D-backs ready to challenge Dodgers, Giants
The Diamondbacks completed two major offseason trades, moves designed to “keep up with the Joneses,” as president/CEO Derrick Hall said at the winter meetings. The addition of proven power bat Mark Trumbo should provide a middle-of-the-order complement to Paul Goldschmidt, whose breakout 2013 season earned him an All-Star berth and a second-place finish in the NL MVP balloting. Closer Addison Reed is expected to firm up a shaky bullpen. With a return to health by some and a return to form by others, the retooled D-backs again could contend in the rugged NL West.
At this time last year, lefthander Patrick Corbin was one of three candidates for the final spot in the D-backs’ starting rotation. How things change. And then change again. Corbin entered the spring as the clear No. 1 this season after blossoming in 2013, winning 14 games and striking out 178. He was one of only nine NL pitchers to work at least 208 innings, and his 9–0 start through June led to his first All-Star team appearance. Then a twinge in his elbow has him sidelined and visiting a doctor named James Andrews, never a good sign for a pitcher. So the best-case scenario has Corbin rehabbing for most of the season. The most likely outcome is Tommy John surgery. Corbin’s teammates will have to step up a notch to fill the void. Righthanders Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy will fill two of the top three spots, in some order, and both are looking to rebound after missing significant injury time a year ago. Cahill was struck in the right hip by a line drive in June and after two more starts was placed on the disabled list. While there, he tweaked his delivery to find a more consistent release point. Cahill’s hard two-seamer moves so much that he is tough to beat when he is commanding the strike zone, and the change seemed to help — he was 5–0 with 2.70 ERA in his last nine appearances. McCarthy missed nine weeks with shoulder inflammation, an issue that impacts him every year. Lefthander Wade Miley has had two consecutive double-digit win seasons and is an ideal fourth starter, keeping his team in most games. But he’ll be asked to be even better this season. Miley and Corbin finished in the top 10 in quality starts in the NL a year ago. Righthander Randall Delgado used the opportunity when Cahill and McCarthy were out to enter the rotation, and his work helped facilitate the trade of Ian Kennedy at the July 31 deadline. Long-time Cincinnati workhorse Bronson Arroyo signed with Arizona over the winter. He was brought in more or less as insurance and to give Delgado and Bradley plenty of time to develop. But now he must fill a key role. Top prospect Archie Bradley could crack the rotation at some point this season. Bradley continues to improve with a mix of a 98 mph fastball with a sharp curve.
Reed had 69 saves for the Chicago White Sox after becoming their closer two months into the 2012 season, and he should stabilize a bullpen hurt by injuries and ineffectiveness. D-backs relievers tied for the major-league lead with 29 failed save conversions and led NL bullpens with 59 home runs allowed in ’13. The D-backs recovered to win about half of the games in which there was a blown save, but the extra innings (and workload) made it more difficult on everyone. Submariner Brad Ziegler, the third pitcher used as closer, rescued the bullpen with 12 saves in the second half last year and was rewarded with a two-year, $10.5 million extension in the offseason. He is expected to return to his primary role as a setup man. Righthanders J.J. Putz and David Hernandez, bullpen horses in the D-backs’ 2011 NL West title run, look to bounce back from injuries (Putz) and ineffectiveness (Hernandez) in setup roles this season. Putz, who opened 2013 as the closer, was effective in the second half when he returned from an elbow strain. Righthander Josh Collmenter has created a niche for himself in long relief, and he was among the best in the game at that. Righthander Will Harris and lefthanders Joe Thatcher and Oliver Perez provide help.
Dual-threat second baseman Aaron Hill missed about 10 weeks after suffering a broken hand two weeks into 2013, and his production was sorely missed. Tentatively scheduled to be the cleanup hitter a year ago, he is a strong candidate to hit there again, between Goldschmidt and Trumbo. He also can hit in the No. 2 hole. Youngsters Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings could work into a platoon at shortstop, since Gregorius bats left-handed and Owings hits right. Owings was the Pacific Coast League MVP at Class AAA Reno in 2013 and has nothing left to prove at that level.
Goldschmidt signed a five-year, $32 million contract extension two days before the 2013 season and then proceeded to outperform it almost immediately. In a monster year, he tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs and led the league in most other production categories, including RBIs (125), slugging percentage, OPS and OPS-plus. He also won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, and he led the D-backs in stolen bases. Martin Prado had a career-best 82 RBIs, and his 14 homers were one short of tying his career high in his first season with the D-backs. He was used at second base, third base and left field in 2013, but third base will be his spot this season unless injuries force a change. Prado is also versatile offensively and will likely hit second or sixth.
New left fielder Trumbo had 29, 32 and 34 home runs in his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, and one veteran scout said he believed 35 dingers were possible in Chase Field, which is more hitter-friendly. Trumbo played mostly first base with the Angels, but he also took turns in left field and right field, and the D-backs believe he will be a competent defender. Gerardo Parra set career highs in six offensive categories, including doubles (43) and homers (10), in his first season as a full-time right fielder, and his arm is as much of a weapon as his bat. Parra led NL outfielders with a career-high 17 assists while winning his second Gold Glove in three seasons, first as a left fielder in 2011. A.J. Pollock, a long-shot to make the roster in 2013 until injuries struck, will play center field after finishing second among NL rookies with 12 stolen bases and 28 doubles last year. He is the best center fielder on the roster, and his breakout season made Adam Eaton expendable in the three-team trade that landed Trumbo. Adjustments will be made when Cody Ross returns from a broken hip, perhaps in May.
Miguel Montero played through lower back pain most of last season, certainly a factor in his least productive season since 2010, another injury-shortened year. At normal levels, Montero is one of the best offensive players in the league at his position, and even with a subpar 2013 has averaged 25 doubles, 15 homers and 72 RBIs the last three seasons. He provides the primary left-handed bat in the Arizona lineup.
Eric Chavez’s return is a big get for the D-backs. Chavez had 44 RBIs in 228 at-bats last season, and only Goldschmidt had a better ratio among regular contributors. Chavez will back up at first base and third base and be the prime left-handed pinch-hitter. Ross is not expected to return from his fractured hip until late April or May, at which point the D-backs will have decisions to make about outfield roles. Ross can play all three outfield positions. Cliff Pennington is an above-average defender at second base and shortstop, adding to the depth provided by Owings and Gregorius. Henry Blanco, whose defensive skills and clubhouse presence stand out, signed a minor-league contract in the offseason and will back up Montero.
Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick demonstrated their commitment to winning now with their checkbook. With deferred salaries virtually gone and the new FOX-TV money combined with a reworking of several sponsorship arrangements, the D-backs had money to spend, and they spent it. The 2014 payroll will be the highest in team history, exceeding the approximately $102 million spent on the 2002 team in the year after the D-backs’ only World Series victory. GM Kevin Towers again was at his offseason best in landing Trumbo and Reed to fill obvious holes.
The D-backs have made it clear that they expect to compete with the defending division champ and deep-pocketed Los Angeles Dodgers and the every-other-year San Francisco Giants. Towers and manager Kirk Gibson are in the final years of their contracts. Each has two option years, but management needs to see progress for a team that faded down the stretch a year ago.
RF Gerardo Parra (L)
Hit five leadoff homers in his first extended time as a leadoff hitter in 2013.
3B Martin Prado (R)
Hit 14 home runs and had a career-high 82 RBIs in his first season with the D-backs.
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
The most productive hitter in the National League last season by virtually any measure.
2B Aaron Hill (R)
With health, his numbers should return to normal levels, deepening this lineup.
LF Mark Trumbo (R)
One scout suggests that 35 homers is not out of the question at Chase Field.
C Miguel Montero (L)
A workhorse, he has caught at least 1,000 innings in each of the last three years.
CF A.J. Pollock (R)
Speedy defender capped a strong rookie season by hitting .369 in his last 28 games.
SS Didi Gregorius (L)
He brings a strong arm and good range into his second season in Arizona.
INF Eric Chavez (L)
Averaged an RBI every 5.2 at-bats, second among the D-backs’ regular contributors.
OF Cody Ross (R)
Gamer remains optimistic that he can return from fractured hip in late April, early May.
C Henry Blanco (R)
Solid defender and steadying presence on the 2011 team returns to add skill and savvy.
INF Cliff Pennington (S)
A solid defender who can rise to the occasion, as his two walk-off hits in ‘13 suggest.
SS Chris Owings (R)
Earned 2013 Pacific Coast League MVP honors by hitting .330 with 31 doubles, 81 RBIs.
UT Matt Tuiasosopo (R)
The slugger appeared in 81 games for the Tigers last season and hit seven homers in 164 at-bats. He’ll provide some right-handed pop, at least until Ross is deemed fit.
LH Wade Miley
Over the final four months of 2013, the 2008 first-round pick was 7–5 with a 2.87 ERA.
RH Trevor Cahill
A midseason delivery adjustment seemed to take, boding well for the future for the former 18-game winner.
RH Brandon McCarthy
Looking to rebound from a career-high 11 losses in his first season with the D-backs.
RH Randall Delgado
Given opportunity, had career highs in wins (five), starts (19) and innings (116.1).
RH Bronson Arroyo
Made at least 32 starts each year for the past nine seasons, but carried a 4.10 ERA during that time.
RH Addison Reed (Closer)
Has 69 saves since becoming the White Sox’s full-time closer two months into 2012.
RH J.J. Putz
After recovering from elbow strain, held opponents scoreless in 22 of his final 24 appearances.
RH David Hernandez
His 241 strikeouts are sixth among National League relievers the last three seasons.
RH Brad Ziegler
Submariner leads major-league relievers by inducing 81 double-play grounders since 2008.
RH Josh Collmenter
His over-the-top “tomahawk” style is unorthodox, but the results scream effective.
LH Joe Thatcher
He has allowed 16 percent of inherited runners to score, fifth in the majors since 2009.
RH Will Harris
With a low 90s fastball and big-breaking curve, another bullpen find by general manager Kevin Towers.
LH Oliver Perez
The veteran appeared in 61 games for Seattle last season with 74 strikeouts in 53 innings.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Braden Shipley, RHP
Shipley needed a few outings to settle in at short-season Class A Hillsboro after being chosen from Nevada with the 15th pick of the first round of the draft, but he hit his stride shortly thereafter and did his best work after a late-season promotion to Class A South Bend for the playoff drive. Shipley gave up two earned runs or less in each of his four regular-season starts at South Bend to help the Silver Hawks into the playoffs, and he followed that with even better work, giving up only two earned runs in 13.2 innings in two playoff starts. Shipley is a converted shortstop who has only been pitching full-time since his junior year in high school, and because of that the D-backs see plenty of upside. His stuff is that of a top-of-the-rotation starter — he touches 97 mph with his fastball and uses a changeup as a second pitch.
C/OF Stryker Trahan (19)
After honing his catching skills in extended spring training in 2013, Trahan had 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 59 games at Class A Missoula.
RHP Archie Bradley (21)
The D-backs’ other 2011 first-round pick will bring his 98 mph fastball into competition for a rotation spot this spring.
RHP Matt Stites (23)
A bullpen component who was obtained in the Ian Kennedy trade; his fastball tops out in the high 90s.
RHP Jake Barrett (22)
A reliever who touches the high 90s; had a 1.21 ERA and 29 saves at two 2013 minor league stops.
3B Jake Lamb (23)
Showed good pop — 20 doubles, 13 home runs, 47 RBIs — in a 2013 season cut in half by injuries.
3B Brandon Drury (21)
Led the minor leagues with 51 doubles at Class A South Bend in 2013 after coming over in Justin Upton/Chris Johnson trade.
SS Chris Owings (22)
Did not appear overmatched at all in his 20-game audition last summer.
RHP Aaron Blair (21)
The 36th pick in the 2013 draft made 11 starts with seven no-decisions last season in the minors.
RHP Jose Martinez (19)
Made 10 starts in the Northwest League last summer. The good news is that he allowed just 20 hits in 38 innings. The bad news is that he walked 25.
Beyond the Box Score
Bad blood After the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the NL West crown in Arizona on Sept. 20, a host of Dodgers moved their celebration from the visiting clubhouse to the Chase Field swimming pool, just beyond the right-center field fence. An unnamed Dodger admitted to relieving himself in the pool. Initially unfazed, D-backs righthander Brandon McCarthy spoke for many in the clubhouse when he said: “My presumption was that if it was just based on having fun and celebrating, that’s one thing. If you have some people going out of their way to be a**holes, that’s a whole ’nother thing. If it is something where you are going out to be disrespectful, then that is kind of a simple ‘grow up.’”
Inspiration Ben Petrick was not looking to get back into baseball, but when the D-backs moved into his Hillsboro, Ore., neighborhood and player personnel director Mike Bell came calling, Petrick found himself enjoying his role as a special assistant, basically a “life coach” for the D-backs’ first-year players. A storied high school athlete in Oregon and a five-year major leaguer, Petrick had his career curtailed by early-onset Parkinson’s, a journey chronicled in his autobiography, “40,000 to One.” D-backs No. 1 draft choice Braden Shipley, who started his pro career in Hillsboro last June, called Petrick “one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. What I respect is how positive he is. That to me is inspiring. That shows me I don’t have it rough.”
Hip check Cody Ross is known as a baseball rat, willing and able to do all the dirty work required to excel. He is now a guinea pig. Ross suffered a fractured bone on the back of his right hip when his spike caught in the dirt as he approached first base on Aug. 11, and the injury is believed to be the first of its kind in baseball.
Man of his word A day after Mark Trumbo was traded to the D-backs on Dec. 10, he still made it a priority to attend the Los Angeles Angels’ annual children’s holiday party in Downtown Disney, an event he began attending while he was in the Angels’ minor-league system. He wore a plaid shirt instead of his uniform jersey, but the kids did not seem to mind as Trumbo read Christmas stories, signed autographs and traded high-fives.