SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Maybe this was an affirmation of what the future may hold. Perhaps this was a reward for the past and a glimpse into a crystal ball.
Whatever the motivation, this was likely a charge to complete some unfinished business. When management of the Arizona Diamondbacks rewarded field manager Torey Lovullo with a two-year contract extension earlier this week, a green flag seems to appear and indicate, “proceed on course.”
The implication here is that Lovullo, piloting the Diamondbacks to consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the 2002-2003 seasons in his first two years as manager, is on track for greater accomplishments. In his initial season in the desert, Lovullo took Arizona to the 2017 postseason, gained the NL Wild-Card win over the Colorado Rockies and proceeded to land in the National League Divisional Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His reward was being named NL manager-of-the year.
Despite keeping his team in the thick of the National League West Division chase until the final weeks in 2018, the players’ inability to execute at critical times proved an important catalyst for a September collapse.
Here at the advent of spring training, Lovullo, now at the helm for the next three seasons, will face challenges he did not encounter in his previous two years. For the 2017 season, several players had career seasons which help propel Arizona into the postseason. Just two years removed from this significant triumph, Lovullo must employ critical personal skills cultivated over a career essentially harnessed in player development.
Of the important variables Lovullo brought to the table when hired in October, 2016 was his ability as a communicator and compassion for players and their families. During the press conference in which Lovullo was introduced as the eighth manager in the 21-year history of the franchise, he made an assertion which continues to resonate throughout the clubhouse.
“What matters to the players,” he said at the time, “matters to me.”
In the course of two seasons in the desert, Lovullo has commanded the respect of his players and earned the designation as “a players’ manager.” After the Diamondbacks were eliminated by the Dodgers in a three-game sweep during the 2017 NL Division Series, pitcher Archie Bradley told reporters, “I don’t want to play for any other manager than (Lovullo).”
Moving forward, Lovullo’s ability to communicate with his players remains in place but now, he must try and gain more out of each player than now perceived. To that end, Lovullo must find a way to produce more and asked to resolve an age-old dilemma of “getting blood from a stone.”
The core of 2017 post-season team moved on and Lovullo needs to find ways to motivate Jake Lamb and Ketel Marte to produce at new positions. Lamb is moving to first base to replace Paul Goldschmidt, who was traded to St. Louis. Marte is slated to replace A. J. Pollock in centerfield. That’s after Pollock, as a free agent, signed with the Dodgers.
Plus, Lovullo needs to motivate production off the bench. For his two seasons in Sedona Red under Lovullo, utility player Daniel Descalso supplied not only production on the diamond but leadership in the clubhouse. Now, his presence must be replaced, but Lovullo’s immediate challenge is to a construct a pitching staff of productive starters and reliable relievers.
All of which will clearly test Lovullo’s mettle, acumen, and creativity.