Where Does Arizona Go From Here?
The Los Angeles Dodgers just captured their first World Series title since 1988 behind a team that only lost 17 games out of 60 last season. The San Diego Padres, who were swept out of the playoffs by the Dodgers have done nothing but improve their team. The Padres are a week removed from making the two biggest trades in recent MLB history in acquiring 2018 AL Cy Young winner, Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays, and then just days later acquired 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up, Yu Darvish from the Chicago Cubs; both acquired for mostly prospect packages.
The top two teams in the NL West very well are looking to be two of the top teams in baseball entering the 2021 season. Where does this leave the Arizona Diamondbacks though, who fell from a .525 winning percentage; finishing just 4 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the final playoff spot in 2019, to seeing their win percentage drop to a mere .417, second worst in the National league in 2020?
The Rotation is actually solid, and Mad Bum will be much better in 2021:
Robbie Ray is gone. Ray’s 1-4 record and rotation-worst 7.84 ERA are now in Toronto, meaning Arizona has an opening in their rotation. Starters Madison Bumgarner, Merrill Kelly, Zac Gallen, and Luke Weaver all appear as though they will hang on to their rotations spots, leaving Alex Young, Caleb Smith, and even internal #6 prospect Corbin Martin to battle for the 5th slot in the rotation.
A healthy Madison Bumgarner and Merrill Kelly at the top of Arizona’s rotation for 2021 should be a force to be reckoned with. The 3x World Series Champion veteran spent a considerable amount of time (by 2020’s standards) on the injured list, restraining him to just 9 games started. His two starts in August are essentially what sank his 2020 stats, both games being at home against the Houston Astros, and on the road visiting the Padres. In those two performances alone, Bumgarner pitched just 6.1 innings, surrendering 12 H, 13 ER, 6 HR, and only recording 4 SO. A day after the Padres loss, Bumgarner headed for the IL. Not having to play the Dodgers, Padres, and Astros every other week in 2021 should greatly help a veteran pitcher like Bumgarner improve on his stat line from last season. Kelly on the other hand, is a very solid #2 for this young Diamondbacks squad, who saw his 2020 season cut short in August due to a procedure he needed to dissolve a blood clot in his pitching shoulder per Steve Gilbert of MLB.com. Prior to his season ending early, Kelly featured the rotation’s best ERA at 2.59 and best WHIP at 0.99, which also was a rotation best. A healthy Bumgarner and Kelly in 2021 should be good enough to propel the Diamondbacks into the #3 slot in the NL West this season.
The Prospect Game:
Obviously with how much the Dodgers and Padres have transitioned themselves into MLB juggernauts for the next few seasons, the Diamondbacks would be wise to play the waiting game and continue to assemble an elite farm system for when those windows of opportunity begin to close. As of September 1, 2020, Arizona is ranked #9 in terms of best ranked farm systems according to MLB.com, and feature 4 players rated in MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects: OF, Kristian Robinson (#39), OF, Alek Thomas (#45), SS, Geraldo Perdomo (#79), and finally, OF Corbin Carroll (#85). With 3 highly-rated outfielder prospects at the Single A level, we have to begin to consider just how long Arizona will hold onto veteran outfielders such as David Peralta and Kole Calhoun, both who could be shipped off at this year’s trade deadline in order to get a return of prospects who could be vital to Arizona’s future. I’d like to also think that fan-favorite and 2019 All-Star, Ketel Marte is untouchable, but he is ultimately the outfielder that contenders will be targeting at this year’s trade deadline given his affordable contract and years of team control remaining on his current deal. Marte could fetch Arizona a big return, but he could also still very much well play a big role in Arizona’s next window of opportunity, and this would need to be something that the Diamondbacks front office would have to debate.
What it all comes down to:
Arizona is not winning the NL West this season. It also appears as though that could be out of the question for at least the next couple seasons as well. Arizona needs to get in the business of strengthening their farm system in order to compete in at least 2023, and create salary cap space to be active in next offseason’s free agency market. This is at no fault of their own, this is all due to the Dodgers long-continued success in the NL West as well as the juggernaut the San Diego Padres have turned themselves into in the last year. I already love the prospects that the Diamondbacks have in their farm system, but one more trade or two could help them become a free agent destination in the near future to succeed in 2023 and beyond.