DAN BICKLEY

D-backs GM Mike Hazen proving to be a game-changer for the franchise

Jul 31, 2018, 7:46 PM | Updated: Aug 1, 2018, 12:04 pm

Mike Hazen introduced as the Arizona Diamondbacks new executive vice president and general manager....

Mike Hazen introduced as the Arizona Diamondbacks new executive vice president and general manager. (Photo by Alexis Ramanjulu/Cronkite News)

(Photo by Alexis Ramanjulu/Cronkite News)

Mike Hazen makes good trades. He has an affinity for pickles. He’s a hard hang on game day, too involved and too intense to be good company.

He shares the latter trait with Randy Johnson, and that’s not all. The Diamondbacks’ general manager might be the most influential acquisition since the Hall of Fame pitcher put his trust in Jerry Colangelo.

Hazen’s flurry of maneuvers before the trade deadline raised the stakes in Arizona. They added $6 million in payroll, implying full consent and confidence from majority owner Ken Kendrick. He traded away seven prospects and a player to be named later, but preserved the farm system’s thin crop of elite talent. His actions speak to three words that every Valley fan should appreciate: Go for it.

Hazen has the Ivy League pedigree that defines a new era. He is a student of Big Data, part of Theo Epstein’s team of revolutionaries in Boston who forged their own declaration of independence. He knows how to buy low and spend wisely.

He also played the game, drafted in the 31st round before a shoulder injury effectively ended a landlocked career. He was described as a great leader by his former coach at Princeton, a guy who claims he’s never forgotten the pain of hearing he wasn’t good enough for Major League Baseball. In other words, he understands the math and the humanity of professional sports.

After Hazen was hired by the Diamondbacks, he and his wife went shopping for a new house in the Valley. He told ace reporter Todd Walsh how he always preferred “the renovation project, fix it up and make it your own type of thing.” To the contrary, his wife was more of “the move-in ready type.”

Hazen won that battle, and rightfully assumed the D-backs preferred the same approach. He saw a team that needed a new methodology, a rebuild from the ground floor, a path to long-term sustainability.

Instead, he ended up with a move-in ready kind of baseball team, a job that was dramatically different than what he envisioned. He’s shown great skill at hitting curveballs.

Hazen’s acquisition of J.D. Martinez in 2017 will forever rank as one of the best rental players in baseball history. His little moves all seem to fit. His biggest blemish –- a trade for pitcher Taijuan Walker and infielder Ketel Marte currently trending in favor of the Mariners –- is complicated by injury and still too early to judge. And his buttressing of the 2018 Diamondbacks surpasses all expectations, matching the cash-fueled Dodgers in aggression and competitive spirit.

Full conviction has its costs. The Diamondbacks too often field a lineup card determined by a computer. Their insistence on dressing three catchers seems foolhardy. The late-season change in hitting philosophy in 2017 seemed to take its toll on the offense in May, when too many good players seemed locked up at home plate, reeling between the ears.

But the collective impact from Hazen’s group is stunning. Jon Jay, Eduardo Escobar and Clay Buchholz are just the latest examples. The additions of Brad Ziegler and Jake Diekman gives the team great situational flexibility in relief: a left-handed power arm that can strikeout left-handed sluggers; an unflappable groundball pitcher who conjures up double plays on command; and a handful of potential closers if Brad Boxberger falters down the stretch.

The D-backs are now well-equipped to win bullpen games in the postseason. And if Robbie Ray finds his stride in the next two months, giving the team three dominant starters in the rotation, they are good enough to win a wide-open pennant race in the National League.

If they beat the big-market Dodgers to a division title, it will be one of the most celebrated regular-season accomplishments in Valley history. It will bolster the Diamondbacks’ status at a crucial time in their evolution, commanding headlines and eyeballs, successfully countering the hype of football season and a NBA team flaunting the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Eventually, Hazen will get around to the job he expected to perform in Arizona. Let’s hope he’s as skillful with rebuilding projects as he has been at seizing the moment and winning on the fly, a general manager who is proving to be a game-changer at Chase Field.

Dan Bickley

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