Diamondbacks insider Nick Piecoro and Jay Dieffenbach talk about the upcoming baseball season. The lineup appears to be solid. What about the pitching staff? Video: Cheryl Evans/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks right-hander Zack Greinke gave up three runs in five-plus innings against the Chicago Cubs. He believes he is making progress toward Opening Day. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Jorge L. Ortiz breaks down the key headlines to watch during the final week of spring training.
USA TODAY Sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale poses these questions that will be answered in the MLB regular season.
USA TODAY Sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Jorge L. Ortiz recaps the championship between USA and Puerto Rico at Dodger Stadium.
USA TODAY Sports
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Shot Clock: Why isn’t Paul Goldschmidt playing? Will Cardinals draft QB Mitchell Trubisky? Kurt Warner also had a Super Bowl jersey stolen? The Shot Clock tackles the burning topics in Arizona sports.
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Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray gave up two runs in five innings, walking one and striking out six, vs. the Royals on Tuesday. (Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports)
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Diamondbacks right-hander Zack Greinke gave up one run in five innings against the Netherlands on Saturday.
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Diamondbacks right-hander Shelby Miller struck out eight in 3 1/3 innings vs. the Mariners but wasn’t efficient with his pitches.
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Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray gave up two earned runs — both on a first-inning homer — in four innings against the Brewers on Thursday.
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Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke comments on his side session to minor leaguers at Salt River Fields on Mar. 13, 2017. By Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin gave up three runs in 3 1/3 innings against the White Sox but came away sounding upbeat. Video: Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Right-hander Taijuan Walker struck out eight in four scoreless innings for the Diamondbacks on Friday vs. the Brewers.
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Diamondbacks right-hander Zack Greinke’s fastball was in the upper-80s on Wednesday at Salt River Fields.
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Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller lasted 2 2/3 innings against the A’s, giving up six runs, on Tuesday. Scott Bordow/azcentral sports
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Arizona Diamondbacks RHP Taijuan Walker gave up just one hit in three scoreless innings against the White Sox on Sunday, Mar. 5, 2017. (Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports)
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Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin, who is vying for a spot in the rotation, gave up two runs in three innings against the Padres on Saturday in Peoria.
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Diamondbacks right-handed Shelby Miller talks about his impressive outing vs. the Cubs. Miller struck out six in three innings.
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Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley tossed three scoreless innings in his second start of spring training.
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Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray was upbeat despite walking three in 1 1/3 innings on Wednesday. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale breaks down the story lines to follow as spring training heats up.
USA TODAY Sports
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Diamondbacks right-hander Taijuan Walker talks about his outing on Tuesday against the Texas Rangers in Surprise. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Here are some longtime favorites about America’s favorite pastime.
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The MLB is changing up the intentional walk in an effort to improve the pace of play.
USA TODAY Sports
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The Brewers by position: Bullpen
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USA TODAY Sports has released its projected win totals for the 2017 MLB season.
USA TODAY Sports
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USA TODAY Sports released its annual list of players to watch for in the upcoming season.
USA TODAY Sports
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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about his frustration with the MLBPA, which he said rebuffed the league’s efforts to make any of a number of rules changes at Tuesday’s Cactus League Media Day at the Biltmore. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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The Diamondbacks’ Ken Kendrick discusses the team’s lawsuit with the Maricopa County Stadium District over over Chase Field maintenance costs at spring-training camp on Friday.
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Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo discusses star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and his new team’s foundation at Cactus League Media Day at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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The Diamondbacks had their photos taken on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017 at Salt River Fields.
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Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses how difficult it is to win back-to-back championships in the MLB on Tuesday at Cactus League Media Day at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses how to prepare for this season in regards to overworking and injuries after last season’s championship run at Cactus League Media Day at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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The Arizona Diamondbacks hosted fans to celebrate the start of spring training and the 2017 season at D-Backs Fan Fest at Salt River Fields on Monday. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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Diamondbacks closer Fernando Rodney tosses a bullpen session at Salt River Fields.
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There are several MLB teams looking for new stadiums, while at least two are happy with their old-school dwellings.
USA TODAY Sports
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Diamondbacks right-hander Taijuan Walker throws his first official bullpen session of spring training at Salt River Fields on Tuesday. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks pitcher Shelby Miller tosses his first bullpen of the spring at Salt River Fields on Tuesday. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Ron Gardenhire, Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach, annouced on Tuesday that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the team’s spring training complex at Salt River Fields. Manager Torey Lovullo also spoke. Video: Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo on what he sees in his team and pitcher Shelby Miller heading into the first days of spring training at Salt River Fields. Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports
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D-Backs pitcher Archie Bradley, sporting facial hair that he has not shaved since October 31st, reports to spring training camp in Scottsdale. (Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports)
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D-Backs skipper Torey Lovullo press conference at spring training camp in Scottsdale. (Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports)
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D-Backs pitcher Patrick Corbin reports to spring training camp in Scottsdale. (Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports)
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Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley talks about the excitement of getting spring training started, saying “I couldn’t sleep last night.” Video: Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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The Diamondbacks have faced tough seasons and payroll limitations, and it might cost them a beloved franchise player. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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Proliferation of young talent in the game provides an abundance of inexpensive options to stock a roster.
USA TODAY Sports
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Are the Arizona Diamondbacks right to sue Maricopa County over Chase Field? Columnist E.J. Montini says no.
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With the longest championship drought in American professional sports, the Cubs have seen a lot change since they last won the World Series, in 1908.
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What is in store for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017?
Zack Greinke on his spring start vs. Cubs
Key MLB story lines as spring training concludes
MLB’s regular season will answer these spring questions
USA wins its first World Baseball Classic title
USA Baseball, Trubisky to Cards, Kurt Warner’s stolen jersey
D-Backs’ Robbie Ray says he’s ready for start of season
Zack Greinke on his start vs. Netherlands
Shelby Miller strikes out 8 vs. Mariners
D-Backs’ Robbie Ray on spring start vs. Brewers
Zack Greinke comments on his throwing session
Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin after spring outing vs. White Sox
Taijuan Walker after latest dominant start for D-Backs
Zack Greinke on his diminished velocity in start vs. Mexico
Shelby Miller discusses latest start
D-Backs’ Taijuan Walker on his latest strong outing
D-Backs lefty Patrick Corbin after spring outing vs. Padres
Shelby Miller on his outing vs. Cubs
Archie Bradley on strong outing vs. Padres
Robbie Ray on his spring training debut
Spring training story lines to watch
Taijuan Walker throws two innings in spring debut
Some things about Spring Training season just haven’t changed…
MLB changing intentional walks for 2017
Just the FAQs: Brewers at bullpen
Projecting the 2017 MLB season
MLB’s 100 Names to Know for 2017
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on rule changes, MLBPA cooperation
Diamondbacks’ Ken Kendrick discusses team’s lawsuit
D-Backs manager Torey Lovullo on Goldschmidt, team’s core
Behind the scenes at Diamondbacks Photo Day
Cubs’ Joe Maddon on why it’s difficult to repeat
Cubs’ Joe Maddon on this season’s preparation
A look at Diamondbacks Fan Fest 2017
Closer Fernando Rodney throws bullpen session
Baseball stadiums on the way out or in danger of extinction
Taijuan Walker throws bullpen session at Salt River Fields
Shelby Miller throws bullpen session at Salt River Fields
D-Backs bench coach Ron Gardenhire diagnosed with prostate cancer
D-Backs manager Lovullo on getting started, Shelby Miller
D-Backs pitcher Archie Bradley talks about his beard
D-Backs skipper Torey Lovullo press conference
D-Backs pitcher Patrick Corbin reports to spring training camp in Scottsdale
Diamondbacks’ pitcher Archie Bradley: “New year. New team. New everything. We’re excited.”
D-Backs near crossroads with Goldschmidt
The best MLB lineup realistic money can buy
Montini: Diamondbacks’ lawsuit is one big error
Cubs, coffee and cars: How things have changed since the North Siders last won the World Series
Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock were drafted the same year in 2009. They were teammates in the minor leagues and reached the majors nine months apart. But during the five seasons they’ve spent together with the Diamondbacks – a half-decade, an eternity in baseball years – they have yet to experience a winning season.
This is, by and large, through no fault of their own, but their time together might be running out.
The Diamondbacks are sitting at what feels like a prolonged organizational crossroads. They brought in a new leadership group atop baseball operations in October. They hired a new manager. But they are bringing back largely the same team that faltered last season. The front office is hoping for better results. It seems poised to change direction if it doesn’t get them.
The Diamondbacks will need a number of scenarios to play out this year. Fewer injuries. Better defense. Improved pitching. Further development from their young core and bounce-backs for their more established players. If enough of those things happen, it’s not hard to squint and see a contender.
But if they don’t, the Diamondbacks could find themselves residing in no-man’s land, a sort of anathema to the modern baseball executive: not good enough to contend, not bad enough to properly rebuild. Making matters worse, their farm system is lacking in impact talent. They have no position players whom scouts project as middle-of-the-order bats and few pitchers, if any, who might become eventual frontline starters.
No one with the Diamondbacks is spelling out what all of this, taken together, might mean. But, should the club fall out of contention, it seems clear it will have decisions to make. Three stand out. They involve the club’s most high-profile players: Goldschmidt, their MVP-caliber first baseman; Pollock, their impactful-when-healthy center fielder; and right-hander Zack Greinke, their high-priced ace.
New route to success
Since 2012, the year rule changes went into effect limiting spending on amateur players, clubs have found the most efficient route to rebuilding is via total teardown. Teams such as the Cubs and Astros have traded away the majority of their veteran players for prospects; fielded losing teams for several years at the major league level; then capitalized on the spending power that losing afforded them in the draft and on the international market.
Most executives seem to believe the worst place to be is in the middle. They say clubs that try to simultaneously win and rebuild tend to do a poor job of one or the other – and often both.
But rebuilds are painful. Owners tend to dislike them. Fan bases hate them. And, despite the rousing success of the World Series-champion Cubs, there are no assurances a club comes out the other side a winner.
“It’s tough to feel like you’re committing to a direction where you feel like you may not be competitive in the short term,” said White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn, whose club entered a rebuilding phase over the offseason. “You have to remain focused on the long-term benefit of the club and that it’s going to lead to several brighter days in the future, even if it’s a little bit dark in the early going.
“But it’s hard. You’re emotionally attached to some of the players you’ve been around … and those players that you always envisioned winning with. There is a bit of an emotional element to it, a bit of a competitiveness element to it.
“But ultimately people who run clubs aren’t charged with doing the best emotional thing or the best thing for their own ego or the best thing for their own desire to win immediately. They’re charged with putting the organization in the best position over the long term.”
But, as Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen noted, the collective bargaining agreement released during the winter makes it somewhat less beneficial to bottom out, with draft and international spending limits more flat than before. But it still has its benefits.
“Picking first is a lot better than picking fifth,” Hazen said during a panel discussion at the SABR Analytics Conference this month. “From a long-term building standpoint, there are clear advantages to being in those positions over a period of time. The majority of your superstars, by and large, are going to come in those areas of the draft and the international market. I think having access to that type of talent year in and year out, whatever period of time you are there, whether it’s two, three, four years, is going to pay dividends down the road.”
And even if the new rules, which prevent clubs from international spending sprees and from wielding massive financial clout in the draft, might make talent acquisition more difficult in some ways, it could make it easier in others.
“The harder it is to acquire talent from those channels, the more valuable it is being able to acquire guys like that in trades,” Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi said. “A guy who has multiple years of control should be able to bring back even more in a trade now. I think it’s just a different set of rules. The dynamic will be a little bit different and the challenges will be a little bit different, but I don’t think it necessarily makes it harder.”
Dealing with reality
If the Diamondbacks decided it was time to rebuild, they would have two enormous trade chips to dangle that could jumpstart the process.
Goldschmidt, who is signed to a deal that is widely regarded as among the most team-friendly in baseball, is under contract through 2019. His production over the past four seasons is on par with nearly every top hitter in baseball. Last July, FanGraphs writer Dave Cameron ranked Goldschmidt the ninth-most-valuable trade asset in the majors; by comparison, the 15th-most valuable on his list, left-hander Chris Sale, netted Baseball America’s Nos. 2 (Yoan Moncada) and 32 (Michael Kopech) prospects in the majors when traded in December.
Pollock’s value isn’t quite so high in large part because he has one less year of team control. But when he’s been on the field over the past three seasons, he’s rated among the best all-around players in baseball. If he shows he’s healthy this year, he, too, could land a significant return.
Greinke is a different matter altogether. Entering the second year of a $206.5 million deal, his velocity was down in the first half of spring training, an alarming development for a pitcher who had shoulder issues last year. His contract would make him difficult to trade, and the Diamondbacks likely would have to include significant money in any deal.
But given how large of a chunk of their payroll Greinke is eating, the Diamondbacks seemingly will have to consider doing whatever is necessary to move him. Last year, Greinke’s $34 million salary constituted 34.6 percent of the club’s payroll, according to financial data available at Baseball Prospectus. That’s the largest chunk any one player has taken up in baseball over the past 10 years.
Teams that have one player making such a disproportionately high amount tend to struggle. Since 2007, 42 teams have had one player making 20 percent of total payroll. Just five of those teams (12 percent) made the postseason. Two of those five – the 2009 Dodgers (Manny Ramirez) and 2016 Mets (Yoenis Cespedes) – were already-talented teams that essentially gave huge, one-year deals to those players to put them over the top.
The Diamondbacks’ payroll, which this year is expected to be around $100 million, would have to grow to north of $170 million in order for Greinke’s $34 million salary to eat up less than 20 percent.
So just win, now
In theory, the Diamondbacks could stave off such decisions with their play on the field, and the pervading belief in the clubhouse is that such an outcome is entirely possible.
“I think we’re a year better, a year smarter,” third baseman Jake Lamb said. “I think our pitching is going to be better, our defense is going to be better. I think our offense is going to be even better. I just have a tough time thinking what happened last year is going to happen again. Whether it’s injuries, people having down years, all that stuff. I think we’re going to be all right.”
Hazen, too, has expressed confidence his team could surprise. He has noted that there is not much difference between the club that entered last year with high expectations and that this year seems almost an afterthought. That team lost Pollock to injury for all but 12 games and saw several players regress from their career norms, including Greinke and right-hander Shelby Miller. Even Goldschmidt had, for him, a down year.
“We know we won 69 games last year and that is a motivating factor for me every day,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “I think the rest of the organization feels the same way. We’re turning the page on what happened last year and we’re ready to go out there and prove that we’re prepared for the season.”
The Diamondbacks are hoping a focus on catcher defense can help the pitching staff. They’re looking for several of their talented but inconsistent starters to emerge. They are hoping a dependable bullpen somehow takes shape.
“I think we’re actually in a pretty good place,” Hazen said. “I think we have a lot of talent at the major league level. A lot of it is young talent at the major league level. I think there are a bunch of guys that can win and are ready to win now at the major league level, hopefully over the next few years.”
But if they don’t, Hazen will be tasked with his first big test in his new position, with the future of the franchise on the line.