Please forgive the bad pun; I couldn’t resist with our newly installed General Manager’s name. Yes, the Dave Stewart experiment is over now, and with his exit leaves a lot of the “hardball, rub some dirt in it” attitude. I suppose the best way to start is from where we were at the end of last season.
The End of the Stewart Era
Stewart was of course hired to replace Kevin Towers after management determined him to be doing a sub-par job, and the whole fiasco with Nagy and Towers’ desire to plunk people for retribution in games. So we continue with Stewart now as our GM, where he presents various trades, including the most notable Shelby Miller trade. Now analyzing this trade… there was such a slim chance of this trade working out in the Diamondbacks’s favor. I’ve liked Shelby since his early days with the Cardinals; he is, or at least has been, a good pitcher. However, the value he was given by the head honchos was beyond what he had done, or was expected to do. We gave up a solid starting outfielder, Ender Inciarte, a former first round pick in Aaron Blair, and of course Dansby Swanson… no explanation needed for him. This level of talent would put Shelby Miller as an ace-level talent, an organizational mover who could bring a championship to Arizona, especially paired up with the reigning Cy-Young Award winner Zack Greinke, bringing reminiscence to the Schilling-Johnson days. I admit, I was shocked we pulled off the moves, and optimistic that we could be contenders. We all know how the season went. The blame had to be dealt somewhere, so of course it was put onto the team that supposedly brought in the main cogs of the team; Watson, Stewart, and La Russa. De Jon and Dave were fired, and La Russa was significantly downgraded in his role.
A New Direction
This off-season, the D-backs made room to bring in a new GM and crew, with the hopes of taking the team into the analytics-based future. The search led us to Mike Hazen, which admittedly surprised me at first, mostly due to the fact that he would leave the GM position he had with the storied Red Sox, who are certainly on the rise with the new Killer B’s. However, I think he had some major incentive in leaving for the desert. In Boston, he was only in quasi-control, with Dombrowski being the final say in the decision making process. Here in Arizona, he will have almost complete control in baseball affairs. With that direction, it appears he will finally be taking us into the world of advanced analytics, and a modern approach to player value. We also jettisoned Welington Castillo, acquiring what amounts to an army of catchers; Iannetta, Mathis, Conger, and Thole, in addition to Óscar Hernández who is still hanging tough but hasn’t shown more than flashes from the bat. Herrmann is also still hanging around, but I don’t anticipate him being as much a catcher as a Swiss Army knife for the team. He has a good bat, but his versatility is where we will see the most usage. With this new bevy of catchers, we see a distinct move away from a strong, hitting catcher towards more of the pitch-framing catcher. Now, none of these guys are elite to be sure; however, I do see potential, and hopefully Robby Hammock can unlock some of these guys’ catching abilities. After all, he knows a thing or two about catching some darn good games. As no one really puts too much stock into minor catcher moves, we were coming off of a terrible season where fans were disgruntled and the team showed obvious deflation, so we as fans of course wanted a big move! Hazen delivered. When I first read about the Taijuan Walker trade, I admit I was a little bit skeptical because Jean Segura was such a consistent bat for us last year, so that it was a tough pill to swallow, especially with the emotional bond he seemed to form with the fans, bouncing back after those middling years in Milwaukee post-family tragedies. That being said, I eventually came around after looking into it a bit more. The move also opens the door for Brandon Drury to slide to 2nd instead of the carousel he was on last year, which really hurt his defensive ratings. The addition of Marte brings an interesting dilemma in what to do with either Nick Ahmed or Chris Owings, as the logjam in the middle infield continues, ESPECIALLY with Daniel Descalso being brought in too. Personally, I think the sun is setting on Ahmed unless he can show some offensive production, because despite being arguably the best defensive shortstop in the National League, his at-bats are painful to watch. Owings showed some real versatility last year holding his own in Center, which at this point seems to give him more value to me than Ahmed.
With every new season, there’s always hope that this will be the year; you can talk to ninety year old cubs fans to hear about that endeavor. But to me, something seems to be brewing here in the desert. It may not be this year, but in the next few years of Paul Goldschmidt window that we have left, I see bright things for the D-backs. Hazen is young, smart, and hungry after being in a chain of command for so long and is now finally getting handed the reins. I look for him to be opportunistic and willing to take some fliers on some players who may have been given up on in the past; think Jake Arrieta-esque signings. The changes have only begun, I hope to see more in this coming year (here’s to praying for us to move on from Mike Butcher) and I’m ready to see a young Diamondbacks group come out and test their limits.
Feel free to comment either on the article, or just baseball in general. I’m always happy to chat.