The last week and a half has been as exciting as any D-backs fan can recall as far as ten day stretches go. Zack Greinke is a Diamondback? Holy moly! The trade of Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson for Shelby Miller? Wow! Those kinds of moves just haven’t happened in Arizona and now that they’re here, there’s no shortage of buzz about the organization. They went from .500-ish to 85-88-win territory and now look primed to make their run. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are scrambling a little and the Giants just inked Johnny Cueto, so, yeah, life is good in the desert right now.
And while Ryan and I wrote last week that the Zack Greinke signing was a good one and the Shelby Miller trade was what the doctor ordered, those things just happen to fit the path that the Diamondbacks are on right now. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question that very path. If you’ve ever expected anything from this website, it’s a critical opinion. I think I have one and it has to do with the models for building a team.
So let’s think about what kind of team we want the Diamondbacks to be in an alternate universe where we get to decide all of the rules. If you’ve ever, for some dark reason, wondered what I dream about, it’s this. There are the organizations that can buy their teams and Arizona isn’t one of them, so spending large on the FA market is obviously out. The organization could become similar to Miami and just look to make as much money as possible without putting a quality product on the field while the owner reaps the benefits. That is an option, technically, but not an option any of us would ever advocate for, so let’s ditch that strategy, too.
That really leaves a couple of options. You can flounder, re-tool, then take your shots as they come (which the team is doing now) but you also have to be willing to sit through the doldrums and lose fan interest in the process, then try to buy that back when you take your chance. As we’re seeing now, that can work, but it kind of requires a Paul Goldschmidt/A.J. Pollock/Patrick Corbin nucleus to make it happen and that’s not easy to replicate. The Diamondbacks have that and it’s been part luck and part development in creating said nucleus. I’ve often wondered if they’ve ended up in this position by chance or by skill, and I think I’ve settled on about a 70/30 split of chance. Believe it or not, it does matter how you get here.
The final track, and the one I admittedly prefer, is to draft, develop and build from within to create a competitive team year in and year out, one that routinely finishes in the 82-85-win range on paper. That team might only finish .500 at times, but they’ll finish with 88 wins on occasion, too. Sometimes things break your way or you need only a little help to get over the hump – that’s part of the deal. You don’t have to buy $200 million players or trade multiple first round draft picks to create the opportunity, however. Instead, you continue to draft and trade well, augmenting those things with some signings to shore up weaknesses. This works – look at the core of the Royals, the Astros, the Cardinals or the Pirates. Routinely competitive teams can be afforded in Arizona this way and we don’t have to suffer through selling Bronson Arroyo‘s deal, eating Aaron Hill‘s money or giving up a package of three very good young players for one non-elite pitcher to do it.
If this were easy, more teams would do it. This strategy is hard to execute, in part, because you have to continuously assess value correctly. There’s limited room for mistakes here and it’s a long play, one that requires a lot of patience. That hasn’t necessarily been a strength of this organization. But for teams willing to take their time building, the benefits are obvious. For decades teams have envied the Cardinals for their ability to build, win, and keep building. They’ve been a sort of perpetual contender, a team that even when “down” isn’t down for long. Best of all, their payroll is the ballpark of what the Diamondbacks can and should annually aim for. With a proper analysis of value, good scouting and strong player development, it is possible to churn out a winner regularly, not just in short spurts.
Other highly-respected sites have been tough on the D-backs even as they’ve built this new contender, and that’s very valid. The way the team operates and the structure of their front office still gives outsiders pause. The words that have come out of Dave Stewart’s mouth in the year-plus that he’s been on the job have cause a stir of their own. And just when we thought the Diamondbacks were operating from some larger vision, we’ve learned that on a seeming whim, they decided to revisit the notion of signing Zack Greinke and had their man within a couple of hours. Sure, they knew they needed pitching, but they came within a lost phone number of missing the opportunity altogether. And that’s just a snippet from a large collection of questionable operating procedures. Arizona got their guys in the last ten days, but how it all came together doesn’t instill any more confidence in the long term. They get credit for doing the right thing right now, but to miss it would have been downright irresponsible.
What’s happening right now is fun because it’s what we’ve all been waiting for. Here at the site, we were a bit out in front of the pack in terms of identifying The Contention Window (TCW) and the moves built to maximize, including The Grand D-backs Experiment of 2015. This really is what we’ve been focussed on and now it’s here. It’s time to be excited. But long-term, there are still concerns of how this franchise will be run and how frequently they can contend. Once the Goldschmidts and Pollocks and Corbin and Lambs and Peraltas and Rays are gone, what will they do? Luckily, we have a long time before we have to find out and there should be some incredible moments along the way. But don’t forget about the scars of the past, because they still exist even if there’s a winner on the field for the foreseeable future.
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