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Playing Pepper 2012: Arizona Diamondbacks

Posted on February 20, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Arizona Diamondbacks | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Arizona Diamondbacks
94-68, first in the NL West
Lost in five games to Milwaukee in the NLDS

You could say that Kirk Gibson's first year at the helm of a club was pretty eventful.

Taking over a team that had finished last in the National League West in 2010, not a lot was expected of this first-time manager.  Not only did he lead his team from worst to first, he also probably was on the minds of the White Sox and the Cardinals when they hired former players with no big league experience this offseason.

What can he do for an encore?  Will he be able to keep his team at the top or was last year a fluke brought about by a weakened division?  Let's find out what a couple of experts think.

Scott Allen was, until recently, the lead blogger at Venom Strikes and is a long-time veteran of the Playing Pepper series.  Scott has now "retired" from baseball writing, but you can find him covering the other kind of Cardinals at Raising Zona and you can find him on twitter at azsportsguy.

Cat covers the Diamondbacks for the Aerys Sports blogging network (home of Aaron Miles' Fastball) at her blog entitled Snakes On The Grass.  Cat's also a Twitterer and you can find here at MLBfangirl.  And, as you'll see, she has a lot to say about the Diamondbacks!

After the jump, find out what their expectations of this season are and what they thought of the D-Backs' offseason.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?

RZ: Quiet but effective. They had no subtractions and only added. Adding Takashi Saito and Jason Kubel were good moves, although the jury is still out on Kubel replacing Parra in the outfield as a starter. Removing a .292 hitting Gold Glover from the starting lineup over a slower guy raises questions.

SOTG: I don't have a short answer to this question. Beware. 

Starting rotation: I liked a lot of what was done, in not offering Joe Saunders arbitration, they were able to wait it out in free agency and get a bit of a hometown discount. So, instead of paying him a raise after one of his best seasons ever, they're paying him more in line with his career value. That was pretty slick. The trade for Trevor Cahill was also a good move for a team in "win now" mode. He's got a few full seasons under his belt (and is still the youngest on the Arizona pitching staff) and the prospects that were dealt also made sense. Cahill is young and affordable, so he wasn't going to come cheap. They traded away some good arms (Jarrod Parker is very likely going to be a beast very soon) who need another year or so for a good arm who is MLB tried and tested and also traded away an outfielder. The outfield is crowded enough in Arizona this year (more on that later) and the Dbacks farm system has pitchers coming out the ying-yang, so they were dealing from a position of strength. Now the Dbacks just need to hope that Cahill can continue to keep turning more than 50% of the batters he faces into ground balls - Chase Field is a bit of a launching pad, which makes me slightly nervous at times. 

Bullpen: Also thrown in with Trevor Cahill was Craig Breslow. The Dbacks were a little short on LHP in the 'pen, so this deal made sense from that respect. Also, signing Takashi Saito to a short and cheap deal has the potential to be low risk and high reward. However, all of the fingers are crossed in Arizona that he and JJ Putz can stay healthy. Bullpens are so volatile and unpredictable that anything can happen (and it usually does), but I can't find too much to complain about here. 

Infield position players: So, with Stephen Drew still a question mark fo the beginning of the season, Kevin Towers turned around and re-signed the duo of utility players that acted as his replacement. While they both signed for one year longer and slightly more dollars than I would have expected, Willie Bloomquist is a Scott Boras client and John McDonald is exactly the workhorse player that I imagine Kirk Gibson loves. And, short of going out an bidding huge on Jose Reyes, it wasn't like there was a huge number of options for the left side of the infield floating around. And, hey, they got the job done last year, so I can't complain. In terms of the crowding at the corners, there seems to be one too many people crowding around first and third base, with Geoff Blum having one year left on his contract and the re-signing of Lyle Overbay with Paul Goldschmidt waitng for his turn. Also, it gives the team a 26-man roster. That's probably going to be the most interesting story to come out of spring training. 

Outfield: ... *blink* ... Seriously. The outfield moves this off-season were a little WTF. In possibly the biggest head scratcher of the entire off season, the Diamondbacks went out and signed Jason Kubel to a 2-year, highly pricey deal. In doing so, they replaced their very young, cheap and gold-glove caliber right fielder with an older, slower, equally as productive and much more expensive option. Maybe he was someone that Kevin Towers had been coveting a while, but this is the one move that I just didn't get. Je ne comprende pas, monseiur. I wrote about this on my blog earlier in the off season and actually had a fellow blogger at Aerys Sports illustrate the situation for me. And, I still can't make sense of it and when I try, I am reduced to confused hand gestures. 

Catchers: Although they avoided arbitration this year, I really hope that the team and Miguel Montero can work out some sort of extension. And, I'm happy to have Blanco back again, though I wouldn't have hated to see Ramon Castro in sedona red.

C70: Who is going to step up and make sure the offense is more than only Justin Upton?

RZ: I think the D-backs are counting on Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt has quite the power and if he can hit above .275 for the season and hit at least 25 HR's, I think the D-backs will be happy.

SOTG: I have three answers to this question. Which sounds sort of like cheating (and, maybe it is!), but hear me out. 

A. If I try to see this through the eyes of Kevin Towers, the GM of the Diamondbacks, my answer is Jason Kubel. They've spent a lot of money to downgrade their defense with what they hope will be an improved offense. If it works, he could definitely help the offense, but I am not sure how this experiment is going to go. My feelings on this are mixed, at best. (If you really want to know what I think, you can read more here: The Stove Is Hot...ish. Or: Why I'm Scared of Jason Kubel

B. If I try to put on my fantasy baseball forecaster's hat, my answer is Miguel Montero. Every year, his OPS+ increases from the previous year and he provided great protection for Justin Upton in 2011. It was satisfying to see him drive a ball over the fence immediately after watching Justin Upton get drilled by a pitch. Or, maybe it just seemed like that happened so often it should be a statistic I can look up on baseball reference or Fangraphs. I feel like he falls out of the spotlight occupied by Upton and Young a little bit, but the dude is good. Really good. And, like I said, I REALLY want to see him work out an extension. 

C. And, if I'm answering this from a fan perspective, the person I *want* to see step up to the plate (as it were) is Aaron Hill. He was a former All-Star who was never quite the same after winning "Comeback Player of the Year" in 2009 - until he moved to Arizona. His OPS+ more than doubled and his quadruple slash line went from this: .225/.270/.313/.584 to this: .315/.386/.492/.878. Now, the Dbacks weren't obviously dazzled enough by his performance in the small sample size olympics to pick up his pricey option, but they did re-sign him for 2 more years, hoping that he really did remember how to play baseball after moving to the desert. He can be electric, he seems like a nice guy, and no one looked more defeated when they stepped up to the plate last season (other than Adam Dunn) than he did when he was struggling in Toronto, so I - for one - am hoping that he turns out to be the key to the offense this year in Arizona.

C70: Where would you rank this rotation among others in the National League?

RZ: Top 3. ESPN thinks they might be the best. We'll see. I want to see if Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson can come close to their production. The D-backs went back to Joe Saunders after failing to pick up an outside free agent. Josh Collmenter could have sophomore-itis. 

SOTG: I'm going with third or fourth. I've got to give the top spot to the Phillies this year, but I don't think they're as far ahead of the rest of the pack as they were in 2011. Sadly (for the Dbacks fans), I think the Giants probably have a hold on number 2, particularly if the 2011 version of Ryan Vogelsong shows up again in 2012. In my opinon, third and fourth are going to be a battle. Just because I can't be completely impartial, I'm going to go with a tie between the Dbacks and the Nationals in the battle for third and fourth best in the NL. It's hard to argue that the Nationals didn't do that right during this offseason.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

RZ: Trevor Bauer. Maybe not in the first half of the season, but look for him mid-season. The pitcher will most likely be given a shot to make the team in spring, but probably lands in Reno until June or July. He won't be there long. They'll bring him up in the bullpen, but this guy will be a bona-fide MLB starter for years. 

SOTG: There are some very exciting prospects (particularly pitching) in the Dbacks' system. But, for my money, if someone from the starting rotation gets injured or has a period of prolonged struggle living up to last year's success (I'm looking at you, Josh Collmenter!), Tyler Skaggs is going to burst onto the scene in Phoenix faster than you can say "top prospect". I have a feeling he's not going to make the team out of spring training (the re-signing of Joe Saunders all but cemented that), but he's definitely next in line to the throne, if the situation presents itself.

C70: Where will this team finish in their division and what are you most excited for in 2012?

RZ: I still think they have the best personnel. Colorado and San Diego made some off-season noise and San Francisco will always be in the thick of things, but I see the D-backs repeating as NL West Champions. I have to say that given they have the same lineup that took them to the playoffs last season. I am most excited about the buzz about this team. It is nice to hear the D-backs at the beginning of sports fans conversation in this city rather than the butt of the jokes. I look fwd to bigger crowds and can not wait to get a full season of Paul Goldschmidt! 

SOTG: After last year's worst-to-first transformation and the fact that the team only improved in the off-season, I think the Dbacks are widely expected to win the division (except for those who feel like 2/3 of the team won't be able to live up to their 2011 season), and I can't disagree. I see the Diamondbacks and Giants finishing 1-2 in the NL West, but if the Giants manage to figure out their offensive struggles, they're going to put up a heck of a fight and things could get very interesting very quickly. 

I personally am excited about baseball starting up again in general. Right now, it is hard to be excited about anything else. But, if I force myself to look beyond that, here's a list of 5 things I'm excited about for the upcoming season: 

1) With the addition of Carlos Quentin to the NL, I'm excited that Justin Upton will possibly not lead the NL in the most number of times being hit by a pitch. 

2) Watching the Dbacks pitching staff out-hit every other pitching staff in the NL (#hashtag you should know: #PitchersWhoRake) 

3) Watching Gerardo Parra throw out unsuspecting baserunners with his canon of a left arm. 

4) I'm so ready to start back into the madness of being a Dbacks fan on twitter. From the hashtags (#BeatSF, #WinTheWest and many more!), the Dbacks announcers (@dbacksbooth), team (@dbacks) and CEO (@DHallDBacks) being super active in social networking, and the enthusiastic fanbase, baseball is definitely more fun with twitter. 

5) And, if the boys can repeat and win the division this year, I'm looking forward to watching everyone celebrate by jumping into the pool.

My sincere appreciation to Scott and Cat for taking the time to talk about the Arizona club.  There should be a lot of reasons to watch this team both in 2012 and the years to come!

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