Simply put, no one had a more shocking offseason than the Arizona Diamondbacks, piloted by GM Dave Stewart.
Stewart snatched prized right-hander Zack Greinke from the clutches of the division rival Dodgers and Giants, then paired his new ace with a solid sidekick in Shelby Miller. Miller was acquired from the Atlanta Braves for a king’s ransom of prospects, but to hear Stewart say it, it’s win now or nothing else matters.
Stewart graciously took time to expand on his management philosophy and reflect on his playing career in a wide-ranging exclusive phone interview with MLBTR.
It’s been months now since you snatched Zack Greinke from under the noses of West rivals the Dodgers and Giants. Can you tell me how it felt to get the call from owner Ken Kendrick giving you the go-ahead to get Zack?
It was an absolutely outstanding call. We were really, really glad to get the OK to go after a pitcher like Zack Greinke. It could be franchise-changing for us, if everything goes well.
Time was of the essence, and Zack was on the verge of a decision when the Diamondbacks swept in. Can you take me through the process?
Yeah, they were real close to making a decision — at least they were before they got our call. [Laughs] Zack had mentioned that he had thought he already was close to signing somewhere. That fell through [with the other team], but it fell right for us. Our timing was good.
Is taking Zack out of the Dodgers’ or Giants’ plans and getting him yourself sort of like beating one of those teams head-to-head in a division race? Was an additional part of the appeal of getting Zack not just boosting the Diamondbacks but wounding L.A. or San Francisco?
No, our only motivation in signing him was to improve our staff and to improve our pitchers behind him. Zack can give us the best opportunity to compete and possibly win in our division. Not one time did I think “ha-ha, Dodgers” or “ha-ha, Giants, you didn’t get him.” I never thought about that one bit. Not one bit. I knew how great this would be for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
You have something in common with Zack; when you re-signed with Oakland after the 1989 World Series win (two years, $7 million) it was the biggest salary in baseball. Have you shared anything with him about the pressures that come with being baseball’s highest-paid player?
No. We’ve talked only about pitching and pitching philosophies. Zack remembered me from back in 2002 or 2003 when I was hired as a pitching consultant for Kansas City. He remembers a talk that I had with the young pitchers back in those days. So I made an impact on him, and he remembered my philosophy of pitching, and my passion. We share those characteristics. We may show it in different ways, but there’s a connection. That connection is really the main thing we’ve talked about.
Time and time again you are willing to be aggressive with your assets, be it prospects or payroll. You gave Zack the highest annual salary in major league history. You’ve caught flak for sending three blue chips (Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair) to Atlanta for Shelby Miller. Is your philosophy to do whatever it takes to get wins at the major league level, and a realistic shot at a World Series?
Well, we’re here to win as many games as we can. The ultimate goal of this sport, which I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to achieve, is to be a world champion. Unless you’ve been a champion, you really don’t have any idea what this sport is really about. Championships are what make all sports. That’s what everybody plays for, in all sports. And so getting Zack Greinke, getting Shelby Miller, enhances our ability to do that. It makes us better. And that’s really all we’re here for.
[RELATED: Diamondbacks Offseason In Review]
Entering the offseason, before you even knew Greinke would opt out and that Miller would be available in trade, did you think you could shore up the club’s biggest weakness—starting pitching—the way you did?
When we went into our winter organizational meetings, we talked about the things we needed to do to be better, to contend. At the top of our list was to get two top-of-the-rotation pitchers. That was the No. 1 thing our list. The second part of that was to get some bullpen help.
Now, going into this winter, quite frankly we didn’t have any idea we would be able to acquire a Zack Greinke. And if we don’t acquire a Zack Greinke, there’s no way we go after a Shelby Miller. We were prepared to go into this winter and be prepared to take the best of the next-tier guys and try to work from there, with Patrick Corbin being at the top of our rotation. When Ken Kendrick calls and says, “OK, go after Zack, this is the way we will get it done,” we were jumping for joy.
Getting a full year now from Patrick Corbin (missing the first half of last year after Tommy John surgery), how do you feel your top three starters stack up against the rest of the NL?
I don’t want to be disrespectful to other teams and organizations. The Mets are a quality staff of starting pitchers. Some people will say the Giants are a quality top three. I don’t want to be disrespectful toward any organization and say we’re the best. But we will compete, and we can compete with anybody in baseball, with our top three guys. We can stand toe-to-toe with anybody.
The other big pitching move you made was inking Tyler Clippard on a two-year deal to close. Clippard is an iron man in the pen, and if you go back to his first full season of 2009, his 524 1/3 IP lead all big league relievers. Do you worry about the mileage on your new reliever?
What is apparent in spring training, and watching him at the end of last year, is that Tyler’s pretty smart. He’s learned to reinvent himself and add things that make him competitive and consistent in his job. When we signed him, we didn’t have any concerns that he wouldn’t be effective this year.
Is there concern about Clippard’s fly ball rate [79 percent in 2015], especially pitching in a park where the ball carries like Chase Field?
I’m not really understanding what the fly ball rate really means. A fly ball can be an infield fly, or hit to shallow center field, or make it to the warning track. You look at Tyler’s numbers last year, and even with the fly ball rate he had a nice [2.92] ERA and a good season. That’s what we’re counting on. [Read more…]