Significant obstacles face 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks

PHOENIX – With spring training about one and one-half months away, the time for roster tweaks of the Arizona Diamondbacks is here. “Tweak” is the optimum word here because Mike Hazen, the team’s general manager, is not of the mind-set of blockbuster trades or high-profile free-agent signings.

Since taking over as GM just after the 2016 season, Hazen has pulled the trigger on only three significant trades. The first was to acquire outfielder J. D. Martinez just after the 2017 All-Star game and his monster second half help propel the Diamondbacks into the post-season. Then at the 2019 trade deadline, Hazen dealt right-hander Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros for a significant number of prospects, including infielders Seth Beer and Josh Rojas, and pitchers Corbin Martin and J. B. Bukauskas. He also acquired Ketel Marte from Seattle on Nov. 23, 2016, in a high-profile, five-player deal. Given his baseball personality, Hazen eschews going after those the organization cannot control and tends to gravitate toward players who have not reached restricted or unrestrictive free agency.

In this regard, the remaining 2021 market remains relatively bare and Hazen, along with field Manager Torey Lovullo, must consider improving the club’s National League West Division last-place finish from within the organization. That might be easier said than done and in light of both Hazen’s and Lovullo's recent remarks.

“We were encouraged by the development of younger players,” Lovullo said after the recent December winter meetings. “Our hope lays with the younger players and I’m excited about that.”

During the upcoming spring training, several may receive a considerate look. Rojas, for one, could work his way into the everyday line at second base. That is, if Lovullo and Hazen decide Ketel Marte will be the Diamondbacks' everyday centerfielder. If Marte starts the season at second, where he was named to the National League All-Star team in 2019, then Daulton Varsho, who several believe could be the NL 2021 rookie-of-the-year, may get reps in center. A catcher by trade, Varsho has unusually good speed for a catcher, and played bits in center and left during the COVID-shorten 2020 season.

As the team enters spring training, perhaps the biggest concern is a lagging offense. The Diamondbacks suffered through a 2-18 stretch at one-point last season and the lack of run production was identified as a principal culprit.

Here in the off-season, Lovullo encouraged his position players not to pick up a bat for a considerable period of time, but to engage with his staff. Hitting coach Darnell Coles organized a series of conversations with position players and here, Lovullo stressed the need for a mental approach. For 2021, Lovullo is seeking comeback years from Eduardo Escobar, Christian Walker, David Peralta and Kole Calhoun, core players who constitute the majority of the offensive production.

A significant issue is constructing a revamped pitching staff. For starters, the Diamondbacks seeks a strong comeback from lefty Madison Bumgarner and a rebound from the worst season in his brilliant major league career. Also on the radar screen is righty Luke Weaver, who turned to a dreadful 1–9-mark, 6.58 ERA (in 12 starts) and righty Merrill Kelly (3-2, 2.59 ERA, five starts), whose season was cut short after the 32-year-old underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, or compression of the nerves in the passageway from the lower neck to the arm pit. The prognosis for Kelly is good and the Diamondbacks picked up his 2021 option. Kelly is expected to join his teammates at Salt River for training camp next month.

If several starters in the rotation remain in question, middle relievers and a closer must be identified. Here, Hazen is likely to wait another month and survey the landscape. As the Diamondbacks near the commencement of spring training, Hazen hopes to get a better handle on availability and a price each may command.

For now, the Diamondbacks GM continues to work the phone and improve skill levels of those who remain on the 40-man roster.