DAN BICKLEY

D-backs’ strong offseason brings more eyeballs, expectations for 2020 season

Jan 28, 2020, 4:56 PM
Manager Torey Lovullo #17 of the Arizona Diamondbacks high fives Ketel Marte #4 after scoring again...
Manager Torey Lovullo #17 of the Arizona Diamondbacks high fives Ketel Marte #4 after scoring against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the eighth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on June 24, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Diamondbacks have our attention. The Dodgers surely feel the same.

The additions of Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun have raised the stakes in Arizona. The pitching is deep and the lineup is formidable. Catch your breath and rub your eyes.

The Diamondbacks are expected to compete for the National League West title.

Imagine the swirling emotions in Los Angeles, a city brought to its knees by the death of Kobe Bryant.

The Dodgers are already agitated, carrying a grudge. They are the team cheated most by the filthy Astros, robbed of two potential championships. They’ll be coming for vengeance in 2020, just as the D-backs are coming for them. It will be a fascinating collision.

The addition of Marte fills the last gaping void. It gives the team a unique marketing opportunity: Two men from the Dominican Republic who share the same surname, even though they are not related and the pronunciations are slightly different.

Marte, Marte, Time to Par-tay.

The trade for Starling Marte also represented a sharp turn in philosophy for Diamondbacks majority owner Ken Kendrick, who once had zero tolerance for players brazen enough to use PEDs after the Steroid Era.

Marte was clubbed with an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs in 2017. His apology was better than most, but his explanation sounded just like every other busted cheater in professional sports. He was the kind of player that Kendrick once railed against.

During his stewardship of the D-backs, Kendrick has been occasionally meddlesome. He’s been highly entertaining with a flair for putting his foot in his mouth, and he’s been nearly invisible. He’s also shown great restraint, letting his best people make big decisions.

The latter is obviously a factor in the Marte trade. And for good reason.

General manager Mike Hazen has guided the Diamondbacks through a rebuilding phase while posting three consecutive winning seasons, including a playoff berth. He’s old-school in one way only, namely that he doesn’t strike out much. He’s a generational talent and a key player in our collective journey as a Big League sports market, the best GM we’ve ever been gifted.

That’s because he thinks, talks and acts like a winner. Not a small-market hack trying to keep his job.

It’s not like Kendrick to reverse course without reason, especially on issues related to PEDs. And there is a chance that Marte has a convincing backstory. His hardscrabble journey to MLB featured a corrupt agent who foiled his tryout with the White Sox by brandishing a gun, thereby scaring away the Chicago scout. Maybe he made a foolish mistake, listening to too many people around him.

But I vowed a while ago to never believe that excuse again, and the answer is more likely this:

Hazen saw a dynamic, attainable, athletic center fielder who was once the best player on the Pirates; while Kendrick sees a GM who is at the top of his trade, the kind of generational talent who deserves autonomy, who can bring validation and redemption to the owner and his volatile tenure.

Kendrick has been fooled twice before, trading significant future assets for short-term gain at the wrong time, before his Diamondbacks were ready to win. He did it in the blockbuster Dan Haren trade. He did it again when signing Zack Greinke and peddling the No. 1 overall draft pick for Shelby Miller. And he’s made the bet once again, signing off on two elite prospects in the process.

But this time, the timing feels right. The GM is rolling hot. The Dodgers and a World Series trophy seem closer than they’ve been in years. Hazen seems to understand what Valley fans take far too long to learn:

Patience is highly overrated. Especially in professional sports.

Penguin Air

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