Arizona Diamondbacks: Smoke And Mirrors Of A Roster Teardown

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 18: Zack Greinke #21 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiemat Angel Stadium on June 18, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 18: Zack Greinke #21 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiemat Angel Stadium on June 18, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The Arizona Diamondbacks are entering a period of transition, but it’s tough to know whether or not to believe GM Mike Hazen when he says this is not a roster teardown.

GM Mike Hazen spends a lot of time busily fighting against the presumption that the Arizona Diamondbacks are entering a full blown rebuild. That’s the public stance. This is not a teardown. 

But here’s the actual story of the offseason thus far: (1) they traded the best offensive performer the team has ever seen, (2) they let their lefty Cy Young candidate from a year ago sign with an NL contender, (3) they’ve made no attempt to re-sign their All-Star centerfielder, (4) they’ve shilled hard to move Zack Greinke, a high-character top-of-the-rotation starter whom they deemed worthy enough to pay more than any other player in franchise history.

That’s four of their top six fWAR earners from a year ago that they’ve either traded, tried to trade, or let walk in free agency. That’s not to say these are bad decisions, but when Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo insist that they like our team and we’re going to compete – there’s cause to be dubious. And yet, Hazen has been resolute in his stance that the Diamondbacks are not embarking on a teardown.

Successful team building can benefit from a certain degree of smoke and mirrors, especially now that the competitive landscape has flattened to such a historic degree. But that still doesn’t tell us much about whether or not Hazen is being transparent when denying a rebuild.

Hazen’s strategy as it pertains to staff ace Zack Greinke does, however, tell us something. To say Greinke is worth the money owed him because of his on-field performance value to a contending team, while also claiming to be a contending team, while also trying to trade him – that doesn’t track. If the Dbacks are contending, they need Greinke.

The strongest piece of evidence to suggest Hazen is posturing in his public denial of a teardown is this: the Arizona Diamondbacks absolutely should rebuild.

Their best chance at long-term success is to build this thing back from the ground up by creating a large and high-ceiling prospect core. If the group is large enough, you’ve increased your chances of hitting on the right guys. The payroll budget, then, gets siphoned into player development and the signing of international and amateur players.

Unfortunately, it does sometimes take time – even years – to find the right deals when shipping out veteran players. You need to find corresponding need that is dire enough to send back impact assets. But there’s no denying the potential benefits. This is a plan that works.

Consider the current rebuild of the Chicago White Sox. The Southsiders last won a World Series in 2005 and last made the playoffs in 2008. They are the comically undervalued little brother to the big brother Cubs. Under GM Kenny Williams, they stubbornly avoided a rebuild, taking on bad contracts for veteran stopgaps to keep the team afloat, guys like James Shields, Alex Rios, Nick Swisher, and Jake Peavy, among others.

Finally, two seasons ago, senior VP and GM Rick Hahn started the rebuild in earnest. He traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in December of 2016, followed by Jose Quintana to the Cubs in July of 2017. Those were the hallmark trades of this rebuild. There were more, of course, but those were the big pieces.

Two seasons later, they’re sniffing around the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sweepstakes, and while there hasn’t been much in the way of on-field success, there’s real optimism on the Southside of Chicago.

The context of the Sox rebuild matters too. Rick Hahn was promoted to GM after the 2012 season, meaning he’d already been GM for four difficult campaigns before the rebuild began in earnest. That’s probably a longer leash than Hazen has in Arizona.

Chicago, notably, is one of the most stable franchises in baseball when it comes to front office continuity. Kenny Williams held the title for 12 seasons. Before him Ron Schueler had the job for ten. Rick Hahn’s promotion to GM came a couple years after most of the public was ready. Even now, his predecessor still works in the building.

For Hazen, it’s far from a given that he survives a length rebuild. Since Joe Garagiola Jr. left the team in 2005, no GM has served in Arizona longer than 5 years. At best, Hazen’s got to be looking at a three-year window to get a competitive team back on the field. That may seem like a long time, but it’s not. Most prospects take 3-5 years of seasoning in the minors, which means any prospect Hazen can realistically expect to be ready in that timeframe is likely already playing professionally.

When the Kansas City Royals made it to the World Series, they were supposedly in year eight of an 8-year rebuilding plan. The Cubs won the World Series in 2016 in year 5 of Theo Epstein’s initial contract. Mike Hazen now has three years to cement his legacy well enough to avoid the front office churn – and he’s in the midst of an offseason where he’ll lose most of what made last year’s squad competitive.

If Greinke and A.J. Pollock end up wearing different uniforms in 2019, Hazen will have even less on-field talent projectable to 2022, which would be Hazen’s fifth year on the job. In this light, the ML-ready return for superstar Paul Goldschmidt makes a lot of sense, as does a reluctance to listen to offers for a player like Robbie Ray, who could very well anchor a staff by 2022.

It doesn’t however, explain the white-knuckle grip they’ve got on David Peralta. Peralta, 31, seems like perfect piece to flip. As a late bloomer, he has two seasons of team control remaining that likely takes him through the end of his prime years. He is unequivocally a win-now player. Full teardown or not, the Diamondbacks do not look like a team that’s ready to win.

Of course, most of the above is pure conjecture. Maybe Hazen and ownership have mapped out their vision of the future well past the next three years. Maybe he and manager Torey Lovello signed secret 8-year extensions to give this rebuild some backbone.

But that’s not how it typically works. Not in an era where managers and GMs are shuffled from team to team as scapegoat’s of their previous org’s failings. When Hazen took over, the Dbacks seemed primed for this moment, but a surprisingly competitive 2017 squad took the Wild Card and pushed this rebuild down the line.

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That team has been gutted by the last two winters, and now Mike Hazen is left holding the bag. So of course he’s not committing to a full rebuild. He can’t.