After imploding down the stretch and ending the season 81-81, the Arizona Diamondbacks hope that their busy offseason is enough to close the gap in the now competitive NL West. While the Dodgers enter the season as the division favorite, the D-backs figure to be a factor. After all, this is a team that led the division for most of the first half of the season, until the Dodgers went on their ridiculous midseason tear.
Still, there is a burning desire from the management team to win now for this D-backs ball club. It is this desire that has driven general manager Kevin Towers to make several moves this offseason, shipping away a wealth of young talent for some more established players in Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed. The D-backs also signed Bronson Arroyo to a big deal to bring his veteran presence and durability to the locker room.
While the moves have been met with trepidation, the psychology behind them is easy to pinpoint – this team wants to compete in 2014. After two straight seasons of 81-81, the Diamondbacks needed a spark of some sort in order to do that. Whether or not these moves provide that spark, the Diamondbacks will enter the season with a solid roster, built with the grit and tenacity that’s to be expected from a team with Kirk Gibson as manager.
But is that enough to bring postseason baseball back to the desert?
Best case scenario for 2014
With injury and inconsistency plaguing the D-backs in 2013, the best case for them in 2014 is that the roster works exactly as planned. Everyone stays healthy and consistent, Goldschmidt follows up his MVP runner-up season with an equally impressive affair, the starting position players all have years that align with or exceed their projections and the pitching staff flourishes in an ensemble fashion. This team can gun for a division crown if everything goes as expected, but very rarely does that happen in the baseball world. With the Dodgers being the team to beat, a wild card spot is a much more realistic and attainable goal.
Most Important D-backs
There’s only one correct answer for this one. ‘America’s First Baseman‘ Paul Goldschmidt will enter the 2014 season as an MVP frontrunner after a 2013 campaign that saw him lead the National League in home runs, runs batted in and OPS. The D-back offense channels through him, and with Mark Trumbo as a protector in the lineup, Goldschmidt may be primed for an even better season than his breakout 2013. He is the D-backs’ most valuable player, and if they make the postseason, it will more than likely be as a result of his efforts.
Outfielder extraordinaire Gerardo Parra promises to be a big part, too. His defense gets the headlines, and deservedly so, but Parra’s hitting tool is starting to develop very nicely. In addition to his world-class defense in the outfield, Parra set career highs in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, and walks in the 2013 season, his fourth in the bigs. With Adam Eaton traded to Chicago, Parra will likely be the everyday leadoff guy – a role he is talented enough to thrive in.
Starting pitchers Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin deserve special mention too, as they will look to anchor a staff without a proven ace.
Potential Breakout Players
Baseball pundits are already excited about top pitching prospect Archie Bradley. If the scouting report on him is true and his transition to the big league club is quick and easy, Bradley promises to make a huge splash. You don’t get compared to Justin Verlander if there isn’t something special about your game, and that’s what Bradley’s ceiling is. 2014 may not be the year he reaches that ceiling, but you can bet the Diamondbacks want him on the big league club sooner rather than later.
Infield prospect Chris Owings figures to be a factor this upcoming season as well. Few players rock the resume of Owings; in Triple-A Reno, Owings was named Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player after hitting .330 with 51 extra base hits and 81 runs batted during the 2013 season. That effort was enough to get him called up to the majors late in the season, where he demonstrated a solid all-around game.
Of course, it’s a small sample size and doesn’t project how he’ll do across a whole season, but Owings has the talent to not only make the roster, but be an above average major league middle infielder for years to come. He will compete for the starting shortstop job in camp against incumbent starter Didi Gregorius and journeyman Cliff Pennington.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario for this team is that the highly-paid players don’t deliver on their contracts. With a franchise record in payroll at $104 million,the pressure for this team to produce is at an all-time high, especially Cody Ross, Brandon McCarthy and Arroyo, who will make more than $9 million each. A third consecutive .500 season would cause a stir in Phoenix that could result in Gibson, Towers, or both losing their jobs. So the worst case scenario for the D-backs is a sub-par season that sees the franchise overhauling its managerial staff in the offseason.
Areas of concern
Although the Bronson Arroyo signing adds depth and veteran presence to the starting rotation, Arizona still is without a bona fide staff ace. Guys like Miley and Corbin have demonstrated that potential in flashes, but neither has shown an ability to string it across a whole season. Archie Bradley promises to be the solution, but that is not something the franchise should expect out of a rookie pitcher.
If I’m nitpicking, the lack of left-handed hitting for the D-backs is also something that is worth mentioning. Parra, Miguel Montero, and Gregorius are the only three lefty bats projected to make an impact. While the splits for the Diamondbacks actually favored right-handed pitching in 2013 (.697 OPS vs left-handed pitching vs a .722 OPS against right-handed pitching), it still means opposing managers can easily play the percentages against the D-backs in late-game bullpen matchup situations. A stretch, I know, but that could be a difference of four or five wins over the span of an entire season.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2013
To call Miguel Montero’s 2013 a disappointment is a huge understatement. After consecutive seasons of .280+ batting average, 15+ homers and 86+ runs batted in, Montero looked ready to step into the spotlight as one of the game’s premiere backstops. Instead, Miggy struggled with injuries, inconsistency and a great deal of bad luck, posting a dismal slashline of .230/.318/.344. If the Diamondbacks are to contend with the Dodgers, they will need Miggy to return to his 2011-12 form, especially considering everything he brings to the table from a clubhouse perspective.
As far as the pitching staff is concerned, Brandon McCarthy could also benefit from a bounce back 2014. Much like Montero, McCarthy’s 2011-12 campaigns were pretty good before he encountered several problems in 2013. After pitching sub-3.40 ERAs in back-to-back seasons, the seven-year vet struggled to keep the ball on the ground; his career ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio was an uncharacteristic 1.03, much higher than his career ratio of 0.76.
While McCarthy has never started more than 25 games in a season, when healthy he is a dependable innings-eater type of pitcher who knows how to pitch deep into games. Until Archie Bradley is ready to make a big league impact, Arizona will need to lean on that if they want to be successful in what figures to be a tight NL West race.
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