The Diamondbacks have done the Brewers -- and freedom-loving human beings everywhere -- the great service of ensuring that the Cardinals started the season with a series loss. Unfortunately, the enemy of our enemy is only our friend until they play our team. So while we thank the Diamondbacks for their heroic deeds, we're rooting against again as of ... now.
To get a better sense of where the Diamondbacks stand after a volatile offseason, we talked with Jim McLellan of AZ Snake Pit, SB Nation's Diamondbacks blog. For more on the D-Backs and the upcoming series (including their preview of the Brewers), check them out.
BCB: It seems that most of the Diamondbacks' big offseason moves (the Upton and Bauer trades) were almost universally panned by national baseball pundits, particularly the more sabermetrically inclined ones. Are you guys as perplexed about the trades as they were, or have you come around on them? And have they made fans more excited or less excited for the season?
JM: I think there was a lot of hysterical over-reaction in the media, to be honest. Once we got Martin Prado locked up long-term, the Upton trade looked pretty reasonable. J-Up has always been about "potential", but he had over 3,000 major-league PAs: how long do you wait? And his OPS from ages 22-24 was actually LESS than that from ages 19-21 I think the trade shows GM Kevin Towers values reliable consistency over volatile potential. To me, when you look at cost, and the likely WAR we'll get from, not just Prado, but Randall Delgado and maybe even Nick Ahmed down the line, this seems balanced.
We won't be able to judge the Bauer trade fairly, for quite some time, until we see both how he and Didi Gregorius, the shortstop we got, pan out. I think this was an iceberg trade, in that 90% of the reason for it from Arizona's point of view, was below the surface. The front office clearly soured on Bauer, fast and hard, and whatever it was, wasn't deemed fixable; seems they thought it best to ship him out quickly, before everyone knew about it. I don't think we'll probably ever know the full reasons for it.
In terms of fan excitement, there was certainly some sense of loss for Upton - however, just about every Braves fan seemed VERY sorry to see Prado go, and I think he will become a fan favorite here in time. Bauer was hardly much of a quantity, not helped by his underwhelming major-league work last year. There's a certain sarcasm around fandom about Towers' comments comparing Gregorius's range to a young Derek Jeter, but seeing Gregorius hit .423/.484/.654 in spring has got us intrigued, and wondering when we might see him in the big leagues.
BCB: One of the strengths of this team -- and probably the biggest strength, in my view -- is the starting pitching, particularly the depth. A lot of that's predicated on two factors: healthy, productive seasons from Kennedy and McCarthy, and strong development from the young guys. Two questions, then: What's your level of concern about getting those full, good seasons out of Kennedy and McCarthy, and which of the young guys do you see as most likely for a breakout?
JM: With Kennedy, I think what we'll get this year will be somewhere between v2011 and v2012. There was an over-performance in the first season, but I think he under-achieved in 2012 [Towers suspects the sharply increased workload in 2011 might have led to a "hangover" the following year]. Kennedy's key is being able to locate his fastball. Everything feeds off that, in particular his change-up, which is swing and miss nasty. When he gets strike one - and in the season opener, he did to 22 of 25 batters - that opens things up.
With McCarthy, it's all about the health. Some things - like the freak accident that ended last season - are outside any logic, so it's his shoulder that concerns me, with an ongoing series of stress fractures, which are almost unique in baseball. It usually seems to break down in the first half of the season, so if we can get to the All-Star break with an intact McCarthy, I'll probably breathe a small sigh of relief at that point.
At the back of the rotation, Wade Miley already had his breakout season, being runner-up for Rookie of the Year. It's startling to realize that Trevor Cahill, who turned 25 just last month, has more major-league innings under than anyone else on the team, but he could end up being the best pitcher on the team. His sinker was working pretty well out of the gate, and the pitch Matt Holliday muscled out of Chase Field would have been an out to 95%+ of hitters.
BCB: What do you think of the Paul Goldschmidt extension? It seemed like a great move from here; was that how it was seen from within the Diamondbacks fan base as well? What would you consider a success from him this year?
JM: Goldschmidt will be good. He already is. The question of whether he can move from good to elite, really depends on how much he improves against right-handed pitchers (or at least, right-handed pitchers not named Tim Lincecum, against home Goldzilla's numbers are just insane: 6-for-17 with five HR). He murders southpaws with a career OPS over 200 points better than facing RHP, and I'd like to see him get that number up, even into the mid-.800s range. But he still has less than two hundred major-league games of experience, and has stuff left to learn. Pretty much everything I've read indicates he's a sponge for knowledge, so I'm optimistic he will learn, and improve as a result.
BCB: Judging from the preseason predictions, the NL West seems to be the most wide-open division in baseball this side of the AL East. How do you think the Diamondbacks stack up relative to the Giants and Dodgers? Do you see them as a contender on par with those two, or are they a notch or two behind?
JM: Obviously, we're the underdogs, but I don't think that's a position the team minds: I think the pressure of being reigning champions might have hurt them a bit last season. This year, we have to beat the reigning World Series champions, and the Yankees West. However, I suspect the Giants offense over-achieved last year, and will likely regress, though their pitching should still be it usual reliable self, anchored by Cain and Bumgarner. The Dodgers have spent a lot over the past year, but I'm not certain they spent wisely. There are a few contracts there which have the potential to go belly-up, and I'm not sure how the clubhouse will hold up, if they find themselves not in first at the end of May. Could get real ugly in there.
BCB: Finally, I know it was just three games, but it's all we have right now -- was there anything you found encouraging or discouraging to take away from the Cardinals series?
JM: It certainly demonstrated the volatility of baseball. The first game was almost a perfect blueprint for the 2013 "Diamondbacks way": patient at-bats, making pitchers work, stringing together hits rather than hoping for a three-run homer. The next night? We get three-hit, with our only run coming by the long ball. But what really encouraged me was the marathon finale, the longest game ever at Chase Field, where the offense showed a lot of spirit, coming back from behind no less than four times, including in extra innings. That kind of tenacity reminded me a lot more of the 2011 NL West team; last season, we only had two walk-off wins all year, so getting one in the opening series hopefully bodes well. We're now on pace for 54!
On the other hand: Heath Bell. Allowed a home-run on his first pitch as a Diamondbacks, charged with three runs while retiring one batter, and the next night, your manager would rather use a reliever for five innings than bring you into the game. In fact, we might have seen Prado pitch before Bell. Small sample size and all, but if he doesn't get fixed, Heath is going to be one hell of an expensive mop-up guy.
Many thanks to Jim for his time, and be sure to check out AZ Snake Pit for all your Diamondbacks-monitoring needs.