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.

Leonys Martin feared for his life from alleged human traffickers

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 30: Leonys Martin #12 of the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 30, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Leonys Martin, outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, testified yesterday that he feared for his life after he was smuggled from Cuba by a group of men prosecutors say worked for a sports agent and a baseball trainer currently on trial for human trafficking in Miami.

Martin took the stand at the trial of Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada, who face felony charges. He said that, after getting to Mexico from Cuba, men threatened to take him away. There was a kidnapping attempt against one of the men who had taken him from Cuba as well. Martin said that, eventually, he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas without any valid papers because his life was in danger and his safety was at risk.

Players like Martin who fled Cuba often hole up in Mexico while waiting to be declared free agents by Major League Baseball. There is pitched competition to sign agreements with the players in question, seeking to obtain promises of a cut of future baseball earnings for their services. Those promises can come under the threat of violence. Eventually, Martin promised to pay Hernandez and Estrada, but ceased paying them later, fomenting a lawsuit from them. In the wake of the suit, the allegations of threats and smuggling arose, leading to this trial.

Martin has been late to Mariners camp as a result of having to testify. He’ll likely report in the next day or so. The trial continues.

Josh Hamilton leaves camp with a tweaked knee

SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers poses during a spring training photo shoot on February 28, 2016 in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Josh Hamilton was already a long shot to make the Texas Rangers roster, but his shot got even longer today, as he left camp to have his reconstructed left knee examined after experiencing pain.

As Jeff Wilson reports, Hamilton felt discomfort in the knee during the Rangers’ first full-squad spring training workout yesterday. Hamilton has had 10 knee operations in career. Which is a lot of knee operations in case you were unaware.

You have to wish good luck to Hamilton, but at the same time you have to be realistic. The guy has not played in the major leagues since 2015 and even then he didn’t play well, hitting .253 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs in 50 games. He appeared in one game last year for Double-A Frisco, on April 30. He’ll be paid $24 million this year, mostly by the Angels. One suspects that this will likewise be his last spring training.