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5 questions facing D-backs entering 2021

@SteveGilbertMLB
December 31, 2020

PHOENIX -- With 2020 in the rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to what 2021 has in store for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Here are five questions to consider. 1. How will the D-backs fill their holes? Given what the team has said about financial losses incurred during the

PHOENIX -- With 2020 in the rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to what 2021 has in store for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Here are five questions to consider.

1. How will the D-backs fill their holes?
Given what the team has said about financial losses incurred during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, as well as the uncertainty about what 2021 will look like, it does not appear the D-backs are going to be big players in free agency.

Arizona still has some things on its to-do list, though, such as retooling its bullpen and adding a right-handed bat.

This will no doubt be challenging to accomplish without a lot of money to spend, but if there’s one thing that general manager Mike Hazen and his staff have shown over four years, it's the ability to be creative.

With a lot of relievers on the market, the D-backs could wait until late in the offseason to see which ones they can get at a bargain price. It’s also possible they could look to move a contract or two to free up some money for the bullpen or a right-handed bat, but that too could be challenging in this environment.

2. Who plays second base and center field?
If this question sounds familiar, it’s because a similar one has been asked in each of the previous two offseasons.

Two years ago, the D-backs acquired Wilmer Flores to play second and moved Ketel Marte to center field. Marte bounced between second and center, before his season was cut short due to a stress reaction in his back.

Last year, Arizona went a different route and acquired Starling Marte to play center and kept Ketel Marte at second.

With Starling Marte dealt to the Marlins at the 2020 Trade Deadline, the D-backs again have to either find someone to play second -- Josh Rojas, Josh VanMeter, Andy Young, a free agent/trade acquisition -- and put Ketel Marte in center. Or they can put Marte at second and find someone to play center -- Daulton Varsho or a trade/free agent acquisition.

3. Which version of Ketel Marte will the D-backs get in 2021?
In 2019, Marte was the type of player you can build a franchise around. He finished fourth in National League MVP Award voting, started at second base for the NL in the All-Star Game and had a bWAR of 7.2. But in '20, he was closer to an average player with a 1.1 bWAR.

For the D-backs' lineup to produce more in 2021, they'll need Marte to find a way to be closer to the 2019 version of himself than the '20 one.

Hazen said as recently as December that the organization still views Marte as one of the top players in the league, and the front office expects he will produce more like his old self over a longer season.

4. How will they improve their offense?
Part of the way the offense can improve ties in with Marte, but the D-backs will need more than just him.

Over the past three seasons, the offense has gone through prolonged funks that have knocked the team out of postseason contention, and Hazen talked a lot toward the end of the 2020 season about finding a way to get that fixed.

Given that they don’t have a lot of money to spend and that wholesale trades seem unlikely, the D-backs will have to find ways to make their current cast more consistent.

One of the ways Arizona is looking to do that is by evaluating how it is communicating scouting reports to players pregame and, more importantly, finding a way to have hitters make adjustments quicker to how opposing pitchers are attacking them.

“We’ve got to understand how we’re getting worked,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said in December. “We have to step back and be able to make adjustments. Those are the types of things we’re talking about right now.”

5. Are Madison Bumgarner's final two starts of 2020 a sign of things to come in '21?
After looking good in Spring Training, Bumgarner looked anything but when the 2020 season started. His fastball velocity was down, and he missed time with a mid-back strain.

In his final two starts -- even though his velocity didn’t return to Spring Training levels -- Bumgarner tossed 10 scoreless innings.

Signed to a five-year, $85 million deal prior to last season, Bumgarner is being counted on to head up the rotation, so it’s important he looks more like the pitcher at the end of the season than he did in July and August.

The D-backs are confident that the reason for the velocity dip and Bumgarner’s subsequent struggles was the result of the unorthodox shutdown and Summer Camp ramp-up that occurred in 2020. As a veteran who was used to a certain routine, it was a hard adjustment for him.

Given a full offseason and perhaps a more normal start to the season, the D-backs believe Bumgarner will rebound.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.