Did the Diamonbacks successfully position themselves for a penant run and possibly more?

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul (Goldschmidt)?
by Jim Silva

    Last season’s team was the youngest group the Diamondbacks had ever sent out to do battle in their 19 seasons of existence. Historically, (a funny term to use for an organization that is one of the two newest in baseball) the Diamondbacks have won with older players. They won their only World Series in 2001 with their oldest group of position players and their 3rd oldest group of pitchers. In 2002, their pitching was even older and they went to the playoffs again. So what does it mean that the Diamondbacks are now the youngest team in baseball? Age doesn’t necessarily decide who will win the World Series, but having a young star in his prime can push general managers to make decisions about trades and free agent signings. Also, when you look at a team’s age and how long players are under team control you can see when a good time to go all in might be. The Diamondbacks’ general manager, Dave Stewart, made moves this offseason that are consistent with a team who thinks they are primed to win and are in the window where they have to make moves to solidify their chances to make the post-season.
    Arizona’s middle infield is still trying to find itself. Nick Ahmed is 25, Chris Owings is 23, Brandon Drury is 22, and Jean Segura is 25. They all still have some development in them. That doesn’t mean that all of them will improve enough as hitters to contribute to the offense; that depends on their abilities, their hitting coaches, and their work ethic. 2016 is an important season for the team so at some point they need to make some decisions about whom they are going to focus on as their starters, pick a utility man, and trade someone. Nick Ahmed seemed to be the likely candidate to be moved as Arizona traded for Segura to replace him as the starter, but the Diamondbacks have moved Segura to second, kept Ahmed at short, and pushed Owings to center to take the place of injured star A.J. Pollock.
    Speaking of center field, it was locked down, with 28 year old A.J. Pollock set to be the starter until he broke his elbow at the very end of spring training. Socrates Brito is likely to be his replacement for some, if not most, of the season, although they are currently using Chris Owings in center and have sent Brito down to triple-A. David Peralta, also 28, will man one of the corners with the other corner likely going to Yasmany Tomas who is 24. Pollock and Peralta are likely what you’ve already seen for the most part with Peralta’s counting stats due to increase with regular playing time. Tomas is the youngster of the group and could make gains this season if he is indeed the starting left fielder. It’s a pretty young crew again, so some growth is still possible.
    The rotation of Greinke (32), Miller (25), Corbin (26), Ray (24), and De La Rosa (27) is also young, and has room for growth, with the exception of Greinke. The pen mainstays of Ziegler (36), Hudson (28), Chafin (25), Collmenter (30), Clippard (31), Delgado (26), and Burgos (25) are on average the old men of the Diamondbacks. There are a few young arms in there, but the high leverage situations will likely fall upon the older guys for the most part. Why this obsession with age? For a couple reasons. The Diamondbacks decided to make a push to win this year. Their signing of Greinke, and their trade for Miller constitute significant expenditures of resources. The reality for most teams in baseball is that there are windows during which they can compete and when one of those windows opens you have to make the most of it. That is especially true for the teams not categorized as large market teams. The Diamondbacks decided that they would be primed to compete now if they could add a couple pieces to the rotation. This raises two questions. Do they have enough to compete now, and did they mortgage their future to win now? Let’s look at the second question first.
    The Diamondbacks gave up three good, young pieces to get Miller. Only one of the players had major league experience – the outfielder, Ender Inciarte. Of the two minor leaguers, one was close – the pitcher, Aaron Blair – while the other has just started his minor league career – the shortstop, Dansby Swanson. Blair might have been ready at some point this season since he pitched 13 times in triple-A. Swanson is probably a few years away, although who knows since he was the very first pick in the draft last year. Obviously Inciarte will have an impact in 2016 and for years beyond this as he is 25 and doesn’t get to taste free agency until 2021. To further examine the question about the D-backs future, let’s take a look at the core of the Diamondbacks team that will earn most of the playing time in 2016.
    Data shows that pitchers and position players hit their peak around age 26 and exit their peak around 28 but start declining sharply around age 30. Here is a detailed article from the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier about prime years for baseball players.
So age 27  tends to be around the middle of their peak years. Obviously it is different for everyone, but as a guideline for where a player is in his career I used it as a marker, with the year before and after likely making up a player’s plateau years. If a player is currently in his peak I used a red font. If they have yet to reach their peak, then they are in green, while players in decline years are in black (you know – like death). The first free agency year was included to show how long each player is under team control.

2016 Diamondbacks Key Players Proximity To Their Prime and To Free Agency
Name
Age
First Free Agency Year
Paul Goldschmidt
28
2019
Jake Lamb
25
2021
Jean Segura
25
2019
Welington Castillo
28
2018
Chris Owings
24
2020
Phil Gosselin
27
2021
Brandon Drury
23
2022
Pete O’Brien
25
2022
David Peralta
28
2021
A.J. Pollock
28
2019
Yasmany Tomas
25
2021
Socrates Brito
23
2022
Zack Greinke
32
2022
Patrick Corbin
26
2019
Shelby Miller
25
2019
Robbie Ray
24
2021
Rubby De La Rosa
27
2019
Brad Ziegler
36
2017
Andrew Chafin
25
2021
Enrique Burgos
25
2022
Tyler Clippard
31
2018
Daniel Hudson
28
2017

As you can see, not much black and more green than red indicating that most of the Diamondbacks players are likely to improve. Furthermore, much of the core of the team is under team control for the next three to five years which means that while they shipped away three good young players in a trade that they probably lost by a fair amount, they did not mortgage their future. They should be able to compete for the next several years if they did their job and identified the right players to ride for the next half decade. They gambled that now is their time and that they were one starting pitcher (after Greinke) away from catching the Dodgers and Giants. Whether they win or lose that gamble will likely determine whether Dave Stewart is seen as the architect of another winning team for Arizona, or a goat who gets fired for overpaying for a rotation that didn’t get the job done. Either way, the Diamondbacks are likely to be relevant for the next three to five seasons even if they stand pat.
    There has been discussion during the off-season about the Diamondbacks going for it because Paul Goldschmidt is in his prime. If you look at the chart above you will notice that most of the core of the Diamondbacks club is signed, or at least under team control through 2019 or beyond. Goldschmidt and Pollock can be Diamondbacks through 2019 if the team so desires. That means that if they have what they think they have with their improved rotation and the development of their young position players and the young pitchers they already had, then their window to compete will be more than one season. Obviously the roster won’t stay exactly the way it is today, but the goal for every team is to build a solid core, develop a strong farm system that can continuously feed the major league club and/or can be used to trade for a missing piece, and sign a free agent or two to fill in the other holes. In the case of the Diamondbacks, they developed the back end of their rotation and a strong outfield, as well as the corners of their infield. The middle of the infield was built with youngsters who are good glove men with some offensive potential. The pen was built with some trades to supplement young arms that came up through the farm system. They have built a competitive team and gave up some important pieces of their farm system to make them contenders now. There is always risk in that. Keith Law currently ranks their system 24th out of 30. But they didn’t just position themselves for this year. So to answer the first question (finally) even though they are probably going to end up losing the trade in terms of career WAR by something like two or three to one (or more if Swanson becomes a superstar) they have set themselves up to compete for at least the next three seasons, and in these days of free agency that’s all you can hope for.

Author: elfuego25

When I'm not writing about baseball (or shoving kettle corn into my mouth at the ballpark), I am probably walking Daisy, who is a very good dog, researching my Portuguese-Irish roots, or wondering when my lovely wife will return from her latest fabulous trip. Yes, life is good!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s