Tag: Aaron Hill

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.

Diamondbacks sign Nick Punto

Nick Punto

Released by the A’s last month, veteran utility infielder Nick Punto has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Diamondbacks. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that it includes an invitation to spring training.

Oakland cut Punto despite owing him $2.75 million for 2015, which was odd considering he had a pretty typical season in 2014 and the A’s deemed him worthy of a two-year deal last offseason.

He figures to be a part-timer in Arizona, backing up all over the infield at age 37, although the Diamondbacks already have a similar player in Cliff Pennington to fill that role (barring, say, an Aaron Hill trade).

Diamondbacks, Marlins interested in James Shields

james shields getty

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com has the scoop …

So far, we’ve heard very little about the market for free-agent right-hander James Shields.

Well, here is one interested team:

The Arizona Diamondbacks.

Rosenthal says it “may be impossible” for the D’Backs to fit Shields into their current payroll, but they could free up money by trading catcher Miguel Montero or second baseman Aaron Hill. There is a clear need for a front-line starter in Arizona, and new chief baseball officer Tony La Russa is exploring all of his options.

Shields registered a 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 180/44 K/BB ratio across 227 innings (34 starts) this past season for the American League-champion Royals. The 32-year-old declined a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer from Kansas City earlier this month, so his free agency is tied to draft pick compensation.

Rosenthal also adds that the Marlins are considering signing Shields:

Need a young shortstop? Call the Diamondbacks

chris owings getty

With a new general manager and (eventually) a new manager the Diamondbacks will no doubt be looking to make lots of roster moves this offseason and Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes that they may see what offers are out there for a young shortstop.

Arizona has several in 22-year-old Chris Owings, 24-year-old Didi Gregorius, and 24-year-old Nick Ahmed, all of whom have flaws but also have a chance to develop into quality starting shortstops. And that’s always something plenty of teams need.

Piecoro speculates that perhaps the Diamondbacks could trade one of those shortstops for a similarly talented but flawed young starting pitcher or maybe even do that while also shedding Aaron Hill and his remaining contract.

Whatever the case, if new general manager Dave Stewart starts calling around for various trade targets you can be sure other teams will ask him about his stockpile of shortstops.