The Arizona Diamondbacks are in the postseason hunt and could become a World Series contender with a smart move or two before the trade deadline.
Optimism was high in 2016. Led by top decision makers Tony LaRussa and Dave Stweart, the Arizona Diamondbacks had World Series winners in the front office. The duo helped orchestrate a turnaround from 64-98 in 2014 to 79-83 in 2015. The club added free agent Zack Greinke and traded for Shelby Miller to revamp a mediocre pitching staff, and LaRussa and Stewart felt they put the finishing pieces in place on their postseason puzzle.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Greinke’s first season in the desert was his worst since 2005, statistically speaking, when the right-hander was 21 years old. Miller, who Arizona acquired from the Braves for a hugely talented haul that included Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, was a complete disaster.
Instead of leading the team to October, the D-Backs pitching staff finished with a major league worst 5.09 team ERA. The team limped to a 69-93 final record, and Stewart lost his job as general manager.
Optimism was up again in 2017, but knowing how hard and far the team fell in 2016, fans and analysts were skeptical of major gains.
Nevertheless, with a better performance from the starting rotation, including a resurgent Greinke and emerging Robbie Ray (Miller was also better, but suffered a season-ending injury after four starts), the Diamondbacks have lowered the team ERA to 3.62 – third best in the majors.
Arizona jumped out to a 34-25 start through Monday, and sits just two games back in the NL West with a 3.5-game lead over the Cubs for the second NL Wild Card spot. According to FanGraphs’ most up-to-date projected standings, the Diamondbacks have what it takes to complete the season in that No. 2 spot.
Of course, to increase those odds, the Diamondbacks may to tweak their roster. Though the farm system isn’t deep, and doesn’t have much in terms of elite talent, the club has enough to acquire at least one of the following five players prior to the trade deadline.
Late Innings Relief
Fernando Rodney ranks second in the National League and sixth in the majors with 14 saves. Rodney also has a 6.10 ERA in 20.2 innings across 22 appearances, and has issued 12 walks. He has blown three saves as well.
Rodney has pitched far better in May and June than he did in a disastrous April. In fact, after posting a 12.60 ERA in 11 games in the opening month of the season, Rodney posted a 0.00 ERA, allowing just one unearned run on two hits and five walks in 10.2 innings. He held hitters to a tiny .063/.189/.063 slash over that period.
Simply put, Rodney has been one of the best closers in baseball over the last five weeks. However, the 40-year-old Rodney is far from a sure thing. Should he hit another rough patch, Archie Bradley could step in and pitch the ninth inning – but some depth in the form of a backup veteran closer would be a nice safety net.
Jeff Mathis is a decent defensive catcher, and has a 2.0 Def rating according to FanGraphs, and the Diamondbacks catchers as a whole rank fourth in the majors in framing according to Baseball Prospectus.
However, Mathis has hit just .163/.198/.304 with two home runs in 30 games, and Chris Iannetta has hit .221/.295/.500, though he has shown some pop with seven homers in 28 games. Both are also 34 years old. Chris Herman, who also plays first base and left field, has caught 14 games this season. The 29-year-old Herman is hitting .159/.274/.366 with five home runs in 42 games overall.
The Diamondbacks rank in the middle of the pack in the major leagues in outfield Ultimate Zone Rating (-0.5), and sit 22nd overall in outfield Defensive Runs Saved (-9). The team’s three primary outfielders – David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Yasmany Tomas – have all posted negative UZR so far this season. The team’s best defensive outfielder has been utility man Chris Owings, who has played 19 games in the outfield and 36 in the infield.
Pollock is on the DL and won’t be back until mid June. He has been a quality defensive outfielder in years past, but adding a true shutdown defender would be a worthwhile effort if the right deal came along.
Baseball Prospectus Organizational Talent Ranking: 9
MLB.com Top 100 Prospects: 0
MLB.com Top 10 Prospects
- Anthony Banda, LHP
- Domingo Leyba, SS/2B
- Jasrado Chisholm, SS
- Dawel Lugo, 3B/SS
- Taylor Clarke, RHP
- Socrates Brito, OF
- Brad Keller, RHP
- Anfernee Grier, OF
- Jared Miller, LHP
The time is now for the Diamondbacks to compete for a postseason spot, and potentially a World Series berth. Unfortunately, though top prospect Anthony Banda is close to being MLB ready, Arizona doesn’t have a great farm system with which to acquire a big missing piece. Therefore, the D-Backs will likely be limited to making smaller moves in order to smooth some of the rougher edges of the roster.