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Springtime Storylines: Was 2011 a fluke for the Arizona Diamondbacks?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Big Question: Was 2011 a fluke year?

The Diamondbacks went from 70 wins in 2009 to 65 wins in 2010 to … 94 wins in 2011. What in the Sam Hill happened?  Was the Dbacks’ massive improvement sustainable, or will 2012 see them back down to something that bears a more reasonable resemblance to what they were before Kirk Gibson came along?

I think it’s sustainable, or something close to it.  Thee 2010 Dbacks weren’t quite as bad as their record indicated, as one of the worst bullpens in recent memory caused them to lose a lot of games they should have won. That was fixed last year by a revamped and massively improved pen, along with some massive steps forward for Ian Kennedy, Ryan Roberts, Miguel Montero and others.

Now, you can’t count on all of those guys doing that again, but there are others who are poised to step in with improvement or new production to keep Arizona at the top of the West. A full season from Paul Goldschmidt, for example, could give the Diamondbacks a lot of extra pop at first base. The addition of Trevor Cahill to the rotation is a plus too, both pushing Joe Saunders down in the order and serving as Ian Kennedy regression insurance.

So while, yeah, a lot went right for the Dbacks in 2011, I don’t think it was a fluke. There was real improvement there that Kevin Towers has built on. And I think the Dbacks can do it again.

What else is going on? 

  • Not that every move Towers makes makes sense. I still don’t get why he signed Jason Kubel, which means benching Gerardo Parra whose defense likely more than makes up for his lighter bat. I think Kirk Gibson is gonna blow a gasket watching balls drop in front of Kubel in left field that Parra would have reached.
  • I also don’t understand why Towers signed Willie Bloomquist to a two-year deal. And why, it appears anyway, he is gonna be leading off for this team.
  • Aaron Hill is a key bat as well. He was sort of the Dbacks in microcosm, putting up a paltry .584 OPS before coming over in that trade from the Blue Jays (the 2010 Dbacks) and then going crazy to the tune of .315/.386/.492 in his short stint in Arizona. Obviously that’s not repeatable over a whole season, but if his production looks decidedly more like his Blue Jays numbers than something at least within shouting distance of his Dbacks production, Arizona is going to have some issues at the top of the lineup.
  • For all of the regression candidates on this team, it’s scary to think that Justin Upton — who hit 31 homers with 88 RBIs and an .898 OPS — might even be better than those number going forward.

How are they gonna do?

I think they’ll be just fine this year. And I feel better about that when I look around the rest of the division and don’t see anyone who got remarkably better over the offseason. The Dbacks have the potential for a really solid rotation with Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Cahill at the top, a GM who knows how to build a bullpen and a superstar in right field.  They’re my pick in the NL West.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.

Mariano Rivera to get his plaque in Monument Park on August 14

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The greatest closer in history is going to get the ultimate honor the New York Yankees bestow on August 14. That’s when Mariano Rivera will get his plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium before a game against the Rays.

There was some chatter in the last year or two about whether the Yankees were somehow lowering their standards out there, what with guys like Tino Martinez getting honored. But if that’s something you care about it won’t matter in this instance. Rivera would’ve been worthy even if the old snobby ways had held and only inner-circle types got a plaque, what with him being a key member of five World Series-winning teams and his status as the all-time saves leader in the regular season and the postseason.

The Yankees retired Rivera’s No. 42 in 2013. He’ll get his plaque in August. Then, on the first ballot for which he is eligible, he’ll be voted into the Hall of Fame, likely with a percentage in the mid-to-high 90s.

Dodgers “trying to trade” Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero
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Alex Guerrero is a potentially good right-handed bat without a position to play in Los Angeles, so Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reporting that the Dodgers are “trying to trade” him makes sense.

Guerrero, who signed with the Dodgers out of Cuba for $28 million in October of 2013, spent last season in the majors hitting .233 with 11 homers and a .695 OPS in a part-time role that generated 230 plate appearances. He logged a total of just 355 innings defensively, mostly as a left fielder and third baseman.

Guerrero could be intriguing–particularly to an American League team for whom his defense isn’t much of an issue–because he hit .329 with 15 homers and a 1.113 OPS in 65 games at Triple-A in 2014 and was consistently a .300 hitter with an OPS around 1.000 in Cuba. He’s also 29 years old, so Guerrero is no doubt looking to play regularly.

The New Zealand World Baseball Classic team performs the Haka

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It’s World Baseball Classic time again. Just the qualifying rounds. The actual tournament happens in 2017. Qualifiers will happen in Sydney, Australia, Mexicali, Mexico, Panama City, Panama and Brooklyn, N.Y., periodically, between now and September.

The Sydney round just got underway yesterday, so yes, some actual baseball is going on. As I’ve written and ranted before, the WBC is not my favorite thing that happens in baseball and certainly not the most important thing, but it’s pretty fun. Especially when there are displays of enthusiasm and pageantry and the like.

Such as the Haka, which basically every New Zealand sports team does and which never gets old:

 

Down in Sydney, the Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and South Africa teams are competing in a six-game, modified double-elimination format. In the other three qualifying rounds, Mexico, Czech Republic, Germany, Nicaragua, Colombia, France, Panama, Spain, Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan will compete. Each qualifying round puts one representative in the WBC.

Those four qualifiers will compete in the WBC itself against countries that performed well enough in the past that they need not submit to qualifying: Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela.

Someone make sure Jon Morosi is well-hyrdrated. It’s gonna be a long year.