Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen spoke with The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan (multiple links), The Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro and other reporters on Tuesday about several topics related to the team’s rough season, though Hazen demurred about the broad decision facing the team when asked if the D’Backs were planning to rebuild or if they would try to contend in 2022.
“I am going to punt that question for 13 more days,” Hazen said, referring to the very end of the regular season. In general, Hazen and other team officials are still in discussions and meetings about the state of the franchise in the wake of Arizona’s disastrous 48-104 record. The D’Backs are currently tied with the Orioles for the worst record in baseball, and “we need to understand exactly what’s happened and how it’s happened.”
Naturally, multiple factors combined to turn 2021 into a nightmare year for the Diamondbacks, so there is no shortage of analysis that needs to take place within the Arizona front office. Since Hazen’s interview on Tuesday, however, one notable decision has already been made, as Hazen announced this afternoon that manager Torey Lovullo has been signed to a contract extension that will run through the 2022 season, with a club option for 2023.
Hazen said Tuesday that the fault for the Diamondbacks’ issues didn’t lie with Lovullo or any one person, and took his own share of responsibility: “The job I’ve done should be scrutinized fairly heavily. As much as we’ve talked about others, we should be talking about me.” Hazen’s own contractual status isn’t publicly known, as the terms of his multi-year extension in September 2019 weren’t announced. Hazen’s original deal ran until the end of the 2020 season, and it is fair to guess that at least two or three additional years were added in this new contract.
Off-the-field concerns also certainly play a role in Hazen’s future. He took a physical leave of absence from the team in June in order to spend time with his family and care for his wife, Nicole, as she battles brain cancer. Hazen praised his front office colleagues (assistant GMs Amiel Sawdaye and Mike Fitzgerald, and special assistant Allard Baird) for their work, and he noted that “I feel like I’ve done my job to the best of my ability and locked into the same things I’ve locked into before.”
One organizational aspect that seems likely to change is how the Diamondbacks approached their need for defensive versatility, as Hazen said “I do think that we probably have” had players playing out of their ideal position too often. “If we’re playing guys out of position, if we’re asking guys to do too much, if the level of preparation for three different guys is not possible for four or five guys, all those things are things we’re going to have to work through,” the GM said.
While every team strives to have a flexible roster complete with multi-position options, injuries and a lack of performance forced several D’Backs players into unfamiliar roles in 2021. The results have been mediocre at best, as the Diamondbacks are 18th of 30 teams in UZR/150 (-1.1), 21st in Outs Above Average (-10), and tied for 28th in Defensive Runs Saved (-48).
That said, “it is the easiest thing in my mind that we have a chance to go into this offseason and — fix is the wrong word, I don’t know exactly what’s broken — lock down on being a good defensive team,” Hazen said. “We have that within our capability….I think we’ve pushed that [moving players around the diamond] to the limit and I think you’ve seen the dam break a little bit this year. I do think we have to start honing in on who is going to thrive in that setting and who would be better off locking down one spot. Those are going to be part of the conversations we’ll be having.”
This could extend to the Diamondbacks’ best player, Ketel Marte. Hazen implied that Marte would mostly stick at one position in 2022, which would appear to be second base based on Marte’s recent comments to Lovullo. Marte has played mostly at the keystone in both 2018 and 2020, but the D’Backs have used him primarily as a center fielder this year, and also as a shortstop in the past. From a defensive standpoint, Marte has looked far more solid as a second baseman than at other positions, so Arizona might simplify matters by just using Marte every day at second base next year.
Whether Marte will be on the Diamondbacks’ roster at all might be a matter of some debate. If the D’Backs did look to embark on a rebuild, Marte (who is controlled through 2024 on a pair of club options) would be a prime trade chip, though he wasn’t moved at this past trade deadline, as Hazen said in June that the team was looking to keep its core group of talent together. That perspective might well change as the offseason begins, should the D’Backs indeed decide that an overhaul is needed, or perhaps if another team simply makes an offer for Marte that Hazen feels is too good to pass up.