Youth is often unreliable. Last year, the Diamondbacks learned the hard way.
After Arizona shocked the baseball world in 2011, taking the NL West crown, expectations were relatively high for a strong encore. Instead, Kirk Gibson's club straddled the fence, splitting its 162 game slate straight down the middle (81-81). Early season physical setbacks to Chris Young and Daniel Hudson combined with Justin Upton's dramatic power outage, likely a consequence of a thumb injury suffered in April, explained the team's ordinariness.
Unhappy with last year's mediocrity, GM Kevin Towers has racked up the cell phone minutes this offseason. Young was sent packing to Oakland in December for Cliff Pennington and prospects. Much hyped hurler Trevor Bauer, who floundered in four starts with the senior club in '11 (6.06 ERA, 7.16 BB/9) and whose quirky pregame regimen rubbed some in the organization the wrong way, was shipped to Cleveland for SS Didi Gregorius, 1B Lars Anderson and LHP Tony Sipp. Veterans Eric Chavez, Erik Hinske, Cody Ross and Brandon McCarthy were plucked from free agency. And ERA wrecking ball Heath Bell was acquired from Miami for a box of Jujubes and a six-pack of Smirnoff Ice. Too bad the bickering parties in D.C. don't work as efficiently.
Still, despite Towers' aggressiveness, he's yet to find a solution for the team's most glaring problem: Satisfying Upton. Resentment between the two sides has grown to an irreparable level. Recently, billboards featuring the slugger were removed from Chase Field. And just last week the outfielder nixed a trade to Seattle. Eventually, a proper suitor for Upton, and possibly Jason Kubel, will be found (New York, Atlanta and Texas are rumored destinations), but until that happens, Gibson's lineup remains very fluid.
To help decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are five pressing questions about the Arizona Diamondbacks entering 2013:
Upton, a hot topic on the constantly revolving trade rumor mill, could soon don a new jersey. What current D’Back(s) would benefit most from a change of address?
As discussed above, Upton's days in the desert are numbered. Whether a deal is struck before opening day or at the July deadline, suffice it to say, he'll be filling up box scores on another team in short order. As with every dismissal, someone stands to benefit. For Arizona, Adam Eaton is sure to rise to the occasion.
The banner prospect played admirably once promoted last August. Before a broken hand prematurely ended his season, an injury that shouldn't limit him in 2013, he posted a .259-2-5-19-2 line over 85 at-bats. Eaton has only marginal pop, but his keen eye and blazing speed should make him a fixture atop the order for the next decade. If thrust into a primary role out of the gate, he's a strong candidate for 90-plus runs and 30-35 steals. Throw in a projected BA above .280, and a final output akin to what Michael Bourn tallied last year is certainly attainable. In the late rounds (207.4 ADP, OF58), he's one venomous snake.
Recent signee Ross would also receive a value boost. Right now, many believe the veteran will start most days in center, though that's far from guaranteed. An Upton deal, however, would almost certainly make him an everyday player. If that comes to fruition, 25-30 homers aren't out of the question. He clubbed at least 22 three times previously, including last year over 476 at-bats with the BoSox.
In his first full season, Paul Goldschmidt initially stumbled out of the gates, but finished a top-12 first basemen. Will he be the Schmidt in Year 3?
Frustratingly mired in a loose timeshare with Lyle Overbay over the first few weeks of 2012, Goldy failed his followers (.193 BA in April). As a result, he was dropped by numerous shallow leaguers, silencing the buzz that surrounded him during spring training.
Eventually those that exercised patience were rewarded handsomely. From May 1 on, the first baseman was an absolute terror. His accumulated .302-19-74-63-16 line during that stretch was the fifth-best among eligible 1Bs, ranking just one spot behind Prince Fielder.
Now with a full year under his belt and expected to be a permanent fixture in the middle of the lineup, his legend should grow. His superb blend of power and underrated speed is a luxury at a position usually populated with four-cat producers. If Bill James' blood-stirring projection doesn't float your boat (569-.283-27-109-105-15), a Caribbean cruise with Victoria's Secret models probably wouldn't excite you either. Even at his late Round 2 price point (23.4 ADP, 1B4), he's worth every penny. Sacrifice limbs to acquire his services.
Off strong rebounds, what reclamation project is the most trustworthy: Aaron Hill or Jason Kubel?
With Kubel's immediate future uncertain, Hill, eligible at a more difficult to field position, is the logical choice. The former 'Jay experienced a rebirth last season. He remained healthy, jumped on favorable pitches earlier in counts and rediscovered his power stroke. His subsequent .302-26-85-93-14 output was a back pat for those who bought on the bear. Among fours, only Robinson Cano was more valuable.
Hill, in the midst of his power prime, turns 31 just before opening day. Penned into the two-hole, a spot where he posted a .902 OPS last year, he should again be a highly productive combo meal. His downtrodden 2011 will leave some skeptical, but going some 40 picks after Jason Kipnis in early drafts (ADP: 95.4), he is still getting disrespected by the average drafter. Strange. Another top-five campaign is hardly a reach.
J.J. Putz was erratic at times in 2012. With Bell now in tow, how stable is the incumbent's standing as Arizona’s closer?
Last week, Towers signed Putz to a one-year, $7 million extension, an agreement that will keep the reliever in 'Zona through 2014. On the surface, the move is reassurance the stopper is undoubtedly the organization's favored choice in the ninth. He should be. Though he blew five saves in 2012, his marvelous 5.91 K/BB was the 10th best mark among all pitchers. Without question his leash will be long entering the regular season. He deserves to be tabbed a top-10 closer.
From 2009-2011, Bell was absolutely radiant in San Diego. Over that three year stretch, he slammed the door 132 times, totaling a 2.36 ERA. However, last year's misstep in Miami was utterly humiliating. He was routinely battered, blowing eight of 27 save opportunities en route to his worst season since his misguided days with the Mets. His solid September/October (1.51 ERA) lends hope for a turnaround, but it will take several Putz meltdowns before the Bell tolls in Arizona. At best, he's a $2-$3 dice roll in NL-only formats.
Quick Hitters ...
Pennington is merely keeping the seat warm for Gregorious. The athletic shortstop won't blow the doors off statistically, but at his peak he will likely be a 15-20 player with a solid BA ... Insiders are very high on southpaw Tyler Skaggs who earned six starts with the senior club last year. His fly-ball heavy profile is a concern, especially when taking the ball at Chase Field, but he should develop into a dependable SP4 in the near future. Since entering pro ball in '09, he's struck out just over a batter per inning. Look for him to nail down the fifth rotation spot this spring ... Patrick Corbin is another young hurler to watch. Getting his feet wet last year, he recorded seven quality starts in 17 turns. That's far from outstanding, but was a respectable first step. He should push Skaggs and Wade Miley this spring ... Threesome advocate McCarthy should enjoy his new digs. He's a pitcher well-constructed for success in the NL West -- a groundball, pitch-to-contact innings eater. He doesn't generate a ton of whiffs, but 13-15 wins and an ERA below 3.50 seems reasonable ... Don't expect Chris Johnson to man the hot corner exclusively. He did wield a fiery stick once coming over from Houston last July, but he quickly petered out, eventually losing at-bats to defensive specialist Ryan Wheeler. If, and that's a ginormous IF, Chavez can stay out of a full body-cast, he will wrest away a minimum of 300 at-bats. For those in NL-only formats chasing a low-dollar power source, the former Athletic could garner 12-15 jacks this year ... Ian Kennedy's 4-plus ERA last year was likely an anomaly. His .306 BABIP and contributions in lockstep with 2011 indicate he was a victim of unfortunate luck. Expect roughly 14-16 wins with an ERA in the mid-to-high 3s and 190 or so Ks.
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