Justin Upton, Matt Davidson, Chris Young

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.

Indians sign Brandon Guyer to a two-year extension

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Brandon Guyer #6 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates Rajai Davis #20 two-run home run during the eighth inning to tie the game 6-6 against the Chicago Cubs in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Indians and outfielder Brandon Guyer avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year contract with a club option for 2019.

The Indians acquired Guyer from the Rays at last year’s trade deadline. After coming to Cleveland he posted a line of .333/.438/.469 in 38 games. He’s a .262/.349/.402 hitter over 344 games in five seasons in the bigs. He has led the league in being hit by pitches for the past two seasons, getting plunked 24 times in 2015 and 31 times in 2016. He went 6-for-18 with four walks and two HBPs in the playoffs for Cleveland. The man will work to get on base, my friends. And he can play all three outfield positions.

Nice signing.

Sarasota County to build the Braves a new spring training facility

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The Braves have trained at Walt Disney World for several years. The lease is up, however, and they’ve been on the hunt for a new facility for some time. Disney is just too geographically remote from most of the Grapefruit League facilities so they’ve looked on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for some time.

Their search appears to be over, however, as they have reached an agreement to move to Sarasota:

The Atlanta Braves formally plan to move the team’s spring training home to North Port in 2019, the team and Sarasota County announced Tuesday afternoon.

The announcement set the stage for final negotiations this spring on a contract to bring the Major League Baseball team to a new complex in the West Villages district just south of West Villages Parkway and U.S. 41, near the State College of Florida campus in North Port.

It’ll be a $75-$80 million complex on 70 acres. The story says it’s envisioned to anchor a “town center” commercial and residential district. If anyone has ever been to a spring training facility, however, one knows how ridiculous such an idea is. There is nothing more geographically un-centered and dispersed than a spring training facility. It’s a sea of open fields which private citizens generally cannot access and large parking lots. These facilities typically require major arteries, not quaint town streets, for reasonable access. The best any facilities do to integrate with surrounding communities can be seen in Fort Myers with the Twins and in Surprise, Arizona with the Rangers and Royals, where the facilities are part of larger community parks and recreation centers. That’s OK, and certainly better than nothing, but they’re not the anchors of the vibrant live/work/shop developments like the Braves and Sarasota are describing here.

But of course everyone involved has to say that, because selling such facilities as the engine of pie-in-the-sky development is a key part of making the large expenditure of public funds seem more palatable. And yes, there will be a big expenditure of public funds here: the Braves will be getting $56 million in taxpayer subsidies for the new place, some from the state, some from the county. The amount from the county, by the way, is calculated to fall just below the threshold required for a public vote on the expenditure. The Braves have always been blessed with the ability to avoid public votes for their corporate welfare, of course.

One wonders how many other wealthy private businesses owned by multinational corporations get tens of millions in tax dollars to build employee training centers. Not many, I’m sure. The Braves always seem to luck out in this regard, however.