104.5 million due to him over the next three seasons. As an avid fan of Kid’s Baking Championship, I can confidently tell you that getting old and being expensive are two ingredients that combine to create a recipe for disaster.
D Luckily, there’s at least some silver lining concerning Greinke’s talent. He has accumulated 10.3 bWAR over the last two seasons, and, far more importantly, he’s won five consecutive Gold Gloves. The last pitcher to do that was Greg Maddux, a Hall of Famer. If the Diamondbacks play their cards right, they might be able to convince some of the dumber front offices that Greinke is the second coming of Old Greg based on this fact. It’s a long shot, but at least it’s something to get trade discussions started.
And make no mistake, Greinke needs to be traded. 2018 saw the Diamondbacks field by far their highest payroll in history – $132 million, compared to the previous high of $112 million in 2014. That level of spending could be tolerated if they had performed like they did in 2017 when they won 93 games, but Arizona couldn’t get out of their own way down the stretch. They went 8-19 in September, falling from the division lead on the first of the month to a disappointing third place finish. The front office has since decided to cut their spending and take a step back from their aspirations to contend. This offseason, Arizona has already lost Brad Ziegler to retirement, Clay Buchholz to free agency, and their only shot at luring Manny Machado to the desert (his close friend Jon Jay) to the White Sox. They also lost Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and Patrick Corbin, who represented not only their best players, but guys who have never suited up for a big league game in any uniform other than Arizona’s.
Those departures mark the end of an era of Diamondbacks baseball, and with transitional periods comes the selling off of pieces. The Diamondbacks, a small market team, have shed too much talent and too many sappy Goldschmidt-related memories to justify holding on to an old pitcher who is making an insane amount of money. I suppose that a rotation of Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Luke Weaver, and Zach Godley, as well as the increase in team morale over not having Shelby Miller anymore, could make some waves if everything went exactly perfectly, but that’s a dangerous scenario to talk yourself into. The Dodgers are once again on the hunt to lose the World Series, the Rockies have some sort of magic amulet that allows them to win 90 games every year despite putting up bad run differentials, and the Padres are young upstarts with a lot of heart, who will be reinforced by a glut of prospects as soon as they’ve officially become good enough to play in the bigs (approximately the day after the Super Two deadline). The Diamondbacks are destined for more mediocrity unless they shake up the roster, and Zack Greinke is the most logical trade asset that Arizona has to rattle (just a bit of rattlesnake humor) around.
Finding a partner could prove difficult. Greinke is being paid an exorbitant amount of money in a market where owners have decided to pinch pennies. There is also a surplus of more affordable pitching still available – Marco Estrada, Gio Gonzalez, and Wade Miley, to name a few – as well as a good pitcher who might end up settling for a more Jake Arrieta-esque deal in Dallas Keuckel. Further, Greinke’s partial no-trade clause contains several teams that could be potential fits for the right hander. However, Greinke has performed well enough to ensure that his contract isn’t an albatross despite it being a record for annual value for a pitcher. Someone out there will want him, either on the no-trade list or not, especially since the Diamondbacks are likely to pay a decent chunk of his salary. This is where trading Greinke differs from trading Goldschmidt: while both are star-caliber players, the goal when trading Greinke won’t be to obtain high-end prospects, but to escape a financial burden that was left by the former front office regime.
The market for Greinke has yet to really develop, so narrowing down a potential list of landing spots is all but impossible. One outside-the-box idea I would love to see is a reunion between Greinke and the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that is absent from the no-trade clause. Greinke pitched a season and a half in Miller Park starting in 2011, winning 25 games, and putting up a 110 ERA+. The Brewers have a notable hole in their rotation, and have already been linked to an elite name on the trade market in Madison Bumgarner. Both pitchers have their own merits, but it’s worth noting that acquiring Greinke rather than Bumgarner would cost less in prospect value, albeit more in money. This could be a really fun trade that fills a need for both teams, reunite Greinke with former catcher Yasmani Grandal, and vault the Brewers from scrappy underdog who many felt peaked in 2018 to a team with a far more realistic shot at capturing the pennant in 2019. The Diamondbacks could center their package around prospects like Mauricio Dubon, Joe Gray, or Tristen Lutz. Dubon, ranked 7th in the Brewers system and acquired from Boston in the Travis Shaw trade, could slot in at second as early as Opening Day for Arizona. Lutz and Gray, the 5th and 6th ranked Brewers prospects, respectively, are both a few years away from making a true Major League impact, but are blocked by the Brewers star-studded outfield. Assuaging their payroll situation, and acquiring one (or even better, two (or even BETTER better, three)) of these upper-midlevel prospects should certainly be enough for the Diamondbacks to swing this deal.
Move #2: Extend Torey Lovullo
Long before the Red Sox ended up with our Lord and Savior Alex Cora manning the helm this past offseason, there were those of us who, in secret, longed for Torey Lovullo. We would make bread sacrifices at the dinner table with his name whispered on our lips, and would weep pray every time that John Farrell made a boneheaded mistake that, perhaps, it would finally be the event that ushered in the Lovullo Era in Beantown. It all worked out alright in the end, as Cora turned out to be the perfect fit for the job, but the handling of the Lovullo situation was a disaster on the part of the Red Sox. They squandered a highly capable manager for a guy who nobody liked and constantly made the dumbest bullpen decisions I have seen out of a Red Sox manager in my lifetime. But hey, it worked out for my new favorite team, the Diamondbacks, pretty dang well.
A quick refresher for those of you who aren’t aware: well after he should have been fired, John Farrell was still the manager of the Boston Red Sox, and was leading them to a second consecutive last-place finish. In August, however, he had to leave the team due to health issues, and Lovullo, his bench coach, became the interim manager. Instantly, almost as if John Farrell was a bad manager who created a cancerous locker room that held the team back, Lovullo’s Red Sox turned things around. They played to a .636 clip the rest of the season. I try not to place too much stock into the effect a manager has on the game, because I don’t think they deserve much credit when a team does well, or, generally, much blame when a team underperforms. I do think, however, that it’s pretty easy to tell when your manager is an imbecile (or, as I like to call them, a “Mike Matheny”). A good manager doesn’t have much impact on how a team performs, but a bad one can make all the difference. Lovullo is a good one, and watching him not screw up like Farrell every day was one of the lone joys of the 2015 season. But then the Red Sox brought Farrell back anyway, and after the 2016 season, Lovullo followed former Red Sox executive and newly-anointed Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen to Arizona. It was a dark day in Boston, but a bright one in Phoenix. (This sentence is not a metaphor. I looked it up, and on the day Lovullo signed, it was 89 degrees in Phoenix compared to 50, windy, and cloudy in Boston.)
The rest is history. Lovullo won Manager of the Year in 2017, which is the manager equivalent of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Zack Greinke equivalent of winning five straight Gold Gloves. While 2018 was not as successful, Lovullo certainly wasn’t the issue. He’s a very competent manager with a good approach to the game, and despite some occasionally whacky lineup choices (he has come under some fire for resting his best players at inopportune times, but this was a strategy Alex Cora employed all of 2018 to outstanding results), he rarely makes a decision that leaves fans truly enraged.
Lovullo now finds himself in the final year of his contract. If he is anything like the movie depiction of Art Howe, then he is very angry about this. With Mike Hazen still in charge in Arizona, it seems to be a certainty that Lovullo will receive some sort of long-term security before Opening Day, but the sooner the better. As Hazen leads the transition into the next era of Diamondbacks baseball, giving Lovullo the reigns to grow with the team seems to be a no-brainer.
Move #3: Figure out the second base and centerfield situations
The Diamondbacks can expect some positional shifting heading into 2019; third baseman Jake Lamb appears to be migrating across the diamond to play first following the departure of Paul Goldschmidt, freeing up Eduardo Escobar to man the hot corner. The departure of Pollock leaves a hole in center field that Jarrod Dyson, bless his speedy soul, is not the answer to. Luckily, Ketel Marte is young and spry enough to transition into the outfield with ease (although we said the same thing about Dee Gordon, and that didn’t go quite as planned). Adding a player like Dubon from Milwaukee could alleviate the second base issue for Arizona, but if the team doesn’t acquire a young player to slot in there, it would make sense to sign a cheap veteran that could potentially be flipped at the deadline. Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, D.J. LeMahieu, and Daniel Descalso could all fit this bill. None of these options is outrageously appealing, but they shouldn’t be too expensive, and a good first half could net Arizona a midlevel prospect in July.
Alternatively, the Diamondbacks could choose to sign a first baseman, keeping Lamb at third, pushing Marte into center, and slotting Escobar in at second. The free agent market at first base is practically nonexistent, but there is one name that would be so nonsensically fun for the Diamondbacks to sign that I am all-in rooting for it to happen. Close your eyes and imagine with me: it’s Opening Day 2019, and you’re feeling optimistic. The Diamondbacks may just be a shell of their former selves, but their roster promises to at least give you some fun games, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll be good. You survey the infield, and notice a new player jogging out to first, tossing grounders to the to Lamb, Nick Ahmed, and Escobar. You turn to the man next to you and ask him who is at first. He smiles down at you. “That’s Hanley Ramirez,” he says. You look back at Ramirez, then turn to thank the man for telling you but…he’s gone. You never see him again, but thinking of his smile always makes you feel warm, even when it’s cold outside.
I know that Hanley has a plethora of deficiencies in his game, and has, at times, had some serious attitude issues. More often than not, though, Hanley was a joy to have in Boston, and when he’s healthy, the man can hit. Plus, in his career at Chase Field, he’s slashed .339/.413/.518 with five homers in 126 plate appearances, which is good for a 121 tOPS+ (meaning he hit 21% better at Chase Field than his career production line). If the Diamondbacks gave this guy a chance and he put up 2016 numbers, then they truly could acquire a good prospect or two at the trade deadline, and it would be money well spent. Realistically, that won’t happen, and Ramirez will become a roster spot wasted on a disgruntled former star. Alternatively, though, what if Ramirez hits 36 homers, wears Paul Goldschmidt’s number 44 and is so good that people cross out Goldy’s name to put Ramirez on their backs, leads the Diamondbacks to an improbable playoff run, in Game 7 of the World Series hits a walk-off three-run homer against Dellin Betances, signs a three year contract extension, retires a Diamondback, and ends up in the Hall of Fame?Then it would go down as the best signing in Diamondbacks history, and that is exactly the kind of bold chance you need to be willing to take as an MLB general manager.(
With that, this article comes to a close. What have we learned? Well, I didn’t learn anything. I knew all of this stuff before I even started writing because I am an expert on the Arizona Diamondbacks. You, on the other hand, learned a whole lot. The Diamondbacks are poised to shrink their payroll in 2019, and most likely for the next few seasons, as they take a step back and regroup. With the face of their franchise now residing in St. Louis, you can expect more star power to be on the way out of Arizona, though a few discounted veterans looking to rebuild some value could very well end up playing their games in Phoenix this coming season. It will be interesting to see how Hazen and company navigate this, as they appear apprehensive to enter a full scale rebuild, and still possess some decent young talent to build around. All I know for sure is that I’ll be rooting for the Diamondbacks the whole way – even, unfortunately, when they play the Red Sox.
Featured Photo: Jnashboulden, https://www.flickr.com/photos/130568662@N03/25221527711