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Offseason preview: A.J. Pollock, Patrick Corbin and the 2019 D-backs

(AP Photos)

PHOENIX — Following the team’s late-season demise and the completion of a grinding, unforgiving 162-game schedule, the D-backs were back at Chase Field on Monday to address the media.

A reporter asked general manager Mike Hazen a question about perhaps the most pressing and impactful matter to be addressed by the D-backs front office this offseason, an offseason that gets underway a good month earlier than the team would like.

Where do they go from here? Or, as the reporter put it, do the team’s options now include everything from a rebuild to another try at World Series contention?

“I think realistically, it’s probably more narrow than that, or than the spectrum that you portrayed,” Hazen replied. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of being able to do the work that we need to do before I answer that honestly, intellectually honestly. I think there’s clearly a number of decisions, in terms of where we’re at as an organization right now, where we could go in the short and the long term with regard to players under control, what we have coming up, all those other things.”

By “under control,” Hazen of course was referring to the players who are not free agents. A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin would not be included in that group — they are due new deals this offseason, and could find them elsewhere.

FREE AGENCY

“It’s a hard question to answer,” Hazen said of whether Pollock and Corbin will be back. “We don’t have a feel for exactly how the market’s going to behave yet. Both players have performed here for a long time. We had a chance to meet with both players, along with everybody else on the roster, here recently in San Diego, and expressed our gratitude for all that they’ve done for this organization. They’re both great players. If they didn’t come back, we obviously have shoes to fill in that regard. But we’ll see where free agency takes us.

“We’re going to stay engaged with both, but it’s just too hard to predict right now.”

If the team loses one or both, it means the team takes a hit, at least on paper; Pollock and Corbin are both statistically above-average players. The former hit .257 with 21 home runs and 65 RBI in 113 games this year, finishing with a WAR of 2.5. The latter pitched exactly 200 innings, striking out 246 batters and posting an ERA of 3.15, tossing one complete game shutout in the process.

The team also has to make decisions on free agents Brad Ziegler, Eduardo Escobar, Jon Jay, Jake Diekman, Jeff Mathis, Daniel Descalso and Clay Buchholz, per Spotrac.

As for adding free agents that weren’t on the team in 2018, Hazen hinted that trades could be the more likely route if the D-backs have to fill big holes on their roster.

“I think it will present some challenge,” Hazen said. “I think we’re going to have to become more creative in ways. That typically has meant via trade, for our ability to be able to acquire players that maybe on the lower end of the salary scale that still have the ability to play everyday. So, I imagine that creativity will have to come back into play in order to fill some of those holes.”

RETURNING FROM INJURY

Third baseman Jake Lamb (shoulder) is expected to be back healthy for 2019, and starting pitcher Taijuan Walker is “not going to be too far into the season” for his return.

“[Walker’s] doing great right now,” Hazen said. “I believe he’s already started throwing. So, he’ll get shut down at some point and then have a normal throwing program, ramp up when guys traditionally start throwing, I suppose in December-January.”

Hazen added that they hope to see Walker back early in the season, but will have to be mindful of his innings, given the injury.

Shelby Miller missed almost the entirety of 2018 after coming back from Tommy John surgery and then was promptly shut down again. Miller appeared in five games (four starts), four of which were in June and July and the fifth one was this past weekend in San Diego (he threw an inning of relief, walking one batter) after he was activated from the DL.

Outside of Walker, Hazen said the team doesn’t expect other injuries to carry over to 2019.

MINOR LEAGUE NO MORE?

On the subject of getting creative with filling holes on the team, Hazen said there are some players who have been in the minor leagues that could come up to fill those voids. He specifically mentioned outfielder Socrates Brito (40 at bats, .175 AVG, .477 OPS, one home run in MLB in 2018) and infielder Ildemaro Vargas (4-for-20, 1 HR, 4 RBI), then adding, “if we had to do it.”

As for pitching: “I actually think it’s the one area of our system that has some talent aggregated at the top, between — Taylor Clarke had a great year this year, [Taylor] Widener, [Jon] Duplantier, those guys that are sort of right at the upper ends. So at least from that standpoint, it’s realistic. [Matt Koch] had a really good year this year, he was healthy, he was strong all the way to the end.”

In a separate context, Hazen addressed the farm system more specifically:

“Our ability to improve our farm system in the context of not having a good farm system ranking, that’s sort of irrelevant. In the context of driving young players to our roster to help us win games, we’re not where we need to be, in my opinion, right now. We’ve seen some, which has been good. I think we need to do a better job of that becoming more consistent and constant for us as an option in building our roster.”

THE CLOSER

On the subject of closing out ballgames — which became an issue for the D-backs down the stretch — Hazen said he hopes his closer for 2019 is already on the roster.

“I’m hoping that person is on our roster, honestly,” he said. “We are well aware of the shape of some our games and how we lost some of those games in the month of September. We feel pretty good about what the bullpen did for the majority of the season before it took on some water there in September.”

Hazen did say that he’ll have to spend time evaluating how to improve the bullpen, which he said is an annual necessity, “given the nature of bullpens.”

“The one thing that I will just say is we’re not where we need to be right now, clearly,” Hazen said. “As Torey said, there were certainly some good things that happened this season, but I think it wasn’t what we envisioned in terms of what our goals were. Our goal was to come out and compete for a World Series championship, and we didn’t do that.”

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