- The Diamondbacks are likely to look for new executives to head their front office this winter, but they could have trouble finding candidates with significant experience. Assuming the team does fire Dave Stewart, they will have dismissed three GMs in six years, also including Josh Byrnes and Kevin Towers. Team president and CEO Derrick Hall has been with the Diamondbacks throughout those firings and recently received a new eight-year contract.
Rebuilding season or not, falling short of the playoffs and finishing with a losing record probably means that more things went wrong than went right for a team. This series, however, will focus on those silver linings that each team can take away from an otherwise disappointing season.
[Related: “Top Bright Spots” archive]
Here are the biggest bright spots for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
1. Jean Segura, 2B
The offseason trade that sent Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair to the Braves for Shelby Miller was heavily criticized at the time and looks even worse now. It’s a deal that has cast a dark cloud over Dave Stewart’s tenure as the Diamondbacks’ general manager. Unfortunately, it will also overshadow any good moves that he has made, especially the acquisition of Segura—Chase Anderson, Aaron Hill and Isan Diaz were traded to the Brewers in the deal—less than two months later.
While Anderson has had a solid season in the Brewers’ rotation and the 20-year-old Diaz put up huge numbers in Low-A ball, Segura bounced back from back-to-back poor seasons with one that is worthy of at least a handful of MVP votes. An impressive .320 batting average with 201 hits, 40 doubles, 20 homers and 32 stolen bases has the 26-year-old, who is under contract for two more seasons, heading into 2017 as one of the top middle infielders in baseball.
2. Yasmany Tomas, RF
As recently as late July, it was easy to lump Tomas’ six-year, $68.5MM deal in with other recent moves that hadn’t quite panned out. Tomas had a subpar rookie season in 2015 and, after a strong start to the 2016 season, was in the midst of a two-month long slump (.641 OPS, 5 BB, 52 K from May 26th thru July 23rd) when something finally clicked.
Since July 24th, the 25-year-old has been one of the elite sluggers in the game with a .934 OPS, 17 homers and 12 doubles in 225 plate appearances. It’s great timing, too. With an abundance of hitting talent on the D’backs, not enough at-bats to go around and Tomas’ trade value on the rise, American League teams with a need at DH—Tomas is a bad defensive outfielder—should have plenty of interest.
- The Diamondbacks will take a chance on 25-year-old Mexican southpaw Armando Aguilar on a minor league deal. Per Eddy, Aguilar is a lefty specialist who was quite stingy against same-handed hitters, posting 9.2 K/9 and a 0.99 WHIP in fifty appearances this year for the Mexican League’s Leones de Yucatan.
Diamondbacks righty Rubby De La Rosa will receive a stem cell injection tomorrow, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports on Twitter. The hope is that the treatment will allow him to stave off what would be a second Tommy John procedure.
De La Rosa’s rehab has been something of a rollercoaster: he was able to return briefly, then seemed destined to be shut down, and then seemed like he might be headed back to the major league mound by the end of the season. Now, the situation seems a fair bit more dire than had previously been suggested.
Stem cell and other alternatives to surgery have increasingly been utilized by pitchers hoping to reinforce, rather than replace, their ulnar collateral ligaments. The risk of a TJ procedure failing to produce the desired results is heightened significantly in the case of a second trip under the knife, so the stakes are high in De La Rosa’s case.
Given the timing, a TJ procedure in the near-term would clearly keep De La Rosa out for all of 2017. Second-time UCL replacement recipients tend to take longer to make it all the way back, though he’d at least be reasonably likely to make it back for ’18.
De La Rosa is due a raise — though it won’t be a large one — on his $2.35MM arbitration salary. He’s set for free agency before the start of the 2019 campaign, so the next two campaigns are the final ones of team control for Arizona.
All said, then, there’s a lot riding on De La Rosa’s ability to return. Over his 50 2/3 innings this year, he worked to a useful 4.26 ERA and also showed quite a bit of promise with a rising 9.6 K/9. That makes De La Rosa a critical part of the D-Backs’ rotation picture.
SATURDAY: Manager Chip Hale says he does not believe Greinke will pitch again this season, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets.
FRIDAY 10:26pm: The MRI cleared Greinke of structural damage, as Piecoro tweets, though he’ll likely miss his next scheduled start. That’s obviously good news for Arizona, though it would certainly be preferable if Greinke is able to return for at least one more outing before shutting things down for the offseason.
7:12pm: The Diamondbacks will send righty Zack Greinke in for an MRI on his right shoulder, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. He isn’t with the team at present and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to make his final two starts of the year.
Greinke did not show any indications of a problem during his last outing — he was effective, though it was his third-straight with at least four walks — but reported shoulder inflammation thereafter. He did report improvement as of today, per manager Chip Hale, but the team is obviously concerned enough to order up imaging.
Needless to say, this isn’t the way Arizona hoped that Greinke’s already-rough season would wrap up. The soon-to-be 33-year-old sports an uncharacteristic 4.37 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 over his 158 2/3 innings on the year. He missed time previously with an oblique strain.
While most of Greinke’s peripherals fell within range of his career norms, he was particularly susceptible to the long ball this year, allowing 1.3 dingers per nine. His average fastball largely held steady, dropping about half a mile an hour from his prior three campaigns, but both his four-seam and two-seam offerings were markedly less effective than in the recent past (by measure of Pitch F/X pitch values).
Greinke still profiles as a highly useful starter — he’d surely secure the largest contract in this winter’s weak free agent class were he again eligible — but the remainder of his massive contract looks to be under water at this point in time. Greinke is owed $157.5MM over the next five years, a monumental sum for a hurler his age, which has led some to suggest that the D-Backs ought to seek a trade partner. While the club’s current front office has stated that it isn’t inclined to take that path, organizational change could shift the calculus. Any uncertainty in Greinke’s shoulder, though, would largely scuttle any such ideas — at least until he can demonstrate that he is healthy.
MLBTR will provide a broader view of each club’s winter plans when our annual Offseason Outlook series kicks off at the end of the regular season. Until then, the Diamondbacks are the latest team to be featured in our quick look at this season’s non-contenders. We’ve already covered the Angels, Brewers, Twins, and Rays.
Arizona’s struggles this year are well documented, and need not be canvassed yet again here. Not much went right, leaving a host of areas to address, but these three are most pressing:
1. Sort out the front office.
Turnover in the baseball operations department is nothing new for the D-Backs, but this winter could again see change up top. Tony La Russa was brought in to provide overarching guidance in the sui generis position of chief baseball officer, and he oversaw the hiring of Dave Stewart as general manager and De Jon Watson as senior VP of baseball ops. With Watson already having been shown the door, the team is still holding out on deciding the fates of La Russa and Stewart, neither of whom is under contract past this season.
The longer Arizona waits, the less time a new hire will have to prepare for an important offseason to come. Club CEO Derrick Hall has suggested that a decision will come “relatively quickly,” and that certainly seems to be a wise approach — though an earlier call would arguably have been preferable. After all, roster decisions on current players and potential targets will begin in earnest about one month from now.
Whether the team should change horses right now is up for debate, though certainly there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that’s in order. Regardless, two things seem clear: first, that some measure of certainty in personnel and approach is needed as soon as possible; and second, that some changes in the decisionmaking process ought to be made that allow the organization to better understand and navigate the ever-changing landscape of baseball transactions and player analysis. While the traditional approach has resulted in the identification of some nice assets — chiefly, Robbie Ray, Jean Segura & Welington Castillo — the D-Backs seem out of step in many instances in their market valuations.
2. Make the best out of the Zack Greinke contract.
That seeming market disconnect was as apparent in the handling of Zack Greinke as it was in the acquisition of Shelby Miller — and that’s before accounting for the struggles of both pitchers (particularly the latter) in 2016. Adding rotation talent and betting on a fairly talented core made plenty of sense, but the way that Arizona went about doing so was questionable at best.
The Greinke decision represented an unbelievable risk on a pitcher of his age for an organization that has carried about $100MM in overall payroll, about one third of which is gobbled up by Greinke’s annual obligation. His middling season wasn’t exactly the worst-case scenario — a debilitating injury — but in concert with the fall-off elsewhere, it changes the calculus for the organization moving forward.
It would be silly for the Snakes to dump Greinke for the highest offer while his value is down and he’s still on the relatively youthful side of his contract. Unlike Miller, the veteran hurler was mostly himself — with some expected regression, added home runs, and perhaps a bit of poor fortune and park effects combining for a dud of a season. It’s reasonable to think that he could still boost his value and hold significant appeal at the 2017 trade deadline, if not sooner.
Still, the organization’s apparent approach on Greinke — so far as has been reported — seems a bit concerning. A report in late July suggested that Arizona was not only demanding “a great return of players” in trade talks, but wouldn’t consider eating any of the salary. And the most recent word is that the La Russa/Stewart front office isn’t interested in listening on Greinke over the winter.
To reiterate, I’m not advocating here for any specific course of action. And there could certainly be some public posturing at play. But the fact is, Greinke the player isn’t worth the contract ($157.5MM, some of it deferred, through 2021) — which was arrived at in a highly competitive bidding situation after the righty had wrapped up a career-best season. Even accepting that he remains a top-quality starter, it’s not reasonable to value him as a player asset the way that the reports have suggested.
The bottom line: whether or not the team ends up trading Greinke, it needs to approach the matter with a realistic assessment in order to make appropriate decisions. After hopefully getting him righted, I’d argue, the team needs to begin thinking about how it can get out from under what could end up being a disastrous financial commitment.
3. Work around the edges.
There’s just under $60MM on the D-Backs’ books for 2017, but that will balloon with arbitration raises for players like Miller, Castillo, Segura, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, and Chris Owings. Assuming that ownership doesn’t authorize a big move up over the approximately $100MM current roster spend, there probably won’t be much room to add major pieces.
Really, though, the team isn’t desperately in need of one or two big pieces — as it thought it was last winter. Just finding solid players in a few areas would go quite a long way. Adding even 1.5 to 2 WAR types of assets is harder than it sounds, but those kinds of incremental gains ought to be the focus.
Thus far in 2016 for the Diamondbacks, only four positions — first base, second base, third base, and catcher — have featured average or better production. Just two members of the rotation cracked 1.5 fWAR, and the team already has or will soon part with a few of its better relievers. In many ways, it has turned out to be a top-heavy roster.
The good news is that the team can hope for healthier and/or more productive campaigns from players such as A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Owings, De La Rosa, and Paul Goldschmidt — as well as Greinke and Miller — while banking on continued strides from a few young hurlers, including Archie Bradley, who actually turned in a reasonably promising campaign despite an unsightly 5.02 ERA. But injuries and performance variations are inevitable, and Arizona must do a better job of having options on hand both to share time when appropriate and to fill in when necessary.
Despite taking 200 or more plate appearances in 2016, Owings, Yasmany Tomas (who ought to be in the A.L.), Nick Ahmed, Michael Bourn, Rickie Weeks, and Phil Gosselin were all approximately replacement-level performers. In the rotation, hurlers such as Miller, Patrick Corban, Zack Godley, and Braden Shipley were marginal in nine or more starts. (I won’t endeavor to name all of the club’s middling relief performances.)
Again, Arizona will surely hope that some of those names will turn up on the stat sheet as positives in the season to come. But a few well-placed trades and signings, as well as well-conceived decisions on less-established players, could transform the supporting cast into one capable of supporting a winner (assuming, at least, that the core can restore its former luster).
While the Snakes may not have much money to brandish, they do have the ability to offer roster space and opportunities for playing time, which are important assets in their own right when properly deployed. That’s especially true in the outfield, which was easily the worst unit in the majors this year with Pollock gone, Peralta hurt, and Ender Inciarte playing in Atlanta. Such a piecemeal strategy may not be terribly likely to result in a full-blown turnaround, but that’s probably the only way that the organization can hope to squeeze through its self-appointed window of contention.
There’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the status of the Diamondbacks’ front office, as both chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and GM Dave Stewart have seen the deadline for their 2017 options to be exercised pushed back from the end of August until after the season. The D-backs have already parted ways with senior vice president De Jon Watson, and CEO Derrick Hall said yesterday in an appearance on the Doug and Wolf Show on 98.7 FM in Arizona that decisions on La Russa and Stewart would come quickly after the season ended.
“It’s something that will happen relatively quickly after the season,” said Hall. “I mean, we decided — along with ownership — that they wanted to wait until after the season, I understand why, and there is a thorough process going on, which is great, but I think whether it’s still going to be Tony here, whether it’s going to be Stew here, the decision has to be made quickly for them because they’ve got a lot of plans.”
La Russa himself was a guest with Doug and Wolf the previous day and suggested that he wouldn’t agree to stay with the organization in the event that ownership decided it wanted to retain him but part ways with Stewart (audio link to the interview, plus some written highlights from the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro). “I think there’s a matter of integrity, as far as personal integrity, and it’s hard for me to see agreeing to let somebody go that I don’t think should be let go,” said La Russa. “… I just think that hopefully I’m not put in that position.”
The chief baseball officer also recognized that there’s no certainty surrounding his own status, adding, “By the way, I think there’s an equally good chance that they’re going to say, ’Look, I’ve watched you for two and a half years, and we’re worse now or almost as we were in 2014, so you can just pack your bag as well.’ So I’m not assuming anything.” Furthermore, he emphasized that ownership has had enough time to evaluate both him and Stewart, stating that he wouldn’t consider any decision “unfair” in any way.
Regarding Watson, Hall explained in his interview that the SVP insisted that he wanted to know his fate before the season came to a close: “De Jon was in a place where he wanted to know (about his future) earlier, and ultimately Stew and Tony — and he did report to Tony — they decided that they were going to let him know that he was not going to be renewed.” La Russa, meanwhile, implied that there was no way they could give Watson the certainty that he desired at this point, so the decision to part ways was reached.
Hall also said in his interview that he’d be understanding if the ultimate decision was that the team wished to part with Stewart, but La Russa also walked away due to his loyalty. “I get it when Tony is defending him and always will — this is his guy, and he always has been his guy, and they have a wonderful relationship,” said Hall. “So if that scenario did come to fruition and that’s the decision Tony made, I get it. And I wouldn’t fault him for that.”
Meanwhile, manager Chip Hale recently told reporters, including MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert, that the organization’s focus remains on the team. While Hale conceded that it’s “natural” to wonder about his future when he’s on his own time, he’s not dwelling on his status, nor is La Russa or Stewart. “Everybody’s been so good — Tony, Stew — we’ve talked baseball, talked about the club, how guys are doing in the Minors at different levels, who we’re going to protect [over the winter], things like that,” Hale explained. “We’re just keeping it all baseball.” While Hale is signed through the 2017 season, changes in baseball operations hierarchy often beget changes to the field staff, including the manager.
SEPT. 19: In an updated version of his story, Piecoro now reports that while it was La Russa who made the announcement about Watson, the decision to let him go came from ownership and not from La Russa and Stewart.
“In talking with De Jon when his option was not picked up at the end of August,” La Russa explained, “he asked about how long it would take because if it wasn’t going to work out, he’s got contacts to make so he can land on his feet. That kind of sped the process up in his case.”
La Russa went on to offer praise for Watson but suggested that there may be some redundancies within the roles occupied by Watson, himself and Stewart, thus leading to the idea of “consolidating” some of the front office duties. “As we’ve worked through a couple of years, there’s more communication like I’m having with scouting and player development, and Stew is having the same,” said La Russa. “It’s not that there’s not a role for someone like De Jon, but that’s a possibility that there’s some duplication.”
SEPT. 18: The Diamondbacks will not pick up senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson’s contract for 2017, reports Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. The decision to cut ties with Watson was made by chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart, a source told Piecoro. La Russa and Stewart are facing uncertain futures in Arizona, which could move on from one or both in the coming weeks.
The D-backs announced the hirings of Stewart and Watson on Sept. 25, 2014, which came a few months after they tabbed La Russa to lead their baseball department. The trio has since come under fire for a slew of questionable moves that have helped contribute to the last-place club’s 62-86 record this year. Among the front office’s panned transactions have been the big-money signings of Cuban free agents Yoan Lopez and Yasmany Tomas. Watson was instrumental in those additions, per Piecoro, as he was an important figure in their international scouting efforts.
Lopez, a right-hander whom the Diamondbacks gave a then-record $8.27MM bonus as an international free agent in 2014, has scuffled in the minors and has even contemplated giving up baseball. Inking Lopez at such a high cost has prevented the D-backs from landing any international free agent for more than $300K over the past two signing periods.
Unlike Lopez, Tomas has cracked the majors, but the six-year, $68.5MM deal Arizona signed the third baseman-turned-outfielder to before the 2015 season hasn’t exactly been a bargain. The 25-year-old Tomas has hit a below-average .269/.306/.456 with 38 home runs, including an impressive 29 this season, in 943 major league plate appearances. Thanks largely to the big-bodied Tomas’ inability to make positive contributions as a defender or baserunner, he has posted a minus-1.6 fWAR with the D-backs.
While the moves he helped guide the Diamondbacks to haven’t gone as planned, Watson also didn’t get along well with farm director Mike Bell, according to Piecoro. Bell told the team’s higher-ups in July that he couldn’t work with Watson anymore. If Bell continues with the organization past this season, Watson will no longer serve as a hindrance to him.
- Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart tells Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic that “he couldn’t see himself” trading Brandon Drury this offseason, though Piecoro thinks Drury could be a very interesting trade chip for the Snakes. Drury is blocked at third base by Jake Lamb, though the D’Backs could continue to use Drury in a super-utility role all over the diamond, including spelling Lamb against some left-handed pitching. The 24-year-old Drury is hitting an impressive .280/.326/.450 with 14 homers over 438 PA in his rookie season and if Arizona did trade him, it would only be for a high price. For instance, John Harper of the New York Daily News speculated earlier this summer that if the Mets asked about Drury, the D’Backs would want someone like Zack Wheeler back in return. (Harper’s item came prior to the news of Wheeler’s subsequent arm problems.) Piecoro also notes that Drury’s status as a trade candidate could also vary greatly if the Diamondbacks replace Stewart and other members of the front office.
- It had seemed that Diamondbacks righty Rubby De La Rosa would be shut down for the year due to ongoing elbow soreness, but that may no longer be the case. As Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets, manager Chip Hale says there’s still a chance that De La Rosa could return at the tail end of 2016. He’ll throw side sessions and perhaps even sim games while the team assesses both the health of his elbow and his command, per the skipper. “Maybe the last week of the season we get him in a game to see what he looks like,” said Hale.