The Diamondbacks, despite a World Series title under the belt, have had an up and down history. After their first season in 1998, Arizona put together a stretch of five good seasons, in which they complied a record of 459-351 (.566), but since then, they have yet to replicate that success.
Their best stretch was from 2011-2013, during which they won the NL West, and went 256-230. However in the two seasons after, they've faltered, and have failed to reach .500. Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart were supposed to usher in a new era of baseball in the desert, but unfortunately that has yet to happen. Paul Goldschmidt has been wasting MVP worthy seasons on mediocre teams, and is fast approaching free-agency (2019).
If the Diamondbacks can't figure out a way to compete now, they may have to consider trading players like Goldschmidt, and A.J. Pollock, but for now, they're all in, and trying to put a playoff caliber team on the field for 2016.
The Free Agents
The big name free agent this offseason was without a doubt, Zack Greinke. After weeks of speculation that he was going to the Dodgers or Giants, and with signs pointing towards him choosing San Francisco, the war for Greinke appeared to be over. However just before he was about to make his final decision, the Diamondbacks swept in, and in a span of 330 minutes, lured Greinke away from their NL West rivals.
Instead of heading to the bay area, or back to the Dodgers, Greinke committed to the Diamondbacks for six years. His signing firmly signaled to the rest of the baseball world that Arizona was serious about winning now, and that they had the money to do it.
They also added Tyler Clippard on a two-year contract worth $12.25 million. Despite having been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball over the last few years, not many teams seemed to have an interest in him. While Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria, and Darren O'Day all signed deals for north of $20 million, Clippard was the forgotten man this offseason. He dealt with some back issues in the final months of the 2015 season, but that doesn't figure to be a problem going forward.
This is where the Diamondbacks become controversial. While signing Greinke and Clippard cost a significant amount of money, fans never really get mad about that. They might wish a team had spent their money more wisely, or on a different player, but a fanbase will rarely get mad at the simple act of spending money. However with trades, that's an entirely different story; and the Diamondbacks made two of them this offseason that sent baseball twitter into a frenzy.
The first was during the winter meetings, when they acquired Shelby Miller from the Braves. After adding Greinke, Stewart and La Russa wanted to shore up the front of their rotation, and did so with a trade. Miller had a successful 2015 campaign, as he posted an ERA of 3.02, along with an FIP of 3.45, and an fWAR of 3.4. He was undoubtedly an above average starting pitcher last season, but several metrics suggest he might be headed for some regression in 2016.
Even if that does happen, Miller still represents an upgrade for the Diamondbacks, but at an extremely expensive cost. To complete the trade, Arizona sent Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair, and Ender Inciarte to the Braves. Swanson was the number one overall pick in the 2015 draft (and is ranked as the 17th best prospect by Baseball America); Blair was the 36th overall pick in the 2013 draft (and could be MLB ready this year); and Inciarte is an elite defensive outfielder who had a breakout 2015 season in which he hit .303/.338/.408 in 561 plate appearances.
Their second trade was for Jean Segura. Nick Ahmed was the incumbent shortstop heading into 2016, and while he's not a good hitter either, he's a far superior defender than Segura, but he's now relegated to the bench. After trading for Segura, Stewart had this to say about his new player.
"'What I like most about [this deal] is that we added a guy who can give us some offense after we lost some', said Stewart, indicating that the acquisition of Segura came in the wake of having to ship outfielder Ender Inciarte to Atlanta in the deal for right-hander Shelby Miller. '[Segura] gives us a top-of-the-lineup hitter and some speed.'"
Stewart has proudly touted the fact that his team is a "true baseball team" rather than one concerned with analytics and "those type of things" before, but even he should be able to see that Segura is not a top-of-the-lineup hitter. In his career, which spans 479 games and 1930 plate appearances, Segura has posted an OBP of .301; and in the last two years it's been .289, and .281, respectively. He's not an offensive threat, and the fact that Stewart is expecting him to be one is disconcerting to say the least.
The Diamondbacks also sent Jeremy Hellickson to the Phillies in exchange for a 20-year old starter named Sam McWilliams. He's certainly an intriguing player to watch, but he's not close to the major leagues.
Reasons to worry
Despite adding Greinke, Miller, Clippard, and Segura to a team that already has Goldschmidt, Pollock, David Peralta, and Brad Ziegler, the Diamondbacks still have a considerable number of holes in their lineup. Neither Jake Lamb nor Brandon Drury proved themselves last year, and will need to do so sooner rather than later. That's not to say that they can't, but for Arizona to compete, they need production from third base.
Barring a drastic turnaround from Segura, their middle infield is atrocious. Chris Owings is slated to be the starting second baseman in 2016, and in 2015, he was an offensive blackhole. In 552 plate appearances, Owings hit .227/.264/.322 with a wOBA of .255, and a wRC+ of 52; which means he was 48 percent worse than the average major league hitter.
There's also the matter of Yasmany Tomas. In his first taste of the big leagues, he hit .273/.305/.401, and posted a wOBA of .307 and a wRC+ of 88. His performance worsened as the season progressed, which could be tied to the fact that the Cuban season is much shorter than that of the major leagues. It's too early to close the book on Tomas, but 2016 will be an incredibly important season for him.
Reasons for hope
Last year, the Diamondbacks finished with a record of 79-83, just two games back of .500. They did that without Greinke; without Miller; and without a fully capable Patrick Corbin. He made 16 starts in 2015, but only threw 85 innings. With those three leading the rotation, they stack up well against the Dodgers and Giants' respective rotations, which could help propel them into the race for the playoffs.
Lamb should be able to take the next step in his development in 2016, as he now has 523 career plate appearances at the major league level. The same could be said for Tomas, as he now knows what to expect for a full season. The Diamondbacks certainly have some issues that will need to be addressed, but if a few players continue to get better, and Greinke, Miller, Corbin, Goldschmidt, and Pollock produce at the level we've come to expect, Arizona could be headed for a competitive season.