The winter meetings are still a month away, but with the way the trade market is shaping up, a blockbuster deal could be coming at any time. Before they become the trendy pick for 2016, let's talk about the Arizona Diamondbacks. Yes, it's an even year so the San Francisco Giants will likely win the World Series yet again, but in 2014 they did so as the NL Wild Card, which could be the exact route they'll need to take to continue their little trend after the D-Backs win the NL West.
For starters, the Diamondbacks scored the 8th most runs in baseball (721) last season, and the second-most in the National League behind only Colorado. They play in hitter-friendly Chase Field which helps out the bats, but isn't as terrible to pitchers as Coors Field has been to the Rockies, giving them a little bit of a home field advantage. Plus, Arizona has some talent ready to make their debuts on the mound in 2016, an area that the team was sorely lacking last year.
As the old addage goes, pitching and defense wins championships. Well, the Diamondbacks were named the Defensive Team of the Year by Wilson while first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and centerfielder A.J. Pollock took home individual honors as Gold Glove reciepients. The bullpen for Arizona ranked 13th in baseball in ERA at 3.56 and will stay largely intact for 2016. They could move into the top ten with just one minor tweak, or up even further with one large tweak such as adding a proven closer like Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller.
One of the trouble areas for Arizona was their starting rotation, whose 4.37 ERA ranked 23rd in baseball. Even with their sub .500 record, the Diamondbacks finished with a +7 run differential, a swing of +134 from a forgettable 2014 campaign that saw a -127 mark. If the offense holds steady, which it's fair to say that it will at least come close, then an improved pitching staff should help put some extra wins on the board.
After trading Jeremy Hellickson last week, Arizona has a rotation of Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, Robbie Ray and Chase Anderson while Archie Bradley is likely an early bet for one of the spots as well. Aside from these five, Arizona also has their #3 and #4 prospects in right-handers Aaron Blair and Braden Shipley that could get the call to the big leagues before long, not to mention Zack Godley who put up a 5-1 record to go along with a 3.19 ERA in nine games (six starts) in the big leagues. Godley put up a 0.7 WAR in his 36.2 innings last season. If he were to pitch 150 innings at that rate, he would be sitting right at a 3.0 WAR which would land him in between 20-game winner Colin McHugh (3.07) and Jon Lester (2.94) and well ahead of Cole Hamels' 2015 mark of 2.70. By freeing up some room on the payroll by trading Hellickson, it looks as though GM Dave Stewart is clearing the books to make a big splash, and that will likely come in the acquisition of some pitching.
In 2015 the D-Backs went 0-7 against St. Louis and 6-13 against the division rival Dodgers, leaving plenty of room to pick up some wins in 2016.
While the hot stove is still warming up, there is a lot to be optimistic about with Arizona. The team's 2015 upswing, coupled with the Giants rotation of Madison Bumgarner and four question marks and the Dodgers inability to perform at the level they are capable of, make this a winnable division for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016. The Rockies started their rebuild when they traded Troy Tulowitzki and the Padres went for broke last offseason, and are now, well, broke.
The time is now for Arizona. They have the prospects. They have some payroll flexibility. Now it's time for them to claim the NL West. The number of upgrades they make this offseason could be the difference between division winner and World Series contender.