Author: D.J. Short

Chip Hale, Dave Stewart, Tony LaRussa

2015 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks


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 2015 season. Next up. The Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Big Question: There’s nowhere to go but up, right?

Since winning the National League West in 2011, the Diamondbacks have turned in three straight disappointing seasons and finished last season with the worst record in the majors at 64-98. Tony La Russa was hired as chief baseball officer early on in the year, which essentially signaled that Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson were living on borrowed time. Sure enough, they were both fired in September.

Tasked with taking the franchise in a new direction, La Russa hired one of his former pitchers from the Athletics, Dave Stewart, to serve as general manager while De Jon Watson was brought over from the Dodgers as senior vice president of baseball operations. Chip Hale, who has coached with the Mets and Athletics in recent seasons, was then brought aboard for his first managing opportunity in the big leagues.

Stewart was outspoken when he was an agent and he has already said his fair share of interesting things as Arizona’s general manager. Most notably, when the Diamondbacks were briefly courting right-hander James Shields in free agency, he said they were more of a “true baseball team” as opposed to teams which are more geared toward analytics. This was likely just an attempt at a sales pitch to appeal to a player they only had a small chance of actually signing, but it’s not the first impression you want after the grit-centered philosophy of Towers and Gibson fizzled out.

Getting back to contender status is going to be a process. The team’s big offseason move was signing Yasmany Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million contract, but the third base experiment has been a bust so far and he’s still learning to hit major league pitching. Interesting arms like Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Robbie Ray, and Yoan Lopez were brought in over the offseason, but this is a team that is going with Josh Collmenter as their Opening Day starter. He would be a back-end starter on a good staff. After dealing catcher Miguel Montero to the Cubs, Stewart didn’t seem so keen (or didn’t have the budget) to acquire a suitable replacement, so Tuffy Gosewisch stands to get most of the playing time in the early going. Peter O’Brien, who Stewart was hoping could be a solution behind the plate, was having trouble throwing the ball back to the mound this spring and could be bound for the outfield. Barring a last-minute move, this could be the weakest catching situation in the majors.

This lineup has a couple of interesting pieces in place, which I’ll get to in a minute, but expectations are understandably low for 2015 in a division which also has the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres.

What else is going on?

  • After finishing second in the NL MVP balloting in 2013, Paul Goldschmidt was well on his way to a comparable follow-up last season by hitting .300/.396/.542 with 19 home runs and 69 RBI across 109 games before he suffered a broken hand on a hit-by-pitch in early August. He’s back to 100 percent now and remains the shining light on this roster.
  • Aside from the excellence of Goldschmidt at first base, the infield is in flux. Assuming Tomas doesn’t work out at third base, young Jake Lamb is a possibility there, but Aaron Hill could also get some time at the hot corner if the D-Backs go with Nick Ahmed at shortstop and try Chris Owings at second base. Trading Hill, which has been rumored, could clear the way for all of the youngsters to get playing time. I’m guessing we’ll see that configuration sooner or later.
  • This outfield has a lot of moving pieces and not all of them are ideal fits. A.J. Pollock is locked in as the starting center fielder while Mark Trumbo appears set to start in right field, but David Peralta, Ender Inciarte, Cody Ross, and Tomas are also in the mix. Trumbo and Tomas in the corners might not be pretty. They also have similar offensive profiles. Which is to say, power without much patience.
  • This rotation doesn’t look particularly strong right now, but it figures to get better as the season moves along. Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo are both working their way back from Tommy John surgery and should be ready to return by mid-season. Things didn’t go as planned for top prospect Archie Bradley last year, but he could surface in the majors soon with a good showing in Triple-A.
  • Perhaps my favorite story to watch with this team will be Daniel Hudson, who has lost much of the last three seasons due to a pair of Tommy John surgeries. The 28-year-old returned for three relief appearances down the stretch last year and has flashed mid-90s velocity this spring. It’s unclear if he’ll be used as a starter or reliever, but here’s hoping he can finally stay healthy and deliver on the promise he showed in the early part of his career.

Prediction: This could really go either way with the Rockies, as they look like two of the weakest teams in the majors, but I’m going to say a repeat of Fifth Place, NL West.

Video: Alex Rodriguez connects for his third home run of the spring

Alex Rodriguez AP

It was tough to know what to expect from Alex Rodriguez coming off his year-long PED suspension, but he continues to show this spring that he’s still capable of doing some damage. Check out this home run against Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz earlier today:

That almost looked like a vintage A-Rod blast with the way the ball jumped off his bat. Impressive.

Rodriguez, who projects to be the primary DH for New York, finished the day 1-for-3 now batting .306 (11-for-36) with three home runs, a double and a .925 OPS across 15 games this spring. It would be pretty fun if he was one of the more productive bats in the Yankees lineup this season. C’mon, you can admit it too.

Report: Mets talking contract extension with Lucas Duda

Lucas Duda

Lucas Duda is coming off a breakout year with the Mets and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the two sides are currently discussing a long-term contract extension.

Duda is an interesting candidate for an extension, as he’s 29 and already under team control through 2017. He’s due to make $4.2 million in 2015. It would seem to make sense to continue to go year-to-year with him through arbitration, as he struggles against left-handed pitching and doesn’t have a long track record of success. Still, the Mets are at least exploring the possibility of cost certainty and could have some leverage in that given his age. They might even be able to buy out a free agent year. Duda’s agent, Dan Horwits, confirmed that talks have taken place this spring, but they will be tabled until the offseason if nothing is finalized before Opening Day.

Duda amassed 30 homers and 92 RBI last season to go along with an .830 OPS. He had a .766 OPS for his career coming into 2014.

Didi Gregorius suffers left wrist sprain, X-rays come back negative

Travis d'Arnaud, Didi Gregorius

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius suffered a left wrist sprain during today’s Grapefruit League game against the Orioles, but Bryan Hoch of reports that X-rays came back negative. Yankees manager Joe Girardi is hopeful that he’ll be ready to return to action on Wednesday.

Gregorius injured his wrist while trying to dive for a ground ball in the second inning. You can watch the play here. He actually stayed in the game initially before being replaced in the fifth inning.

Gregorius, 25, was acquired from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade over the winter. Replacing a franchise icon and future Hall of Famer like Derek Jeter is no easy task, but he should be a big upgrade defensively. And while he owns a lowly .243/.313/.366 batting line across 724 plate appearances in the majors, it won’t take much for him to surpass what Jeter did with the bat last year.