Arizona Diamondbacks: Spotlight Brightest On Front Office At Spring Kickoff
By TC Zencka
Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring camp, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are getting ready for the most uncertain season in the Mike Hazen era.
As the Arizona Diamondbacks spring camp begins, the ghosts of spring’s past are haunting general manager Mike Hazen. With the recent core of homegrown stars relegated to the catalogs of memory, Hazen turns to a new crop of Arizona Diamondbacks to help him and the fanbase turn the page: players like Zack Greinke, Archie Bradley, Ketel Marte, and David Peralta. Many fans and media members, however, are having a tough time buying it.
The new core lacks a defining through-line. They joined the Dbacks via differing avenues, acquired by an assortment of GMs, and as 2019 approaches, the foursome above enter disparate stages of their careers.
Archie Bradley was drafted by Kevin Towers, the presumptive future ace until the failure to develop a third pitch relegated him to the pen. He made his majors debut as a starter under GM Dave Stewart, but as Bradley enters Year Three of his transition to late-game stopper, the league-wide stock of shutdown specialists like Bradley has never been higher, and he’s becomes the rare reliever to approach face-of-the-franchise status.
Zack Greinke signed as a free agent during Stewart’s brief reign, and with three years left on his deal, he could conceivably live to see a third GM in Arizona – though hopefully not. He is undoubtedly on the downside of a storied career, but the unequivocal ace of the staff. If Bradley’s the competitive face – Greinke is the competitive heart of this team.
Credit Towers for uncovering David Peralta as an amateur free agent in 2013 after his release by the Cardinals. Shortly after Peralta would make his debut as late-blooming 26-year-old, Towers was be sacked and Stewart took the wheel. Credit Stewart, then, for sticking with the older rookie and, at the very least, not getting in the way of Peralta becoming a core piece of the offense. With Goldschmidt and Pollock gone, Peralta becomes the crux of Lovullo’s lineup card.
Like Bradley, Ketel Marte faces a career transition in 2019 after volunteering to learn centerfield. The move allowed Hazen to exploit a deep free agent market at second base, snagging Wilmer Flores on the cheap. With an absolute sinkhole in the market where centerfielders should be, comparable options in center just weren’t out there. Marte, of course, joined the Dbacks via trade in one of current GM Mike Hazen’s first significant moves after his hire.
It’s Hazen upon whom the spotlight shines brightest as the Cactus League readies for kickoff. Such attention is not usually a welcome sign for the front office – but Hazen knows this. He feels capable of blocking out the pressure professionally, but the weight of it rests on Hazen’s shoulders in a personal way, writes the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro. This isn’t, perhaps, what he planned for Year Three of his tenure – in that way, he’s in the same boat as fans and players.
After all, trading Goldschmidt was never on the agenda. This wasn’t a clear away the old regimes’ players type of move. It was, as Piecoro writes, a “necessary evil, protection against a possible worst-case scenario.” Still, with the Goldschmidt era in the rearview mirror, Hazen becomes the defining figure of the 2019 season.
The bellwether moves of the winter – set in motion long before the Goldschmidt trade – were the departures of Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock. The free agent departures played out for Hazen in real-time the “worst case” scenario he feared for Goldschmidt, that he’d leave in free agency with only a supplemental round draft pick for compensation.
Staring his greatest fear in the face, Hazen had little recourse in letting the Lois Lane (Pollock) and Jimmy Olsen (Corbin) of the Goldschmidt era Dbacks join National League contenders in Washington and Los Angeles. Back-to-back surprisingly competitive clubs in 2017 and 2018 made trading either a non-starter, but the budgetary restrictions of their mid-market club made keeping either player untenable.
It’s one thing to watch Jimmy Olsen join the Post or Lois Lane move to the Times, but Hazen knew the Daily Planet would not survive if his Superman, too, were allowed to leave for so little in return.
Instead, Hazen got proactive, securing more-or-less the same supplemental pick the Dbacks would have gotten if Goldy left as a free agent, while also snagging a couple of pro-ready players and a near-ready prospect from the Cardinals.
Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly and Andy Young are not going to fill the hole left by Goldschmidt – not offensively, not positionally, not from a marketing perspective. But they aren’t meant to. In Hazen’s eyes, Goldschmidt’s leaving was a foregone conclusion, and they represent the lemonade he’s wrung from a real bummer of a lemon.
Today should be a nerve-wracking day for Hazen. As pitchers and catchers report, the referendum on Hazen’s performance begins in earnest. He may be in Year Three of his tenure, but the heat is officially on, the sand slowly trickling from the hourglass. He gets credit for the hiring of Lovullo, but the impressive returns on Year One and Year Two of this management core will mostly credit Lovullo. Hazen’s time is now.
Forget for a moment the Goldschmidt trade, and forget Mike Hazen. No matter how you view the offseason in the overall trajectory of the Arizona Diamondbacks, today is a good day! Pitchers and catchers are reporting, thus the first sign of summer is here. It’s Hazen’s job to worry about the rest.
Check out the Spring Training schedule and come on down to Salt River Fields to get an early glimpse at this new era of Arizona Diamondbacks ballplayers. Venom Strikes will be there, one eye on the diamond, the other on the front office.