Murky MLB trade market could determine D-backs’ aggression

Jul 26, 2023, 1:03 PM

General Manager Mike Hazen of the Arizona Diamondbacks watches batting practice during a postseason...

General Manager Mike Hazen of the Arizona Diamondbacks watches batting practice during a postseason workout at Chase Field on October 2, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks entered Wednesday’s series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals at a record of 55-47 and a half-game up on two different teams for the last spot in the National League wild card race.

That is hardly indicative of the team’s current form and situation.

After being the story of the NL, Arizona is 14-22 in its last 36 games. In a smaller, more recent stretch, it has lost 13 of 18.

A franchise with a bright future appeared to be a year ahead of schedule before regressing rather significantly, to the point where a portion of the fanbase would prefer to see the D-backs not treat Tuesday’s trade deadline as a marquee event.

But at least when it comes to that, general manager Mike Hazen gave off the notion on Wednesday that the D-backs still very much want to address needs to strengthen their chances of contending.

“Nothing with the moves that we’ve been looking to make,” he said when asked if they’ll ease off the gas pedal after a rough July. “I think the areas that we’re looking to improve are confident for me. So that hasn’t really changed. Aggressiveness? I don’t really know how to answer that yet because I don’t really know what’s exactly on the table. I’ll probably be able to answer that question in a few days but I can’t really right now.”

That last bit was a key takeaway from Hazen’s availability. Even with six days to go, the market’s landscape is still muddled and won’t clear up until the weekend. That, of course, will affect Arizona’s decision-making more than anything.

“I have no idea at this point,” Hazen said of the market’s state, also noting his shopping list hasn’t changed much because the vagueness of the market hasn’t made him tweak it yet.

To go back to aggression, the D-backs will be in the sense of seeking out those improvement areas.

“We need to be smart for what we’re trying to get done but I think this team playing for something in the second half is extremely important,” Hazen said.

The GM joked with a response of “pitching” when asked if the rotation or bullpen will be more of an emphasis. Both will likely headline the moves if they come.

Arizona’s starting pitching has an excellent one-two of Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. It’s been an awful 2023 for the now-departed Madison Bumgarner, and a recent injury to veteran Zach Davies brought on an over-reliance to youngsters Ryne Nelson and Tommy Henry. D-backs manager Torey Lovullo was extremely positive regarding the growth of that pair over this season and how they could be possibilities in a theoretical playoff rotation.

That, however, undersells how much better the D-backs could be if they had a reliable No. 3 and would form one of baseball’s elite trios if the name was significant enough.

The bullpen has been a disaster in July, to a radiant degree that borders on an Oppenheimer double feature. It allowed a run in 17 straight games before a scoreless three-inning effort in Tuesday’s win ended that streak.

A closer-by-committee system has faltered and the list of reliable relievers has whittled down. There is no way to trust this current group in any postseason scenario and that changing probably hinges on at least two new arms coming in, not just one for the ninth to solve the closer issue.

Hazen also mentioned a right-handed bat and the idea of adding more depth to the bench so the bottom-half of the order could be more of a platoon. That’s an interesting idea that’s hardly been mentioned much.

With Kyle Lewis’ inability to contribute much this season, perhaps the answer is adding a right-handed bat in the outfield to deepen the supplementary options beyond Jake McCarthy and Alek Thomas. The production from catcher offensively has been woeful the last six weeks, but Gabriel Moreno is the present and future of the position if he can return from a shoulder injury. And Arizona still values what Carson Kelly provides. The numbers from third base have been even worse but Hazen said Josh Rojas, currently in Triple-A, is someone the D-backs expect to return to being one of their better players like he was at the beginning of the season.

Designated hitter doesn’t have a concrete name. Evan Longoria has factored in there but is slumping in July. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has the most starts there and could move there in favor of the aforementioned right-handed bat in the outfield. Is adding another middle infielder a possibility?

The remark provoked the thought but speaks to how Hazen is considering everything in terms of making the team better. He did not turn down the notion of trading players currently on the major league roster, nor valuable prospects for a good player with multiple years of control.

What can’t be ignored is the opportunity in front of the D-backs that could possibly be peaking in their upcoming window of contention. The New York Mets, San Diego Padres and Cardinals were all expected to factor prominently into the pennant chase but will be lucky to sniff .500.

The looming juggernaut that is the Atlanta Braves headline the NL, obviously. But as for who is the next team up in the pecking order, who knows? And that could be something the D-backs try to take advantage of.

Hazen was asked about that notion.

“I try not to operate in my job in a short-sighted manner but there’s times when, yeah, we’re going to need to go for it and we’ll see what’s available to us,” he said. “I’m not sure exactly where we’re gonna be in terms of laying that all out there right this second, but if the right moves come along for us to improve this team we’re gonna do it.”

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