The Diamondbacks are starting over again this year after firing general manager Dave Stewart and manager Chip Hale two years after their last redo. Injuries had a lot to do with the D-backs’ troubles last year, and they believe with health will come the success that was expected when Zack Greinke signed his $206.5 million deal before 2016. The lineup is strong. The young starters must take the next step forward.
Greinke is the mainstay, one of the few true aces in the majors. He missed six weeks with a strained oblique muscle in the middle of last season but still won 13 games, hitting double digits for the ninth season — tied for seventh among active pitchers. No one expected another 1.66 ERA as he had with the Dodgers in 2015, but 4.37 was uncharacteristically high, as were the 23 homers allowed. Lefthander Robbie Ray will slot in behind Greinke after establishing himself in his first full season in the rotation. He struck out 218 in 174.1 innings but had bouts of inconsistency as indicated by his 4.90 ERA. Righthander Taijuan Walker was added in an offseason trade that sent Jean Segura to Seattle, and the D-backs are hopeful that Walker will be able to harness his above-average stuff that includes a mid-90s fastball. Former No. 1 pick Archie Bradley also took a step forward last year, but the rotation was hurt by subpar seasons from Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin, who began 2016 as the Nos. 2-3 starters. Miller, obtained from Atlanta in the deal that sent 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson to Atlanta, was returned to the minors for a brief spell after the All-Star break to try to work through his issues. Corbin, an All-Star before missing the 2014 campaign because of Tommy John surgery, spent the final month of the season in the bullpen. The final two or three spots in the rotation may not be settled until late in spring training.
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Fernando Rodney signed a team-friendly $2.5 million free-agent deal that includes options if he is the team’s closer, a role the D-backs had trouble filling after trading Brad Ziegler to Boston before the 2016 All-Star break. Rodney will turn 40 in spring training. No amount of hat-angling can change that, but his stuff still seems good. Rodney was 17-for-17 in save situations with San Diego the first half of last season before struggling when taken out of that role following a trade to Miami. Righthanders Enrique Burgos and Jake Barrett have big arms, and both feature mid-90s fastballs. Each was given a shot at the closer job over the final two months, with mixed results. Under-the-radar righthander Randall Delgado made 79 appearances last year. Lefty Andrew Chafin battled injuries. Righty Tyler Jones throws hard, and as a Rule 5 pick he must be offered back to the Yankees if he does not make the Opening Day roster.
This is the least settled spot on the diamond, although it is not without talent. Career third baseman Brandon Drury, who swung a good bat while playing out of position in the corner outfield spots last year, is a top candidate at second base after being told over the winter to concentrate on the infield. Drury has a potent bat with doubles pop, and one major-league talent evaluator said Drury could be a Jeff Kent-type at second. Nick Ahmed is a top-tier defender and has been the starting shortstop the last two seasons after winning battles each spring, but he missed the final two months of 2016 after undergoing hip surgery. His bat still needs some work.
Perennial All-Star Paul Goldschmidt is one of the most productive and durable players in the majors, among the handful of superstars — although you could never convince him of that. He hits, hits for power, steals bases and plays a Gold Glove first base. On top of that, he is a clubhouse leader. Third baseman Jake Lamb made some adjustments to his offensive approach before last season and looked like a new man before a thumb injury slowed him in the second half. Lamb was overlooked for the 2016 All-Star Game despite having 20 homers at the break.
The fractured right elbow suffered by A.J. Pollock three days before the start of the 2016 season changed everything, and the D-backs believe his return could do the same this year. Pollock was the most productive center fielder in the NL in 2015 but played only 12 games last year, and the D-backs missed not only his speed/power production but also his defensive skill set. Yasmany Tomas supplies numbers — he had career highs with 31 homers and 83 RBIs in his second full season — but leaves a lot to be desired defensively at either corner. David Peralta is expected back in right field after a wrist injury cost him most of last year, and his left-handed bat helps to balance a lineup that skews right.
Veteran Jeff Mathis signed a two-year free-agent deal over the winter in a nod to pitch-framing metrics, and he is expected to take over as Greinke’s personal catcher, a role that was held by since-departed Welington Castillo last year. Castillo was not offered a contract over the winter despite hitting 14 homers and throwing out 37.5 percent of potential basestealers.
Catcher Chris Herrmann was a valuable piece in his first NL season, setting career highs in virtually every offensive category and even taking a turn in center field before missing the second half of the season because of injuries. A left-handed counterpoint to Mathis, he is likely to play a lot. Versatile Chris Owings moved from the middle infield to center field when pressed into service there and set career highs in hits and stolen bases while at shortstop the final two months. Owings and newcomer Ketel Marte, acquired from Seattle with Walker for Segura, can play both sides of the infield, and both can steal some bases. Socrates Brito can defend at all three outfield spots and has occasional pop. Jeremy Hazelbaker, claimed off waivers from St. Louis, provides another left-handed bat capable of doing some damage.
After spending $206.5 million on Greinke and trading away Swanson last winter, management expected results. When that didn’t happen, changes were made. New general manager Mike Hazen and new manager Torey Lovullo have résumés that include stops in Cleveland and most recently Boston, two organizations that are known for their forward thinking and reliance on analytics.
The D-backs have the core of a strong offense with do-it-all Goldschmidt, power bats in Lamb and Tomas and speed/power guy Pollock, whose absence had a lot to do with the team’s unexpected struggles a year ago. For the D-backs to have any kind of chance in the stacked NL West, however, their young starters behind Greinke will need to take another step forward, and Rodney must thrive as the closer.