Roster questions remain for Chip Hale, D-backs as Opening Day looms
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Entering his first season as a big league manager, Chip Hale is facing more roster decisions in Arizona than he remembers Bob Melvin and the Athletics’ front office having to make in Oakland.
“We had a lot because we had kind of a no-name roster,” Hale said Thursday of his three-year tenure as Melvin’s bench coach. “The front office and Bob had to decide how we’d go about things.”
Hale, of course, certainly wouldn’t describe his own roster as “no-name,” but admitted that his 2015 team has a greater number of question marks than he remembers Melvin and company carrying into the last three seasons.
“Is there more?” he asked rhetorically. “Probably, yeah. There’s probably more here.”
Hale and the Diamondbacks still haven’t named starters at three infield positions and they haven’t yet decided on who will back up Tuffy Gosewisch at catcher. There seems to be a spot open in the bullpen. And on Wednesday, the organization began to publicly declare Archie Bradley worthy of a spot in the starting rotation which Hale excluded him from in an announcement last week.
The D-backs played their final Cactus League game Thursday, beating the Chicago White Sox 10-2. Though he wouldn’t disclose any of his roster spot inklings after the game, Hale mentioned before the game that performances in the contest — and in Friday and Saturday’s exhibition tune-ups against the Chicago Cubs at Chase Field — could ultimately have bearing on who makes the Opening Day roster.
“Is there something somebody could do today or tomorrow or Saturday? Probably, yeah,” he said. “There probably is — good and bad. But I have a pretty good feeling of who the 25 are going to be. But I’m telling you, those last two, three, four spots are not easy right now.”
Hale gave one example of how a player could make late push in a position battle. In a Cactus League game against Johnny Cueto and the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, roster hopeful Yasmany Tomas drove two balls deep, opening the manager’s eyes, considering the competition and that Hale’s D-backs managed just three hits off the pitcher. Tomas drove in all three of the team’s runs.
“That makes you think,” he said. “It comes down to whether I feel like I can get him enough at-bats here.”
Jake Lamb, who Hale said had outplayed Tomas defensively, is the other player in contention for the everyday job at third base. He finished Cactus League play with a .355 batting average and 1.035 on-base-plus-slugging percentage along with six doubles, two triples and two home runs. Tomas hit .274 with a .780 OPS, three doubles, a triple, two home runs and 12 RBI.
When asked directly if he had made up his mind about that race, Hale held ground.
“Not yet,” he said. “Or we’re not ready to let you know.”
After Hale’s press conference, in the D-backs’ Salt River Fields clubhouse, some players grumbled about the lack of roster clarity.
“Did they tell you guys anything?” one asked as the media entered.
A veteran explained that he has never seen roster decisions come down to the wire in the way they are this spring at D-backs camp. “Normally, we would have known five days ago,” he said.
Sensing the palpable angst in his roster hopefuls, Hale addressed the attitudes lightly Thursday when he spoke with the media.
“People say you don’t want to have any anxiety but if you don’t have any anxiety, then you’re not going to play very well,” he said. “So we want a little of anxiety. We want them to be thinking. Because the bottom line is we’re still making decisions. The roster’s not set; we can make any decision we want.”
Hale alluded to trades during the pre-game press conference and it was learned mid-game that the D-backs were in discussions with the Atlanta Braves about a potential trade of pitcher Trevor Cahill. The move would clear a spot for Bradley or another arm to join Hale’s starting rotation.
“There’s guys out there, there’s possible moves that could be made, there’s waiver wire people, so before we completely lock in to something, we want to make sure this is the group we’re going to have,” Hale said.
Though uncertainty abounds with Opening Day around the corner, the D-backs are adamant that it’s for good reasons — eye-opening spring performances, a stable of young arms, intriguing trade possibilities, good competition — even if players, fans and the media are getting itchy with it all.
“It’s ideal for us because that means guys are making us think,” Hale said.
The D-backs begin the regular season Monday against the world champion San Francisco Giants at Chase Field.