Arizona Diamondbacks Preview

The Arizona Diamondbacks led the NL West for much of the first part of 2013, but faded badly down the stretch and their only impact on the division race in September was to raise a fuss over the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrating in the pool when the Dodgers clinched the NL West in Phoenix. Is there any hope for the D-Backs to reclaim the status they held in 2011 when they won the division and were seen as a rising force in the National League? Here’s the Notebook Nine, our nine focal points for a new season…

*The state of Arizona might be able to have outsized influence on betting in Las Vegas due to its proximity, but there’s no evidence any money is coming in on the Diamondbacks. The Over/Under number on the win total is 81. The 35-1 odds to win the National League pennant are the same as the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres. And the odds to win the World Series are a long 60-1.

*If the reason for the relative pessimism is the condition of the starting pitching, I can’t say that’s wrong. Patrick Corbin was one of the bright stars in baseball, and it’s looking like the past tense might be appropriate. Corbin is facing a decision on whether to have Tommy John surgery, a circumstance that would end his season. Corbin won 14 games and his 3.41 ERA is pretty good, considering this is a hitters’ park. This adds to the problems of a rotation that already lost Daniel Hudson last year and won’t get him back until July, and where Brandon McCarthy is always good for significant time on the DL.

*With so many injury problems, the acquisition of Bronson Arroyo is a good thing. Arroyo might be 37-years-old, but he’s made at least 30 starts every year since 2005, and he made 29 in 2004. The performance can range from an ERA in the mid-3s to the 5s, so you don’t always know what you’ll get when he’s out there. But at least he’s out there. Younger arms in Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill are already reliable and each have an upside. It’s enough starting pitching to at least compete, if not excel.

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*Any offense that has success in Arizona is going to be built around power, and that starts with Paul Goldschmidt. The first basemen has gotten better each of his three years in the majors and last year he hit 36 home runs, drove in 125 runs and finished with a .401 on-base percentage to boot. Goldschmidt was a legitimate MVP candidate and will be so again. Mark Trumbo has been acquired from the Angels, and while his game is not as complete as Goldschmidt’s, Trumbo can hit the long ball—95 home runs the last three years.

*The decision to trade Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves prior to last season isn’t looking too good right now. Rightfield is a huge question mark (presuming Trumbo plays left and Gerardo Parra is in center) and it’s tough to build an offense around power when one of your corner spots is such an obvious weak point.

*Martin Prado was the prime piece that came back from Atlanta in the Upton deal. No one expects him to hit for power, but he’s been only marginally productive at getting on base. Prado is a nice player to have, versatile, good defensively and adequate at the plate. But he hasn’t been any more than adequate since his peak years of 2008-10, and is now 30 years old. Asking him to produce a lot as the everyday third baseman seems wishful thinking.

*Aaron Hill has enjoyed his time in the desert and has big years in both 2012 and 2013. He’ll have to produce again, because shortstop is an open competition between unproven players and Miguel Montero has established that he’s never going to hit at catcher.

*Addison Reed has been acquired from the Chicago White Sox to be the closer. Reed is young and has closed 69/81 chances in two seasons. The ERAs have been a little high, but Reed got it down to 3.79 last year and his youth suggest he can keep improving. I like the addition. Manager Kirk Gibson can also turn to veteran J.J. Putz, who’s had several good years as the setup man, along with Brad Ziegler and Will Harris, who are at least competent.

*What’s most intriguing about Arizona’s staff is the versatility offered by Josh Collmenter and Randall Delgado. Each can go into the rotation. Collmenter is reliable no matter what role he’s in, and Delgado is at least competent. With the condition of the rotation, you wonder if Gibson decides to give either or both a crack at starting, and if that can’t turn the season around.

I’m not incredibly optimistic about Arizona—I picked them to win the NL West last year and am still a little disgusted by the way they came apart in the second half. But I do think there’s enough here to win more than they lose, and that’s all it takes to go Over 81.