Written By Mason Kern, Contributing Writer for InFluential Magazine
After going 93-69 a year ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks have the tools to make another successful playoff push in the 2018-19 MLB season. Fans should expect power swings and strikeouts galore from their two superstars: perennial National League MVP candidate (and first baseman) Paul Goldschmidt and ace pitcher Zack Greinke.
Despite getting swept in the NLDS by the eventual World Series runner-up Los Angeles Dodgers, the D’backs were able to put on a convincing performance in the single-elimination Wild Card game, defeating the Colorado Rockies in dramatic fashion, 11-8.
The challenge in 2018 is to keep pace with a suddenly very competitive NL West Division, which boasted three of the five playoff teams in 2017.
However, there are plenty of questions that the D’backs will have to answer heading into the new season.
Where is J.D. Martinez?
Sep 22, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder J.D. Martinez (28) runs the bases after hitting a home run against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks won 13-11. Photography courtesy of Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports.
Fans were semi-confident that manager Torey Lovullo would be able to resign impending free agent J.D. Martinez after the success they had in the final year of his contract. Martinez was a large part of the D’backs offense last year after arriving in a mid-season trade with Detroit. He was a huge part contributing 16 home runs for the Tigers and 29 for the D’backs–good for third best in the MLB–as well as a .303/.376/.690 season slash line that culminated in an OPS of 1.066.
Martinez went into free agency in search of a seven-year, $210 million contract as reported by BleacherReport.com. He stalled multiple offers from multiple suitors waiting for the time when an organization would come to the table with the money he felt he deserved.
The Boston Red Sox emerged as the frontrunners for his services after they offered a five-year, $100 million contract. Martinez stalled on that contract, waiting to see if the D’backs or others would be motivated to make a better offer. He has since signed with the Red Sox on a five-year, $110 million contract. The full amount is not guaranteed, as there are opt-out clauses mixed in after the first two seasons. Martinez will make $25 million the first two years, if he opts into the third year of the contract that value will decrease to $22 million. If he opts into the final two years of the contract the value will decrease further to $19 million for the remainder of the contract.
Who Closes Out Games?
Former closer Fernando Rodney bolted Arizona, signing with the Minnesota Twins on a one-year, $4.5 million contract. Rodney became a fan-favorite in Arizona thanks to his high-energy antics and signature move of the “bow-and-arrow” celebration after successfully closing out games. Rodney had 39 saves for the D’backs, tied for the third highest total in the National League last season.
Lovullo now has to make the decision as to who is going to close games for the upcoming season. With names such as recent acquisition Brad Boxberger and Archie Bradley surfacing as frontrunners, Lovullo has some talent to work with and develop into a potential closer in the near future. The D’backs also signed Japanese reliever Yoshihisa Hirano to a two-year, $6 million contract to increase the depth of their bullpen.
The wild card here is Shelby Miller. It is unclear if the Diamondbacks would ask him to pitch out of the bullpen once he returns from Tommy John surgery. That is a possibility and an intriguing thought though.
Where do the D’backs go from here?
Obviously, the loss of Martinez takes a big chunk out of the D’backs’ offense. But, the team has made moves to try and fill the gap for the upcoming season.
The D’backs acquired outfielder Steven Souza in a three-team trade with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, hoping to find a replacement for Martinez’s power stick. Souza hit 30 home runs and stole 16 bases last season.
The Yankees receive former D’backs’ infielder/outfielder Brandon Drury.
The deal also saw Arizona receive New York’s pitching prospect Taylor Widener, a 23-year-old right-hander who pitched at High-A Tampa last season. They also gave up 24-year-old left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda to Tampa in the deal.
Souza immediately fills a gaping hole within Arizona’s outfield left by Martinez. The 30 home runs he hit last year will help to offset the loss of the 29 produced by Martinez in just 62 games for the D’backs as well. In terms of base-running, Souza will help to generate more runs for an Arizona offense that already produced at a high level in that department.
The team did have to give up a utility player in Drury in the deal, but they have a competent enough infield to replace his impact.
If Souza is not immediately thrust into the outfield from day one, there are rumors that David Peralta assumes the role that Martinez leaves behind, while Yasmany Tomas takes the starting spot in left field.
However, Tomas has been wildly inconsistent since he signed a six-year, $68.5 million contract with Arizona back in 2014. Tomas has struggled for the first three years in his career, hitting .268 with 48 home runs. With trade rumors swirling around him, he will need to drastically improve if he is to overcome the enormous standards that have been set before him.
What about the team as a whole?
Along with the addition of Souza in the outfield, the D’backs signed former Seattle Mariners outfielder Jarrod Dyson to a two-year contract reportedly totaling $7.5 million.
Dyson will give Arizona some protection in center field in case A.J. Pollock departs in free agency after the 2018 season, and he provides depth in case any of Pollock, Tomas, or Peralta—each of whom has spent a lengthy stint on the disabled list at some point over the past two seasons—suffers an injury. His greatest immediate value, however, will come from base running, where he’s swiped at least 20 bags in six straight seasons, including 28 in 2017, and in the outfield, where he recorded a combined 15 defensive runs saved last year while seeing action in both center and left field.
Left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray had a breakout all-star campaign as well as Cy Young award consideration in the 2017 season after turning in 28 starts of 2.89 ERA (166 ERA+) ball. His strikeout rate, north of 12 batters per nine, was second in the majors only to Chris Sale.
Consider that the biggest statistical difference for Ray in 2017 was his hit rate. He allowed 6.4 hits per nine, down from 9.6 the previous season. It stands to reason that Ray should allow fewer hits than the normal pitcher, and that the Diamondbacks defense will be closer to their .705 defensive efficiency rating from last season. Even so, Ray still has to deal with his wavering command–hence his walk and home-run rates remaining largely unchanged from previous seasons.
If there’s one area outside of the bullpen that looks like it could need some help, it is the D’backs double-play combo. Ketel Marte is young and fun, while Chris Owings would seem better deployed as a super-sub option, while Nick Ahmed is really a glove-only shortstop. The team traded Drury, giving them a little less depth than they would like.
The D’backs further tried to bolster their power-swinging offense with the addition of catcher Alex Avila who signed a two-year $8.25 million contract. He will likely fit in well with the current duo of Jeff Mathis and Chris Hermann.
Key additions & subtractions from last season
Breaking it down a little easier, here is the rundown of the D’backs offseason:
Key additions: Brad Boxberger, Alex Avila, Jarrod Dyson, Yoshihisa Hirano
Key losses: J.D. Martinez, Fernando Rodney, Brandon Drury
So how does the season turn out?
With all of the moving parts within the organization to replace what was lost while still maintaining their star core, expectations remain the same for this D’backs team.
They surely will remain competitive throughout the entire season and I expect them to finish with a winning record in the mid-to-high 80’s. They will most likely make another wildcard berth and advance.
However, with the other teams in their conference competing at the same, if not higher, level it will not be easy for the D’backs to achieve their ultimate goal of making a World Series push.
With the loss of offensive production from Martinez, and with no true, experienced closer, this is not the year for the D’backs. They will get bounced in the division series round of the playoffs same as last year until they can find a suitable, consistent replacement and make a heavier impact in the NL West against their biggest current threat in the Dodgers.