Can These Diamondbacks Contend In 2016?
- Updated: September 12, 2015
Given that we haven’t quite hit September yet, it feels a little bit early to start baseball offseason speculation. But with the Diamondbacks a few games under .500 in a competitive NL West and well outside of a Wild Card shot, it’s time for Arizona to look ahead. But before we get into some potential offseason strategies, here’s a closer look at how the Diamondbacks have performed in 2015.
This team entered the season with relatively high hopes, thanks in large part to what looked to be one of the better lineups in the MLB. Led by MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, the lineup hasn’t disappointed; even now, the Diamondbacks rank fourth in the league in runs scored, fifth in batting average, and sixth on on-base percentage. In a lot of years, and for a lot of teams, those rankings add up to a playoff berth.
Defense, too, has been solid for the Diamondbacks. Per ESPN stats and information, the team ranks fourth in sortable fielding numbers, with only 65 errors and a very respectable .987 combined fielding percentage. Those are pretty good numbers, particularly when one considers that one of the biggest moves of this past offseason included shipping shortstop whiz Didi Gregorius to the Yankees.
Even the bullpen, as D-backs fans will know, has actually been quite good. According to ESPN, relief pitchers for Arizona have a combined 21-21 record with a 3.34 ERA and 33 saves, having pitched to an opponents’ batting average of just .240.
Again, add it all up and the Diamondbacks of 2015 sound like a playoff team. Their offense and defense both rank near the top of the league, the bullpen is holding its own at the very least, and the team is being led by a legitimate MVP hopeful. But this, of course, leaves out starting pitching.
The Diamondbacks just haven’t had anything resembling a reliable rotation in 2015. Rubby De La Rosa has assumed the mantle of the staff gem for the year, and yet he’s managed only 12 wins and 13 quality starts in his 27 total starts, giving up 4.32 runs a game. Needless to say, when those are the best numbers among starters, there’s a serious problem. It’s not that they’re terrible; of the five D-backs pitchers to start 10 or more games, three (De La Rosa, Chase Anderson, and Jeremy Hellickson) have winning records. But particularly in the NL West, where the Giants, Dodgers and Padres can all hammer you on a good day, it just doesn’t cut it to have a decidedly average pitching rotation.
To answer the question posed in this article’s title, yes – the Diamondbacks can absolutely contend a year from now. The point of all this information is to point out how closely they actually resembled a winning baseball team this season, despite hovering within three or four games of .500 for almost the entire campaign. And that’s without even getting into how well constructed the bulk of this team is for the future.
Of the eight most frequently used everyday position players on this team, no one is older than 28. Furthermore, each and every one of them is under team control, and most for exceedingly cheap contracts (the glaring exception being Goldschmidt, although even he is a huge bargain at roughly $13 million due over the next two seasons). The primary starting outfield of David Peralta, AJ Pollock, and Ender Inciarte, in particular, looks primed for a long run as a hard-hitting, consistent unit.
All things considered, it’s really quite simple: the Diamondbacks are positioned to contend for a playoff spot and possibly beyond in 2016, but to do so they’ll have to upgrade the only noteworthy weakness on the team. The pitching rotation needs an overhaul, and while that’s one of the trickiest challenges a baseball front office can face, Arizona ought to have the money to do it with a lineup filled with bargains from top to bottom.
Here’s a look at some of the potential targets on the 2015-16 free agent market for pitching….
- David Price – The clear prize of this free agent class, Price is only getting more expensive as he helps to lead Toronto through a remarkable second half. He’ll likely cost more than the Diamondbacks are willing to spend, though he’s also the sort of game-changing piece worth heavy consideration.
- Johnny Cueto – On a given night, Cueto is every bit as good as Price, and he may just come cheaper given that he’s had a little bit more of a troublesome injury history. He’s a more target than Price.
- Zach Greinke – There’s no chance here. The way the Dodgers spend money, Greinke is probably a safe bet to re-sign, and they’re certainly not going to watch him walk to a division rival filled with young talent.
- Jordan Zimmerman – This might be the ideal target for Arizona. He’s a smidgen below the top-tier free agents, but at this stage would be a clear ace for the D-backs. He’s also a righty, which would play well given that Chase Field is inviting for right-handed hitters, against whom Zimmerma does his best work. He’s more expensive than your average Diamondbacks player, but he could be just the right fit.
- Scott Kazmir – He’s by no means a sure thing, but Kazmir has had a resurgent season in Oakland and Houston this year, and could be a cheaper option.
Generally, this is a class of free agents not typically targeted aggressively by Arizona. They’re all expensive options. But this team has been constructed very affordably, and given how 2015 has gone, it might be the perfect time to spend high on pitching.
It’s also worth remembering that a number of the organization’s top prospects are projected as possible big league starting pitchers. At this stage, Aaron Blair looks to be the only one likely to start the 2016 season in Arizona, though if Archie Bradley can stay healthy he’ll certainly get consideration as well.
If one or two of the youngsters work out, the Diamondbacks sign a potential ace from the list above, and perhaps a solid second-tier free agent – perhaps a Doug Fister or Mat Latos – makes his way to Arizona, the Diamondbacks will absolutely be in the mix in another year. In other words, don’t stress D-backs fans – it won’t be long.