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Five questions from D-backs CEO Derrick Hall entering the offseason

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A team that once seemed bound for October baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks are days away from entering the offseason season early.

Unable to make the playoffs in back-to-back years, a feat they haven’t achieved since 2001-02, president and CEO Derrick Hall needs to find answers.

Hall was asked what questions he would present to general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo as they sit down for offseason discussions during his 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug and Wolf Show appearance Thursday.

The questions revolve around this Hall statement: “First and foremost, we have to figure out why we did not make the playoffs after being in first place all year.

1. “Why wasn’t the consistency there?”

“We made the moves at the deadline, we increased our payroll, started the season with the highest payroll in our history and increased it above that,” Hall said.

The team’s $159.47 million total salary far and away exceeded that of 2016, which was $116.50 million.

It was bolstered by midseason acquisitions including Clay Buchholz, Jon Jay, Eduardo Escobar, Brad Ziegler, Jake Diekman and Matt Andriese.

“(We were) trying to improve this team in an area that we thought was really one of our strengths with the bullpen … Why did that not come to fruition at the end? Did we overtax them?” he asked.

The struggles of the bullpen have been no secret. The team was 19-29 in one-run games and had a 6.02 ERA with seven losses in September alone.

But the inconsistency was not only in regards to the bullpen. The offense struggled to give pitchers any breathing room, and that wasn’t just at the end of the season. As ArizonaSports columnist and radio host Dan Bickley said in a July column:

“They make hitting look impossible. They turn every month into an adventure.”

At that time, Arizona’s bullpen was one of the most reliable in the league and went into the All-Star break with the third-best relief pitcher ERA in the majors (2.85).

The pen survived May, when the offense scored three runs or fewer 18 times. It helped them play .500 ball or better in June and July.

Maybe the bullpen was outperforming its own talents through half the year. Maybe it was overexerted.

Hall and the staff will have to figure out where the blame lies and how to fix it.

2. “Looking at our rotation, how does that look? How will it look in the future?”

There are two major starting rotation questions entering the offseason.

First off, Patrick Corbin is expected to get serious attention in free agency. Left-handed pitchers come at a premium, and Corbin’s WAR of 6.1 entering Thursday was fourth-best among pitchers, behind only Jacob deGrom and former Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

His 3.23 ERA was 17th in the majors and third-best among left-handed pitchers as of Thursday.

In early September, Zach Buchanan of The Athletic wondered if Corbin was headed toward a $100 million contract, which would be especially difficult for the D-backs to match with $34.5 million going to Zack Greinke next season.

As Arizona looks for ways to retain its All-Star pitcher, it has to look at another who pitched like an All-Star: Clay Buchholz.

In 16 starts, Buchholz was 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA, but a flexor strain to his right elbow cost shelved him in September. It’s a similar injury to one he faced in 2017. The D-backs will weigh the reward of bringing him back with the risk of injury or lesser production.

Beyond that, the expected returns of the injured Shelby Miller of Taijuan Walker will give the D-backs more options on how to proceed with Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley and Matt Koch as the other pitchers who received ample playing time currently under contract.

3. How much depth do we have with young players that are ready to come up next year and compete for positions on the 25-man roster?

Some answer to that lies in the Sept. 19 game against the Chicago Cubs.

The D-backs rolled out their “Reno Aces” lineup in which they sat the majority of their starters for Triple-A call-ups such as Ildemaro Vargas, Christian Walker and Patrick Kivlehan.

Arizona won 9-0, which was the most runs they had scored since Aug. 17 and the second-highest margin of victory all season, only behind their 20-5 walloping of San Diego in July.

Some options:

  • Christian Walker, a 27-year-old first baseman who has bounced from Triple-A to the majors this season and won the Pacific Coast League MVP award last year, is stuck behind Paul Goldschmidt on the depth chart. But in September, he brought power that no other bench player could provide consistently.
  • Infielder Ildemaro Vargas, 27, broke the Reno Aces hit streak record when he went 35 games in a row with a base hit. He hit .311 in Triple-A on the year.
  • Outfielder Patrick Kivlehan, technically never a Reno player but played all season in Triple-A before the D-backs traded for him in September, had three hits in eight at-bats for Arizona. Two were triples.
  • Outfielder Socrates Brito hit .318 with 17 home runs and 34 doubles in Triple-A this season but has struggled in the big leagues.

The D-backs will have to find where they fit in, along with players who spent more time — or all their time — in the majors this season such as Chris Owings, Ketel Marte, Jake Lamb, Daniel Descalso, Jarrod Dyson and Steven Souza. Some of this could come down to whether or not the team re-signs players including Eduardo Escobar, Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay.

4. “Where should our payroll be next year?”

The aforementioned Corbin comes into play here, as does A.J. Pollock.

After the center fielder won NL Player of the Month in April, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic said he could get a deal in the six-year, $108 million range.

There was a caveat in his prediction: “If Pollock stays healthy and keeps performing at a high level.”

He didn’t. Pollock got injured, missed a month and a half, and hit just .243 with 10 home runs and three steals over the final three months of the season.

If his injury history scares off other teams, the D-backs could make a move for him at a low price. At Pollock’s best, he hit .315 and was one steal away from a 20 home run, 40 steal season.

But, he’s only played more than 115 games twice in his seven-year career.

Beyond the future of signing their 2018 free agents, the D-backs will need to set aside some money if they plan to sign Paul Goldschmidt to an extension, as his contract is set to expire next offseason.

5. “What is that window … Should we continue down the path we are right now?”

That’s the ultimate question that Hall’s discussions with the front staff will answer.

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