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.


16 Responses to Are the Diamondbacks on the Right Path?

  1. Rick D says:

    Absolutely, the Diamondbacks can win now and then follow the lessons of the Cardinals and keep it going.

    I find it interesting that the first team mentioned above as a team to emulate is the Royals. The current World Champions were a losing team from 2004 to 2012, including last in the division 6 times, with a couple of 100+ games losing seasons. But then they found a young core of position players like Hosmer, Cain, Gordon, Moustakis, and decided to “go for it” by trading their top prospect Will Myers, in a package to Toronto for James Shields. Sound familiar? They won 86 games in 2013, their first winning record in 10 years, and we all know what has happened since.

    But did they have a plan? Can they make it last? We’ll find out. But looking at the Royals success should give some good vibes about what the Diamondbacks have done.

  2. Kevin says:

    Yes, the front office really seems to be making the most out of the good luck they stumbled into (e.g., Goldy and his team-friendly contract, Greinke and his love for AZ sunsets and aggressive base running). I truly hope that Stew and Tony are as good at building an organizational structure to support the draft/develop/build from within model when the time comes for that as they are at “going for it”. This is the right time to “go for it” and I am thrilled that they are, its just that we haven’t seem their ability to grind through the less glamorous, less graceful process of building a sustainable contender, which is what you are writing about above.

    Time will tell, but for now, in Stew and Tony I trust! It is quite possible that they know more about baseball that the rest of us.

  3. Kevin says:

    Typo in previous post, should be “seen” not “seem”.

  4. Larry Person says:

    Two years ago, Ender Inciarte was a failed Rule 5 player, returned to the D’backs. Was it chance? Was it timing? Was it poor management on the part of the D’backs to expose him to the Rule 5 Draft? Two weeks ago, he went from being a failed Rule 5 pick up to a key piece that enabled the D’backs to acquire a young, near No. 1 starter. Did the D’backs “develop” him (skill)? Or were they just fortunate that Inciarte was their’s at the moment he developed (chance)? Same history could be traced for Peralta, etc. I think the skill/chance % is hard to calculate. It depends on how much of a player’s or organization’s history you look at to make that call. I suggest that Stewart, et al have what we call “too small a track record” to accurately gauge that skill/chance %. As a fan, I’ve been delighted with this off-season’s moves. Taking Greinke away from a divisional rival(s) was a genius move. Whether or not it was a whim is debatable. Just because it happened within 5 1/2 hours, doesn’t make it a whim. It was impeccable timing and seizing an opportunity, when viewed from just a slightly different perspective. Maybe this is a Cardinals-like franchise in its infancy.

    • Anonymous says:

      Who was the fact checker on Ender and Peralta? The biggest mistake of the Towers regime was Trumbo, and firing Nagy. Not that impressed by this new regime yet, Lopez/Tomas, this Miller trade, although I like Miller. Great trade though, was Ray. Steal was dumping Trumbo. Although hey Trumbo might be huge next year in Baltimore. We’ll see.

  5. Rick D says:

    In regards to the front office:
    It’s chance that they inherited Goldschmidt, Pollock,
    It’s some skill that they jettisoned Trumbo, Cahill,

    All I know for sure is that they transformed a 100-loss team into a team expected to contend and did it in one year.

  6. Anonymous says:

    We have a lot to like. The depth is pretty incredible no doubt about it. Peralta, Pollock, Goldy. Brito, Bradley, Banda, Bracho, Drury, Shipley, Godley Ray. Giants are making a lot of mistakes on their pitching free agent signings. Alot guys on the wrong side of the aging curve/injury curve unfortunately. Posey reaching the age of needing to go to first. Dodgers in disarray for now. Pads, other than Ross what’s going on there. Colorado great team, but its hard to pitch there. Its a wide open. The pick up of Greinke was a game changer.

  7. coldblueAZ says:

    I firmly believe La Russa was given a firm directive to win now. I’m also of the opinion that once they start contending, the attendance will increase and the franchise will become more valuable by a substantial amount. Once that happens, the partnership will put the franchise on the market, which I believe is the real impetus for directive.

    Lets enjoy the ride while we can.

  8. Kevin says:

    Interesting point coldblueAZ. In your scenario everybody wins if they win now, but who know what happens if they go up for sale? Maybe TLR and Stew will can influence the sale of the organization to new owners who care.

    Also, to Ryan and Jeff, could you please write an article entitled “Projecting a Break Out Year for Tomas”. I need that right about now. I haven’t mixed anyone as much as I miss Ender since Touki was sent packing. I’m having trouble envisioning our lineup with Ender…does Lamb bat second?

  9. Kevin says:

    Too many typos in the last post to mention, please forgive.

  10. Dave-Phoenix says:

    One thing we have to give credit to this FO is that they cleaned up the mess they inherited.

    In the last year they kept the good players, started a few young prospects (Lamb,Peralta, Inciarte, Ahmed) and got rid of the dead wood (Cahill, Ross, Trumbo.)

    They created a big hole at catcher, but filled it after a month and got rid of Trumbo at the same time.

    So after cleaning up the mess in year 1, they were ready to move forward in year 2. While there is concern about how it happened, in the end, getting Greinke and Miller is more than we could have hoped for back in October, and the D-Backs did it without significantly affecting the MLB position player roster that was so effective last year. Inciarte was probably the one player who has a suitable replacement (Brito) waiting in the wings. Anyone else, and the D-Backs take a step backwards this year.

    I am more than thrilled and can’t wait until spring!!!

    • mike says:

      I agree but dont you think their still is a big hole at catcher. I mean beyond Castillo. Tuffy is still rehabbing his acl. Herrmann is a very underwhelming replacement. Hernandez needs at least a year in the minors. O’brien is not going to cut it unless a miracle happens.
      And unfortunately we waited to long on the free agent market. We better trade for a quality back up catcher.

  11. Larry Person says:

    What are the probabilities for Lamb and Owings to take a big step forward in 2016?

    • Dave-Phoenix says:

      Lamb has tons of upside. I hope the D-Backs play him every day and not just as a Platoon guy.

      Owings is hard to say. Its all about whether that shoulder continues to slow him down. That injury was quite severe. Even with the surgery, he had to modify his grip on the bat this year…

      There are multiple options at 2B though if Owings is unable to regain his form….

      • mike says:

        Multiple options at 2B. Yes, but not many great ones. Drury is an kind of an unknown still, Gosselin has defense issues….i wont even mention Hill.

  12. […] gave you some idea of just how much it’s cost to make this team a contender. It’s not what I would have strategically done, but that doesn’t mean that’s not what the organization should have done. It may just […]

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