Matthew Pouliot

Dave Stewart’s first move as Diamondbacks GM was the easy one

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When the Diamondbacks brought in Tony La Russa as team president, it was a given that manager Kirk Gibson would be shown the door. The only question was timing. Now that they have a new general manager in Dave Stewart, the timing was right: Gibson was ousted Friday with three games left in the season. Technically, it was Stewart’s initial move as general manager, and practically, it gives him what should be a popular head start with the fanbase, even if the call was made before his arrival.

The real work for Stewart will start in a few weeks. Former GM Kevin Towers left him an absolute mess to work with after selling off several of the team’s best prospects for less talented players who fit his mold of what a team should look like. Making the situation even more difficult is that, by and large, the younger players the Diamondbacks have introduced this year have held their own. That’s a good thing, for sure, but it’makes it a lot more difficult to decide where to upgrade.

Here are the 26-and-under players the Diamondbacks have tried this year:

Didi Gregorius (24): .221/.288/.364. Plus defense at short
Chris Owings (22): .261/.300/.406. Adequate at short, potentially plus at 2B.
Nick Ahmed (24): .200/.235/..277 in 65 AB. Top-notch defensive potential at SS.
Jake Lamb (23): .237/.273/.395 in 114 AB. Solid defense at third.

A.J. Pollock (26): .307/.353/.512. Looks like a keeper in center.
Ender Inciarte (23): .275/.318/.355. One of the league’s best defensive outfielders
David Peralta (26): .286/.319/.447. 111 OPS+. Subpar defense in right.

If you put five or six of those guys alongside Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero next year, you’re still probably not going to have a very good lineup. But who are the keepers? Pollock seems like an obvious choice, and Owings has more room to grow. I’m not a big fan of Gregorius or the other two outfielders.

The Diamondbacks also have Aaron Hill under control for two more years and $24 million. Mark Trumbo is due about $6 million in arbitration. Laughably, Cody Ross is due another $9.5 million for next year (including his $1 million buyout for 2016). If the Diamondbacks are willing to give away 2015, they can pay someone to take Hill, probably sell low on Trumbo and continue to play the youngsters. If they’re not, then they’ll need to upgrade at third base and hope that Inciarte or Peralta can excel in right, with Trumbo back in left. Or they could trade Trumbo anyway and sign a free agent outfielder.

In the rotation, the Diamondbacks have Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter, Trevor Cahill, top prospect Archie Bradley, Daniel Hudson and then these guys:

Chase Anderson (26): 4.01 ERA, 105/40 K/BB in 114 IP
Randall Delgado (24): 6.61 ERA in 4 starts, 4.63 ERA, 74/28 K/BB in 58 1/3 IP as reliever
Vidal Nuno (26): 3.76 ERA, 69/20 K/BB in 83 2/3 IP since arriving in Brandon McCarthy deal.
Andrew Chafin (24): 3.86 ERA in three late starts

With Patrick Corbin hoping to return from Tommy John surgery in June and Bronson Arroyo potentially back in July.

The Diamondbacks aren’t at all likely to sign one of the aces available this winter, and it’s worth wondering whether it makes sense to spend big for a third or fourth starter when contending seems like a long shot. If all breaks right, the Diamondbacks could finish next year with a very promising rotation led by Corbin and Bradley, with top prospect Braden Shipley banging down the door and perhaps even Hudson recapturing his former promise. In the meantime, I don’t see how a $10 million-per-year band-aid will do much good.

So, that’s the dilemma Stewart faces. The smart strategy would seem to be to proceed quietly, let the team take its lumps in 2015 in an effort to reemerge as a contender in 2016. But with a new team president, a new GM and a new manager, it’s hard to imagine they won’t try to make some sort of splash, for better or worse.