The Arizona Diamondbacks have made it perfectly clear that Masahiro Tanaka is currently their top priority. However, the D’backs are going to have to outbid teams like the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs who will also be gunning for the Japanese right-hander. Ryan Morrison at insidethezona lists (which you can check out here) the probability of teams being able to sign Tanaka with the D’backs on the lower end of the scale. However, I firmly believe that even if Arizona can’t land the hot pitcher of this offseason, they can still be a playoff contender in 2014.
I know an extended injury to a key player such as Paul Goldschmidt can doom all dreams of a playoff berth. If we take injuries out of the equation because they can happen to anyone on any team, what you will find is that the D’backs had many players either hurt or who were underachievers. I realize that some of the things that you are about to read are overly simplistic. Yet I believe they are a barometer of what Arizona is capable of achieving next season. Let us not forget that in the midst of all the guys on the disabled list and those wallowing in perpetual slumps, the D’backs held onto to first place for over two months. Granted, much of that had to do with the division being so weak but hey, first place is first place.
I will start with Trevor Cahill. Here is an example of a player who suffered from both injury and ineffectiveness. He finished 2013 with a record of 8-10 and an ERA of 3.99 in 26 starts. Before last year, Cahill never started less than 30 games in a season and the eight victories represented the lowest total of his career. In five years, the sinkerballer has averaged 12 wins and 31 starts. Isn’t it fair to assume he can reach those numbers in 2014? Next is Wade Miley who went 10-10 with a 3.55 ERA last year. After struggling much of his sophomore season, the lefty finished strong, going at least six innings in 11 of his final 14 starts. Pitchers who have outstanding rookie seasons usually struggle a bit the following year. Is it safe to guess that Miley can increase his win total from 10 to at least 14? If these two pitchers have average seasons, we are talking an additional eight victories. And the bullpen? I find it hard to believe that this area of the team will struggle as much as this season as it did the previous one. The D’backs essentially traded Heath Bell for Addison Reed. You tell me if the ‘pen will blow 29 saves again.
On offense, Aaron Hill came down quite a bit from his Silver Slugger year of 2012. The reason is a hand injury which limited him to 327 at-bats. Even if the standout second baseman drops slightly off his 2012 year, it will certainly a much better offensive campaign than 2013′s 11 homer, 41 RBI output. Miguel Montero was the hitting version of Trevor Cahill in that he was bitten by the injury bug which probably contributed to his down year at the plate. He turns 31 in August and while he has carried much of the catching load, there is no reason why a significant decline in 2013 won’t be reversed in 2014. Even if his offense doesn’t match 2011 and 2012, 12 home runs and 70 RBI’s will be a vast improvement over 2013.
What about potential declines from last season to next season? I expect Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin to take a step back but only slightly. Goldy had a season for the ages so he would be hard-pressed to duplicate those numbers again. However, if a step back is 30/110 with a line of .290/.390/.500, who wouldn’t take that? As for Corbin, it will be very difficult to duplicate his success in the first half of 2013. However, those games that were lost because of the bullpen could be evened out in 2014 with outings that aren’t as crisp but that can be saved by an improved relief corps.
I’d love to have Masahiro Tanaka at the front of the rotation. However, not getting him will not mean a third straight 81-81 season. 90 wins, anyone?