ESPN poll: Diamondbacks are the National League’s most improved team

Feb 18, 2016, 7:00 AM
FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2015, file photo, Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart, left, ...
FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2015, file photo, Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart, left, and Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa, right, introduce pitcher Zack Greinke to the media during a press conference, in Phoenix. Spring training is a time for optimism, when players bask under the warm sun of Florida and Arizona while fans dream about their team playing under the bright lights of October.(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

To say what the Arizona Diamondbacks did over the offseason was a surprise would be an understatement.

Really, did anyone expect them to sign Zack Greinke away from the Los Angeles Dodgers?

Thing is, if the D-backs had just stopped there, they would have done enough to raise eyebrows all across the league. But they continued on, trading for Shelby Miller and Jean Segura while later signing reliever Tyler Clippard.

Whether or not it will all result in the team returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011 is anyone’s guess, but if nothing else, the D-backs turned some heads over the last few months. In a piece on, MLB writer Jayson Stark polled 35 baseball executives on a variety of offseason topics, and Arizona came up often.

On the question of who the most improved team was in the National League, the D-backs earned 22 votes. The Chicago Cubs were second with 13, and the San Francisco Giants received six.

If we had created a category entitled “Most Shocking Winter,” we almost guarantee the Diamondbacks would have won that one, too. Within the other 29 front offices, a lot of really smart people were scratching their heads and describing this team’s ultra-aggressive offseason with words such as “hard to fathom.” That’s because, really, nobody saw this coming.

Raise your hand if you predicted in October that the D-backs would be the club throwing $206.5 million at Zack Greinke. Raise your hand if you saw them dropping the No. 1 pick in the country in June, shortstop Dansby Swanson, into a package that brought Shelby Miller. Hmmm. We’re not seeing a lot of hands out there.

Why do we get the feeling that’s the part of this go-for-it eruption that chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and GM Dave Stewart enjoy most? They knew they were risking a little long-term peril for a dramatic short-term assault on the reign of the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West. And you know what? They. Didn’t. Care.

The idea that the Diamondbacks went all-in on the 2016 season is not without merit, though both chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and team president Derrick Hall have maintained that is not the case. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the fact is this offseason gives the impression that the D-backs are looking to do significantly better than the 79 wins they tallied last season.

And of course, the big reason folks believe the team will be do just that is the addition of Greinke, who posted a 19-3 record with a 1.66 ERA, 200 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.84 with the Dodgers last season. The 32-year-old was one of the best pitchers available in free agency and according to Stark’s poll, he was the best free-agent signing of all.

Of the 35 voters, 14 chose the right-hander, with David Price of the Boston Red Sox (13) and Howie Kendrick (10) of the Dodgers being the only others to receive double-digit votes.

It was an awesome winter to grab your shopping cart and head down the aisles of the old Free Agent Mega-Mart. The incredible array of players who got multiple votes was an excellent reminder of the depth and quality in that market. Beyond the group listed above, 17 other players and one manager (Dusty Baker) got votes in the Best Signing portion of this competition.

That’s not to say there wasn’t the usual grumbling about the years and dollars for the two aces at the top of these charts. (More on that shortly.) But “when you are Boston, you go for it, and Price was the best pitcher out there,” one exec said. Then there’s Greinke, who “changes the face of the Diamondbacks,” another said.

Greinke comes to the Diamondbacks with 142 career wins, 1,887 strikeouts and a 3.35 ERA which was collected over 12 seasons with the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers. In five seasons in the National League, which is where the D-backs reside, he has a career 76-24 record with a 2.75 ERA.

But for as great as Greinke has been and for as good as most expect him to be for the Diamondbacks, that did not stop him from landing on the list of “Most outrageous contracts,” on which he placed third, with 13 votes. Along with Greinke, the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis (16),the Chicago Cubs’ Jason Heyward (13) and Price (10) made up the top four.

When we do this poll, we do our best to make it clear to our voters that “worst signing” and “most outrageous contract” are two different phenomena. The outrage here isn’t really about the player, and it isn’t about the fit. It’s about the length of and dollars in the contract. So that’s what Greinke and Price are doing atop the “Best Signing” and “Most Outrageous Contract” standings.

Nobody is arguing they’re not great pitchers. They’re just really, really unlikely to still be worth a million bucks a start in the final years of their contracts. We’re sure it will make their day to know 12 other players showed up in the “Best Signing” and “Most Outrageous” sections of this ballot. So … it’s nothing personal!

Fair enough, right? It is reasonable to wonder how effective Greinke will be in the latter part of his contract, and even if he is good, will he be worth the kind of money he is set to make? The D-backs sure hope so.

Of course, as part of the D-backs’ push to improve this season they also parted with some talented prospects, and one of them — shortstop Dansby Swanson, who was sent to the Atlanta Braves for Miller — topped the list of “Best trades” for what it did for Atlanta, with 20 votes. Others mentioned were Aroldis Chapman to the New York Yankees (12), Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox (8) and Corey Dickerson to the Tampa Bay Rays (4).

That does not mean everyone thinks the D-backs got hosed, however.

Would you believe we got votes for 27 different trade outcomes? That’s because, with the exception of the Chapman, Frazier and Dickerson deals, our voters lined up on pretty much every possible side of every possible trade. If we created a category for deals that work for both teams, our voters ranked them this way: 1) Kimbrel from San Diego to Boston (for four prospects), 2) Ken Giles from Philadelphia to Houston (for five arms) and 3) Starlin Castro from the North Side of Chicago to the Bronx (for Adam Warren). Then again, that’s the way trades are supposed to work. Right?

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ESPN poll: Diamondbacks are the National League’s most improved team