Torey Lovullo: D-backs embrace growing differently than big-spending NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo called the NL West the most rugged division in baseball and a destination for many of the game’s stars in recent years.
An arms race over the past couple offseasons has seen big-name free agents enter the fold like Freddie Freeman on the Dodgers in 2021, with Xander Bogaerts to the Padres and reportedly Carlos Correa to the Giants this winter.
The D-backs have been quiet on that front, as they have signed one major league free agent this offseason: veteran reliever Miguel Castro.
Lovullo went on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast this week to discuss the increasingly venomous NL West. In positive Lovullo fashion, the manager feels the D-backs are in a position to be competitive based on player development and key trades as opposed to big spending.
“We’re young, we don’t have the same payroll,” Lovullo said in a mock “Any Given Sunday”-style spring training speech. “Let’s embrace it and let’s go out there and show people how good we can be by being prepared, by winning the inch and not backing down. We are who we are, we are not a big market team, but we create from within, the opportunity is here … we fight together.
“Go ahead and buy your team, we’re going to find a way to slug it out with you.”
Yes, Lovullo admitted that his team will not compete monetarily. He called it a challenge of D-backs baseball.
As of Dec. 15, the D-backs are No. 22 in the league in projected payroll for 2023 at $101 million, according to FanGraphs. The Padres are No. 3, the Giants No. 8 and the Dodgers No. 9. Even the Rockies are No. 15.
Madison Bumgarner, Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed are the only three D-backs set to make more than $10 million next year.
Lovullo said he’s confident in his younger pieces taking a step next season. Arizona, despite finishing 17-29 in one-run games, finished two months with above .500 records in 2022.
Top prospects entering the season like Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas and Ryne Nelson showed promise. Carroll displayed his five tools in only 32 games, Thomas was a defensive wizard in center field and Nelson did not allow a run through his first two starts.
Outfielder Daulton Varsho (26) — whom the defending champion Astros have been reportedly interested in adding via trade — took another step, as did RHP Zac Gallen (27), who finished No. 5 in the Cy Young vote.
More reinforcements from within the system are waiting in the wings.
Lovullo compared the group to the one he saw while with the Red Sox organization. That group included Mookie Betts, Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. — although Boston eventually combined homegrown talent with spending on free agents like J.D. Martinez to win the 2018 World Series.
“We have good players, our front office has brought in really talented players via trade, via the draft … we’ve got a lot to build on,” Lovullo said. “These youthful players have been raised inside our system, and … we have a brotherhood inside our clubhouse that carries these guys around day-by-day … It’s very healthy.”
That idea of growing into pros together became tangible last year as players coming up spoke on how familiar they already were their teammates. Carroll joined the big league club in August and told reporters he had played with almost everyone in the clubhouse already.
“That chemistry matters,” Lovullo said.
.@Dbacks manager Torey Lovullo discusses the team’s jump made from ’21 to ’22, how the club may look to improve this offseason and the young talent in Arizona.#MLBTonight | @markdero7 pic.twitter.com/oWK3l1Jv9s
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) December 7, 2022
The D-backs increased their win total by 22 games last year, but they struggled mightily in division games at 29-47. They were above .500 in their contests outside the NL West.
Arizona will have fewer games in the division going forward with MLB’s new scheduling, which Lovullo said gives the D-backs an opportunity.
Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen have mentioned consistency and taking advantage of opportunities as areas in need of improvement this offseason.
As the roster stands, the organization is banking on another, experience, doing the trick in that regard.
There are still trades to make and free agents to sign, though, as the end of the Winter Meetings is far from the end of the offseason.