DAN BICKLEY

Opening Day is a time to be hopeful for restructured D-backs

Mar 28, 2019, 7:35 AM | Updated: 4:16 pm
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) shakes hands with manager Torey Lovullo as ...
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) shakes hands with manager Torey Lovullo as the two speak in the dugout after Greinke got out of a bases-loaded second inning by striking out the final two Cleveland Indians batters in the second inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 7, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

There is one major professional championship trophy in the Valley. On a cold morning in February, it sat on the passenger seat next to Chris Taylor, the Diamondbacks’ security coordinator tasked with bringing the artifact to Fan Fest 2019.

All good. Until he was pulled over by police who saw the trophy riding shotgun and suspected a heist in progress.

You can only hope our future is as well-guarded as that trophy.

It’s a strange omen for Opening Day, normally a time of great nostalgia for baseball fans. This is the day for dreamers. This is the event that redefines hope, an American ritual that symbolizes new beginnings and the long journey ahead.

The Diamondbacks are in a different place. Last place?

Paul Goldschmidt is in St. Louis, playing for a contract that seems too reasonable for comfort. If he responds with an MVP trophy, it will be a long, hot summer for the team that let him get away.

Patrick Corbin is gone, marginalizing a rotation full of low-ceiling pitchers. A.J. Pollock is gone, diminishing the D-backs’ middle defense. Steven Souza Jr. is injured again, weakening their depth and their clubhouse. How can anyone find a contending team inside this garden salad?

This is where faith comes in handy.

Smart baseball fans understand that the Diamondbacks have something more important than a contending team in 2019. They have a future.

Torey Lovullo ranks among the most trusted leaders in Valley sports. Mike Hazen is cutthroat and cutting edge, to the point where the rival Giants did the unthinkable, asking for permission to interview the Diamondbacks’ general manager over the offseason.

This is their time. A time to build something with staying power.

The 2019 Diamondbacks are a bridge team. Zack Greinke is still an elite pitcher. David Peralta has late-blooming star power. Adam Jones is winding down his career after a terrific run in Baltimore. The bullpen looks decent.

But the team again feels light on offense, personalities and clubhouse alpha males. It’s been a while since fan-favorite Archie Bradley produced to his level of popularity. Christian Walker is the team’s best hope at giving you something sizzling and unexpected. And like Jake Lamb hitting lefties, that’s probably too much to ask.

Las Vegas isn’t inspired. The National League West is in a state of flux, with the Giants eroding and the Padres adding Manny Machado, but it’s too much division for team that will struggle to score runs. The ballpark experience will improve, with lovely new synthetic grass and an exquisite menu of $30 hot dogs. But it doesn’t take much to see this season going off the rails. Some even suspect the Diamondbacks of tanking in the short term, emulating the championship path endorsed by the Astros and Cubs.

The Diamondbacks swear that isn’t the case. Their leaders are fierce competitors. They recognize the Goldschhmidt Embarrassment Factor is a potential saboteur lurking in the background, especially when the team is still paying Greinke and Yasmany Tomas. They have made some very tough decisions, ripping Band-Aids off a broken baseball team. They must live with the consequences.

Still, baseball is a funny game. Money doesn’t always equate to playoff teams and winning percentage. The 2018 A’s won 97 games with a $66 million payroll on Opening Day, the lowest in the sport. There are many paths to the playoffs, and Opening Day is the time to embrace all possibilities.

It’s a time to feel the sunshine and smell the grass. Even if your team is now playing on synthetic turf, blessed with the lowest of expectations.

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

Penguin Air
Arizona Diamondbacks' Nick Ahmed dives safely back to first base on a pickoff attempt by the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Andriese throws in the first inning during a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Diamondbacks' Alex Avila drives in a run with a sacrifice fly against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Archie Bradley works against Colorado Rockies' Trevor Story in the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 10, 2018, in Denver. The Diamondbacks won 5-3. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Andrew Chafin throws against the San Diego Padres during the seventh inning of a baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Arizona Diamondbacks' Jarrod Dyson tries to lay down a bunt against the Los Angeles Angels during the third inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) San Francisco Giants' Henry Ramos, right, slides toward a tag by Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Eduardo Escobar for an out on a stolen-base attempt at third base during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Wilmer Flores, right, turns toward first but holds up a throw after forcing out Cleveland Indians' Brandon Barnes at second base in the third inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 7, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Indians' Yu-Cheng Chang was safe at first on the fielder's choice on the play. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Godley, left, walks off the back of the mound as Milwaukee Brewers' Travis Shaw (21) runs the bases following a home run in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game Friday, March 8, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) RHP Zack Greinke
Greinke might be costly by making $35 million annually, but he's at least been reliable. The 35-year-old has pitched more than 200 innings in each of the past two seasons with nearly identical ERAs (3.20 , 3.21) and WHIPs (1.07, 1.08).  Greinke entered spring feeling the best he has since joining Arizona in 2016.

 (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) Arizona Diamondbacks' Yoshihisa Hirano stretches between pitches against the Chicago Cubs in the eighth inning of a spring training baseball game Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Greg Holland throws against the Cincinnati Reds during the fourth inning of a spring baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) OF Adam Jones

A Baltimore Oriole from 2008-18, Jones spent the offseason hoping for a long-term deal. It didn't come, so he hopes a one-year contract with the D-backs can turn into something more permanent. At 33 years old, he's not only still productive (.281/.313/.419 in 2018) but expected to be a veteran voice in Arizona's locker room.

(ArizonaSports.com / Kellan Olson) Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly stretches after giving up a hit to the Los Angeles Angels during the third inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Travis Shaw crosses the plate in front of Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly, left, following a solo home run in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game Friday, March 8, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Matt Koch watches a pitch to a Colorado Rockies batter during the eighth inning of a baseball game Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Denver. The Rockies won 5-1. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) FILE - In this July 20, 2018, file photo, Arizona Diamondback' Jake Lamb plays third base against the Colorado Rockies during a baseball game in Phoenix. With key players still on the roster and new players who should fill at least some of the void, the Diamondbacks are hoping to compete for a playoff spot even with one of baseball's best players on a new team.
(AP Photo/Darryl Webb, File) RHP Yoan Lopez

The 26-year-old made 10 appearances as a September call-up last season. He threw his first nine without allowing an earned run before getting tagged for three scores in his final outing of the year. There might be a learning curve in 2019, but his fastball that averaged 97 mph and his slider along with it could be an intriguing new piece to the bullpen as 2019 begins.

 (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Ketel Marte blows a bubble during the fourth inning of the team's spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks catcher John Ryan Murphy, left, congratulaTes starting pitcher Robbie Ray as he waits to be pulled form the mound after walking Colorado Rockies' Chris Iannetta in the sixth inning of a baseball game Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) Arizona Diamondbacks' David Peralta gestures skyward as he heads home on his solo home run against the San Francisco Giants in the third inning of a spring training baseball game Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray throws to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) INF Ildemaro Vargas

After Steven Souza Jr. went down with a leg injury, Vargas got the nod to replace the outfielder on the 25-man roster. Although he was one of those cut on Sunday, Vargas provided a spark for the D-backs throughout spring training. The infielder ranked among the top MLB leaders in spring training in hits (22), average (.367) and OBP (.397). In 26 games over two seasons with the D-backs, Vargas averaged .308 at the plate with 4 hits, four RBIs and four runs scored.

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) Arizona Diamondbacks' Christian Walker races to third base on his triple against the San Francisco Giants in the second inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Luke Weaver pauses for a few moments before throwing against the San Francisco Giants in the third inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Arizona Diamondbacks' Steven Souza Jr. is congratulated after scoring against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning of a spring training baseball game Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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