Entering the 2014 season the power couple of GM Kevin Towers and Manager Kirk Gibson were ecstatic with the gang of grinders they had assembled to embark on a potential playoff run. Sure, Patrick Corbin needing Tommy John surgery was not exactly ideal, but the additions of Mark Trumbo and Bronson Arroyo would help offset the loss. Both Gibson and Tower’s contracts had just been extended in February and overall things were looking up for the organization.
But then, they traveled to Australia in late March to play two games with the division rival Dodgers. Two games that would ACTUALLY count in the standings. Now I am not a geography whiz by any measure, but I do know for a fact that Australia is a long ways away. Especially for two west coast teams.
We all know the story, the Diamondbacks traveled all the way to Australia to start the season 0-2. Although they had around a week or so before Opening Day in the states, they were still put at a competitive disadvantage (at least in my opinion) because of the jet-lag a trip to Australia brings.
Baseball is already a jet-lag driven sport as is. I don’t think the players get enough credit when it comes to the attrition to takes to travel around the country and play 162 games over the course of five months. It takes a special kind of mental athlete. I have a feeling that although most of the “grinders” in the Diamondback clubhouse would not admit it, the whole Australia experience took a toll on them. A toll that they have been unable to recover from since, leading to their record being a forgettable 53-73 entering Wednesday.
Traveling a long distance is not the only reason for the Diamondback’s struggles in 2014 of course. Injuries have been a big issue with the previously mentioned Patrick Corbin missing the entire season, Mark Trumbo has only played in only 53 games this season, Bronson Arroyo is out until mid-2015 and Paul Goldschmidt recently saw his season come to an end because of a fractured hand. Much of this lost season in Arizona can be understood just by looking at their disabled list.
Most teams with smaller payrolls such as the Diamondbacks are unable to cope with injuries such as these, and thus must become sellers at the deadline. This mindset lead to the departure of Martin Prado (whom they had just signed to a 4 year-$40 million dollar deal last season) and fan-favorite Geraldo Parra on July 31st. The swap of Prado for minor league masher Peter O’Brien will bring some salary relief to the club. Prado was due to make $11 million in both the 2015 and 16 seasons and now GM Kevin Towers (or whomever is the GM next season) will have the opportunity to bolster some of the holes in the roster with that $11 million saved.
There is reason for optimism in the desert going into 2015 and beyond. For starters, Tony La Russa is now the leader of the organization and will surely begin to place his fingerprints all over its infrastructure starting this offseason. I would not be surprised if there is a new power couple at the GM and Manager positions. La Russa’s track record as a manager suggests that he knows what a winning team looks like but it is yet to be seen if his skills translate to the front office. My guess is that he will shine.
Another glimmer of hope for next season will be the highly anticipated arrival of super pitching prospect Archie Bradley. He possesses an overpowering fastball and a plus curveball which helped him dominate hitters in AA ball last season. Pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast league hasn’t helped his numbers this season but he appears to have the ability to be able to make the necessary adjustments to be successful in the majors. Hopefully we will all get our wish as baseball fans and get to see him right out of Spring Training in 2015.
All in all I think Diamondback fans can chalk up this season as mostly bad luck. This roster is not completely terrible, possessing one baseball’s best players in Paul Goldschmidt (who is locked up until 2019). Add to that a cast of up and comers that could potentially make a splash and the lineup has definite potential.
The good news is that the organization is in good hands with Tony La Russa and I think fans should trust that he will make the correct decision regarding the futures of Towers and Gibson heading into the off season. A change in regime may be a welcomed one for fans and players alike. However, maybe the only real changes needed are a few minor roster tweaks and a little more luck when it comes to injuries.
One thing is certain, the Diamondbacks will be one of the more interesting teams to watch as we inch closer to the finish line of the 2014 season and beyond.