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Dan Bickley

A strange MLB season comes to a close as decisions loom for D-backs

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Chase Field will be full of visiting attractions in 2019. The Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs are coming to town. According to whispers, so is Billy Joel, a legendary musician expected to sign on for a springtime concert.

The latter provides further clarity to the installation of field turf at the old ballpark.

Following a May agreement with Maricopa County, the Arizona Diamondbacks now control all ancillary events staged at Chase Field. They need every revenue stream possible to compete with the Dodgers and Giants. And you can’t book big-ticket concerts in a baseball stadium without trashing a playing field of natural grass.

Just look at what AC/DC once did to Wrigley Field.

But the new playing surface might be the least jarring of aesthetic changes at Chase Field. Unless you like the thought of Patrick Corbin and Paul Goldschmidt in the opposing dugout when the Yankees come to Arizona.

More on that, and what we learned during a very strange season of baseball:

— A quick nod to the city of Boston, which has won 11 major professional championships since 2001. That includes a life-changing event (the Red Sox breaking an 86-year curse in 2004); a 25-point comeback in the Super Bowl; an Original Six franchise that survived three seven-game series, winning the Stanley Cup with a 4-0 victory on the road; and the most jaw-dropping ending in Super Bowl history.

Disgusting.

— No professional sport is evolving as rapidly as Major League Baseball, for better and worse. Defensive shifts are jarring. Strikeouts are soaring. Pitchers are filthy. Good teams grind for six months only to be ruthlessly eliminated in a one-game playoff.

When the Brewers went rogue in the postseason – using a starting pitcher for one batter, just to force the opponent’s hand; followed by the deployment of a star closer early in the game, for as many outs as he could eat – the future of baseball came into focus.

Teams must find a healthy balance between analytics and the organics of old-school. Those privy to groundbreaking data are often smarter than the players who must incorporate the information overload. How much is too much? Answer at your own risk.

— Villains are good, even the despicable Manny Machado. Major League Baseball seemed to take progressive steps in 2018 to encourage outrageous displays of emotion and bat-flipping passion. That’s good. The sport desperately needs more personality and less clubhouse conformity. Bring it on. The good, the bad and the ugly.

— Despite their payroll restrictions, the D-backs are in a good place. Mike Hazen is a brilliant general manager. Torey Lovullo provides great balance in the era of Big Data, a manager with charisma and great human touch. But the struggle is real.

If Hazen can peddle Zack Greinke, a new path emerges. The Braves would be a great trade partner, a team with a great defense and money to spend. They have a rich heritage of pitchers thriving on guile and great command. This could be the oasis in the desert, the way out.

If not, Paul Goldschmidt represents a franchise-altering decision. He is a revered face of the franchise, a hometown icon like Larry Fitzgerald and Shane Doan.

But Hazen has witnessed two September swoons in successive years. We have seen how a bloated contract devoted to an aging player can hamper a mid-market budget. And how much would he really be missed around here?

It’s an awful question. But while the heart resists, the head says it’s time to trade Goldschmidt. We just can’t get the words out of our mouths just yet. And I’ll bet that’s true for everyone.

— J.D. Martinez should’ve bet on himself. He hit 45 home runs in 2017, including 29 after joining the Diamondbacks on July 19, accruing 72 RBI after the All-Star Break. He waited months before signing a five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox. He responded with a .330 batting average, 43 home runs and 130 RBI.

What would’ve happened if he came back to Arizona for one season and now a member of the lucrative 2019 free agent class?

Martinez might’ve added $100 million to his salary. And maybe we would’ve taken solace in dethroning the Dodgers, not trolling them after another World Series loss.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier