When the Diamondbacks let Dave Stewart go and stripped away the bulk of Tony La Russa’s power, they got plenty of compliments. When they hired Mike Hazen to fill Stewart’s shoes, they received even more praise. After choosing Torey Lovullo to lead the clubhouse, the kudos parade that Derek Hall, Ken Kendrick and Hazen have been on doesn’t appear to be losing any steam as Lovullo was considered a major victory for Arizona and a major loss for Boston. Syphoning off talent with ties to Boston and Cleveland is a worthwhile pursuit, as both teams have been on baseball’s cutting edge for well over a decade while Arizona has often neglected progressive perspectives, generally to their own detriment.
In terms of leadership, things have taken shape in a major way as the D-backs have become a sort of #FenwayWest (h/t: @AZSnakepit). Arizona first poached Hazen, who poached Amiel Sawdaye for the Executive Vice President and Assistant GM roles. After interviewing plenty of well-qualified, well-liked field manager candidates, the D-backs settled on Lovullo, who was the favorite all along. In doing so, they turned down AAA Reno Manager Phil Nevin. If you recall, there was a movement to install Nevin in place of Chip Hale midseason, but after it leaked, the organization backtracked and retained Hale as their MLB skipper. Nevin was clearly “next in line” until the changing of the guard upstairs, and after being spurned by the Diamondbacks once again, Nevin took a job as San Francisco’s 3rd Base Coach.
The move for Nevin makes sense — his biggest weakness as a candidate is that he hasn’t yet served on a major league coaching staff. Nevin has made coaching stops in independent ball, AA and AAA, but will get his first taste of the majors as a coach with San Francisco. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that he was turned down by Arizona in the first place, which signals a major shift in the decision-making structure of the organization. Nevin, if you recall, was one of “the guys” favored by the last front office. The previous regime had plenty of players and coaches they appeared to favor in spite of the results, but that trend seems to finally have come to a close with the decision to hire Lovullo and not Nevin as the D-backs’ new field manager. Mike Hazen is clearly running the show and he’s pushed his chips in, believing in his process, and ownership seems happy to oblige. Considering ownership has come under fire in the past for forcing player signings, nixing trades, and muddying the waters surrounding Chip Hale, letting the GM actually perform the duties of a GM unencumbered by ownership is a pleasant sign.
Nevin wasn’t the organization’s only loss in recent days, however, as the Angels claimed right-handed pitching prospect Vicente Campos from the D-backs as Campos wasn’t on the team’s 40-man roster despite checking in recently as the team’s #11 prospect. Campos, as you’ll recall, was the return for reliever Tyler Clippard at the trade deadline last July. With a plethora of elbow injuries on his resume, the original Mariners farmhand suffered another setback in late August after making his major league debut. A Tommy John survivor, Campos fractured the ulnar in his pitching arm for the second time. The righty was once known as a guy who could run his fastball into the upper 90’s, but the injuries have taken their toll. In his lone big league start, his fastball sat at just 89 and his secondaries weren’t necessarily sharp. He had the makings of a number five starter or a middle reliever heading into this offseason, but will now take that forecast with him to Anaheim, a team that needs all of the pitching options they can get their hands on. Campos will likely only begin rehabbing from his injury this spring and is unlikely to be ready once the season opens. With a number of fringy starting pitcher candidates on the roster already, including Tyler Wagner, Matt Koch, and Zack Godley, this is the kind of loss the Diamondbacks could afford.
The claiming of Campos caught many by surprise, however, including the author. Considering he was the lone return for Clippard, the deal now has the effects of a salary dump with nothing but money saved as the only compensation. There is a lot of work to do for the organization in coming to terms with the 40-man roster, and the fact that Campos wasn’t on it likely signals that they either didn’t have high hopes for him returning to form and/or didn’t think another team would roll the dice on the injured 24-year old. With Daniel Hudson and Rickie Weeks, Jr. filing for free agency, it would appear that there was space to add Campos to the 40-man, but Arizona did not do so.
They did fill one of the open slots by adding a player of their own, however, in claiming left fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker from St. Louis. That move is just as curious as letting Campos slip away, as Hazelbaker saw the first big league action of his career in 2016 with the Cardinals as a 28-year old rookie. He’s already turned 29 and his defense does not appear to be an asset, though he hit with power in 224 plate appearances with the Red Birds last season, notching 12 homers, seven doubles and three triples in limited action. His hard hit rate isn’t all that impressive, however, and his presence on the roster only clouds an already murky outfield situation where Yasmany Tomas, David Peralta, Mitch Haniger, Brandon Drury, and Socrates Brito are all in the mix for corner outfield spots heading into 2017. Perhaps the move comes a precursor to a potential trade of Tomas or as a sign that David Peralta’s wrist injury may delay his return to the majors next season. Put simply, Hazelbaker provides cheap depth at a position where the D-backs already have plenty of it, so either there may be conflicts on the horizon for the current crop of players or the team may have identified something they like in Hazelbaker that isn’t readily apparent.
While the coaching staff is coming together following the near-completion of the front office, the roster is in another state altogether. As so many of you have pointed out in comments past, this team has a wide variety of needs heading into 2017 if they want to make the most of what they have left of The Contention Window. There are players that will have to be added to the 40-man roster in the next month or so before the Rule 5 draft takes place and, with only one open spot left on that roster, the team will also need space for any potential big league signings to, say, shore up the bullpen. We’ll have more on the 40-man roster in the coming days, but for now, the loss of Campos and the claiming of Hazelbaker only makes the direction of the roster less clear.
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