Two decades ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks were baseball’s hotshot expansion franchise, two years removed from a World Series upset over the mighty New York Yankees.
Two decades later, the Snakes are long de-fanged. A late September visit to Yankee Stadium seems almost meaningless. The Diamondbacks have made the playoffs just four times since their unprecedented championship run and have struggled to build sustained success despite doing a good job with player development. Those playoff seasons almost look like overachieving in the grand scheme.
This year, however, the Diamondbacks might just pull off a playoff run. This isn’t to say they’ll win the NL West crown. Not with the Dodgers and Padres still strong. But Arizona has a strong young core of players ready to blossom, particularly in the middle of their lineup.
And since the Mets are almost certainly a playoff team and host the Diamondbacks for four games earlier in September, they should be paying attention.
Greatest Addition: Gabriel Moreno. Star catchers are few and far between in baseball and Arizona hopes he can be theirs. Moreno was acquired from the Blue Jays in the offseason and is a .310 career hitter in the minors. The 22-year-old also made his MLB debut for Toronto last year and hit .319 with a home run and seven RBI in 25 games.
He’s looked even better with his new team. Moreno is batting .412 with two home runs and a 1.297 OPS. He’ll be the Opening Day catcher and is a big piece of the Diamondbacks’ next step forward.
Greatest Loss: Daulton Varsho. Unfortunately for Arizona, trading for Moreno meant paying a steep price. They sold high on Varsho’s breakout season (.235, 27 home runs, 74 RBI) to land their future franchise catcher. Varsho also had a great year in the field with eight outfield assists, +19 defensive runs saved (DRS), and 18 outs above average (OAA).
Arizona has a good outfield and losing Varsho isn’t devastating, but his upside speaks for itself. He’s on track to tremendously build off of his career year, especially with nobody shifting on him this season.
Greatest Strength: A solid young core. Arizona has two exciting young outfielders in Jake McCarthy and Corbin Carroll, and the team likes Carroll enough that they just gave him an eight-year extension worth $111 million. He has played in 32 total MLB games and hit .307 with 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases in the minors last year.
Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy join Carroll in the outfield and are exciting enough that the Yankees checked in during the offseason. On the pitching side, 27-year-old Zac Gallen made 31 starts in 2022 and had a 2.53 ERA and 3.05 FIP. The Diamondbacks’ next round of homegrown talent is finally here. Let’s see what they can do in 2023.
Greatest Weakness: Everything from the bullpen to the front office’s disorganized vision. General manager Mike Hazen can develop cool young bats and the occasional arm, but has bad luck in free agency. Madison Bumgarner now looks less like a former World Series hero and more like one of the worst signings in baseball history. Ketel Marte just got a $76 million extension despite failing to build off of his career year in 2019.
It also doesn’t help that Arizona hasn’t had a truly elite closer since Brad Ziegler, maybe even J.J. Putz. There’s a whole lot that needs fixing in the Diamondbacks organization, and the biggest problem of all is that everyone who should notice seems blind to it.
Should teams pay attention to the Diamondbacks in 2023? It’s like we said at the beginning. An NL Wild Card berth is the Diamondbacks’ absolute ceiling. If the projections are accurate, their trips to New York in September will be little more than nostalgia tours.
With the Mets, there will be talk of Buck Showalter being Arizona’s first manager who guided them to 100 wins in just their second season. Maybe a quick remark about Todd Pratt. The Yankees will just celebrate the New York-friendly parts of the 2001 World Series.
Except the Mets might want to keep an eye on this series. The timing of it is just too close to last season’s unceremonious sweep at the hands of the Cubs. Arizona are a worse team than the Cubs, but still have just enough in their lineup to make a series with the Mets interesting. But hopefully not too interesting.
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