As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.
With two bold moves, the Diamondbacks turned themselves into a contender. The signing of free agent Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million deal seemed to mandate another step forward, and general manager Dave Stewart complied by trading for righthander Shelby Miller. With a strong offense already in place, the D-backs are a threat.
Greinke was the best free agent starter on the market, and the D-backs’ five-hour contact-to-contract machinations on Dec. 4 were the coup of the winter. Greinke was “minutes,” he said, from signing with another team, believed to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, before the D-backs moved in after managing partner Ken Kendrick included some deferred money to make the numbers work. Greinke was 51–15 with a 2.30 ERA in his three seasons with the Dodgers, and he would have won the 2015 Cy Young Award if voters had made ERA, WHIP or WAR the determining stat. Greinke led the majors in each category, showing command of four pitches while going 19–3 with a 1.66 ERA.
Miller had an historic outlier of a season with Atlanta in 2015, going 6–17 despite a 3.02 ERA. He received an average of 2.55 runs per nine innings last season, the lowest figure since Tom Candiotti (now the D-backs’ radio analyst) received 2.53 per nine in 1993 and the second-lowest figure since the stat was first compiled in 1988. Miller, who broke a 24-game winless streak in his final start of the season, deserved much better. He found success with a new two-seam fastball, giving up only 13 homers and inducing 17 double-play grounders in a career-high 205.1 innings.
Lefthander Patrick Corbin, an All-Star in 2013 before missing 2014 because of Tommy John surgery, will slot in at No. 3. He showed signs of previous brilliance while blowing off the rust after returning July 4. On a strict pitch count, Corbin made five straight quality starts while using 85 pitches or fewer, the first pitcher since Bryn Smith in 1988 to do that. He was 5–2 with a 1.61 ERA in the nine starts in which he went at least six innings.
No. 4 starter Rubby De La Rosa threw a career-high 188.2 innings while leading the D-backs with 14 victories last season, a function of his receiving 5.79 runs per start. Both he and No. 5 starter Robbie Ray spent their first full season in a rotation last year, and the Diamondbacks believe both will be the better for it.
Righthander Archie Bradley not only beat Clayton Kershaw but also singled off him in his first major league start April 11, but he was not the same after being hit by a line drive in the face in his fourth career start. Chase Anderson, who was among the National League leaders in ERA through the first two months of the 2015 season before falling back, was dealt to Milwaukee in the offseason.
Submariner Brad Ziegler is not the prototype closer, unless you look at results. Ziegler had a career-high 30 saves in 31 chances last season after taking over the job in late May, and he will begin the season in the same role. He converted 28 straight save chances to end the season, tying a franchise record. His funky delivery was particularly tough on righties, who hit .179 against him.
Righthander Daniel Hudson, two years removed from a second Tommy John surgery, developed into the most reliable setup man late last season while hitting 97-99 mph with his fastball, and the D-backs like him in that role. Closing also seems an option.
Lefthander Andrew Chafin, a candidate for the starting rotation last spring, enters this season as the D-backs’ most effective lefty after settling nicely into a setup role. Matt Reynolds and Keith Hessler are candidates for a role as second lefty. (Remember, chief baseball officer Tony La Russa even kept three lefties when he managed in St. Louis.) Josh Collmenter, who started on Opening Day in 2015, struggled in the rotation but again found his niche in the bullpen with a 1.89 ERA in 52.1 relief innings. He is the designated long man.
Godley and Randall Delgado also could be used as swing men, in long or short relief or even an occasional start. Rookie righthander Silvino Bracho was particularly effective in his first look at the majors last September, and rookie righthander Enrique Burgos brings a 99 mph fastball to the party.
Nick Ahmed was among the top defenders in the league at shortstop, “saving” 20 more runs than the average player at his position according to baseball-reference.com. He figures to be the everyday shortstop, assuming Jean Segura — acquired in a multi-team deal with Milwaukee — takes over at second base. Segura has spent the majority of his career at short but has the versatility to play multiple positions. Chris Owings was affected by a shoulder surgery following the 2014 season, and the D-backs see a return to form. He could see significant time at second base if Segura is needed at short.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best players in baseball, a virtuoso at all phases — hitting, fielding, baserunning, preparation, leadership. He is the foundation upon which the franchise is built, and he is under contract through 2019. Jake Lamb will start at third, although Phil Gosselin and prospect Brandon Drury are also options. Drury has done about all he can do at the minor league level.
If you believe in WAR, consummate two-way player A.J. Pollock was the best center fielder in the NL in his 2015 breakout season, and it wasn’t even close. Baseball-reference.com calculated Pollock’s WAR at 7.4, fourth in the league and behind only MVP Bryce Harper among outfielders. David Peralta continued his remarkable transition from left-handed pitcher to left fielder with 17 homers and 78 RBIs in his first full season in the majors. The trade of Ender Inciarte opened the right field job for Yasmany Tomas, who at the D-backs’ behest lost weight over the winter. Rookie Socrates Brito has shown speed, gap power and athleticism in the system and is the top candidate as the fourth outfielder for a team that prizes defense. Peter O’Brien also has played outfield.
Welington Castillo was a revelation after being acquired from Seattle two months into the 2015 season. He had 17 homers and 50 RBIs while throwing out 28 percent of potential base stealers in 80 games with the D-backs. Tuffy Gosewisch suffered a season-ending knee injury in late May and is a candidate for backup catcher, as are O’Brien and Chris Herrmann. Both also can play the outfield.
The Diamondbacks plan to carry five reserves, making them deeper and more versatile than a year ago. Gosselin can play three infield positions and left field. Owings can play second and short, and Brito can defend all three outfield positions with a right fielder’s arm.
Kendrick believes in putting any profit back into the team, and he showed that with the signing of Greinke. A new 20-year, $1.5 billion local TV contract with Fox helped. The TV deal is graduated and will support the $62.5 million in deferred money to Greinke after his deal expires in 2021. First-year manager Chip Hale received good reviews for the way he handled his team in 2015. Stewart and La Russa may be old school, but they have embraced defensive metrics as they seek out their kind of players. They know how to win.
The D-backs are in it to win it. Their top three starters are among the best in the league, and their position players are agile and athletic on defense and productive on offense. This could be a big year.
Prediction: 2nd in NL West (Wild Card)
CF A.J. Pollock (R)
3B Jake Lamb (L)
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
LF David Peralta (L)
C Welington Castillo (R)
RF Yasmany Tomas (R)
2B Jean Segura (R)
SS Nick Ahmed (R)
2B Chris Owings (R)
C/OF Chris Herrmann (L)
OF Socrates Brito (L)
UT Phil Gosselin (R)
C Tuffy Gosewisch (R)
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Shelby Miller
LHP Patrick Corbin
RHP Rubby De La Rosa
LHP Robbie Ray
RHP Brad Ziegler (Closer)
RHP Daniel Hudson
LHP Andrew Chafin
RHP Randall Delgado
LHP Matt Reynolds
RHP Zack Godley
RHP Josh Collmenter