Forget about the weird new uniforms. In the space of a few December days, the Arizona Diamondbacks added an ace and a solid No. 2 starter to go along with the club’s potent offense. While the D-backs made moves, division rivals LA and San Francisco missed out on players they coveted to make their runs in 2016. Although there are several months to go before Opening Day, the NL West is now an open race with no clear favorite in the mix.
If you were Arizona GM Dave Stewart or chief baseball executive Tony La Russa, you knew starting pitching was the biggest weakness of a club that finished 79-83 in 2015 (third place, 13 GB behind LA). So they went and overspent on two arms who immediately made the D-Backs rotation relevant, starting with Zack Greinke ($206 million over six years) and continuing with the trade for Shelby Miller.
By no estimation was either deal a fair one for Diamondbacks ownership. Greinke’s annual salary of $34.4 million is the highest of any baseball player ever, and getting Miller from Atlanta was almost as expensive. The D-backs sent 2015’s No. 1 draft pick Dansby Swanson, as well as Aaron Blair and the dynamic Ender Inciarte, to the Braves in exchange for the right-hander. It is being hailed as the worst trade in memory.
On the flip side, neither the Dodgers nor the Giants can say they have the upper hand on Arizona. Greinke’s departure from LA made the Arizona signing a triple-win in the division. San Francisco was also in the mix and compensated with Jeff Samardzija, a pitcher who was hit hard and often in 2015. The Dodgers signed 35-year-old Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year deal. Arizona now boasts the best No. 2 starter in the NL West and a better offense than either competitor.
The Diamondbacks scored 720 runs in 2015 with a lineup fronted by MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Even with the club’s miserable rotation (4.37 ERA, 23rd in MLB), the team still outscored opponents by seven runs on the season. In other words, they can hit with anyone in the league, let alone the division (Rockies included).
While Arizona got stronger, the Giants experienced setbacks with Greinke and Ben Zobrist, whom San Francisco offered more money than the Cubs yet failed to sign. As for LA, the domestic abuse charges against Aroldis Chapman halted a trade-in-progress for the elite bullpen arm. Throw in the loss of Greinke, and it was a very bad week for the Dodgers. We can’t say signing Chase Utley made it any better.
Maybe the return of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Matt Cain works out for the California clubs in 2016. Maybe Samardzija fits in much better pitching in the National League (Who doesn’t?). Even still, the Diamondbacks look capable of pitching with either club, and we know they can slug with the best of them. If LA doesn’t go back to the drawing board, the NL West leaderboard could look very different in 2016.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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