Pitcher Zack Greinke’s hefty contract forced the Diamondbacks to live life on the cheap, like the friend at dinner who visits the bathroom every time he sees the check coming.
At least that’s what the franchise wanted us to believe while Greinke was here and making $34 million or so annually.
Maybe that was true. Or maybe it was a convenient way to explain why they refused to write many hefty checks.
Either way, Greinke is gone now, and so is most of the weight of his contract. Trading Greinke to Houston saved the Diamondbacks $53 million, and if they want some credibility with fans, the Diamondbacks soon need to show they are flexible enough to reach for the wallet without straining an ulnar collateral ligament.
A good start would be to sign shortstop Nick Ahmed to an extension.
Doing so wouldn’t cause season ticket holders to flood team offices with paid invoices for 2020. But it would be a good faith gesture by a franchise that’s traded its two biggest stars, Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt, in the last nine months, and hovered around .500 this season like a fly over watermelon.
More importantly, it would be more than a goodwill gesture. It would be a smart move from a baseball perspective.
Ahmed is one of a handful of Diamondbacks due to be free agents in 2020. There is good reason to be cautious about committing big money to any of the others.
Pitcher Robbie Ray’s results haven’t yet matched his talent. Outfielder David Peralta is 32, so a long-term contract doesn’t make sense. Jake Lamb and Steven Souza, Jr., have been injured the past two seasons.
Ahmed, in contrast, is steadily improving. Always an excellent fielder, he’s become a solid hitter who has set a career high with 17 home runs and will do the same with his next RBI (he’s at 70). He won his first Gold Glove a year ago and he leads all shortstops with 20 defensive runs saved.
“I can’t say enough good things about what Nick’s done to improve every part of his game,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “Offensively, we know he’s grown into a very, very good hitter and that’s not stopping either. He continue to show no satisfaction with where he’s at. He deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done.”
What Ahmed has done is taken a more disciplined approach at the plate. A couple of years ago, Ahmed was constantly tinkering as a hitter. It was a far different mindset than the fastidious way he approached fielding. Ahmed, for instance, views playing catch as more of a way to work on fundamentals than to warm up. He always looks the ball all the way into his glove and emphasizes getting the proper grip of the ball before throwing it.
That attention to detail is working for him at the plate. He’s more aware of what pitches he’s likely to hit, and far more likely to lay off the ones he isn’t.
“He’s simplified a lot of the movements into being more consistent and putting him in a better hitting position each and every swing,” Lovullo said.
The Diamondbacks have said Ahmed’s performance this year was not a factor in trading prospect Jazz Chisholm to the Marlins at the deadline. Maybe, but a regression by Ahmed at the plate probably would have made them pause.
Instead, Chisholm, one of the team’s top prospects, was swapped for pitcher Zac Gallen, leaving 19-year-old Geraldo Perdomo as the top shortstop in the Diamondbacks system.
Perdomo’s made a rapid rise the last two years but it’s a stretch to think he will be ready for the major leagues in 2021, when Ahmed is due to be a free agent.
Granted, re-signing Ahmed is easier written than done, and there are not many things easier in life than telling someone else how to spend their money.
There has to be motivation on both sides, and assuming there is, the parties have to be of like minds when it comes to terms.
Ahmed turns 30 in March, so anything longer than a three-year deal there should give the Diamondbacks pause. An offer worth anything less than, say an average of $8 million to $10 million, will make free agency more attractive to Ahmed.
After a 7-2 loss to the Rockies on Wednesday, Ahmed politely declined to delve deeply into the subject of an extension.
“Right now, I’m focused on trying to win games and get us to October baseball,” he said. “I like playing here. I like the guys. I like the organization, the coaching staff. If that’s something they want to talk about in the off-season, we can do it then.”
Asked a similar question, Lovullo said, “Those decision are not in my area, but I can speak about what he means to this team and this organization, and he’s shown us how important he is to what we do every day.”
That’s a nice thing to say. It would be even nicer if the Diamondbacks proved it by trying to re-sign Ahmed.
Reach Kent Somers at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @kentsomers.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.