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Diamondbacks exit interview notebook: GM Mike Hazen to target bullpen help, right-handed bat this winter
For a 74-win team that finished 37 games out of the NL West and 13 games out of the playoffs, the Arizona Diamondbacks stirred more than their fair share of excitement in 2022.
After winning 52 games a year ago, the team forged a new identity. The Diamondbacks are young, fast, athletic and — somehow — a not-so-outrageous pick to flirt with playoff relevance as soon as next year.
During Thursday’s final media availability, general manager Mike Hazen acknowledged the significance of his team’s progression in 2022, but made it clear he is far from satisfied.
“In some ways, you need to walk before you can run,” Hazen said. “I feel like that happened this year to some degree.
“But on the flip side, finishing with 74 wins and not playing in October, I don’t look at it [as], you know, ‘Congratulations, we stunk less than last year’…I don’t have that mindset. I’m never going to have that mindset.
“The fact that we won 52 games, and that we’re looking at a 22-game improvement is like, you know, it’s not a marker that we’re looking at.”
Hazen has long argued that players must play in meaningful, competitive games to learn how to win. In that regard, the 2022 season provided ample opportunity. Particularly in the second half, the Diamondbacks were seemingly in every game they played.
That doesn’t mean those close games ended in their favor, however. The Diamondbacks led the National League in bullpen losses and went just 17-29 in one-run games. A quarter of their 88 losses were games where the Diamondbacks led or the scored was tied entering the ninth inning.
“We played in a lot of games where the outcome could have gone in a different way,” infielder Josh Rojas said. “I think we left a lot on the table.”
“In the past week, it happened three times,” manager Torey Lovullo added. “Everybody wants to throw it on the bullpen, which is an easy target. Certainly they were responsible for a lot of this. But other areas were responsible for a lot of it, too. It could have been a defensive miscue. It could have been a bad pitch or five bad pitches. It could have been grounding into a double play at a very critical point in time in the game.”
A 22-win improvement is nothing to sneeze at, but the overarching sentiment on Thursday was one of underachievement. Both Hazen and Lovullo cautioned that pinning the blame exclusively on the bullpen is short-sighted, but there is no question that aspect of the roster needs the most work.
For the second consecutive season, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen was the only one in baseball with negative fWAR. In 2022, that number was –0.7. It was the third consecutive season the Diamondbacks’ bullpen graded out as below replacement level.
This is the same team that had a pair of pitching prospects post sub-2.00 ERAs as starting pitchers against some of the best offenses in baseball. Hazen acknowledged the irony.
“We have aggregated this group of young arms that can throw seven innings at the major league level against the Los Angeles Dodgers on the road,” Hazen said. “And we’re looking for a guy that can throw one inning in the seventh.”
Trade market may be key in improving bullpen
Since Hazen’s regime began before the 2017 season, the Diamondbacks have only once traded for a reliever that had multiple years of control. That trade happened in the 2017-18 offseason, when the Diamondbacks acquired Brad Boxberger from the Rays.
The deal wasn’t particularly successful. Boxberger struggled in 2018 and was non-tendered at the end of the season. Nonetheless, Hazen said the trade market is an important avenue for improving the bullpen, one that he may not have used enough in the past.
“We probably need to do it every year,” he said.
Hazen also acknowledged that the Diamondbacks have had meaningful trade discussions for relievers in recent years, but he has been hesitant to pull the trigger. With the team inching closer to playoff relevance, he is more open to the idea of making a move.
“You can imagine what the trade prices are at times for those types of guys and feeling where we were as a team and what we’ve kept together now, a lot of the players that you are seeing on our major league team have been the guys that have been requested for those players.
“But yes, now that we’re building some of that talent at the upper levels moving on to our major league team, we are going to have to look at the trade market probably a little more aggressively.”
In terms of the type of relievers the Diamondbacks may target, Hazen said that strikeout rate and velocity will be points of emphasis. In 2022, the Diamondbacks bullpen ranked last in baseball with a 19.7 percent strikeout rate and 29th with an average fastball velocity of 92.6 MPH.
When asked about the team’s pattern of targeting veteran free agents for high-leverage roles, Hazen pointed out that the most successful bullpen of his Diamondbacks tenure had a 40-year-old closer in Fernando Rodney. He also felt that Archie Bradley, the most effective reliever on that 2017 team, benefitted from Rodney’s presence in the closer role.
Nothing is certain, but Hazen seems committed to the idea of using veterans in high-leverage roles and allowing younger arms to develop around that.
Other offseason targets
When asked what other needs his team had outside of the bullpen, Hazen was quick to point to starting pitching.
“I know you guys get tired of me saying it…but I think starting pitching is something that you never have enough of.”
With a plethora of young pitchers who could play a significant role in the starting rotation in 2023, the Diamondbacks’ need for starting pitching is not as urgent as it has been in recent years. However, particularly with Zach Davies opting out of his mutual option for 2023, another veteran arm would add some stability.
When asked if he would be comfortable having two of Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson and Tommy Henry in the starting rotation next year, Hazen said he had no concerns from a workload perspective.
“All of those guys hauled a full season, pretty aggressive innings load this year and they got to pitch for an extra month,” Hazen said. “From a physical player preparedness standpoint, we’re in probably better shape than we ever have been.”
Offensively, it is no secret that the Diamondbacks are excessively left-handed. Hazen said that finding ways to improve against left-handed pitching will be another point of emphasis.
“There’s a lot of left-handed starters in this division,” he said. “I see that continuing considering the guys that are in the division. And we need to be better in the area.”
In particular, Hazen alluded to a middle-of-the-order bat as an area of need, though he acknowledged it is unclear how that would come to fruition. Given the relative youth of the Diamondbacks’ position player core, Hazen also spoke to the value of adding a veteran to the group.
“Some of the games that we’ve had, where the tide could have been changed with a play being made, or an at-bat being had, I do think some level of experience could have helped in some of those areas.”
When asked about his satisfaction with the catching situation, Hazen said that “chasing a little more offense in that position…is something we might take a look at.”
On the flip-side, the Diamondbacks’ best years under Hazen came with defensive-minded catchers, and he is mindful of the value they have brought in the past.
Is Madison Bumgarner guaranteed a rotation spot in 2023?
With about two weeks left in the 2022 season, the Diamondbacks shut down veteran starter Madison Bumgarner. He probably would have only made two more starts, but the move was telling. The Diamondbacks chose to get a look at some of their younger starters. Looking ahead to next year, it is hard to argue that Bumgarner — who posted a 7.12 ERA over his last 10 starts — is a better option than any of them.
Nonetheless, the 33-year-old lefty is a four-time All-Star, and he is still only three years removed from throwing 200 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA. The Diamondbacks also owe him $37 million over the next two years and may feel the need to extract whatever value they can. It appears Bumgarner is not be guaranteed a spot in 2022, but does have an inside track.
“I do think incumbency matters going into spring training for sure,” Hazen said, “especially with the younger guys that we have.”
When asked if Bumgarner would open 2023 in the rotation, Lovullo was noncommittal.
“I want him to,” Lovullo said. “I want Bum to be one of our five coming out of spring training next year. But it’s competitive. It’s very competitive. Competitiveness eliminates complacency, and I want guys to come in ready to go.”
Will the Diamondbacks trade an outfielder?
It is no secret that the Diamondbacks have an abundance of outfielders. On the final day of the year, they had Stone Garrett, Pavin Smith, Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, Daulton Varsho and Jordan Luplow on the active roster. That list does not include Alek Thomas, who played the majority of the year in the majors before being sent down for the final 10 days.
Realistically, there is no way that the Diamondbacks can give seven outfielders consistent playing time in 2023, and they have more on the way in Dominic Canzone and Dominic Fletcher. Hazen, however, did not sound concerned.
“I don’t think a 74-win team should ever get into the trap of…solving a problem of having too much of anything that is good,” Hazen said. “That’s not a problem.”
Hazen’s response is not particularly surprising. No GM wants to back himself into a corner by saying a particular move has to be made. Still, Hazen said he would entertain, say, flipping a left-handed hitting outfielder for a right-handed slugger, should such an opportunity happen to present itself.
From a 40-man roster standpoint, the outfield logjam might be even more problematic. With both Fletcher and Canzone likely to be added to the 40-man for protection from this winter’s Rule-5 draft, the Diamondbacks may have too many outfielders to field adequate organizational depth at other positions. Hazen acknowledged the challenge that presents.
The Diamondbacks do not want to make a move just for the sake of clearing out a roster spot — moving an outfielder for prospects, for example, sounds like something of a non-starter — but, practically speaking, it would be surprising to see the same crop of outfielders return next year.
Still no word on Ketel Marte’s injury
On Sep. 30, the Diamondbacks placed infielder Ketel Marte on the 10-day injured list with an undisclosed injury, ending his 2022 season. The team still has not revealed the reason for that IL stint, and Lovullo once again did not have much info to share.
“Unfortunately, I cannot tell you exactly what his situation is,” Lovullo said. “Structurally, his body was fine, and I think he’s back home in the Dominican right now.”
After hitting .318/.377/.532 in 90 games last year, Marte took a significant step back in 2022. He batted just .240/.321/.407, including a .188/.263/.353 line in September. Defensively, Marte looked shaky all year, and the numbers back that up. He posted minus-6 defensive runs saved at second base.
After signing Marte to a five-year, $76 million extension before the season, it goes without saying that the Diamondbacks would like to see the 28-year-old bounce back next year.
Both third baseman Emmanuel Rivera (fractured left wrist) and left-handed pitcher Caleb Smith (left elbow discomfort) were still being evaluated as of Thursday, and the team has yet to share any updates on their status. Shortstop Nick Ahmed, meanwhile, is still rehabbing from early-season shoulder surgery. Lovullo expects Ahmed to have a normal buildup entering 2023.
Top photo: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
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