Arizona was Los Angeles' biggest division threat last year until September. The Diamondbacks finished the season in second place by the Dodgers with an 81-81 record. I caught up with Blake Stokes of AZ Snake Pit recently to recap Arizona's offseason and to take a look at the upcoming season.
DAVID: What was the biggest offseason move the Diamondbacks made?
BLAKE: This offseason for the Dbacks wasn’t really marked by big moves. Instead, Kevin towers and the rest of the front office mostly focused on smaller moves that didn’t make a huge splash, but did have fairly significant effects on the team. There was one big move, however, that immediately springs to mind. In December, we traded Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs to the White Sox and Angels respectively for Mark Trumbo and two minor leaguers. This marked a departure of sorts for the team, since Skaggs was supposed to be one of our better pitchers going forward, and Eaton was supposed to be our leadoff hitter for years to come. Trumbo himself also is a departure for the team, because power hitters, and the strike outs that come with, are something they’ve stayed away from for the most part. That has to be the biggest move we by far.
DL: What was the biggest offseason move the Diamondbacks DID NOT made?
BS: For me, that would be not signing Shin Soo Choo. Granted, you can make a strong case it was not signing Tanaka, but for me it’s Choo. When we traded away Eaton, we traded away something this team hasn’t had for a long time: a true leadoff hitter. Choo would have replaced him, plus added some power to the lead-off spot that would have been nice.
DL: What was the worst offseason move the Diamondbacks made?
BS: This is an interesting question, and has been the subject of much debate, really for a few seasons now. I say that it’s the Skaggs/Eaton for Trumbo trade. Personally, I think we gave up on two well-regarded young prospects (#1 and #3 in our system according to John Sickles) much too soon, and got an older, more expensive player, who is marginally better at best. That’s not how you build great baseball teams, in my opinion. Our GM, Kevin Towers, seems to disagree.
DL: Where does the team stand now as a whole? Are there a lot of weaknesses that will be fixed in spring training?
BS: Right now, we have a fairly competitive team. All of our main pieces are locked in for several years to come, and I think this is the team that Kevin Towers and the rest of the front office plans to run out for a while to come. And despite the issues I have with how the team was built, there aren’t any glaring weaknesses to me. We have a strong core in our bullpen. We have a lineup that I don’t think most teams would complain about running out on a day-to-day basis, and despite our top two pitching prospects getting traded away in the last two seasons, we still have a lot of depth there.
DL: What is Arizona's biggest strength heading into the season?
BS: Our pitching depth. Right now, we have at least 8 pitchers who we could slot in on pretty much any given day, and that’s what wins pennants.
DL: How badly did the Diamondbacks need Masahiro Tanaka or Matt Garza?
BS: I don’t think we needed Garza at all, to be honest. I see him, and I see a number two at best, and he ended up getting a contract much bigger than that kind of pitcher normally gets. Tanaka was a different story, though. Yes, there was a lot of concern Tanaka only being a number three or so in MLB, but it was a risk I would have been willing to take for the upside he has, especially since early on, ownership made it clear they were willing to spend money this offseason. Did we need him, though? Not necessarily. I still think we have a very solid rotation without him.
DL: Who is a rookie to look out for this year?
BS: Archie Bradley. Before we signed Bronson Arroyo, he was going into Spring Training competing for a spot in the rotation, and still may be, depending on how spring goes. He’s got great stuff, and is highly anticipated by the team and the fans. Look for him to make a splash when he debuts, whether that is to start the season, or later on as a replacement.
DL: Who is your pre-season MVP for the Diamondbacks?
BS: Easiest question yet. Paul Goldschmidt, and if it’s not, I’ll be shocked. In fact, he might even be the NL MVP, but that might be getting a bit ahead of myself.
DL: What does Arizona need to do to make the playoffs?
BS: We need our players to live up to their potential, at least to some extent. Last year we were really hurt by Miguel Montero forgetting how to hit his way out of a wet paper bag, Martin Prado getting off to an incredibly slow start, and a couple of others just not doing as well as they normally do. Also, less blown saves and extra inning games. Those really hurt us, too.
DL: Where do you see the Diamondbacks finishing at the end of the regular season? Record, place in division, place in playoffs, etc.
BS: I’m really tempted just to say 2nd place in the division and exactly .500 since that’s where we’ve finished the past two seasons now, but I’m not going to. I don’t think it’s going to come as a shock to anyone when I say that for me, the Dodgers are the team to beat in the division, and I don’t really see any team in the division taking first place from them when it’s all said and done. I’m going to say the Dbacks finish in second, with 85-88 wins, and are just on the outside looking in for a wild card spot. Good news is, the team will get to work on their golf games in October.