For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain.
It’s a year of evolution for the Diamondbacks, who threw all of the money and prospects they could into building a roster they hope can contend immediately this offseason.
This was propelled further towards reality when D'Backs emerged as the surprise victor in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes. As Arizona's main divisional rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants duked it out for the services of the 32-year old, the Snakes slithered in and snatched up the right-hander for an astronomical six-year, $206.5 million contract.
The “win now” mentality was cemented when general manager Dave Stewart pulled the trigger on a deal that included sending their top prospect, Dansby Swanson, to Atlanta for Shelby Miller. This move came on the heels of the Greinke signing and sent the message that it was up to Greinke to spearhead a rotation that was expected to be the catalyst in pulling them not only at eye level with the Dodgers and Giants, but beyond.
While he received an absurd amount of money, it’s the going rate for a legitimate ace in the Majors nowadays. And in 2015, Greinke was just that... and more. A finalist for the NL Cy Young award, Greinke enjoyed arguably his best season as a pro. His ERA finished at a microscopic 1.66, he walked guys at a lower rate than ever and kept his strikeout rate right at his career average. Essentially, he found a way to get more dominant, even as he got older himself.
The bad news for Arizona is that the odds Greinke repeats his 2015 are very slim. After all, Greinke’s BABIP was just .229 which is a career low by 38 points. It was also just the third time in his career he’s posted a BABIP under .300. In short- he got pretty lucky to be as good as he was last season.
The good news for Arizona is that even if that luck factor eludes Greinke, he is still an outstanding pitcher and certainly better than anything Arizona rolled out a season ago. After all, this is a guy that hasn’t posted an ERA over 3.50 since 2012, has not failed to reach double digits in wins in the last eight years, remains a premier athlete on the mound and seems to only be getting better as he ages.
The Diamondbacks are essentially banking on the fact that Greinke will continue the trend of his numbers dropping as his age increases. Conventional thinking says the Dave Stewart and co. are crazy for that, but the numbers back up their investment. Since turning 29, Greinke hasn’t posted an ERA over 3.00 due in large part to his ground ball rates being up. The last two seasons his GB% has been over five points higher than his career average, with his 48 percent ground ball rate good for a top 30 finish in 2015.
There’s no reason to believe that Greinke won’t continue being a top five pitcher in the National League over the next few seasons. He does everything well from controlling his entire arsenal of pitches, to missing the fat part of the bat, to keeping the ball on the ground. These are all things that shouldn’t have a problem sticking around as Greinke creeps into his mid to late 30s.
The Greinke signing checks all the boxes of what making a headline, major free agent acquisition should be. It changes the prospects of a team immediately, providing a headline ace for a team that previously had nothing close to one. It carries a major price tag that shows the commitment to competing to both current players and the league alike, serving notice of their intention to change tides, similar to what the Chicago Cubs did in acquiring Jon Lester a year ago. Finally, it creates a competitive balance with their biggest in-division foes, while also stealing a key component from the reigning divisional champions. Age and potential regression aside, this was a brilliant and noteworthy move by a team bent on getting into the thick of the National League competitive picture.
With Greinke at the top of the rotation and likely in the Cy Young conversation all year, the Diamondbacks should feel pretty good about their position heading into the season. Their offense, led by Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, scored the eighth-most runs in the league a season ago. Somewhat surprisingly, they were one of the best defensive teams in all of baseball, too.
With nearly their entire team returning from a year ago and the additions of Greinke and Shelby Miller, the Diamondbacks may sneak up on some people. While it’s tough to see a team that won 74 games last year contending for a division title this year, contention for a playoff spot is very much in play. A playoff spot may not be the ultimate goal, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for a team looking to evolve.
Experiment 626. Coffee drinker and cat enthusiast. Pro-avocado. Anti-sac bunt. Habitual bat flipper. Alex Smith apologist. Yoenis Cespedes fanboy.