SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Rumors swirled around the Diamondbacks all winter. Would they re-sign J.D. Martinez? Would they trade one of their starting pitchers to the Brewers for one of their now-surplus outfielders?
In the end, it took them until last week to make a significant deal, acquiring Steven Souza Jr. from the Rays in a three-way trade that sent third baseman Brandon Drury to the Yankees and Anthony Banda and prospects to Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Martinez is now a member of the Red Sox.
Souza hit 30 home runs for the Rays in 2017 and walked 84 times, producing an .810 OPS and 4.2 bWAR despite a .230 batting average. He’s 28 and will play right field for Arizona, and they are hoping he didn’t hit his peak in 2017.
A few days earlier, the D-backs signed Jarrod Dyson to a two-year deal. He’ll probably be a fourth outfielder for them and occasionally give A.J. Pollock a break in center field.
Otherwise, the D-backs return everyone else who provided a 93-win season and 812 runs, just 10 fewer than the Cubs. Paul Goldschmidt leads the way. He hit .294/.404/.563 with 36 home runs in 2017, played Gold Glove defense, produced 5.8 bWAR and finished third in MVP voting. The only real weakness here is the middle infield, where Nick Ahmed’s bat is a bit weak and the D-backs are not yet sure what they’ll get from Ketel Marte.
Alex Avila (pictured above), who was a big help to the Cubs down the stretch last year, will take over as the starting catcher for the Diamondbacks.
The rotation returns intact from 2017, and the D-backs finished second-best (albeit a distant second to the Dodgers) in fewest runs allowed in the N.L. last year. Four of the five starters posted ERAs under 4.00, and Patrick Corbin was just over at 4.03. Combined, the rotation produced 21 bWAR, which is really, really good. If the Cubs rotation can do that this year, they’ll win the N.L. Central easily.
Archie Bradley, who became Arizona’s primary setup man behind Fernando Rodney (and I can’t figure out how Rodney had the kind of year he had at age 40, either), had a terrific year. Once a prime starting pitcher prospect, Bradley looks like he could make a very good closer. He certainly has the intimidating look for it:
The Diamondbacks are a very good team. It would not surprise me if they challenged the Dodgers for the N.L. West title.
The Cubs won’t face the D-backs until after the All-Star break. Arizona visits Wrigley Field for a four-game series July 23-24-25-26, then the Cubs travel to Chase Field September 17-18-19. Those are the only three games the Cubs will play outside the city of Chicago in the final 19 games of the season, as that trip follows a six-game homestand, then the Cubs visit the White Sox for three games followed by a season-ending seven-game homestand. (And no, Brewers, you don’t get to complain about that.)