By Mason Kern
After going 93-69 a year ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks have the tools to make another successful playoff push in the 2018-19 MLB season. Fans should expect power swings and strikeouts galore from their two superstars: perennial National League MVP candidate (and first baseman) Paul Goldschmidt and ace pitcher Zack Greinke.
Despite getting swept in the NLDS by the eventual World Series runner-up Los Angeles Dodgers, the D’backs were able to put on a convincing performance in the single-elimination Wild Card game, defeating the Colorado Rockies in dramatic fashion, 11-8.
The challenge in 2018 is to keep pace with a suddenly very competitive NL West Division, which boasted three of the five playoff teams in 2017.
However, there are plenty of questions that the D’backs will have to answer heading into the new season.
Where is J.D. Martinez?
Fans were semi-confident that manager Torey Lovullo would be able to resign impending free agent J.D. Martinez after the success they had in the final year of his contract. Martinez was a large part of the D’backs offense last year after arriving in a mid-season trade with Detroit. He was a huge part contributing 16 home runs for the Detroit Tigers and 29 for the D’backs–good for third best in the MLB–as well as a .303/.376/.690 season slash line that culminated in an OPS of 1.066.
Martinez went into free agency in search of a seven-year, $210 million contract as reported by BleacherReport.com. He stalled multiple offers from multiple suitors waiting for the time when an organization would come to the table with the money he felt he deserved.
The Boston Red Sox emerged as the frontrunners for his services after they offered a five-year, $100 million contract. Martinez stalled on that contract, waiting to see if the D’backs or others would be motivated to make a better offer. He has since signed with the Boston Red Sox on a five-year, $110 million contract. The full amount is not guaranteed, as there are opt-out clauses mixed in after the first two seasons. Martinez will make $25 million the first two years, if he opts into the third year of the contract that value will decrease to $22 million. If he opts into the final two years of the contract the value will decrease further to $19 million for the remainder.
The Red Sox–who also went 93-69 last season–bring in a player who immediately bolsters the already-powerful offense. His impact will also help to fill the holes and bolster the overall depth of the Boston outfield.
Martinez switches from the NL West conference–which features the D’backs, Dodgers, Rockies, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres–in which his former team lost in the NLDS, to the AL East. The Red Sox, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays make up his new conference. The Red Sox lost in the ALDS to the inevitable World Series champion Houston Astros.
Who Closes Out Games?
Former closer Fernando Rodney bolted Arizona, signing with the Minnesota Twins on a one-year, $4.5 million contract. Rodney became a fan-favorite in Arizona thanks to his high-energy antics and signature move of the “bow-and-arrow” celebration after successfully closing out games. Rodney had 39 saves for the D’backs, tied for the third highest total in the National League last season.
Lovullo now has to make the decision as to who is going to close games for the upcoming season. With names such as Brad Boxberger and Archie Bradley surfacing as frontrunners, Lovullo has some talent to work with and develop into a potential closer in the near future. The D’backs also signed Japanese reliever Yoshihisa Hirano to a two-year, $6 million contract to increase the depth of their bullpen.
Where do the D’backs go from here?
Obviously, the loss of Martinez takes a big chunk out of the D’backs’ offense. But, the team has made moves to try and fill the gap for the upcoming season.
The D’backs acquired outfielder Steven Souza in a three-team trade with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, hoping to find a replacement for Martinez’s power stick. Steven Souza hit 30 home runs and stole 16 bases last season.
The Rays are essentially cleaning house having designated DH Corey Dickerson, who hit 27 homers in 2017, for assignment to make room for first baseman C.J. Cron.
The Yankees receive former D’backs’ infielder/outfielder Brandon Drury.
Drury hit .267 in 135 games with Arizona. He appears to be the front-runner to start for New York at either second or third base–which could delay the major league debut for top prospect Gleyber Torres.
The deal also saw Arizona receive New York’s pitching prospect Taylor Widener a 23-year-old right-hander who pitched at High-A Tampa last season. The Rays also receive 23-year-old second base prospect Nick Solak who hit .286 last season for the Yankees’ Class AA Trenton, N.J. team, as well as 24-year-old left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda from the D’backs.
Souza immediately fills a gaping hole within Arizona’s outfield left by Martinez. The 30 home runs he hit all of last year will help to offset the loss of the 29 produced by Martinez in 62 games for the D’backs as well. In terms of base-running, Souza will help to generate more runs for an Arizona offense that already produced at a high level in that department.
The D’backs did have to give up consistent threat Drury in the deal, but they have a competent enough infield to replace his impact.
If Souza is not immediately thrust into the outfield from day one, there are rumors that David Peralta assumes the role that Martinez leaves behind, while Yasmany Tomas takes the starting spot in left field.
However, Tomas has been wildly inconsistent since he signed a six-year, $68.5 million contract with Arizona back in 2014. Tomas has struggled for the first three years in his career, hitting .268 with 48 home runs. With trade rumors swirling around him, he will need to drastically improve if he is to overcome the enormous standards that have been set before him.
So how does the season turn out?
With all of the moving parts within the organization to replace what was lost while still maintaining their star core, expectations remain the same for this D’backs team.
Expect them to come out of the gates firing on opening day. They will remain competitive throughout the entire season and finish with a winning record in the mid-to-high 80’s. They will make another wildcard berth and advance.
However, with the other teams in their conference competing at the same, if not higher, level it will not be easy for the D’backs to achieve their ultimate goal of making a World Series push.
With the loss of offensive production from Martinez, and with no true, experienced closer, this is not the year for the D’backs. They will get bounced in the division series round of the playoffs same as last year until they can find a suitable, consistent replacement and make a heavier impact in the NL West against their biggest current threat in the Dodgers.