The D-Backs Masterfully Remade Their Starting Rotation

In August 2018, the Arizona Diamondbacks had one of the best starting rotations in Major League Baseball in Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, Zack Godley, and Clay Buchholz. That aspect of their roster was an integral reason why the D-Backs were in first place in the National League West.

Unfortunately for the Arizona faithful, the D-Backs collapsed in September, missing the playoffs. Fast forward to January 2020, and 60 percent of their rotation is gone, there are rumors about Ray being traded, and Godley has struggled over the last two seasons. Yet, the D-Backs found a way to make their team outlook brighter than ever in that span.

After the 2018 season, the D-Backs lost Corbin to the Washington Nationals and outfielder A.J. Pollock to the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency. However, the Nationals and Dodgers each surrendered a compensation pick in the 2019 MLB Draft to the D-Backs, as Corbin and Pollock rejected their qualifying offers.

In that same offseason, the D-Backs made a blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, sending franchise royalty Paul Goldschmidt to the NL Central. In return, they received catcher Carson Kelly, right-hander Luke Weaver, minor-league infielder Andy Young, and a 2019 competitive balance Round B draft pick.

At last season’s MLB trade deadline, the D-Backs, who were hovering around .500, executed a massive trade with the Houston Astros, which sent Greinke, who’s due $64 million over the next two seasons, to the American League West. In return, they received three of the Astros’ top-five prospects (Seth Beer, J.B. Bukauskas, and Corbin Martin) and Josh Rojas (who was ranked 22nd in the team’s farm system by MLB Pipeline).

The D-Backs also acquired right-hander Zac Gallen from the Miami Marlins for shortstop Jazz Chisholm, as well as now 32-year-old right-hander Mike Leake from the Seattle Mariners for infielder Jose Caballero.

Their approach was trying to rebuild and compete at the same time, which is a bit of an unorthodox approach. However, Arizona made a late push for an NL Wild Card seeding. Although their late-season push came up short, their 85-77 finish was impressive considering where expectations were in spring training and them trading their ace, Greinke, at the trade deadline.

This offseason the D-Backs agreed to a five-year, $85 million deal with left-hander Madison Bumgarner. The three-time World Series champion is likely manager Torey Lovullo‘s opening day starting pitcher. While he’s not the dominant force he once was, Bumgarner still totals strikeouts at a high rate, pitches deep into games, and grinds through at-bats.

So, what have the players the D-Backs received in their trades done with the big-league club?

Kelly ended up catching 111 games in 2019 and was one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Posting an .826 OPS while totaling 18 home runs, Kelly was a pleasant surprise in his first full season in the big leagues. He also became familiar with the team’s talented young pitching staff, which also made a difference.

Weaver posted a 2.94 ERA across 12 starts; Gallen posted a 2.89 ERA across his eight starts with the D-Backs; Alex Young posted a 3.56 ERA across 17 appearances, 15 of which were starts; Merrill Kelly, a bit of a late bloomer at 31, and highly regarded pitching prospect Taylor Clarke made a combined 47 starts.

General manager Mike Hazen took advantage of teams wanting to contend. He turned veteran players into a handful of compelling young pitchers, and now the D-Backs have one of the best young rotations in baseball; they can only get better from here. Plus, they have a new ace (Bumgarner) at roughly half the average annual salary of their preceding one (Greinke).

It’s not just their rotation that spews optimism into the D-Backs’ future; their lineup is lethal, and one of their driving forces came from a midseason trade. Before the 2018 MLB trade deadline, the D-Backs acquired infielder Eduardo Escobar from the Minnesota Twins, who were in the midst of a discouraging season, for three Class A ballplayers (Jhoan Duran, Ernie De La Trinidad, and Gabriel Maciel).

In his first full season playing in Chase Field, Escobar posted an .831 OPS while totaling 35 home runs and 118 RBIs and becoming one of the best third basemen in MLB. Imagine if the Twins, who won 101 games last season, had Escobar in their exuberant lineup?

Kelly and Escobar are part of a lineup that includes versatile superstar Ketel Marte, Christian Walker, David Peralta, and Nick Ahmed. Pretty sweet, right?

Hazen and friends turned a stagnant roster devoid of minor-league depth into a well-rounded ballclub with veterans and budding arms while replenishing the team’s farm system — which has been a dire need since the infamous Shelby Miller trade.

As their young pitchers grow up, they have proven commodities like Bumgarner and Ray (for now, at least) to lean on for guidance. Plus, the veteran left-handers are arguably still in their prime. Imagine what this rotation will look like if Ray rekindles his old ways (Ray totaled 436 strikeouts from 2016-17 and had a case for being an NL Cy Young Award finalist in 2017) and the young arms take the next step?

You could argue the D-Backs are one of the favorites to claim an NL Wild Card seeding next season.

They have an electric lineup, a healthy balance of proven and budding pitchers, and a bullpen of proven commodities such as Andrew Chafin, Archie Bradley, and Yoan Lopez. Few teams have that precise trio.

Crafty maneuvering has the D-Backs in prime position to build on their late-season success.

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