A steady decline has led to a rebuild in the desert. How deep do the cuts have to go and what does it mean to the 2019 squad?
Only two years ago the Arizona Diamondbacks put together a 93-win season, earned their first playoff berth since 2011, and won the NL wild card game. They made it to the NLDS to face the Dodgers, but were swept out of the playoffs as quickly as they earned their spot. Over three games Dbacks pitchers gave up 20 runs in a series in which they looked severely overmatched.
Since then, Arizona has been on a rapid downward spiral. They won ten fewer games in 2018 than in 2017, and this past offseason divested their franchise player and let a pair of all-stars walk in their free agent year.
Not only did Arizona divest themselves of Paul Goldschmidt, who was still under a team-friendly deal, but they opted not to resign A.J. Pollock, who ended up with the Dodgers, and former ace Patrick Corbin, who wound up in Washington.
Despite it being a painful offseason for Diamondback fans, there is upside in the players they acquired in exchange for one of the best first basemen in the league. The Paul Goldschmidt trade with the Cardinals sent Arizona three prospects: catcher Carson Kelly, infielder Andy Young, and pitcher Luke Weaver (along with a competitive balance pick).
Carson Kelly spent most of his career sidelined behind everyday starter Yadier Molina. Despite success in triple-A, he has had to date two short-stint ‘cups-of-coffee’ in the bigs, both times with minimal success. In 63 games, he has a .415 OPS— not exactly inspiring going into 2019. Currently, he is slated behind Alex Avila, but in due time, he’ll likely have the opportunity to prove himself as the everyday backstop.
Similar to Kelly, Luke Weaver never had an opportunity to blossom in St. Louis. So far he has been inconsistent in both his strikeout rate and his walk rate. He has solidified a spot in the D-backs rotation, so this will be the year he can develop into a solid pitcher every fifth day.
Despite some major changes to their roster, the Arizona pitching staff is still led by veteran Zack Greinke, who is complemented by 27-year-old Robbie Ray. Ray had the worst season of his career in 2018, where his walk rate nearly doubled from his previous career average. Greinke is 35 years old, and still has three years left on his six-year deal. He remains effective, but his 2018 was a lot less productive than 2017.
The projection systems agree that Arizona is going to take a slight step back compared to last year’s above-.500 team. FanGraphs projects the D-backs to finish with 79 wins, while PECOTA has them at 81-81. Although the starting pitching can likely keep them competitive in the division, losing the firepower of 50+ home runs in Goldy and Pollock is tough to overcome.
Even with steps forward by their new prospects, a breakout year by 25-year-old Ketel Marte, and the pitching holding up, it will be difficult to keep pace with the Dodgers. Looking towards the future, the D-backs hope they see breakouts from a number of MLB-caliber talents in the minors, though per Baseball America, Arizona lacks players with upside to be elite.
Arizona may be mired around the .500 level for several years, and 2019 is not likely to be any different.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano