Whatever the final roster composition, that work may be from finished.
While Arizona Diamondbacks’ general manager Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo, the field manager, begin the process of formulating their roster, one of the key variables of any successful club is strength of the bench. With pitchers and catchers slated to report to the Salt River training facility in a manner of days, club officials have plenty on their plate.
Starting with questions about the starting rotation, relievers, uncertainty behind the plate, and uncertainty among players now in new positions, the task of fielding eight, everyday position players and a productive pitching staff seem formidable.
An overlooked dimension of getting a club ready for its championship season is adequate replacements. Industry officials like to say that teams win with 35 to 40 players but start the season with the mandated 25 players. Through injuries, poor performance, a hot minor league performance promotion, and demotion from others, teams tend traverse beyond the original 25 quickly.
For the Diamondbacks, bench strength was critical in recent winning seasons.
In capturing the National League West title in 2011, then manager Kirk Gibson relied on Ryan Roberts as sparkplug and catalyst off the bench. Adorned with over 30 tattoos, “Tat Man,” who was beloved by the fans, provided production, emotion and clubhouse leadership needed to leapfrog past division opponents.
Roberts’ most noted contribution came late in the season. He capped a six-run, 10th inning with a walk-off, grand slam to beat the Dodgers in Chase Field. In the process, Roberts became only the four player in the history of the game to hit a slam in an extra-inning game with his team trailing by three runs. The others included Babe Ruth in 1925, Roger Freed in 1979 and Jason Giambi in 2002.
In the championship season of 2011, Roberts contributed with a .249 batting average and also drilled a two-out, first inning grand slam against the Milwaukee Brewers in game four of the NL Division Series. That kept the Diamondbacks alive and helped force a fifth and deciding game in that series.
If Roberts proved valuable off the bench in the early years of the current decade, then Daniel Descalso, as well, showed the importance of bench strength. Two years ago during the Diamondbacks post-season run, Descalso, who signed a two-year at the start of the 2017 season, provided the versatility needed. Participating in a total of 130 games, the native of Danville, Calif. appeared in 45 games at second base, 36 in left field, 19 at first base, 15 at third base, two as a pitcher and one game at shortstop.
In the process, he posted career highs in home runs (10) and RBIs (51), including a .271 batting average in Chase Field. During the three games with the Dodgers in the 2017 NL Division series, Descalso hit .333 with one home run.
Now, Hazen and Lovullo may appear to have some time to replace Descalso, who signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. That six-week time window, between now and the start of the season, may be fleeting. At the same time, Lovullo’s attention may be diverted as he is occupied with a myriad of challenges. Add constructing a viable and valuable bench to his important “to do” list.