At MLB winter meetings, Hazen doesn't move the needle

PHOENIX – Arizona Diamondbacks’ general manager Mike Hazen told reporters Thursday afternoon what most of the baseball world already realized.

The winter meetings, once a beehive of activity and anticipation, are now reduced to an exercise in ineffectiveness. As with several aspects of life, the current pandemic helped to put another spin on the worthiness and function of these meetings. The fact the Diamondbacks were pretty much inactive during the recently concluded week could very well mean general managers would rather find other useful endeavors.

“If I manage not to do this in the future, I’m okay,” Hazen admitted to “virtual” winter meetings during a Zoom call with reporters Thursday. “Yes, I do miss getting together with those with whom I’ve worked before and current personnel. But, no, nothing really happened this week. It was not a significant week.”

By normal standards, not much actually happens. A few years ago, the New York Yankees brought in Giancarlo Stanton and announced his big contract and the Chicago Cubs danced Ben Zobrist around the media workroom for a meet-and-greet.

This time, the Diamondbacks had nothing to announce. As his modus operandi, Hazen would not comment on players potentially on his radar screen nor any Arizona intention. When the Cincinnati Reds non-tendered closer Archie Bradley, thus making him a free agent, all Hazen would say was, “I love Archie and am grateful for what he did for our team. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment if we have any interest.”

In reference to needs, Hazen cited the dreadful 2-18 streak last season in which sunk the Diamondbacks. In that stretch, he pointed out, one significant factor behind the demise was a lack of timely hitting. “We did not swing the bats very well.” That said, Hazen indicated he would seek more offensive power and to bolster the pitching staff.

When Hazen selected two pitchers during the Rule 5 selection Thursday morning, he addressed the pitching requirement. Here, Zack Pop, a right-hander from the Baltimore Orioles, was taken on the first round at number six and righty Tyler Gilbert, also at number six, was selected in the Triple AAA phase from the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Immediately, Hazen traded Pop to Miami for future considerations.

“In Gilbert, this is a guy we like,” Hazen said. “During this phase of the draft, we’re just looking for a player our scouts like.”

With just over two months until spring training commences, Hazen reminded reporters that significant transactions tend to happen in late January. That’s when the Diamondbacks acquired centerfielder Starling Marte from the Pirates nearly a year ago, and Hazen expects activity to accelerate. Still to be determined is the full identity of the Arizona rotation, the structure of middle relievers and placement of a closer. All of which are critical, though Hazen will take his time and employ measured steps.

“The majority of our focus will be pitching,” he said. “We are still mindful of improving the offense.”

Also in the mix is transitioning back to a 162-game season. Because the pandemic cut the 2020 campaign at 60 games, commissioner Rob Manfred expects all teams to be up and running for a full season in 2021. That would include spring training from the time pitchers and catchers report in mid-February to the conclusion of spring games in late March, and the traditional, 162-game march to a championship.

For now, Hazen, who likes to operate quietly and under the radar screen, will start working the phones in earnest. As spring training approaches, the needs for his baseball team are glaring. Hazen usually eschews the free agent market, and that means improvement will have to come from within. Over the past few years, Hazen structured a respectable farm system and player development apparatus. Now, his ability to judge character and evaluate talent will be put to the test.